The couple that were in front of me in the queue for Bill Oddie’s book signing were fidgeting excitedly waiting to meet the great man. Then it was their turn and they spent several minutes telling Bill that he and they were related. They had worked it out from the episode of ‘Who do you think I am’ or some similar sounding programme. They got him to sign several books and a number of photographs were taken.
Then it was my turn. As I handed Bill my book I assured him that we were not related. He paused and giving me the once over commented that perhaps we were alike in more ways than one. It must be the dashing good looks I said. “That wasn’t quite what I thinking of,” replied Bill.
Earlier that morning the opera house had only been two thirds full. I was surprised as I thought Bill Oddie would have sold out. (Tickets that is) but when he came on stage, he seemed relived that there were so many. But that is Mr Oddie. A modest, decent chap, with a natural wit and an easy manner. He has a wealth of good stories that he tells with a twinkle in his eye, so that the hour soon passed. But like any good storyteller, he left us wanting more.
He was at the opera house to talk about his new book ‘Bill Oddie unplucked’ but apart from an initial reference, he did not refer to the book, instead giving us an account of what drew him to bird watching in the first place. This was a hobby that most small boys in the fifties indulged in. Collecting birds’ eggs.
He was honest about the egg collecting; pointing out this was a good basis for bird watching, as it taught the skills needed, patience and observation. Not I hasten to add that he was recommending it. It is of course illegal now but back then in the fifties a blind eye was turned perhaps in deference to the earlier Victorian habit of killing, stuffing and collecting anything that moved.
He ended his talk with a hilarious demonstration of how to catch a puffin for ringing purposes, using a stuffed toy puffin as his prop. It could easily have been a sketch from the Goodies.
There was very little time for questions, and then it was out into the sunshine and a polite queue for the book signing.
It was good to see Bill Oddie again. He had rather disappeared off the radar for a while, after his Spring watch career came to a sudden end. This we learnt coincided with him suffering a break down and being diagnosed as Bi polar. He deals with some of this in the forward to his book and touches briefly on it during his talk.
There is perhaps a touch of disappointment that he has never quite managed to cement a regular place for himself as a wildlife broadcaster, an occasional wistful reference to Chris and the others a hint that he feels the disappointment. Quite why is unclear. No one can doubt his knowledge or enthusiasm for the subject. Perhaps as is often the case it is not what you know but whom you know.
As he jokes during his chat and points out in the book, people come up to him and say didn’t you used to be Bill Oddie? Thank fully he still is very much Bill Oddie.