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Jones first reveals the threat of the Middleton Empire

Early Days
Jones first reveals the threat of the Middleton Empire (story)

Chris’s version of the story, 29 December 1978:

E-mail from Chris:
From: Chris Woodhead
Sent: 31 October 2010 00:11
To: John E Cooper

Hi John,

...I think your blog entry, "The Middleton Empire spoof", must be one of the classics! I laughed so much whilst reading it, I gave myself heartburn! It got me thinking about the whole thing again, and that Jones, when confronted with scepticism, was also prepared to go quite a long way in the bluffing game. I remember being round at Davelyshome at some point during the "crisis", and probably showing signs of being less convinced of the impending danger than Jones would have liked. Suddenly, he made the suggestion that he should ring Gerard right away and talk to him directly about the matter. Maybe implying that, as a first cousin, he could use his influence to strike some deal with the tyrant. I was intrigued and happily went along with the idea. I remember that we went down the stairs together, and that he opened the door to the living room where he asked his Mum if he could make a call to Manchester to speak with Gerard. She refused, however: it was a Sunday and she said something like, "Oh no, David, we don't want to bother them on a Sunday afternoon." And that was that. Maybe he offered to try again sometime; I can't remember.

It could be, of course, that he was banking on that response from Mums or, alternatively, that he had good reason to believe that Gerard wouldn't be at home. But what if he had got the guy on the phone, what would he have said to him? How would he have duped me into believing that active negotiations were taking place? Would I finally have been convinced? Maybe, if that scenario had taken place, he would have just blown it. He could have then said that Gerard wasn't in the mood for discussing the matter, and just thrown me out. Being thrown out was something which we readily accepted, anyway, and which would have stifled any attempt at further discussion. It was probably just another ploy but, at the time, it did leave a niggling question mark on the whole thing: "The Middleton Empire—fact or fiction?"

Think I'll leave it there for now.
My reply:
From: John E Cooper
Sent: 31 October 2010 18:29
To: Chris Woodhead

Hi Chris,

There are interesting parallels between this story and the "canonical" Jones first reveals the threat of the Middleton Empire. In one, however, Jones's proposal is to make a phone-call; in the other, it is to send a telegram. (Either way, in 1963, one would have to go through the operator.) In one, it is Mums who refuses the request; in the other, it is Dads. One occurs at some point DURING the crisis; the other, when Jones FIRST reveals the threat.

Another "doublet" occurs in the Middleton Empire stories, where Jones says, "Over the hilltops appears—a fleet of bicycles!": in the aforementioned Jones first reveals the threat of the Middleton Empire; and in Jones warns Potts about the Middleton Empire. When I came to write up the two stories, I figured that Jones perhaps only said that once, but I let it stand in both because otherwise it would involve mutilating one or other of them.

In The Middleton Empire spoof, there is a minor difference in detail at one point between two accounts: according to one, suddenly the letter appears as if from nowhere; in the other, Jones has it already visible in front of him. I thought both versions were noteworthy, so one went in the text and the other in a footnote.

With this latest story, I don't know whether to tack it onto Jones first reveals the threat of the Middleton Empire as a footnote: "An alternative version of the tale places this event later in the unfolding of the crisis, with differences in detail", etc., etc.—or whether to write a separate chapter, as I did with "Over the hilltops appears—a fleet of bicycles!", and leave it to the reader to discover the doublet.

Thanks for the new material; I intend to incorporate it one way or the other, but can't decide which yet.
E-mail from Chris:
From: Chris Woodhead
Sent: 01 November 2010 10:16
To: John E Cooper
Subject: Jones

Hi John,

You've got me thinking now! The account of the proposed telegram also rings true, as does the fact that it was Dads who rejected the idea outright: "Don't be so bloody daft, David! Whatever will you think of next?" However, I still think that there was a request to make a phone-call to Gerard, and that the exchange about this, at the living-room door, was with Mums. I mean, to say that Jones was a bit obsessed with the whole Middleton Empire thing wouldn't exactly be an overstatement. It may, therefore, be reasonable to suggest that there were, in fact, two incidents of Jones wanting to contact Gerard; neither of which obtained parental approval. Of course, after 47 years, and after much telling and re-telling, it is possible that we've reached the point of getting some things mixed up.

I can still remember the encounter with Potts on Victoria Road quite clearly. I can still remember the feeling of embarrassment which I had when Jones seized his chance to steer the conversation on to his favourite subject. However, when I read your account again of this chance meeting, it had me chuckling away as much as ever! I think that it contains a classic statement, which just about sums up the whole thing, in a nutshell: "And Jones complained to Chris that people didn't seem to take him seriously."

Bye for now.
This e-mail from Chris convinced me to write up the new material as a separate story: The Middleton Empire—fact or fiction? And I couldn't resist changing "This was promptly and firmly denied by his Dad (Dads), much to Jones's apparent disappointment" in Jones first reveals the threat of the Middleton Empire to "His Dad ('Dads') rejected the idea outright: 'Don't be so bloody daft, David! Whatever will you think of next?'—much to Jones's apparent disappointment."

E-mail from Chris:
From: Chris Woodhead
To: Джон Эдвард Купер
Date: 9 March 2018 at 15:45

Hi John,

The "Middleton Empire spoof" was a masterpiece! I haven't laughed so much in a long time and, even when I try to write about it, I get the giggles. However, I'll try! I'm sure we've discussed it before, but there is one sticking point to Trevor's assessment of Jones's thinking: that the psychology of it all was that at no time could Jones believe that the letter was genuine because he himself had made the whole Middleton Empire thing up. While it was in "full swing", I was with Jones at Davelyshome one Sunday afternoon, when the Middleton Empire was the topic of our conversation. Jones suggested that he ring Gerard and ask him to spell out his terms for peace. As his cousin, he could at least expect a fair hearing, and stood a good chance of pulling it off. So we agreed that he should do that. We went downstairs, turned right into the living room, and he asked his mum if he could make a call to Gerard. Mums immediately turned his request down with the words, "No, David, we don't want to disturb them on a Sunday afternoon". "But, Mums…", he protested. "No, David, not now!" So either he knew it was a "dead-cert" that permission to make a call to Manchester would be refused, or his disappointment was genuine, and that he saw his last chance to sue for peace as being thwarted! If the latter was true, then it must have been Gerard who made the whole thing up, and had convinced his gullible cousin, Jones, that he had a host of thug-cyclists at his command, who had already wrought havoc on other towns across the north-west of England; and that he now had his eyes on the Fylde Coast! I guess we will never know for sure where the truth lies, but this hypothesis could well be slightly tenable. What do you think?

Bye for now,
I have made a number of changes to the stories as a result of this e-mail.

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