Signori Enzo and Pete still brightening the day

By Keith Newbery

Published on Friday, November 09, 2012 - 11:15


Signori Enzo and Pete still brightening the day

Enzo Cuoghi, left, and Pete Cortesi enriching the lives of staff and residents at a Ventnor residential home. Picture by Peter Boam.

THIS ISLAND LIFE Here’s a word of advice for adults — if you wish to be recalled fondly by children when they grow up, always make them laugh and give them reason to be happy in your presence.

I was reminded of this simple fact recently, when events evoked childhood memories of an unforgettable Italian boot-maker from Ventnor.

Signor Pietro Cortesi (or Pete the Feet as he became known) flitted in and out of my life between the ages of about ten and 13, when I sometimes used to accompany my father on his scrap metal rounds throughout the Island.

"Let’s pop in and see Pete," he would always say, as we were pulling out of Ventnor into Lowtherville.

I don’t recall him ever hauling much scrap out of Pete’s tiny workshop but the two of them would stand chatting and laughing until, as self-employed men, the need to make some money from the day would bring their merriment to an end.

If you conjure up the popular image of the boot-maker in Pinocchio — warm-natured, chuckling and twinkly-eyed — then you will be looking at Signor Cortesi of 50 years ago.

His delightful brand of broken English even made mild swearing sound strangely melodic.

"Hey! Isa my bludda friend, Jack Newbery," was his usual greeting, and my father would imitate the accent in a way which would see the PC police clap him in irons these days.

There would then follow a chat about everything in general and nothing in particular — with one exception. They never spoke about the war.

I have since come to learn that men who experienced it at the sharp end rarely did.

Pete had been captured in Libya and was eventually transported to the IW, via Liverpool, Sheffield and Southampton, where he and his fellow prisoners served out the war working on farms.

He was based at Strathwell Manor when he met a certain Miss Patricia Thomas, of Niton, and when the time came for his repatriation he made her a firm, if slightly unromantic, proposal.

"If you get me a permit," he told her, "I will come back and marry you."

He was as good as his word and their union, which took place in 1947, resulted in three children and many happy years together.

I lost touch with Pete in the ensuing years but he became well known to many Islanders for the work he did at Ryde Surgical Stores and at hospitals making special footwear for patients.

Therefore, you can imagine my delight recently when my sister, Joy, rang to say she had a new arrival at the Byrnhill Grove Residential Home, which she manages, in Park Avenue, Ventnor.

"It’s Pete," she said, "and he’s just as lovely as he always was."

But the coincidence did not end there. In the next room was his old mate, Enzo Cuoghi.

The two men got to know each other because Enzo’s brother, Vin, was among the group of Italian prisoners based near Niton and their friendship grew over the years.

Indeed, Enzo credits Pete with twice saving his life because he was on hand to summon help when Enzo suffered two severe strokes.

Pete, predictably, saw it rather differently. "Perhaps I justa bludda bad luck to him!" he chuckled when I visited the two men at Byrnhill.

My sister described the warmth of the initial greeting between the two old friends, when they were reunited at the home, as the highlight of her working life.

She told me: "Being in Pete’s presence is a tonic for anyone and it was wonderful to see the happiness he brought to Enzo."

I know what she meant.

Memories wanted of IW on film

Baby-boomers alert! Your help is needed! Did you have personal experience of (or appear in) the 1973 film That’ll Be the Day, much of which was shot on the Island?

Perhaps you were in the crowd scenes at the old Caribou coffee bar in Cross Street, Ryde? Did you see your face in the queue outside the old Rex cinema in Ventnor?

Were you an extra in the scenes filmed at the former Puckpool Park holiday camp?

If so, I’d like to hear from you — and anyone else who has any memories of movies and/or television programmes in which the Island has been used as a backdrop.

These include films such as Mrs Brown (starring Billy Connolly and Judi Dench), The Winslow Boy (Nigel Hawthorne), Guesthouse Paradiso (Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson), Something to Hide (Peter Finch) and Fragile (Calista Flockhart) spring to mind.

Then there were TV dramas such as an episode of Doctor Who, one called Reach for the Moon and Ken Russell’s version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

There were others, of course, and I’d like to hear from anyone who has any knowledge of them to help with a report I’ve been asked to compile on the subject.

l You can e-mail me at

Any help will be gratefully appreciated and acknowledged.

More Features

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

View our Elgin Traffic & Travel Map
Travel News