Teddy bears parachuting out of the sky is just one of the Pidley Mountain Rescue Team s annual fundraisers. The charity, named as a joke because Pidley is one of the flattest places in Britain, celebrates its 35th birthday this month – with a brand new we

Founder of the Pidley Mountain Rescue Team, Bob Johnson, on the eight-man bike ridden around Pidley and surrounding villages to raise funds.

Teddy bears parachuting out of the sky is just one of the Pidley Mountain Rescue Team's annual fundraisers. The charity, named as a joke because Pidley is one of the flattest places in Britain, celebrates its 35th birthday this month - with a brand new website. It exists solely to raise money for good causes. It has no overheads and every single penny it receives goes every month to buy a piece of equipment for a disabled person. ANGELA SINGER met chairman Gil Boyd, a former paratrooper who has fallen out of the sky on many an occasion.

THIS is not to be about me, said Gil Boyd. OK. So I am not going to write about how he parascended under all 10 of the London bridges along the Thames. Or how he was escorted by Olympic swimmer, Duncan Goodhew on a surfjet.

He is chairman of the Pidley Mountain Rescue Team and that is what we must talk about, the life and times of the charity. There will not be a word about how Gil abseiled down the Telecom Tower in London - or how he tackled the "death slide" across the Thames from the London Weekend Television Building. Nope.

Gil on his 620ft abseil from the 
Telecom Tower in 1985.

All these escapades were world records at the time and the 620ft Telecom Tower abseil is still one and is unlikely to be attempted again. The Hunts Post headline at the time was: "Boyd into the void."

But, no, I am not going to tell you how Gil did it left-handed because four months before he had broken his back in a car accident and injured his right arm.

He was a police officer then. He was a police diver until the police underwater unit was disbanded in 1988 (you can tell you are interviewing a police officer because he remembers all the dates). Before his 30 years in the force - ending as principal technical officer in CID - he served in the Parachute Regiment. Having lunch with him is like meeting James Bond. Tell you a secret though: He must be the only other person in the world who, apart from me, likes a cup of tea with his meal. Outrageous.

"I was taking a psychiatric patient to Fulbourn Hospital," he said. "We were in the police car with a social worker. The patient was in the backseat but he leapt forward and grabbed the steering wheel. We crashed into a coach going the other way. The patient was killed, the social worker had severe head injuries and I broke three bones in my spine and I broke my left and my right arm."

The rescue team committee

The accident was in February, 1985. Gil abseiled the Telecom Tower in June.

He felt he had to do it. "Originally, I was to have done it with my pal, Bob Reynolds but he died suddenly in November, 1984. He had a heart attack on the miners' picket line at Tillmaston Colliery in Kent."

At the time, Gil and Bob were raising money for Great Ormond Street. Gil's son, Tom, had been born with a stomach hernia and treated there.

"The hospital was really run down then, the decoration was a terrible mess. I asked what they needed and I said I would raise £100,000 in five years and I did." Tom is now 28 and serves in the Parachute Regiment's 2nd Battalion, like his dad.

Teddy in action

Gil gained a reputation for fundraising. Approached in 1986 by the Reverend Fred Kilner from Milton to raise funds to open a children's hospice, he became, with Dame Norma Major, one of the hospice Friends. It was opened by Princess Diana.

But to get back to the real story, in 1971, the Pidley Mountain Rescue Team was founded by accident. Literally. Pidley farmer Bob Johnson broke down in his Vauxhall Chevette on the Somersham slope into Pidley. Every way into Pidley there is slope, says Gil.

"A load of people stopped and pushed Bob back to his home opposite The Mad Cat in Pidley and people said 'this is a rescue, this is a mountain rescue' so he was the founding father of the team." Named as a joke because Pidley is one of the flattest places on the planet, it was set up to help people with disabilities - who need a bit of help like Bob did.

Among the fundraising stunts was a ride round the village on an eight-person bike. Bob died, aged 97, on Boxing Day, 2004.

The group was still going when Gil and his family, wife Theo and daughter, Charlotte, moved into the village in 1990. However, at the end of the 90s, it ran out of steam and Gil revived it in 1999 and turned it into a registered charity.

He says: "I learned a lot from fundraising for Great Ormond Street. We are the only registered charity in the UK that has no overheads whatsoever - every single penny we raise goes to buy equipment for an individual. We don't give cash, we give equipment and we try to make a presentation every month.

"Our equipment is sponsored by the Mobility Centre in Peterborough so we spend our money wisely, and we are one of a handful of charities to get our postage paid for us. It's sponsored by Warboys Post Office."

There is now a committee of 12 and 1,000 members. Membership is £10. You get a car sticker and you are entered into a monthly prize draw for a £10 shopping voucher so you can win your money back.

Among the illustrious members are Sir Ranulph Fiennes (the team's consultant mountaineer), Dame Norma and Sir John Major, Lord David Renton, Sir Brian Mawhinney, British boxing champion, Dave 'Boy' Green, Gary Numan, Lesley Vickerage of ITV's Soldier Soldier and Caroline Lennon, who played Siobhan in the radio soap, The Archers.

Comedian Frank Carson is the 1,000th member of the team. It's the way you tell 'em.

Flying teddies

* Every year in August, the event is licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority at Southview Farm in Pidley. The two pilots are from the police and the chief pilot of the British Antarctic Survey. Each teddy is weighted with five kilos of sand and has a tiny Droque parachute supplied by RAF Wittering donated from jump jets.

* The teddies are each sponsored for £200 and each of the 10 bears is named after one of the children the Pidley Mountain Rescue Team has helped during the year.

* The winning teddy is the one which lands nearest to a cross on the ground and wins its sponsor a luxury weekend at the Marriott Hotel in Huntingdon.

* Leaving nothing to chance, Brownies (some with first aid badges) are enlisted to work as stretcher bearers for fallen teddies.

* This year's Teddy Bear Parachute Championships are on Sunday, August 12.

* THE Pidley Mountain Rescue Team wants to hear from people in Huntingdonshire who have disabilities and need special equipment.

Contact through the charity's new website: www.pidleymountainrescue.org.uk

Or apply for an application form from Fiona Down, 2 The Paddocks, Woodhurst, Cambs. PE28 3GA. Please include a stamped, addressed envelope.

* All the team's fundraising events are free to enter. The next one is a gig with The Black Velvet Band on Saturday, April 21 at Pidley Social Club, starts 7.30pm. There is an event every month at Pidley Social Club, including Jazz on June 3. See: www.pidleymountainrescue.org.uk