Rootin' tootin' shootin' Norwich favourite who inspired Olly Day
PUBLISHED: 06:32 08 April 2017
Derek James remembers Norwich character Pete Wood, ‘The Fastest Gun in the East’ and finds out how he inspired a young Olly Day to take up showbiz
Reach for the sky... this city ain’t big enough for the both of us. It was the gunfight at Livingstone Street in the old wild east of Norwich.
This rootin-tootin’ sharp-shootin’ son of a gun was one of the best-loved characters Norfolk has seen in more recent times. He was simply known as ‘The Marshal’, the late, great Pete Wood. A truly wonderful man, and a colourful and unique character who deserves to be remembered.
But there is another local star in this photograph which was taken in the Norwich during the summer of 1974.
Can you spot him?
Standing next to the youngster with the “rifle” who looks as though they are going to finish off the winner is a little lad with dark hair who looks slightly worried about what was going on.
“I was mesmerised. I remember it well but I never thought then that I would go on to work with The Marshal. What a great showman he was,” said the boy who grew up to become Olly Day.
“The women at the back of the photograph were standing in front of The Duke of Connaught pub. It was a great place to grow up. I had to walk past three corner shops on my way to school – happy days,” he said.
Today this much-loved man of music, magic and mirth has also become Norfolk’s very own road safety ambassador thanks to his shows in schools. Thousands of boys and girls have grown up remembering how Olly has got across a serious message in his own unique and memorable way.
But, back in the 70s, The Marshal was his hero – a real-life cowboy patrolling the streets of Norwich. Everybody seemed to know Pete. Not only was the fastest gun in the East but he was also a talented singer and an all-round entertainer who transformed himself into a whole range of Hollywood characters. Remember him walking the streets as Aussie Ned Kelly - not forgetting Rocket Man?
“I remember walking up the street early that morning to go to Monuments newsagents on Dereham Road to pick up my comic,” said Olly, who went to Wensum View School.
“As I came back Marshal Pete was practising for the ‘Fastest Shootout in the East’ gunslinger competition. He was fast too.
“He had six cans lined up on the wall and was trying to knock them off... by firing blanks! It looked good and as a kid I thought it was fabulous. All very exciting and Pete was brilliant,” added Olly.
“This was my first taste of being close to showbusiness people. I loved it. That’s my little brother Glenn standing on the left with his pink National Health Service specs on.
“Little did I do all this years ago that I would end up working with Pete. He taught me so much. What a man. We still miss him so much. There will never be anyone like him. A fine singer with a real presence on stage,” said Olly.
Talk about Clint Eastwood, our Pete could grab, draw, fire and hit a target in no less than 0.23 of a second and he did that on a TV show soon after an American claimed a world record of 0.25 of a second.
What do those Americans know about cowboys anyway!
Dear Pete, who died in the summer of 1995 aged 55, appeared in many TV shows and films... a gentle giant, a loving husband, father and grandfather, and also the bingo caller at the old Gaumont on All Saints Green where the audience loved him.
Just before his sudden death he told me: “I am a lucky man. I have my family, I love my work... and I always wanted to be a cowboy.”
“He was a joy to work with. A great character and a man with a fine voice,” said Olly, who today has also grown into one of the best-loved all-round entertainers in Norfolk and Suffolk.
This year he is with Nigel “Boy” Syer at Gorleston Pavilion Theatre every Tuesday from May to October and they are also appearing at Hunstanton during the summer.
Before that he is teaming up with his sparring partner Jonathan Wyatt for a spring concert at Cromer Pier on Saturday April 22 – celebrating 25 years of friendship, musical collaboration and gentle banter.
“I can’t wait to stand on the stage again with the powerhouse of the Jonathan Wyatt Big Band behind me. I love it,” says Olly who will be singing all the old favourites by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett plus new ones from Michael Buble.
The show is on Saturday April 22, starting at 7.30pm on Cromer Pavilion Theatre. For tickets (they cost £19) call 01263 512495 or click on www.cromer-pier.com