WATCHET this week paid tribute to one of its most popular characters and a leading figure in preserving the fun and local traditions of music, dance and medieval custom for over 60 years.

Dudley Binding, who died on March 11, aged 83, was one of West Somerset’s best known Morris dancers, and made the traditional role of the fool his own. A member of the Illustrious Order of Morris Fools, he provided the link between the dancers and the audience.

Dudley was equally well known as the Watchet Court Leet’s official ale-taster and also served for many years as its Deputy Bailiff and Recorder.

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Dudley Binding plays the Fool.

But friends said that Morris dancing was his first love and mourners at his funeral are invited to wear the purple green and yellow colours of West Somerset Morris, of which he was a founder member, or Morris dancers’ costumes.

Local residents took to social media to post tributes to “a wonderful man, born in Watchet, who did so much for the town” and “to see him dancing with the Morris men was like a ray of sunshine.”

Former district councillor Tony Knight, who had known Dudley since boyhood said: “Dudey will be greatly missed. He was one town’s real characters and was interested and well-informed on every aspect of Watchet life.

“He was proud to be a member of the Court Leet and particularly enjoyed being its ale taster but it was when he was Morris dancing that he was at his happiest and his enthusiasm made everyone smile.”

Dudley, born in Watchet in 1940 and was proud of his ancestry - his great grandfather was the last recorded lime burner in Doniford and his grandfather was a train driver on the mineral line railway. 

Educated at Williton secondary modern school, where he was head boy, and Taunton technical college, he worked for local solicitors from 1958 until he retired in 2001, but continued as a part- time tax consultant until 2015. He was also a member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation.

After a short period with the Watchet Town Band, Dudley became involved with St Decuman’s church as a bell-ringer and also became vice-captain of the tower. He first became involved in folk-dancing in 1956 and became one of the original members of Halsway Manor’s folk dance club when the manor opened as a folk centre in 1965.

After dancing with the Mendip Morris Men for a while, Dudley became a founder member of West Somerset Morris Men in 1965 and served on the National Morris Ring Advisory Council for 21 years. The team, which now has women dancers, was renamed West Somerset Morris in 2018.

Dudley travelled extensively with West Somerset Morris around the UK, to European folk events and festivals and as far as New York where they became the only Morris team to dance in the World Trade Centre - the year before it was destroyed.

He also danced on a ferry enroute for France, on a motorway when traffic was at a standstill, on a moving London underground train, on a flight to America, on a public lavatory roof in Stafford and under the Hammersmith flyover!

In May last year, Dudley was a guest of honour at the rededication of Watchet library. When it opened in 1953, 12-year-old Dudley took out the first book and had used the library regularly ever since.

He met his wife Ann at a folk-dancing event at Cleeve Abbey. They married six months later in 1967 and were together nearly 54 years until Ann died in 2021. They had two children, Paul and Chantal.

After their marriage, Ann and Dudley continued to appear in folk dance display teams competing in the UK, Portugal and Yugoslavia.

The couple were members of four twinning societies and Watchet Museum Society. Joining the Quantock Masonic Lodge in 1998, Dudley was twice Lodge Master, Lodge Secretary for five years, and Almoner for three years.

He also became a Somerset Provincial Grand Lodge officer, reaching the rank of Provincial Grand Registrar and visited lodges in several countries including Spain, Australia and Singapore.

Dudley Binding’s funeral will take place at St Decuman’s church , Watchet, on Thursday, April 4, at 2 pm.