SHE once described herself as ‘a crazy old woman who doesn’t know what she’s talking about’.
But Vera Percy, 92 yesterday, has been proving herself wrong for more than 50 years.
Occasionally controversial, often hilarious, always well observed and to the point, Vera’s letters have become part of Sheffield life.
Over half a century we’ve heard about her family, her neighbours and friends, her views on everything from D-Day and vomiting students to Christiano Ronaldo and a diversion explaining why red hat meant no knickers.
Born on October 10, 1920 Vera grew up the daughter of a conservative mother and a communist father in Firth Park in tough times.
Her dad John, known as Jack, was unable to work full-time after a motorcycle accident damaged his leg leaving him in agony and the family struggling to get by in pre-Welfare state Sheffield.
Vera was one of three sisters, a bright girl who won a scholarship to what she describes as ‘paradise’ at Abbeydale Grammar School.
After spells book-keeping at a shop and a warehouse the Second World War started and Vera worked at Metro Vickers, then at Darwin Steel works, the South Seas pub in Broomhill and latterly at Inman steel stockholders in Sheffield.
It was 1960 when Vera first felt sufficiently moved to write to the Star to tell the world how wonderful her father was.
Since then Sheffield’s best known correspondent has been contributing up to twice a week, which even by conservative estimates must mean over 1,000 published letters.
That’s a lot to get off one chest.
“My first letter was about my father, I remember writing it,” said Vera, now almost blind, at her Broomhill home.
“It was about him being a wonderful dad looking after my mother who was not always with us mentally as she got older if you know what I mean.
“I wrote the letter as if it was from my sisters as well. He saw it in the paper and said it was rubbish and asked why anyone would want to read what I had written. But years later after he died I found the cutting of that letter in his wallet. He’d kept it all that time.
“I became a regular letter-writer then. At that time The Star had a prize of a pen set for the letter of the month. By the time I had won several of those I got a phone call from the editor asking if I would like to do a column in the paper. “I’ll always remember I was hanging washing up outside when the phone rang.”
Vera did her column successfully until a new editor came along and decided to take things in a different direction.
“He told me he didn’t want me to do a column any more but would always appreciate my letters. So I kept writing them.
“Writing is something I’ve liked doing and something I can do. I’m no good physically, never have been.
“I think writing would have been something I would have enjoyed doing as a career but I don’t think I would do anything different if I had my time again. I have made the odd mistake in life like anyone else. It was difficult back then. We were very poor when I was a child because of my dad’s situation.
“That’s probably why I’m still alive today, we had to live very simply and I’ve always been a bit different, I think that’s a good thing.
So what prompts Vera to write so many letters?
“If I’m angry I don’t write,” said mother of three sons Vera.
“When you are angry you can say things that aren’t true and you can upset people’s lives by writing nasty letters, I never do that. I can be nasty but it’s all in my mind. I would never say it. Anyone can write nasty letters but there are so many good deeds going on that go unnoticed.
“It can be anything really. I once wrote about my husband Norman knocking a tin of paint over in the house and they teased him about it when he went to the Post Office the next day but I don’t usually use anyone’s name, I don’t want to embarrass people.”
So has life got worse in her lifetime?
“Some things have. People complain about the students in Broomhill but they make a lot less noise than the kids used to make playing in the street before cars took over – apart from the one who vomited over my gate but that’s another story.
“Things do get worse as you get older because it’s harder to do things. But people are people and men and women are different.
“I’ve been following the Jimmy Savile case and anyone would think this kind of thing had never happened before. It’s always gone on and I suppose it always will. People have always been killing and maiming each other it’s just that in the old days people didn’t find out about it like we do now.
“Bad things happen to good people and it’s no good moaning and saying ‘why me?’
“You just have to get on with things.”