In her latest Face to Face interview, Karen Bethell talks to former North Walsham High School head boy Neil Storey. The author of nearly 30 books, Neil has become a familiar face at local events, helping bring history to life by playing roles ranging from a Houdini-style escapologist, to a WW2 home guardsman .
In her latest Face to Face interview, Karen Bethell talks to former North Walsham High School head boy Neil Storey. The author of nearly 30 books, Neil has become a familiar face at local events, helping bring history to life by playing roles ranging from a Houdini-style escapologist, to a WW2 home guardsman . . .
Brought up by his mother and grandparents, Neil, who can trace his Norfolk roots back centuries, first got the history bug as a youngster fascinated by older relatives' tales of days gone by.
The grandson of one of the first St John ambulancewomen, he joined the charity as a cadet aged 10, and went on to be made a county officer.
He published his first book at the age of 16 and, after a brief stint as a civil servant, studied social history at the University of East Anglia.
Over the past 20 or so years, Neil has written nearly 30 social, military and crime history books, with subjects ranging from the Norfolk floods of 1953 to the changing face of the city of Norwich.
He has also penned a "Grim Almanac" series, as well as volumes entitled London Crime, Death and Debauchery, Norfolk Murders and A Ghost Hunter's Guide to Norfolk.
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As a living history expert, Neil has for more than 20 years helped run events for children and adults all over the region, appearing as characters ranging from a Tudor apothecary and an Edwardian escapologist, to 18th century surgeon Dr Bloomfield and padre to the troops, Woodbine Willie.
He has appeared on TV dramas including the BBC's Lovejoy and Kingdom and the ITV police series The Chief, also working as an historical consultant for TV, radio and film documentaries and dramas.
A member of the Friends of Norfolk Dialect (FOND) and a keen supporter of a number of local charities, Neil is a governor at North Walsham's Manor Road Junior School, where he is a former pupil.
His love of history is shared by fiancee Molly, whom he met at the North Norfolk Railway's annual 1940s weekend 10 years ago.
The couple, who were then both dressed as WW2 characters, hit it off straight away and are planning to get married next year.
A devoted dad to 14-year-old Lawrence, Neil, 36, describes himself as "the hardest working man in history". He spends his spare time doing "history-orientated things" and, while writing, enjoys listening to music ranging from Bach and Berlioz to the Beatles and Blondie.
What is the best thing about your job?
One of the greatest and most rewarding experiences for me is making storytelling, history and writing alive and interesting for school children and adults - especially for those had not found history relevant or interesting before.
And the worst?
If I am not careful, my work can take over my life, but I shouldn't complain as I am doing what I always wanted to do and I have a loving, wonderful and supportive family.
What is the one thing you would save if your house was on fire?
My album of family photographs.
Where do you go to unwind?
The Norfolk coast, particularly out of holiday season when it is so peaceful and the skies seem even wider. There is nowhere quite like it!
What is your favourite Norfolk building?
Norwich Cathedral. It is a treasure of a building and a building of treasures.
Have you ever done anything outrageous?
Nothing absolutely outrageous, but I am known for my joke telephone calls - they come when victims least expect them!
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I have taken a few knocks too much to heart, but I wouldn't change a thing. I have been told by those far older and wiser than I am that you only truly regret the things you don't do in life.
What is your proudest moment?
There are so many. The obvious ones are the birth of my son Lawrence and Molly agreeing to marry me, but, professionally, my proudest moments would be meeting and sharing memories with some of the heroes and characters that have been part of our region's heritage.
Who do you most admire?
Forgotten, seldom recognised and reticent heroes; ordinary people who, in times of war, disaster and emergency do extraordinary things to rescue, help, and ease the suffering of others. My thoughts are particularly drawn to those who served with the “Forgotten Army” in the Far East and those who endured captivity at the hands of the Japanese during the Second World War.
Do you have any fears or phobias?
Not really, just the usual ones of the ups and downs of life, death and baldness.
What makes you angry?
The lack of affordable homes for young, local people in north Norfolk. Without true locals, the unique identity and culture of our special place in the country will be lost forever.
Favourite book, film and TV programme?
Book: Sir Thomas Malory's compilation Le Morte d'Arthur. I have lots of film favourites including It's a Wonderful Life, The Ladykillers and the Hammer horrors of the 1960s and 70s, and, on TV, I like original comedy, from Blackadder to Father Ted.
How would you like to be remembered?
As a Norfolk man who made a difference as a historian who lectured, wrote, inspired and was appreciated by both academic and popular audiences.