21 January 2010

Stanley Middleton (revisited)

lastingtribute.co.uk, a website where people leave tributes to the dead, states 'We offer a trusted brand which is part of the Daily Mail group, and run in partnership with the regional press publisher Northcliffe Media.' The Nottingham Evening Post belongs to Northcliffe Media, and on the death of the novelist Stanley Middleton encouraged its readers to leave a tribute there. Which I did, although I'm rather surprised that only two other people did. A few days ago, a former student of his at High Pavement Grammar School, as it was then called, contacted me to share his impressions of Stan with me. I'm glad he did, and take this opportunity to share these words on my blog.

The words below are John McGregor's and I thank him very much for this information, as there are certainly several snippets here that I either never knew of, or perhaps, simply, had forgotten.

'Many moons ago when I was at secondary school, my English teacher for two separate years was called Stanley Middleton. "Stan" as we called him behind his back was a quirky character who always walked to school, a considerable distance as he lived not far from me at the time. We passed him on bus or bike, and often saw him turn down lifts from fellow teachers. The reason for this I later found out was that Stanley Middleton was a prolific author, and used the walking time to write his novels in his head. He wrote over 40 books in his time and in 1974 he won the Booker prize for his novel Holiday.

'I watched David Tennant in Hamlet over Christmas, and recalled the time when Stan got us to do the final climatic scene at the school Speech Day in 1964. I played Osric, the page who opens the scene with a 42 word explanation of what is to come, and I loved every second of the rehearsals and the play itself on the day. Our school was very scientifically-based, I wasn’t and revelled in the poorly-supported arts. Stan was a great teacher whose gift was to make you think. I now wish I’d gone in the arts direction from school. But that’s another story, no complaints about how my life worked out.

'Stan’s odd way of dealing with you always sticks in my memory, on a one-to-one he would put his head on one side as he asked you a question in a friendly manner. One day he gazed at one long-haired youth (in 1964 hair was becoming very important, but not officially at our school), and offered the wonderful observation.

"You’re looking particularly hirsute today, Jackson". When we asked him what it meant he told us to look it up. We did. The fashion at that time to lug your school books around in was not satchels, they were very uncool, but ex-army haversacks were all the rage. The large covering flap gave you a platform, an easel on which to paint your message to the world, usually carried out in Fat Smith’s art class. For months afterwards their were suitably hairy portraits on various haversacks entitled "An hirsute youth" or "Phil the hirsute" displayed to the world. The word has stuck with me through the years.'

John McGregor

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