Unveiling: David Suchet with IWA chairman Les Etheridge
Published: 11 September, 2015
by MIRANDA LARBI
ACTOR David Suchet unveiled a plaque in Bloomsbury yesterday (Thursday) to an author and leading waterways conservationist and recalled how he and his wife’s first home was on a canal boat.
The 52ft boat was “aptly named Prima Donna”, said Mr Suchet unveiling the plaque at 11 Gower Street to writer and Inland Waterways Association co-founding chairman Robert Aickman.
Mr Suchet, vice-president of the IWA, said it was an “extraordinary coincidence” he had been asked to lead the occasion as it was Mr Aickman who was responsible for his love of boating.
He told the West End Extra: “In 1973, I joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford as a very young actor and out of my dressing room window I saw some boats on the river. My wife and I thought we’d love to have one and the next year we took delivery of a 52ft narrow boat, aptly named Prima Donna, which was to become our very first home.
He added: “A few months later, I was looking out of that same window and I saw a commotion going on below and there was Robert Aickman with Her Majesty Queen and the Queen Mother at the reopening of the Upper Avon Navigation.”
That same day, Mr Suchet said he and his wife took their “maiden voyage” down the Southern Stratford Canal and beyond, which had been closed-up until Mr Aickman’s intervention.
He added: “Of course, not knowing anything about boats, I made a complete mess of it!” said Mr Suchet whose wife Sheila is also a vice-president of the association. “This man was responsible for our way of life on boats today. Since that time we’ve never been without a boat, so my personal thanks to Robert Aickman, my personal thanks to the IWA and aren’t we proud to be vice-presidents of the very association he founded.”
Mr Aickman set up the IWA at 11 Gower Street in 1945, along with the writer Tom Rolt, in a bid to save Britain’s inland waterways from decades of institutionalised neglect and destruction.
The IWA’s current chairman Les Etheridge said: “Aickman’s IWA, driven by his ability to write, orate, organise and lead, revitalised the waterways agenda.
“IWA continues his work with as much urgency today. We are determined to make the waterways better by maintaining political support at Westminster, working closely with navigation authorities to protect and improve our navigable waterways.”
Today some 3,600 miles of navigable canals and rivers have been restored, thanks to the work of Aickman and his IWA.