LOCAL legend George Cowley has finally gone to meet his maker and the letters page of the Heavenly Times won't be short of material now.

Because along with Shirley Bassey,  letter writing was George’s great passion. Throughout the nineties and well into the noughties, from his flat in Warndon, Worcester, he peppered the in-tray of our incumbent editor with his output. Sometimes they arrived at the rate of four a week, sometimes at the rate of four a day, all stuffed together in one envelope. The Post Office must have loved him.

They were not really letters. Written on lined pages which looked like they had been ripped out of a notebook,  they were more George’s thoughts of the day. Two paragraphs were par for the course, much longer and he was into War and Peace territory for him.

In a fond appreciation, Adrian Gregson, one of Worcester leading councillors, said: “George’s contributions were always short and pithy. For many years, in the days before social media,  he kept readers variously amused, angered, frustrated, bored and informed with his almost daily missives to the paper. And not only the Worcester papers, but he was known to write hundreds of letters to papers and individuals all over the country.”

Now there will be no more contributions from Cowley. For the man who was born at Sedgeberrow, near Evesham in 1937 has died of natural causes at the age of 83.

Plagued by mental illness for much of his life, George discovered letter writing was great therapy. “My daily release,” he called it. For 18 years he was under quite close medical supervision, either in or out of institutions. That included eight years in the former mental hospital at Powick, where a psychology test showed him to have an IQ of 148. “One doctor told me I was more intelligent than most of those treating me,” he said. “I’m not thick.”

George passed his 11-Plus at the age of 10 and went to Prince Henry’s Grammar School, Evesham. He left when he reached  14 simply because he stopped going. “I’m not really sure why,” he said later, “but I’ve always got fed up with things easily.” So a psychiatrist was called in. The first of many to make his acquaintance over the years.

He completed his education in Cheltenham at North Gloucestershire Technical College and left with five O Levels and an A Level distinction in Biology. He then worked for a while as a student nurse before being called up for National Service, but got out of that by pretending to drown himself in the village pond. At which point, as he had hoped, the Army said “No, thanks”.

His letter writing began in earnest in 1992. “I had always written the odd letter,” he explained. “But when I started to do it regularly I found it wonderful therapy. Not just the writing of them, but seeing your name in print and getting a response from other people. I get a sort of a glow. I reckon I write about 20 a week to various publications and friends.”

He won awards for his efforts too, more than a dozen literary prizes from magazine Punch and competitions in the New Statesman. However, he wasn’t always everyone’s cup of tea and after overstepping the mark, he was temporarily banned from the pages of the Worcester News. This led to protests from his fans, so after a suitable period in sackcloth he was reinstated. George even had a local band named after him, the George Cowley Experience and a picture  of him on a motorbike appeared on the cover  of its charity CD.

George was quite open about his five failed suicide attempts, which included setting fire to a church after a novice nun ended their friendship and trying to overdose on tablets that he later discovered were not fatal anyway. The last was in 1978 when he jumped off Worcester Bridge in mid-summer when it was running low and ended up stuck waist high in the mud.

The police boat was launched to rescue him and as the “commodore” Pol Sgt Walter Lawrence pulled him on board he said: “Come on, George. The Good Lord doesn’t want you today.” Well, he does now and there’s a new scribe on the staff.

George Cowley’s funeral will be a private affair so there will be no chance to say goodbye. But on behalf of all at Worcester News, thanks for the memories, George.