Ian Dockray – The fascinating life of an Island panto stalwart…

I’d seen Ian Dockray on stage in several Shorwell pantomimes and could hardly believe it when he played Buttons in Cinderella…he was in his sixties and Cinders was young enough to be his granddaughter.
The audience ad-libs were priceless. When we finally met up, I found out his life had also involved boxing, shoes, Hurricane Higgins, karaoke, speed dating, fish and chips, nightclubs and ironing. I was glad I’d decided to track him down.
Ian, who lives in Chillerton, is proud to be an Islander and it was hard to believe as a pupil at Priory Boys he was shy, lacked confidence and didn’t say that much.

How times have changed! He certainly didn’t say a lot in a schoolboy boxing bout. His cousin punched him on the nose and he was rushed to hospital. With no ambulance available, he was delivered in an old bread van.

Ian started as a junior in Oliver’s shoe shop in Newport. His confidence grew and he became manager. His fame spread within the company and he moved away to manage branches in Salisbury, Bristol and Croydon. He saw the Brixton riots first hand and, in 1983, decided to bring his wife, Shirley, and three daughters back to the Island. It was a decision he has never regretted.

Becoming a partner in the Ambassador Snooker Club, at Gunville, was to change his life forever. With Pot Black on television, the game was at an all-time high. They had 12 tables that were always in use. Later, when Ian also opened the Central Park, near Newport bus station, he brought Hurricane Higgins over for an exhibition. It was snooker upstairs and a fun pub, below.

“When Hurricane had finished, about 1am on the Sunday morning, he fancied a Chinese meal. I told him there was no chance in Newport at that time of the morning. He told me it would be ok. I knocked on a Chinese takeaway shop, which had already closed. The manager came down from her flat above and could hardly believe that I had Hurricane with me. We were invited upstairs to her flat and she cooked him a meal. That’s fame for you. I just watched – as I don’t like Chinese food,” said Ian.

At the Central Park, Ian also introduced the Island’s first real karaoke machine. It cost him over £8,000 but the crowds flocked in.
“I loved this period of my life and would do it all that again tomorrow. As well as the Central Park, I still had the Gunville snooker club and another in Ryde. It was hard work but they were my best times ever.”

Many will remember Ian’s Plaice, his fish and chip shop, next to Ryde’s King Lud pub. At weekends, his takeaway was open until 3am. For a time he also ran a wholesale fish business in Ventnor.

Rumours suggested he was later involved in speed dating. He could barely wait to tell me all about it. Apparently, he held evenings at The Countryman, Brighstone, and Newport’s Riverside Centre. They had around 50 singles at each event. Each couple had a few minutes together and when the bell clanged they moved on to the next. Some marriages came from those evenings.

Shirley was out of the room, so he opened up a bit. “If they were a man short I would join in and I enjoyed a lot of chatting up. I just wanted to make sure a lady didn’t feel lonely, sat on her own.”

Luckily, Ian and Shirley have never needed speed dating. Later this year they celebrate their golden wedding. They are planning to renew their marriage vows.
A few years ago, Shirley did some ironing for a few friends in the village. Always up for a challenge, Ian sensed another business opportunity. He decided to advertise in the local paper and would go ahead if he had just one reply. He got the one – Wight Ironing Services was born and he has never looked back.

He’d even been tipped off about my lack of ironing skills. It must have been my partner that told him I’d asked her to iron a couple of shirts, when we first got together. Apparently, it was 15 altogether.

When Ian is on stage we all love it when he forgets his words and makes them up. He did admit to me that he would have loved to have been a Butlin’s Redcoat. He might have even been a young Buttons!

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