A CHEEKY swapping of first dates – which almost cost one man the price of eight pints – led to a romance that has lasted a lifetime.
When Bill Atherton first clapped eyes on his future wife Jennie (nee Jones), she was meant to be dating his friend.
But Bill, who was on a date with Jennie’s friend, was so impressed by Jennie, he persuaded his pal to swap and let him date her.
It’s a decision that Bill has never looked back on, as the couple are celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary today.
And it is an extra-poignant milestone as Bill thought he was going to lose Jennie after she recently had a 16-day stay in hospital after suffering heart failure.
Bill, now 82, said: “Me and my pals were camping at Crimdon and I met this young woman.
“I said ‘have you got a friend for one of my pals?’ and she brought her friend along.
“But when I saw her friend, I did a double-take and thought ‘I’ve dropped a clanger here’.
“We went for a night out and I tried to swap with my pal. I offered him 10 bob, which would have got me eight pints of best bitter and would be worth £35 now, but he wouldn’t let me.”
He said after much arguing the next night, his friend agreed to let him date Jennie.
“It wasn’t a bad deal,” he said. “He wouldn’t take the money and he never spoke to me for a while.”
The couple were 17 at the time of meeting and Bill was a miner at Horden.
They dated for three years before marrying in Easington Village, where Jennie, a former ward orderly at Hartlepool’s Brierton Hospital, is originally from, on March 20, 1954.
The couple went on to have two children, Gerard Atherton and Jackie Turner, and have three grandchildren, Rachel, Christopher and Rebecca Turner, as well as five great-grandchildren.
Son Gerard said: “They are the best mam and dad you could wish for.”
They moved to Peterlee when it was first being established and got a house in Little Eden.
They are now settled in the Acre Rigg area of Peterlee.
Bill went on to work in High Wycombe, in Buckinghamshire, as a plasterer and had other jobs including selling insurance, managing shops, landscaping the Peterlee industrial estates and as a newsagent, often working alongside Jennie in the shops.
Jennie also worked at the Asda supermarket, in Peterlee. Bill got a scare when Jennie recently took ill.
He said: “She was really ill, we didn’t know if she was going to make it.
“But she has picked up.”
He said the secret to a long and happy marriage is: “Me just saying ‘yes, dear’.”