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Best-selling Huddersfield author Deric Longden on life, love and his terminal cancer

THE date November 19 2012 will be forever etched into the memories of best-selling author Deric Longden and beloved wife Aileen Armitage.

Aileen Armitage and Deric Longden

THE date November 19 2012 will be forever etched into the memories of best-selling author Deric Longden and beloved wife Aileen Armitage.

For that was the date Deric was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Deric, 76, the man behind the best-selling Diana’s Story and the Emmy award winning Lost For Words, has been in declining health for the last 10 years.

He has suffered a series of mini-strokes which have gradually, and tragically, robbed him of the ability to write.

And two years ago he was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus.

The cancer was forced into remission by radiotherapy but a routine scan at Bradford Royal Infirmary on November 12 revealed the tumour had returned.

And this time, the doctor said, there was no stopping it.

Deric has kept his health problems private down the years – in his modesty he thinks few would be bothered – but the road has been hard.

Nothing, however, was harder than that day back in November.

“It was a long journey back from Bradford,” said Deric.

“It was a hell of a shock. There was lots of stopping in laybys and crying.”

Deric, though, doesn’t want sympathy. He has had a good life and he wants people to celebrate that.

He and Aileen, 82, who is almost blind, have fought his health problems together.

“We are a great team,” said Deric. “We do the Daily Telegraph crossword together every day.

“I read the clues, Aileen gives the answers and I write them in very neatly.”

Deric’s sense of humour remains firmly intact.

Deric gradually withdrew from public life and his writing stopped years ago.

“My brain goes after a while,” he said. “The longest thing I write these days is an email.”

Deric is matter-of-fact about it.

But it’s tragic that a man who wrote Diana’s Story about his first wife’s battle with ME and Lost For Words, telling of life with his eccentric mother as she gradually sinks into dementia, can write no more.

Lost For Words, which was made into a TV movie starring Thora Hird and Pete Postlethwaite, won an international Emmy for best drama in 1999.

Five years ago Deric’s life was saved by surgery.

He had an abdominal aortic aneurysm which meant he had to be cut from side to side.

He recovered from that but it was touch and go for a while.

Deric’s latest diagnosis has made him confront his mortality.

“I’m not moaning,’’ he said. “I get very tired and I forget things but I don’t think I have any ambitions left to achieve.”

Deric, who continues to laugh at life, said: “I went to a secondary modern school, failed my 11 plus and my O-levels and worked in a colliery in Bolsover but I have done all right really.

“I have won an Emmy and got into the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations for an exchange between Pete (himself) and Thora (his mother) in Lost For Words.

“Pete asks if she wants to be buried or cremated. And she replied: ‘I don’t know, love. Surprise me!

“That’s quite appropriate now,” he muses.

Deric, who has two children Nick, 50, and Sally, 52, and a granddaughter Katie, 20, said he had been lucky to find two loves in his life.

“We have had a lot of fun in our life,” said Deric. “I have been so lucky.

“I found two women in my life who I loved so much.

“I lost Diana and then Aileen came along. To find one in your life is doing well. To find two is remarkable.”

Deric and Aileen can joke together, but they have been through so much.

Earlier this year Deric lost his voice for about eight months due to oesophagus complications.

An injection into his vocal chords allowed him to talk again.

“I sounded like Brian Blessed for a good while afterwards,” he laughed.

“And there was a lady who had had the same thing – and she sounded like Brian Blessed too!”

Aileen is reliant on Deric because of her failing sight.

“I am the chief cook and bottle washer,” he said, while adding that he is “worried” by how she will cope when he’s gone.

The couple live in a fine old house overlooking Greenhead Park – and one solution may be to turn it back into two flats.

But that is for the future.

“Having a terminal disease is something that’s difficult for couples to deal with,” said Aileen.

“You tend to shy away from talking about it. You don’t talk about what you want at the end.

“You are aware that each of you is holding back. Normally we are so forthright with each other.”

Deric, now back driving after 18 months off the road because of epilepsy, admitted he took a glance at Kirkwood Hospice on his way to Morrisons the other day.

He quickly changes the subject. “I’m Aileen’s toy boy,” he announces.

“She’s 82. I’m 76. Women live longer than men so I thought we’d just about balance out. I screwed that one up then!”

Deric loves nothing better these days than a trip to Sainsbury’s, and for once he’s not joking.

“It’s a real highlight for me,” he said.

Another downside of his illness is that his son, Nick, insists on taking him shopping every week – and spoils his fun in Sainsbury’s by fetching what he needs.

“I wish he wouldn’t do that,” said Deric.

Deric has his good days and bad days. “At his worst he can no more smile than fly,” said Aileen.

Deric comes back with another funny story.

When the couple told Aileen’s hairdresser about his cancer he joked that the first thing his beloved wife did was try to sell his golf clubs.

She is about to advertise the never-used golf clubs in the Examiner but the truth is they are just unwanted and in the way.

“I paid £250 for them in a charity auction,” said Deric.

“When I told them in the hairdresser’s that Aileen was selling off my golf clubs they were pretty chilly with her,” he laughed.

“It was just a humorous aside but they took me seriously.”

Deric’s career highlight was undoubtedly the Emmy for Lost For Words which also won a BAFTA for Thora Hird.

The couple went to New York to collect the award and travelled back with Thora.

“When we got to the airport Thora’s daughter had packed the award away. She made her get it out so she could carry it under her arm,” recalled Deric.

“As she went through check-in the girl in an American drawl said: ‘My gaaard! Is that an Emmy?’

“Thora said it was and she was ushered into the first class lounge.

“I told the girl we had won an Emmy too and she said: ‘Yeah. right.’

“So when we boarded the plane Thora went right and we went left.”

Deric added: “I’m happy with 10 years of celebrity and a lifetime of obscurity!”

Deric and Aileen have asked the doctors what the prognosis is for his cancer.

“There’s no hard and fast rule,” said Aileen.

“They say the average is five years and we’ve already had two years so hopefully there’s three good years to come.”

Deric again sees humour in the unlikeliest place.

“The doctor says they can put a stent in when it becomes hard to swallow.

“They can put a stent in the airway when it becomes hard to breathe and they can keep the pain down with drugs.

“I asked what sort of drugs and they said paracetamols. Paracetamols! I ask you. You’d think there’d be some kind of wonder drug.”

There’s nothing that Deric has left to achieve.

His books have been given a new lease of life – and a new boost to his bank balance – thanks to Kindle and he and Aileen love the quiet life.

“We just love being alone together,” said Deric.

“If we’re together we have everything we need.”

Deric can’t resist pinching an epitaph from American boxing great Joe Louis.

“I did the best I could with what I had,” he said. “That about sums it up.”

Oh, and if anybody wants a set of golf clubs.

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