PETER Butcher, who played the part of Bill Brewer, one of Uncle Tom Cobley's followers at Widecombe Fair for more than 20 years, has died suddenly at the age of 45, writes Lindsey Sill.

Although he lived in Dorking, Surrey, he had close links to this part of Devon.

A member of the Widecombe Fair committee, he rarely missed a monthly meeting and he also helped out at the Chagford Pony Drift sales and took part in local fundraising events.

He died on Tuesday, October 13, after attending the annual Widecombe Fair dinner. He was staying in Bovey Tracey with his father, John, also a committee member.

'It just happened in his sleep. He was staying with me and we went to the Widecombe Fair annual dinner. He thoroughly enjoyed it, then unfortunately he died in his sleep. It was quite shocking, completely unexpected,' Mr Butcher said.

At the age of 21, Peter was diagnosed with epilepsy. The condition was successfully managed and he was able to lead a full life, enjoying his football and running. He had worked previously in a gentleman's outfitters for the National Employers Life insurance company but was unemployed at the time of his death. He was unmarried.

Peter first adopted the role of Bill Brewer when his godfather, Peter Hicks, became Uncle Tom Cobley in 1986.

The link between the Hicks family and the Butcher family dated back to the second world war when John Butcher and his parents were evacuated to live with the Hicks family.

It was unusual for a whole family to be evacuated, but happened in this case because John's father – Peter's grandfather – was a teacher in charge of a party of London schoolchildren. During the war years he taught at Kingskerswell primary School and his wife – Peter's grandmother – worked as a welfare officer.

'We aren't family but we have been closely linked ever since,' said Mr Butcher.

Michael Smerdon, chairman of the Widecombe Fair committee said: 'The fair meant everything to Peter. He couldn't bear to miss a meeting, and the second Tuesday of every September was the highlight of his year. He was especially happy to act as an escort to Uncle Tom and the old grey mare. His absence will be very noticeable.'

The funeral will be held at St Pancras Church, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, on Tuesday.