One of Ilkeston’s most familiar faces turned 80 on Wednesday, and will mark the occasion the same way he has spent most of the last 60 years — dishing up delicious fish and chips.
Dennis Jackson, of Jackson’s Chippie on Market Street, said: “I’m not really one for celebrating birthdays, they just come and go, but 80 does seem very prominent all of a sudden. I’m a bit short-staffed at the moment, so I’ll be working until 6pm.
“I’m still working 60 hours a week, starting at 7am every day to do all the preparation. I do all the fish and most of the potatoes. I’ve always believed that if you want to be different, do something yourself.
“The same goes for the chilli con carne, the pies, and fresh chicken, which I barbecue, and turn into curry. It must have a bit of a reputation as we sell gallons of the stuff every week.”
He added: “The only bit I don’t do is washing the aprons and T-shirts, which my wife Margaret takes care of. We’re a good team, and have been lucky to have the support of some wonderful staff over the years.”
If the day itself promises to be routine, on Sunday, August 12, Dennis will return to the road on a one-man bike ride to Skegness for Treetops Hospice and Ben’s Den.
It is a journey he has made many times over the last 14 years, raising thousands of pounds for local charities.
He said: “Last year I wasn’t fit enough and I thought I wouldn’t be doing it again, but I’ve squeezed some time together to get ready. Today I’ll be doing 30 miles and the same again tomorrow.
“I’ve decided I should do it one more time, then draw a line under it because I’m 80. The fastest I ever did it was three hours, 14 minutes. This time I’m aiming for four hours, 30.”
Visitors to Jackson’s can sponsor Dennis between now and the big day, and win free fish and chips worth £30 if they guess his finish time to the nearest second.
While Dennis might soon be spending less time in the saddle, it seems likely his wheels will keep turning with the same energy as ever.
Born in Forest Town, near Mansfield, as a child his family moved around the country and through a series of schools until he left with no formal qualifications.
At 15, he joined a cycling club, and trained by riding eight miles to and from his factory job and eventually won a junior championship. Recovering from a crash on the road, he taught himself to type and then enrolled for his national service in clerical roles with the RAF, including a posting to Germany where he continued racing bikes. When he finished his service, he trained as a photographer capturing glamorous society nights in Nottingham.
After taking up night shifts at the Manor chip shop in Stapleford for extra money, his boss encouraged him to go it alone and Dennis bought his first shop on Market Street in 1961.
He said: “It cost me £400 and I had to sell my scooter, but I repaid it in three years. Then 18 years after that the council decided to pull it down so they could build a road. We moved a few doors down and we’ve been here ever since.
“As an outsider, it took a while for people here to accept me, but I’m pleased to be called an ‘Ilkeston lad’ now and I’ve got customers I’ve served for half a century coming in with their grandchildren.”
In that time, Dennis has weathered a national potato crisis, town centre regeneration schemes, and served up shark dinners for the premiere of Jaws – but he has no plans to stop just yet.
He said: “It’s a long time, but it isn’t a boring job. With fish and chips, there’s a few minutes to talk and I’ve made many friends.
“Like everyone else at this age, I have good days and bad days, but I still get to have holidays. While I can do that, I don’t see any point moving on. What am I going to do?”