A Tribute to
(1911 - 1990)
First Broadcast of Gardeners Question Time
The Green Plaque at The Broadoak Hotel in Ashton-under-Lyne, marks the site where the first 'Gardeners Question Time' was broadcast. On that first panel was Bill Sowerbutts. A Blue Plaque at Etherow Lodge in Hollingworth, celebrates the life of Bill Sowerbutts who became a household name for his broadcasting on the famous radio show, but was especially known locally for selling his produce in Ashton Market.
Born in 1911 at Ashton Moss, Bill was the son of a market gardener. In his younger years he aspired to become a journalist. However when his father died, he was 16 years old and was needed to help on the small holding.
Bill became a very talented and knowledgeable vegetable grower and gardener. He began earning a living from a stall in Victoria Market, Oldham, from where he sold his own produce.
Business bloomed and he went on to acquire a stall in Ashton Market and several nurseries. He decided to share his knowledge and toured the North West, talking to various clubs and allotments societies. Before long he went on to become a budding radio idol.
"The Gardeners Question Time" Connection
The first edition of 'How does your garden grow?', soon to be renamed 'Gardeners Question Time', was an offshoot of the war time `Dig for Victory Campaign'. This first programme was broadcast from the `Singing Room' at the Broadoak Hotel in Ashton-under-Lyne on April 9th 1947.
Bill Sowerbutts was on the first panel answering questions, along with Fred Loads, Tom Clark and Dr EW Sansome. Bill and Fred later went on to become household names, every Sunday at 2.00 pm on Radio 4.
In April 1950, Professor Alan Gemmell joined the troublesome two. The banter between the trio attracted a large following, with the listenership building up to 2 million.
Bill Sowerbutts was often referred to as being quick witted with a dry Lancastrian sense of humour. This was evident when he was giving practical advice on gardening matters. His answers were always based on his practical experience and it has been reported that there was never a time when a question could not be answered by Bill.
Once when he was asked to name his favourite flower he replied "Cauliflowers" when further questioned, "Why?", he said "...Because they make me a lot of money".
Bill retired in September 1983 and had completed more than 1,500 broadcasts and had answered over 16,000 questions.
Other Achievements and Interests
Bill sold his produce in Ashton Market for many successful years and was very popular with the local community.
He recorded a television programme advising Delia Smith on vegetables from Stalybridge Allotments, although this was not unusual, as Bill made several appearances on various television programmes, including helping Stuart Hall with gardening tips.
Fulfilling his early years ambitions, Bill wrote regularly for various newspaper columns offering advice and tips. He contributed to a well known book titled "Down the Garden Path - 30 years of Gardeners Question Time" with Fred Loads and Professor Alan Gemmell.
Bill adored cricket, first as a player for Ashton and then as a supporter of Lancashire Cricket Club and he was also a member of Yorkshire Cricket Club. Later Golf became a major passion and he was a member and player of Ashton Golf Club. He was noted for studying the seasonal changes in the flora and fauna at the Golf Club which he loved.
On his passive side, Bill loved playing the piano. His favourite piece, which he practised every night was "Fur Elise" by Beethoven.
Bill sadly died in 1990 (aged 79) and he was the last remaining member of the original 'Gardeners Question Time' panel.
The funeral took place at Mottram Church, (leaving his wife Doris, his son Peter, two grandchildren and four great grandchildren. His first wife, Dorothy, died 35 years previous).
His son Peter still carries on the family business, selling green groceries in Glossop, Derbyshire.
On November 29th 1999, Ashton Town Hall hosted 'Gardeners Question Time'. On the panel were John Cushnie, Bob Flowerdew, Anne Swithinbank and chair, Eric Robson.
At the beginning of this Broadcast, Eric commented on the Broadoak Hotel and remembered Bill Sowerbutts for his service.