Harold Heys fondly remembers a colleague's valiant efforts to keep a story in the news

EAST LANCS Wakes Weeks have long been confined to local history books as factories and mills in every town closed for a fortnight in turn between early June and August and everybody headed off for a week at the seaside.

Just a few locals were left to tramp the quiet streets. Including an old pal and mentor of mine, Norman Bentley, who covered his home town of Darwen for the Telegraph.

As the ghosts of long-forgotten Wakes Weeks come round again, I’m reminded of him squeezing a dozen consecutive stories out of a pile of old clothes found on the moors above his patch.

Mid-July marked the start of Darwen’s Wakes fortnight and news was always going to be slow.

Early that Monday morning, Norman sauntered glumly into the police station.

“Sorry, Norman. Not a sniff,” said the snoozing desk sergeant. And then the old boy remembered … some old clothes had been found in the shadow of Darwen Tower: a shirt, trousers, a jumper and a pair of socks.

Manna from heaven for a man of Norman’s calibre. He quickly filed: “Police have discovered several items of clothing …” The follow-up next day was: “Mystery surrounds the discovery of …”

On the Wednesday: “Police are carefully examining clothing found high on the moors for any traces of blood …”

By the weekend various explanations were being put forward by our intrepid sleuth: “Police, puzzling over abandoned clothing on the moors, believe…” and “Police are working on the theory that clothing …”

Norman chalked up the second Monday with an intriguing bit of analysis: “Could the clothing found on the moors belong to two people? …”

By the second Tuesday, warming to his theme, he introduced the possibility of a phantom nudist, but after eight consecutive days even Norman was struggling to keep it going: “Police last night appealed to…” and by the second Thursday it was: “After two weeks, police are no nearer …”

On the second Friday, as bags were being repacked all along the coast, he recovered his nerve a little and squeezed out: “Have YOU lost any items of clothing…?” and followed with a more detailed description of the troublesome togs.

By this time the few dozen who hadn’t been at the seaside, were wondering what Our Man would come up with next. Norman Bentley, my boyhood hero, was up to the task.

On the Saturday he presented his final dispatch on the moors mystery: his pièce de résistance: “The pile of clothing found two weeks ago on Darwen moors is now believed to have been a hoax.”

A master craftsman at work. And to his dying day he denied scurrilous suggestions from younger, less imaginative hacks that the old clothes were actually his own …