Peter Tomlinson has given talks to our PCSG members in Kidderminster and Pershore about his life and his own prostate cancer journey. In the first of two articles we chart his career to the time he moved to Ombersley.
I interviewed Peter Tomlinson on a day when he had put his house – purchased in 1996 – up for sale. Having shared Lineholt Grange with his second wife Ali, for so many happy years, Peter could have been forgiven if his mood had been affected by this decision and his thoughts more backward than forward-looking.
This was not the case. At 78 Peter is still a formidable presence, a man with more to offer to his community and someone with strong views about what needs to be done to improve life in Worcestershire. Having first entered local politics at the age of 67 as a district councillor for Ombersley, becoming a county councillor for the Ombersley division in 2017 and 2 years later elected as Chairman of Worcestershire County Council – ‘a meteoric rise’, he chuckled – he wants to inspire retired KWPCSG members to think seriously about taking on new challenges.
Born in Bristol in April 1943 and educated at Bristol Grammar School, he gained a place to study Law at Worcester College, Oxford, but converted after the first year to studying for a degree in English. His aim at university was to develop a career in broadcasting. By 1968 the TV sector was changing dramatically with new regional franchises being created and Peter succeeded in landing the role of one of the first continuity announcers on Harlech Television (later HTV).
His wit and his distinctive voice helped him to move on in 1972 to ATV, based just off Broad Street in Birmingham. A year later he came up with the idea that became Tiswas. And from 1974 to 1977 he presented this anarchic children’s TV programme alongside Chris Tarrant and John Asher. Tiswas became so successful, creating huge viewing figures on a Saturday morning for ATV that the BBC was forced to come up with their own show. Peter describes the difference between the shows as Mods versus Rockers, with Rockers obviously being Tiswas! “The Health and Safety Inspectorate would have been shocked (literally) if they had been around in those days,” Peter commented, “Buckets of gunge and water don’t really mix with electric cables to TV cameras and sound equipment!”
‘With me there’s no such thing as a straight career path,’ was how Peter characterised his various moves over the years. In 1979 he moved out of television into radio, taking over as managing director of Beacon Radio in Wolverhampton. Commercial radio provided him with a new challenge, and he spent 5 years there before going freelance.
His next challenge, still in commercial radio, was to weld unsustainable stations in Cardiff and Newport into one, which was then sold off. By this time there seemed to be a growing disillusionment with the sector: In Peter’s words, Huge opportunities for local and regional services were being lost in order to maximise financial gain.’ Creating his own company (Jones Tomlinson Associates) devoted to voiceovers and company videos was providing him with a pathway into business associations. From 1982-4 he was president of the Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce,
driven by the desire to promote the Black Country as equally attractive as Birmingham for advertisers. The next decade would see him become president of the Kidderminster Chamber of Commerce (1994-6) and vice-president of the Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce (1998-2001).
In 1996 Peter moved to live near Ombersley with his new Ali. Ali was a community paediatrician with 3 sons from her first marriage who had been at school with Peter’s two daughters. They
shared a passion for music – Ali having played double bass for the Birmingham University Orchestra, the Wyre Forest Symphony and Chandos, while Peter was into rock and roll, jazz and played the drums. The American classics provided the ideal crossover of their musical appreciation, A new challenge beckoned in 2001 when Saga Radio was created, launching in the West Midlands with Peter as managing director and a presenter. This ties in with one of Peter’s passions – combatting the misconception that the over-60s had little to offer, particularly in the world of commerce but also in the wider community. He laments, for example, the closing of the Mature Workforce Project (financed by the European Social Fund) just a few months ago.
When Saga Radio was put up for sale, Peter left and now, in 2001, found himself out of work, but not for long as Birmingham Children’s Hospital nabbed him as a director to lead on marketing, communications and fundraising. In 2007 he was elected to the office of High Sheriff of the West Midlands – about as far removed from Tiswas as was possible in this country. In 2009 Peter and Ali considered retiring, but there was another twist in their lives. From 1998 Peter had undergone annual PSA checks. In 2009 a rise to 5.7 did not seem to trouble his GP, but it did Ali, who insisted that he saw a consultant. It was Mr.Chen in Droitwich who informed him he had prostate cancer.
In 1989 Peter had become a member of the Wyre Forest Cancer Research Committee and, when he became chairman, he got to know a number of experts in the field of cancer research, including Professor Nick James in Birmingham who recommended hormone therapy leading to radiotherapy at the QE in Birmingham Peter elected to go on the Chipps clinical trial, which meant a reduction from 37 to just 19 sessions in 2010.
‘I just cannot believe why every male over 50 should not have a PSA test each year’, he stated, bemoaning the opposition of many GPs to such a development. He feels that breast cancer screening has shown the way forward and is passionate about extending annual Wellman tests over the entire male population to include PSA tests.
In 2015 he was approached to stand as a Conservative candidate for Ombersley in the Wychavon District elections, then stood successfully for the county council the following year. In May 2019 he was duly elected as Chairman of Worcestershire County Council – a daunting set of achievements at any age, never mind mid-70s.
Sadly, his life had taken a turn for the worse when Ali was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015. Unusually for this cancer it was operable, and she recovered until the cancer returned in 2019. The chemotherapy treatment had been going exceptionally well, only for it to be discontinued in 2020 when, like so many cancer treatments, it was suspended due to Covid. Ali passed away in October last year.
With a house move now imminent it is not surprising that Peter should admit, in his words, to ‘finding it very difficult to move on to the next period of my life.’ I suspect he will not only ‘move on’ but thrive as new challenges come his way. If Timon Colegrove thinks the new middle age for men will be their 80s, Peter, with his passion to change and improve services, particularly
in the NHS, will find plenty to occupy him in the years ahead.
Written by Peter Corbishley