Eight years after the death of one of the region’s best-loved entertainers his greatest comic creation has been given a fresh lease of life through a new website and online shop.
A perennial favourite at steam rallies and county shows, Dennis of Grunty Fen had many fans who never knew that under the dirty mac and floppy flat cap of the Vocal Yokel there lurked the real-life singer-songwriter Pete Sayers. But when Pete died from cancer in 2005 they learned that Dennis had, in one sense, died with him.
A few recordings were available, mainly on cassette, but now Dennis has gone digital. With a wide range of new releases and old favourites to choose from, fans can either listen to him on CD or download episodes to their mp3 players so that they can relive the unique world of Dennis of Grunty Fen.
Every week for 17 years and in a grotesque clash of characters, Dennis the cantankerous countryman was interviewed on BBC radio by the relentlessly serious Christopher South. Between them Pete and Chris devised a whole imaginary landscape with scores of characters and villages with names like Dank, Blight Fen and Down Market.
As the plot-lines grew more complex so the fan base extended until even American airmen fighting in Iraq carried Dennis recordings into battle with them.
A typical far-flung fan is Guy Ridgeon, a higher-education lecturer who teaches in Bangkok. “For years, Dennis has been my lifeline if ever I feel homesick,” he said, greeting the news that a vast treasury of archive Dennis episodes will be made available through the website devoted to Grunty Fen.
“Whilst I don’t have an iPod so I won’t be able to tap into the new material that way, I’m very happy to learn that it will be available on CD,” he said.
Featuring illustrations by renowned artist John Holder, the website gives visitors the opportunity to sample the extensive Dennis catalogue which includes recordings and memorabilia. Four new albums, released to celebrate the new site, join the wide range of recordings that include the never-broadcast classics “Bomb Photo” and “Tiger Tales”.
“I’m so grateful for my old friend’s sake that the Dennis legend is being kept alive in this way,” said Chris South. “All credit to Miss Edwards and her nervous sister Edna down at Grunty Fen Post Office Stores for making such an effort on the technology front.
“I can’t imagine what Dennis or Pete would have made of hearing themselves on an iPod although I’m fairly sure Dennis would have compared it unfavourably with the 78 rpm Mantovani records he used to charm rats out of their nests.”
Dennis’s new website and shop can be found at www.dennisofgruntyfen.co.uk