I WAS always easily persuaded to provide a special Bank Holiday taxi service to the antique fairs in Calbourne.

I knew I would not be missed, if I sneaked off to share an hour or so with a genuine local antique — Bill Brett.

Isle of Wight County Press: Bill Brett and cricket pal Neil Shutler.Bill Brett and cricket pal Neil Shutler.

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We could talk forever on his exploits for the Westover Cricket Club, a wonderful bunch of country yokels — as they were often dubbed — who played in a farmer’s field out in the sticks.

They could easily hold their own against some of the top Isle of Wight sides — which often upset the townies — thanks to Bill, their wily old skipper and demon bowler, his brother John, a gifted bat, and a couple of young upstarts from nearby Newbridge, namely Dave and Brian Porter.

Alistair Jupe was a nifty fast bowler, wicketkeeper Ted Harvey was almost breathing down your neck and popular local Island MP, Steve Ross, another keen player, was more than happy to join his team mates chase the cows off the wicket to start the game.

On one memorable occasion, a Warwickshire County Cricket Club ground staff team arrived to take on Bill and co.

Isle of Wight County Press: Bill, first left, with a group of family and friends.Bill, first left, with a group of family and friends.

They had already made their first mistake, as they arrived singing The Farmer’s Boy, which was like a red rag to the bull in the next field.

“When we heard them singing that song, we knew we had to bring them down a peg or two. When we won by ten wickets, they suddenly went awfully quiet,” said Bill, back in 1978.

At that stage, he had taken 2,500 wickets — and he kept going for a few more years.

Young Bill was barely 13 when he first started playing for Westover Park — and was a one-club man, until he retired from the game.

He took wickets from an early age and just kept going.

Isle of Wight County Press: Bill Brett's treasure trove at home.Bill Brett's treasure trove at home.

During the war years, Bill and his local farm pals, other than the club skipper, were all aged under 20.

They were lucky to play against troop teams from the nearby camps and barracks.

Both Bill and brother John were fiercely loyal to their club. Bill was always so disappointed when some of their home-grown players left for bigger clubs.

When the exciting Porter brothers moved on to Shanklin, Bill was none too pleased.

He told me on one occasion: “I am against all the best players going to one or two clubs. Westover would have liked to see them stay to help bring on our own youngsters.”

When local farmer, Bill Strickland, crossed a few hills to play for Ventnor, there was suddenly a new edge to their games.

Isle of Wight County Press: Bill and his wife, June.Bill and his wife, June.

They were some tussles — and farmer Strickland tried not to get out, particularly to ‘Brassy’ Brett.

People travelled miles to see Ventnor take on Westover.

When the Calbourne-ites went to Steephill, they took two coachloads. The teetotallers returned in the first one and the other stayed late to enable the players and spectators to sample the delights of Burt’s beer.

In fact, he only ever left the village to play cricket or drink beer.

Bill became famous for his marathon bowling stints, but he did also score a couple of centuries, including 113 not out against Shanklin seconds.

Isle of Wight County Press: Bill Brett, later in life.Bill Brett, later in life.

This merry knock, much out of character, comprised of nine sixes and ten fours.

Local fast bowlers were easily frustrated by Bill’s tactics.

“I really enjoyed the stonewall game. Being stubborn, the faster the bowler, the more I liked it. If I could stop a team from winning a game, so much the better.”

On the cricket field, he never even wore batting gloves. We talked about this one day and I sensed there was a funny line looming.

With that special Brett glint in his eye, he told me there was another piece of protection gear he never wore.

“What was the use? I had nothing to put in it,” he said.

I had no idea what he meant.

Isle of Wight County Press: Bill Brett, second left, back row, was part of a successful Westover team.Bill Brett, second left, back row, was part of a successful Westover team.

Meeting Bill Brett was never a five minute job. His stories were priceless and I could listen to them for hours.

Bill loved his country pubs. One night, he came out of the Horse and Groom at Ningwood, just as two local gals came by on push bikes, looking for boys.

His wife, June, was one of those on the prowl. Sometimes I wondered if she had ever wished she’d been pedalling faster!

He certainly struck gold, but it was not quite a whirlwind romance. They courted for 14 years and were engaged for the last seven.

Bill did have an excuse: “I didn’t want to marry until I was in my 30s and I wanted a house of my own.”

That dream home was the old Calbourne School house. It was even featured in a two-page Daily Mail spread.

In a special memorabilia (junk) room, which was the classroom, he had his old desk, the bike used by the old local nit nurse, motorcycles, dinosaur bones, a double toilet seat, his old 1933 school writing book and a sign offering 12 bottles of beer for 3/6d — 18p in today’s money.

The Brett brothers ran a successful village building firm for years.

On one occasion, the church had a bad leak, with water coming through the walls.

John was ill at the time, so Bill enlisted June to help out. In the end she had to lower him down from the top of the building on a rope.

Once, when Bill was out of the room, she told me a certain thought had briefly crossed her mind, while he was dangling on that rope.

Not for too long! Well, he was her darts and dancing partner.

Bill, John and their ilk made village cricket so enjoyable. It was true grass roots — and at Calbourne, they even had their own set of laws, as a few teams were surprised to find out.

Times have certainly changed in our rural game, due to so many counter attractions in this world of modern technology.

Westover Park Cricket Club eventually left their farmer’s field for the more salubrious Calbourne Recreation Centre.

To some, it never quite seemed the same.

Today, I pay tribute to Bill and many others who have passed on. They played a brand of Island village cricket we will never see again.

The very last words I ever spoke to Bill Brett were to ask what he thought of the modern world.

As well as being such a lovely old character, he was still a shrewd thinker.

“There’s nothing wrong with the world. It’s just some of the people in it that are the problem,” he said.