Ernest Johnson in 2005 attending a Buckingham Palace Garden Party as President of the Showmen’s Guild.

A total Guild man: The late Ernest Johnson

From boxing to business, from the SSA to the Showmen’s Guild, Ernest Johnson gave his all to everything he did.

Ernest Johnson was born on 26 September 1942 at Boston Spa near Whitby to parents Ernest and Clara. Alongside older brother Peter, he had two sisters, Gloria and Maisie.

The family travelled Yorkshire with sidestalls and juveniles and, growing up, Ernest learned how to take a full part in the business, building up, setting out the swag and minding to help his parents.

In winter he attended school and excelled at sports and gymnastics. He took up boxing and became so good at it he went on to box in Matt Moran’s show on the grounds to earn money to take out his girlfriend, Marina (Seed).

“I want three rounds”, Matt would tell Ernest. “Give the public something to enjoy then knock him out.” Ernest duly obliged.

Ernest and Marina initially met at a Christmas fair at Dewsbury. On meeting her, Ernest, then aged around 12, announced to his family, “I’m going to marry her when I grow up”. Even at that young age, Ernest knew his own mind.

Eventually, at Stanley Lane Ends near Wakefield, Ernest, now 16, was ready to ask Marina out and planned a trip to the pictures. Marina, being older than him at age 18, was not so keen, thinking him too young. But she relented and the pair went off to the cinema.

Afterwards, they sat on Joe Shaw’s Ark listening to the Top 20 on Radio Luxembourg, when the Craig Douglas song ‘Only Sixteen’ beamed out over the airwaves and struck a chord with the couple. “It became our song”, says Marina. It was played at Ernest’s funeral last September.

That first date changed Marina’s mind about Ernest. “I’d thought he was too young but he wasn’t”, she says. “He’d done everything in the business with his parents and was older than his years.” From that point on, Marina wasn’t interested in anyone else.

Starting married life

The couple were married on 28 November 1961 at St Andrews Church in Huddersfield. Ernest was 19 and Marina 20. At the time, Ernest was working over the winter delivering coal for a local firm, as indeed did many Showmen and had to ask for the day off to get married. Since it was a special day and Ernest was a good worker, the owner gave him the day after the wedding off as well, on full pay!

Ernest and Marina’s first fair together as a married couple was Huddersfield Easter Fair. In their early married life they operated a set of joints and a hoopla. After three years of marriage they bought their first hot dog, also acquiring an Ark, an arcade and juveniles over the years.

The couple soon started a family, welcoming son Edward in 1962, followed quickly by Natalie and then David – three children in three years. Ernest loved children, and his family, which expanded to include six grandchildren (three boys, three girls) and two great grandchildren (one boy, one girl), was a source of great joy for him.

Being good at sport, Ernest was also a keen footballer and played for the Yorkshire Section, later the Yorkshire Blues. He was eventually asked to manage the team, but didn’t think it was right to both play and manage at the same time, so he gave up playing and took on the role of manager.

Doing what was right was a key theme of Ernest’s life and this was also reflected in his subsequent Guild career.

Ernest was on the SSA [Showmen’s Social Club] and enjoyed attending the cup finals and Internationals. He became President of the SSA, a role he held for several years.

Ernest Johnson (front centre) at the Showmen’s Guild Remembrance Service at Alrewas in 2015. Pictured are Stephen Rawlings, the late Jimmy Williams, John Laytham, Tommy Kayes, Ernest Johnson, Colin Pawley, Philip Paris, Keith Carroll, John Culine MBE, Ramon Henderson and the Reverend Allen Bagshawe, who conducted the service at Ernest’s funeral.
Ernest Johnson (front centre) at the Showmen’s Guild Remembrance Service at Alrewas in 2015. Pictured are Stephen Rawlings, the late Jimmy Williams, John Laytham, Tommy Kayes, Ernest Johnson, Colin Pawley, Philip Paris, Keith Carroll, John Culine MBE, Ramon Henderson and the Reverend Allen Bagshawe, who conducted the service at Ernest’s funeral.

Getting on in the Guild

His career in the Guild was also blossoming. Having joined the Yorkshire Section at age 21, he was elected to the committee soon after and rose through the ranks, becoming Chairman from 1990-1993 after relinquishing football and the SSA. He spent 18 years as Appeals delegate, something he was very keen on and he enjoyed committee work.

He viewed the Guild as extremely important for Showmen and his keenness, diligence and fairness were recognised, as he was asked several times to stand for the position of Junior Vice President. Initially, he declined. Wanting to do things right, he preferred to wait until he was confident he knew and understood all the rules and procedures and could stand up and answer questions without having to look them up.

Eventually, Ernest decided he was ready, but before allowing his name to go forward he gathered his family, now grown up, together to make sure they all agreed with his decision and would help and support Marina with the business when he was away on Guild duties.

In his last year as President, Ernest Johnson pictured with his wife Marina at the Yorkshire Section Luncheon.
In his last year as President, Ernest Johnson pictured with his wife Marina at the Yorkshire Section Luncheon.

Ernest stood for election in 1998 unopposed and began nine years as part of the Central Office presidential team, taking the reins as President between 2004-2006. During his second year, he and Marina were honoured to represent the Showmen’s Guild at a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace.

Ernest loved the Guild and was dedicated to making it work for members. He was referred to by some as ‘That Ernest Johnson fella that’s good at the Guild stuff’, says his granddaughter Kimberley Hirst.

After joining the Freemasons’ Lodge of Faith in Bradford, he was one of the founders of the Showmen’s Lodge, but didn’t attend because of his commitments as President.

Ernest Johnson in 2005 attending a Buckingham Palace Garden Party as President of the Showmen’s Guild.
Ernest Johnson in 2005 attending a Buckingham Palace Garden Party as President of the Showmen’s Guild.

Working the markets

As each of their children got married, Ernest and Marina passed on their equipment, keeping a hot dog which they worked on markets. The couple had, in fact, been the first Showmen in Yorkshire to stand markets over the winter, starting with a Sunday market at Bawtry.

They worked several markets on different days, travelling around Yorkshire and beyond, before finally settling at Hemsworth and then South Elmsall market, which Marina stood three days a week. By the time she retired in her 70s, they had 40 years of market trading behind them.

Ernest was known to have a fondness for cigars, a habit that he took up after Marina told him that he was smoking too much (60 cigarettes a day). He started on Manikin cigars and earned the nickname “the cigar man” as he could frequently be seen with a cigar in his mouth, although not always lit.

Ernest and Marina pictured with Ramon Henderson and his wife Vicki at a Western Section event.
Ernest and Marina pictured with Ramon Henderson and his wife Vicki at a Western Section event.

Paying tribute to her grandfather at his funeral, on behalf of all his grandchildren and great grandchildren, Kimberley recalled how when on holiday he would even swim with a cigar in his mouth – but managed never to get it wet!

In later years Ernest was diagnosed with dementia and over time, as the disease progressed, he had to stop attending the Guild meetings and events he enjoyed so much. In November 2021 Ernest and Marina marked their Diamond Wedding Anniversary, receiving a congratulatory message and photo from the late Queen Elizabeth II. The framed photo is proudly displayed on the wall of Marina’s trailer.

Marina finally said goodbye to her husband on 28 August 2023, as he passed away in hospital, just a month short of his 81st birthday, with his loving family around him.

Ernest is described by Marina as “kind, caring, always thought about others, loved children – all children – and was a thoroughly nice man.  He lived for his family.”

Ernest Johnson’s funeral took place on Monday 25 September 2023 at Pontefract Crematorium. A Showmen’s Guild guard of honour comprising all three members of the presidential team, past presidents, the National Sargeant at Arms and Guild chairmen from the Yorkshire and other Sections, lined the entrance to the chapel. It was a fitting tribute to a much-respected past president and past chairman, someone who in the words of his wife Marina, was “a total Guild man”.

A man of his word

Speaking to World’s Fair Past President John Culine MBE, who also gave a tribute to Ernest at his funeral, said: “I first got to know Ernest from his brother Peter while in my teens, but I got to know Ernest the man through the Guild. He was the Yorkshire Section Appeals Delegate. I became the Northern Appeals Delegate in the year 2000.

“Ernest impressed me from that date. He taught me when sitting on Appeals not to look at the member, to look at the rules. After my very first Appeals, Ernest asked if I enjoyed it. I said I was confused on one of the Appeals, he asked why and I explained I didn’t know who to believe. They were strangers to me.

“Ernest answered, ‘Then you’re the perfect delegate’. His words stuck and from then on, I never looked at the members at the end of the table, I looked at the book to see who broke the rules.

“Ernest was a man of his word. Everyone knew he would never call or whisper about you, he would face you and say what was on his mind. He was always there when he was needed and would try to help and advise you. He always made you smile even when the chips were down. He was a good Guild man and a good friend.”

Past President Ramon Henderson, who was Junior Vice President during Ernest’s presidency, said: “Ernest was a strong-willed and knowledgeable Yorkshire man, not afraid to say what he thought had to be said, with great leading abilities.

“I was the Western Section Appeals Delegate in the boardroom at Central Office, the top table is slightly elevated. Ernest was Senior Vice President. He looked down to me and said, ‘You could do this’. I said, ‘Do what?’ He said, ‘Be president’.

“Up until then, I’d never thought of it. When I got home, I spoke to Vicky [Ramon’s wife] and said: “If a man like Ernest Johnson thinks I’m capable, guided by him I’ll give it a try.

“The time I spent with Jimmy [Williams] and Ernest were some of the most knowledgeable and best years. I miss them both greatly.”

Rest in peace, Ernest Johnson.

Free News Alerts
Invalid email address
Share via
Copy link