Bill Shankland, Tony Jacklin’s mentor, and Norman Von Nida from Australia were a couple of aggressive characters but I got on well with them and enjoyed their company.
Bill was a big, tough bloke who had played Rugby League for Warrington. My wife Joan and I never forgot the fact that he was the only pro to write a letter of sympathy to us when our daughter Hilary contracted polio. (She made a full recovery and later married Brian Barnes.)
Norman was only 5 feet 6 inches tall but was like a terrier on the course; he would never give in. He had been a boxer in his youth and could always be distinguished on the course by the dark beret he wore. I have never seen him on the course in anything else.
The standing joke at the time was that when he hooked his ball into a field among a herd of cows and his beret was blown off in the wind, he tried on five before he found his own.
In 1948 Bill, Norman, Dai Rees and I played a series of exhibition matches, which we called “robbers” matches because we felt that the £50 fee was excessive for that time. They were held on courses in the north of Scotland and Fred Daly also played in some of them.
One day, when we were driving about 40 miles over the Highlands in Bill’s American car to Carrbridge, south of Inverness, Bill and Norman began an argument which deteriorated into a shouting match.
I was in the back with Dai and we looked at each other, silently agreeing to keep well out of it. We could have got a bang on the nose if we had interfered.
Eventually Bill screeched to a halt by the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, and yanked on the handbrake.
“Get out and walk,” he said to Norman.
This suited Norman fine, in the mood he was in, and he got his case and clubs out of the boot and slammed down the lid.
Bill got ready to drive off and grabbed the handbrake – but it wouldn’t budge. He heaved at it, then tried both hands on it, swearing, but could not shift it.
He wouldn’t give up and kept on trying, but Dai and I soon found it impossible to keep a straight face. We started to laugh, which only made Bill worse. Then Norman began to laugh outside the car.
When Bill began to see the funny side we were all in fits and could not stop laughing for a long time. Any passers by must have wondered what the hell was going on.
Norman put his bag and clubs back in the boot, jumped in and we all helped shift the handbrake. We were still laughing as we drove off to complete the journey.