INSIDE STORY: Ipswich man's connection to Led Zeppelin star
THERE is one question Michael Welham would ask Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page about their youth if he had the chance, and it concerns a cricket bat.
"Jimmy, have you still got that Denis Compton-signed cricket bat I sold you in 1955 for two and six?"
In truth, there are many more questions Welham, who now lives in Ipswich, would ask the legendary guitarist.
This is a story about Welham's days knocking around with Page in Epsom, Surrey when they were nine to 11 years of age ... with some fascinating recollections of the great train robber Ronnie Biggs on the run in South Australia thrown in.
Records state Page transferred to Pound Lane School at Epsom in October 1953, so the times Welham speaks of were between then and when he left in March, 1955 when his family immigrated to South Australia on the Orient Line RMS Otranto.
"We went to Pound Lane School in Epsom, very close to where Jimmy lived, and it wasn't very posh," Welham grins.
"Me and Jimmy used to walk home in the same direction.
"We'd go around pinching cherries and fruit, and we'd swap comics. The things boys do."
Page developed an interest in esoteric areas in later life, and as a youth his comic tastes weren't of the Donald Duck variety.
"Jimmy liked his horror comics," Welham recalls.
"There was one comic called Eerie, about 100 pages, that he liked.
"From an early age you could see he was going to be something on the guitar.
"He was practising a lot and taking a bus for lessons at Tolworth, not far from Epsom.
"Sometimes I'd meet him at the bus stop on the way back, and swap comics or watch cricket.
"Other times we'd go to the matinee movies.
"Jimmy was a shy bloke, but became more outgoing as he got older. Some of the places we had to walk through were rough.
"I got a touch-up one night and the next night I picked Jimmy up from the bus stop.
"He said 'I'm not walking through that lane Mick', but I'd made sure the thugs weren't there, so away we went.
"There was a pub called The Cricketers in Epsom, which is where (film star) Oliver Reed used to drink. He was famous for his three-day sessions.
"The cricket oval was out the front of the pub and me and Jimmy would watch games."
And just before he left for Australia, Welham sold Page a cricket bat signed by English Test batsman Denis Compton.
"My uncle Arthur had bought it for me as a birthday present but when we came over on the ship there was only room for so much, so we had to get rid of things," Welham recalls.
"Jimmy wanted it, so I sold it to him for two shillings and six pence, or half a crown.
"Jimmy didn't have any money so I went around to his mum's place and she paid for it."
It was the last time Welham saw Page.
Welham, a lovely hand- writer even as a youth, wrote Page a letter in 1955 on a postcard he picked up on the trip over on the ship, but he didn't post it because as an 11-year-old kid he didn't have the money.
Instead, it was stowed away for safekeeping in a box until it resurfaced after Page had become a rock legend.
It said: "Dear Jim. I am having a lovely time out here. I've started to collect stamps. If you want to write to me, my address is: Master Michael Welham, Finsbury Hostel, Penington, South Australia. How's the cricket bat Jim?"
It is addressed to Jimmy Page, 34 Miles Rd, Epsom, Surrey, England.
Later on, Welham wrote "Happy New Year and best of luck" on the card but still did not post it.
In Oz, Welham took up a rare trade as a lead burner, which is welding in lead or doing anything with lead.
He worked on mine sites in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Welham, a champion dart player who still plays at the Coronation Hotel, met another famous character on his travels ... although he didn't know at the time it was Ronnie Biggs, on the run for the Great Train Robbery of 1963.
"Ronnie played at the dart club at Henley Beach Hotel in Adelaide," Welham says, after showing the QT a trophy he won at the club himself.
"I didn't know it was him.
"He was calling himself Terry Cook, and when he went to the next pub to play darts he was Terry Williams.
"I played with and against him.
"He was meant to have plastic surgery, but from the photos I have seen, he didn't seem to have changed much so he didn't get his money's worth out of the operations.
"He was in a country that wasn't expecting to see him.
"I only realised it was him when they nearly got him at a motel in Essendon when he was working as a carpenter at Tullamarine Airport.
"There was a lot of media in Melbourne about how he'd been in Adelaide. He was next heard of in Brazil."
So what was Ronnie like?
"Just another Londoner," Welham chuckles.
"They all love themselves and think they can whistle and sing better than anybody else.
"There was nothing that stood out about him."
It is clear talking to Welham that Page is the one he recalls the most fondly.
Welham, who started life in Ireland, followed Page's career with the Yardbirds and then Led Zeppelin, although he confesses to being more of a fan of Elvis Presley and Bill Haley.
"I guess I wouldn't be going to knock on Jimmy's door now," Welham says.
"But I have fond memories of growing up with him.
"I still wonder whether he has that bat, and what recollection of those Epsom days he has."