'A sense of humour got us through': A Valentine's lesson in love from 50 years of marriage


John England, 77, and Yvonne England, 68, from Stroud, Gloucestershire

John: When you get to my age, you forget an awful lot of things. But I can remember meeting Yvonne like it was yesterday. She came to work for us and had been shown where she'd be living for the next few weeks. I leant her a couple of books to take to bed. It virtually started from there.

Yvonne: I remember eating a really nice meal; the food was always delicious, home-cooked. And this young man came in, dressed in a very smart suit and glasses and said hello and what have you. He intrigued me because he wouldn't stand still: he was walking all the time, round past me and out of the door and then back in again. I said, "Well I think I better go now" and he said, "Have you got anything to read?"

John: We met in '62 and got married in '64. As soon as it became public, my mother said, "Oh well, she can't stay here". It wasn't right for the boss's son to be messing around with one of the staff. Extraordinary – it just wouldn't happen these days.

Yvonne: Is that what you were doing? Messing around with one of the staff!

John: She got a job near Chippenham and I used to go and see her every afternoon and it developed from that. Eventually, I asked her to marry me. I said "Here's your ring". That night we went out to the local pub, which is now closed, and got very drunk.

Yvonne: I think there was a spark from the beginning. As time went on, we were getting more and more daring. His mother was quite upset to start with; it's not what she wanted. We used to go out and have lovely picnics and go for meals and things like that.

John: She eventually accepted it. I believe she said to her friends, "Well of course it won't last". But she wasn't happy; she thought I should be marrying one of the daughters of the local nobs.

Yvonne: John's mother was very formidable, a True Blue. I'll never forget ringing the doorbell of this beautiful big country house hotel and the warmth that met me when one of the staff let me in, a little old lady dressed in a uniform. When I was showed to my room, with linen sheets and central heating, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

John: My grandmother bought it originally, then my mother took it over before it passed down to us.

Yvonne: The secret to a successful relationship? People say you have to work, and you do, let's face it. You have to learn to say sorry if you get it wrong; to be humble. We have had times when we've been flat on the floor – under the carpet, so to speak. And we've had high days – hopefully more highs than lows. Having a sense of humour has helped.

John: We have been blessed with the most magnificent family. But, basically, we stayed together because I wouldn't give her the car keys to go home to her mother. I said, "If you want to go home, you catch the bus". And she's never gone. It was the ignominy of walking up the driveway with her suitcase. To be honest, sense of humour has got us through a lot.

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