There were many who said of Riley (as he was almost always known) that in his early life he appeared to be older than his years. With a harsh childhood behind him, he left school with little in the way of knowledge but brimful of optimism, and secure in the knowledge that one of his teachers, Fred Beardsley, had faith in him; although at the time neither of them could have envisaged how the other was to influence the course of their lives. Fred Beardsley, who much to everyone's surprise had become acquainted with and married Louise Barrington, a teacher at his school, within a matter of weeks, ran into Riley while they were on their honeymoon in Paris. Riley said he'd won first prize in a talent competition - hence his presence, with his uncle, in the city for the weekend. In addition, he told the happy couple that as a result of winning the competition he had been offered a 'position' at The Little Palace Theatre in Fellburn. Fred and Louise, who suspected that the 'position' was probably that of a dogsbody, nevertheless encouraged Riley, whom they knew to be an expert mimic.
After a time, however, it became clear to them that Riley had actually been appointed assistant stage-manager. And then he surprised them by forming a close friendship with the leading lady, thirty-something Nyrene Forbes-Mason, who he claimed was nurturing his burgeoning talent as an actor. What Riley hadn't told them, however, was that he had great hopes of the relationship developing into something more than friendship...Over the subsequent years, Fred and Louise observed with amazement the rise to fame and fortune of this remarkable lad, as did as did his parents and all those who knew him. As for his relationship with Nyrene, that did indeed change; although the manner in which it progressed was not quite as Riley had planned.
Catherine Cookson was born in Tyne Dock, the illegitimate daughter of a poverty-stricken woman, Kate, whom she believed to be her older sister. She began work in service but eventually moved south to Hastings, where she met and married Tom Cookson, a local grammar-school master. Although she was originally acclaimed as a regional writer - her novel The Round Tower won the Winifred Holtby Award for the best regional novel of 1968 - her readership quickly spread throughout the world, and her many best-selling novels established her as one of the most popular of contemporary women novelists. After receiving an OBE in 1985, Catherine Cookson was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1993. She was appointed an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford, in 1997. For many years she lived near Newcastle upon Tyne. She died shortly before her ninety-second birthday, in June 1998.