Look Back With Little: The life of Percy Miller

How cartoonist F.D. Coles portrayed Percy's safe hands in Stones goal, January 1922
How cartoonist F.D. Coles portrayed Percy's safe hands in Stones goal, January 1922

The undoubted highlight of the letters column in the Banbury Guardian issue for April 25, 1985 was an appreciation of the life of Percy Miller who was best known for his working involvement with Hoods the Ironmongers.

A ‘tribute to Percy’ came from the pen of Brownie Lay, cricket enthusiast, ace drummer and dance band leader.

His subject had been born at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and passed away on April 9, 1985.

The intervening years were never dull and full of incident. That they were so little known about was a reflection of his intense modesty.

During World War I, Percy was a Royal Artillery man but also saw subsequent service at his local Battery.

He became a proud if shy wearer of the Distinguished Conduct Medal. As to the exploit which earned him the DCM he did not share it with his friends.

Percy Miller must have been a very fit man in his early years. Evidence of this came in the form of walking prowess but also performances in front of soccer goal nets.

One of the most evocative press photos reveals Percy about to break the tape in Banbury’s Horse Fair.

The occasion was the Stone’s Walking Race, an annual event organised by the company of printers and furniture manufacturers.

The route was varied from year to year. In 1925 competitors started in the Horse Fair and headed for Hanwell via the Southam Road before returning to Banbury along the Warwick Road. The day’s hot sun meant that the weather was energy sapping.

Twenty competitors started the race but only nine finished.

A year later and walkers assembled in the Cow Fair (Bridge Street) and the course was via Cropredy and Great Bourton via the Daventry Road. Both occasions were not for the faint hearted but did highlight the competitiveness of Percy’s presence in this great outdoor local activity.

Percy also kept goal for Stone’s Athletic FC in his younger days. The team competed in the Oxfordshire Senior League.

An analysis of his performance during seasons 1921-22 and 1922-23 provides good evidence for his athleticism.

On January 14, 1922 when the Great Western Railway side was too good for Stones the Banbury Guardian reporter noted that ‘Miller skilfully got another shot away when harassed by a couple of players’. During the second half he pulled off ‘an equally nice save’.

That same season and in an away game with Cowley, Percy ‘excelled, half a dozen shots in the first twenty minutes being dealt with in masterly style’.

The following season and in the second qualifying round of the Amateur Cup, Stones earned a replay with Marlow largely because of ‘a splendid display by Miller’.

Brownie Lay used his tribute to acknowledge his musicianship which extended to mastery of the clarinet and alto saxophone.

Largely after his soccer days in the late 1920s and 1930s Percy played in the Black Diamond Dance Band alongside the likes of May Arms and Dudley Metcalfe.

Typical of their engagements was a January 1933 fancy dress dance in the Badminton Court at Upper Boddington.

People got in for 1/6d (7½p) and overall takings went to the Wingfield Morris Hospital (now Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre).

Brownie had good reasons to recall this aspect of Percy’s life as he found himself drawn to a band engagement. He was only 14 years old in 1932 but most definitely a young drumming enthusiast.

In Brownie’s own words ‘Percy took a chance on me’.

It was his first ever job in a dance band.

Later in life Brownie gained the impression that Miller was overwhelmingly pleased to note Brownie’s persistence with dance band music.

In a final paragraph of the tribute letter Percy is recalled as a real gentleman. ‘I am proud to have known and played with him’ were Brownie’s closing words. Can there be a better epitaph?

l I am grateful to Mrs Trower for memorabilia and the encouragement to explore Percy’s life.