The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Giving Dorset – ‘Call My Bluff’ – with a Dorset twist

The popular TV word game has been adapted by a well-known Dorset character and raised thousands of pounds for local charities. John Newth explains.

It is a cold, dark winter’s night, but in the council chamber of the East Dorset DC offices at Furzehill, there is the noise and bustle of a formal dinner. When the after-dinner entertainment is announced, three people climb onto the dais and, after they have introduced themselves, one of them holds up an object and describes what it was used for. He passes it to the next person, who gives a completely different explanation, and then the third gives yet another variation.

Larry Skeats holding a knock hammer – the precursor of today’s abattoir stun-guns

Larry Skeats holding a knock hammer – the precursor of today’s abattoir stun-guns

Fans of the TV programme, ‘Call My Bluff’, will recognise the format, whether they watched the programme when it started in 1965, during its halcyon days with Robert Robinson, Frank Muir and Patrick Campbell, or in one of its more recent revivals with Sandi Toksvig and others. The three performers are Larry Skeats, his wife, Sue, and their good friend, David Harris, five generations of whose family have farmed at Stourton Caundle.

The format was the brainchild of Larry Skeats, formerly the landlord of the Trooper Inn at Stourton Caundle, when he was secretary of that village’s ‘Welcome club’, what had been the over-60 club. A speaker from a museum brought some artefacts from the museum’s collections to one of the club’s meetings and explained their uses. As Larry sat there thinking, ‘I’ve got things at least as interesting as these,’ the idea for the present format was born.

Larry has been something of a magpie all his life, and has built up three collections of agricultural and other objects. For 25 years he was a shepherd, working first on the Crichel Estate and then at Tisbury as farm manager for the late Major Kenny-Herbert, during which time he assembled and then sold his first two collections. He moved into the pub trade, first at the Deer Park at Lydlinch and later at the Trooper, where there was a large empty skittle alley. ‘I’ve got to fill this somehow,’ he thought to himself, so he started collecting again and soon every inch of the alley walls was covered with interesting and intriguing objects that he had discovered in second-hand shops and at farm sales. It is that collection which provides the objects for his version of ‘Call My Bluff’.

Smuggler’s lamp, military watch illuminator or bank-note forgery detector? David (right), Larry (centre) and Sue (left) give their versions of the truth.

Smuggler’s lamp, military watch illuminator or bank-note forgery detector? David (right), Larry (centre) and Sue (left) give their versions of the truth.

Back to the evening at Furzehill. David Harris is displaying an object that has a magnifying lens on a bracket in front of a battery-powered bulb, with another, empty bracket behind. This, he confidently explains, is a signalling lamp used by smugglers on the Dorset coast to send a light out to sea, bright enough to be seen by those bringing the contraband ashore, but too dim to give away from the smugglers’ position to those on the land. He even suggests that Larry’s profits at the Trooper may have been boosted by his dealings with those who used the device!

Ignoring this slander, Larry himself is next to hold up the mystery object and he gives it a military origin. Apparently it was used by an officer on manoeuvres; he would hang his watch on the rear bracket and, if he woke in the night, could use the magnifying glass and the little light to check whether it was time yet to rouse his troops.

Larry passes the object on to Sue, who has a sweetly innocent look on her face as she explains that in fact, it was given to Larry by their bank manager. The old white five-pound notes would be secured on the rear bracket, she says, then peered at through the magnifier, with the help of the light, to check whether they were forgeries. After Sue has finished, the audience write down which description they think is the true one. (If you want to know who was telling the truth, the answer is at the bottom of the page.)

211edCharity3

Do you recognise this object? Even the ‘Call My Bluff’ team don’t know what this roller-equipped, finger-lever-operated grabber might have been used for. If you know, please get in touch via Dorset Life.

Do you recognise this object? Even the ‘Call My Bluff’ team don’t know what this roller-equipped, finger-lever-operated grabber might have been used for. If you know, please get in touch via Dorset Life.

This performance is repeated with fifteen different objects during the course of the evening, all presented with great good humour, which does not altogether conceal the panellists’ knowledge and intelligence. There is a real sense of being in touch with the history of Dorset, helped by the distinctive Dorset burr with which David and Larry in particular make their presentations. So skilful are they that the top score among the audience is only nine correct answers out of fifteen; I scored a miserable three.

In the seven years since the indefatigable trio started taking their show round Dorset and the adjoining counties, they have raised £2000 for the blind, £3000 for the Air Ambulance and £4000 for Weldmar Hospicecare Trust. The labour is divided, with Larry assembling the items, David (who lost a daughter to cancer in her forties three years ago) doing all the driving, and Sue taking on the administration work. They do an average of 60 ‘gigs’ a year and by last Christmas already had 36 already booked in for 2011. Their audiences include Probus and Rotary clubs, WIs, gardening clubs and events like the Furzehill dinner. The only audiences that make Larry uncomfortable are police social clubs – lying to the boys in blue does not come naturally to him, he says.

Larry has put together four sets of fifteen objects each, so they can play several times to the same audience, as they are often asked to do. In fact, one group has just booked them for the fifth time, but the secretary insists that if they use the same set of objects as they did the first time, everyone will have forgotten what they were! If she is wrong, perhaps someone will improve on the best-ever score, which after seven years is still only twelve out of fifteen.

The trio pay all their own expenses, including the new car which, Larry announces at the beginning of the show, is waiting in the car park for anyone who scores fifteen out of fifteen. On this occasion he is not bluffing, but he omits the detail that the new car is on the back seat of David Harris’s vehicle, as it is a Dinky toy! It is all in keeping with an ingenious, amusing and above all very effective way of persuading people to give to local charities while having fun.

[To book the ‘Call My Bluff’ team, call Sue Skeats on 01963 362482.]

Larry was telling the truth: the device was to enable an officer under canvas to check the time.

Dorset Directory