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A Top Ten of Dudley's most notable sons and daughters

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 05, 2014

By Gavin Jones

  • Reanne Evans

  • John Bonham

  • Lenny Henry

  • Dorothy Round

  • Abraham Darby

  • James Whale

  • Sue Lawley

  • Duncan Edwards

  • Martin Dunn

  • Bert Bissell

  • Reanne Evans

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RECENT Bugle articles on Black Country towns and their most influential residents have sparked quite a debate, and rightly so.

So far Mike Fenton and David Edge have put forward top tens for their home towns of West Bromwich and Stourbridge respectively, and now it falls to me to cover my home town of Dudley, and start a few more arguments. Some well-known names have made way for a few less familiar, but hopefully well-deserving Dudleians. They cover quite a range of talents, and we can be justly proud of every one of them ...

Duncan Edwards

It's not possible to sum him up in the hundred words available here, but the lad from the Priory Estate was attracting the attention of the biggest clubs in the country, including Manchester United and Wolves, before he had even left school. At age 16 he was in United's first team, immediately becoming a regular in Matt Busby's legendary side. By the age of 18 he had made his England debut.

Had he not been killed in the Munich air disaster aged just 21, who knows what heights he would have reached. Some have said that he would have captained England in 1966, some have said he could have been the best player of all time.

Dorothy Round

Though it's not as visible as Big Dunc's, Dorothy also has a statue in her home town, and rightly so. Remember the fuss last year when a British player finally won Wimbledon? Well Dudley has it's own Wimbledon champ, and she won it twice.

Growing up on the edge of Grange Park and playing regular games against her brothers, Dorothy Round battled her way to the top when tennis was dominated by the Two Helens (Jacobs and Wills-Moody) of America. She was Wimbledon champion in 1934 and '37, and Australian champion in 1935. As you'll know, if you've just read page 4.

Martin Dunn

Not one of the most recognisable names in the list, but certainly an influential figure in the media, home and abroad. The son of a Dudley fireman, Martin Dunn is a journalist who served his apprenticeship at the Dudley Herald, later worked on the Daily Mail and became deputy editor of The Sun, before taking on the editor's role at the now defunct colour paper Today. He then moved to the US, serving as editor of the Boston Herald and then editor in chief of the New York Daily News – America's fourth biggest selling paper – until 2010

James Whale

The foundryman's son and one-time cobbler from Kate's Hill who went on to become Hollywood's master of horror. Who hasn't seen Frankenstein, the original and the best from 1931? Or Showboat, featuring Old Man River, one of the most famous musicals ever made? Unlikely as it seems, both these American classics were directed by a working class lad from Dudley. Despite claims that he turned his back on his roots once successful, Bugle interviews with his extended family back in the 1970s revealed that he never lost touch and sent lavish gifts back home right into his later years.

Abraham Darby

Born on Wren's Nest Hill, Abraham Darby is credited with pioneering the smelting of iron ore with coke rather than charcoal, revolutionising the production of pig iron in the late 1600s and helping kick the Industrial Revolution into overdrive.

In recent times many historians have argued that Dud Dudley of Himley Hall, a distant relative, passed the vital knowledge on to Abraham – so there is an argument for the latter to take Darby's place in this list.

John Bonham

Though he was born in Redditch, Dudley can, and should, claim him as one of their own. Bonham is the unanimous choice as number one rock drummer of all time, whether you ask fans or other drummers. And long before Led Zeppelin were even thought of, John and his family were living in the newly constructed Butterfield Court, one of three tower blocks (the only one still standing) on Eve Hill. He was still living there when he got his first Rolls Royce.

Reanne Evans

Not the best-known name on the list, but this former Bishop Milner pupil has dominated her chosen field internationally for over a decade. She has been World Champion in women's snooker for ten years from 2005 to 2014, and last year became the first woman ever to qualify for a recognised snooker tournament and compete against the men. During a tournament in Ireland in 2009, she beat reigning World Champion John Higgins.

Lenny Henry

Easily the best known Dudley boy of recent times, Lenny rose rapidly to fame as a comedian and impersonator on the Saturday morning knockabout that was Tiswas. He was one of the stars of '80s sketch show Three of a Kind, and in the wake of that went on to have several of his own shows.

Hailing from the Buffery, he has said that he spent most of his childhood on the park. Big Len has in recent times made a move into straight acting, but has devoted a fair chunk of his life to charity work as one of the founders – and faces – of Comic Relief.

Sue Lawley

Not that you'd guess from her perfect BBC manner, but Sue was a working class girl who left Dudley Girls High School to become a journalist. After working on a series of regional papers, she became one of the nation's favourite news presenters. Initially the face of Nationwide, she became the anchor of BBC News for several years, later presenting her own chat show and Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

Bert Bissell

A familiar figure right into his old age in the 1990s, when he could still be seen striding through the town in his big boots, Bert was a peace campaigner, who took his bible class to the summit of Ben Nevis on VJ Day, 1945, to establish a Peace Cairn. He did it again every year until he could no longer walk, and is remembered with a monument in Coronation Gardens.

There are several names that could challenge for a place on this list. Let us know who you would have included in your Dudley Top Ten. Write in, or email editor@blackcountry bugle.co.uk.

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