The secret of a long and happy marriage? Do as you’re told! ...

Donald and Freda Bartholomew on their wedding day - June 2, 1956
Donald and Freda Bartholomew on their wedding day - June 2, 1956

That’s the advice from Toddington senior citizen Donald ‘Bart’ Batholomew, 86, and he should know – he and his wife Freda, 82, have just celebrated their diamond wedding.

Former fireman Bart, who was born in Lambeth, still has a twinkle in his eye and says he and Freda always had lots of fun together.

She caught his eye at a dance at the Queen of Hearts pub in Queensbury, Edgware, in October 1954 and although he confesses it wasn’t love at first sight, Cupid’s arrow hit him hard soon after.

“We found we were like-minded and shared common interests, like dancing and music,” he recalls. “We loved Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, all them old boys.”

They married at St Alphage Church, Burnt Oak, on June 2, 1956, and initially lived with Freda’s mum.

The new Mrs Bartholomew was a shorthand typist with a pharmaceutical company while Bart, who’d been in the Royal Navy, worked at Hendon Police College.

They moved to a new build in Toddington in 1959 and Bart joined the fire service.

“The best job in the universe,” he affirms. “I used to enjoy going to work every day and still keep in touch with lots of the lads. You can go to any fire station the world over and it’s like being with family.”

After he retired at 55, the happy couple visited South Africa, Australia, Canada and America – although they never made it to New York to visit the City Fire Department in the aftermath of 9/11.

“It’s still on my imaginery bucket list,” Bart says wistfully. “I can’t do any travelling now. My old legs are a bit dodgey and I can’t bend down the way I used to.”

He’s also getting used to looking after himself after Freda moved into Lady Spencer House in Houghton Regis earlier this year.

He had been her main carer after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago.

“I’ve never done anything in the kitchen,” he admits. “I can do a fry-up and I’ve got good neighbours who sometimes bring round a meal.

“Freda was an excellent cook,” he muses. “I loved her steak and kidney pudding.

“There was always mutual respect and lots of give and take between us. We had rows, of course we did. But nothing serious, usually little things. And we never did any of that silly non speaking stuff. We never went to sleep on a row.”

And he adds proudly: “We brought up two wonderful children.”

The Bartholomews have a son David, 55, who’s based in Hayling Island with his wife Velda, and a daughter Carol, 53, who lives in Coupar Angus with her husband Ian. They also have five grown-up grandchildren and two great grandchildren.