Ron Fidgeon spent half a century living and working in New York City after serving as a policeman in Palestine – experiences which got him close to Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe and the real “King’s Speech,” he tells PAUL NIZINSKYJ.
OUTSIDE the Regency Hotel in Royal Terrace, Southend, the Star Spangled Banner flutters alongside the Union Flag, flying as a testimony to the 50 years landlord Ron Fidgeon spent in the States.
At the age of 85, many people would have decided to start winding down, but there doesn’t seem to be too much chance of that for Ron and he still only takes Sunday afternoons off.
Despite the rather English name, the hotel takes a decidedly Stateside bent, with its wall full of hanging celebrity photos and zebra-print furniture giving the impression more of the South Side than Southend.
The synthesis is entirely fitting, however, as Southend-born Ron spent 50 years of his long life in the United States working for the New York Times and, later, running his own small publishing firm.
His time there has left its mark through a decidedly American twang, but perhaps the greatest thing it left were personal memories of some of the biggest stars of the 1950s and 1960s – who conveniently spent a lot of time very near his home.
“I started as a compositor at the Times,” he says, “but then I got into management, where I managed the building, which was a terrific job as I had ten managers under me.
“It was the greatest time of my life because we were right in Times Square and I lived on 44th and Broadway, which was next door to the Lambs Club, where all the members were stars.
“They said we could be honorary members of the club and have drinks there and the next thing you know, you’re meeting these people at the bar like Frank Sinatra, Edward G.
Robertson and Joey Brown.
“I used to see Marilyn Monroe almost every day. She was such a lovely lady and would give me a hug to say hello, but she got mixed up with the Kennedys, the president and his brother, and theymore or less did her head in – that’s what we felt, anyway.
“They’re still in my memory.”
Ron, left, with Alan Weatherley in Haifa, Mandate Palestine.
Memories also very much alive for Ron are his years in the Palestine Police – where he served with fellow Southendian and future Chelmsford police chief Alan Weatherley – given fresh life by daily reports of the conflict raging in Gaza.
Too young to serve in the Second World War, Ron signed up to the force 1946, at a time when Israel did not yet exist and Britain was administering its territory following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
“I was stationed in Haifa and there were 600 of us in the Palestine Police, but by the time we left in 1948 there were only 300 left.
“We were there on the day of transition when Britain pulled out and the State of Israel was declared and that’s when all the fighting really started.
“The Jews were running around trying to get hold of our stations, which we were handing over anyway, and our job was to keep the Jews and the Arabs apart – it didn’t work out that way though.”
The rest, you might say, is history, but not before Ron got his foot in the door to another page of history by being privy to a real-life recital of “The King’s Speech.”
“When we came back from Palestine, the King (George VI) had us all up at the Palace and he gave a great speech,” he says.
“They told us he stuttered, but he didn’t do it once throughout the entire speech."