Soham Grammarians - Mr Gordon E Hemmings, English 1958-66

Gordon died on 6th July 2011 and his funeral took place on 21st July 2011.


Thursday 21st July 2011

Funeral of Gordon Hemmings
30th December 1926
-6th July 2011

The Sentences
& Opening Prayer
by the Chaplain

HYMN: Praise, my soul, the King of heaven;
Henry Francis Lyte (1793 - 1847) Based on Psalm 103

Psalm 121
I will lift up mine eyes - Walker
sung by lay-clerks of Winchester Cathedral

A reading from Ecclesiastes 3
read by David McDonald

Words from St John's Gospel, Chapter 14 verses 1-6
read by Rosemary McDonald

Psalm 103
read by Elizabeth Green

Anthem: The Lord's my shepherd - John Rutter
a recording: sung by the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge

A reading from Shakespeare
read by Robert Wilson

The family asked me to explain how I fit into Gordon's life.

As a teacher, Gordon had the gift of enabling some of his pupils to make the transition from pupil to student to personal friend, and I was one of those privileged to make that transition. My family's contact with Gordon goes back to 1943, when Gordon, as a pupil at Bemrose School, Derby, was in charge of Wellington House Choir and was preparing them for the annual House Music Competition. Gordon took the view that my elder brother Murray was not only singing out of tune but was doing so deliberately, and so Gordon threw him out of the house choir, a deed for which my brother has, I am glad to say, forgiven him.

I first met Gordon in 1951, when I became a pupil at Bemrose School and he was a teacher there. He eventually became my form teacher, my A level teacher, my counsellor, and my friend. Living in Aberdeen as I do, we could not meet all that frequently, but I was due to see him again, here in Winchester, in September.

The Shakespeare reading draws on excerpts from three of Shakespeare's plays, each of which has relevance to Gordon's life: one because it was his favourite play; another because it features as an appropriate song within a Shakespeare play, and Gordon loved music; and another because it links to one of Gordon's favourite anecdotes.

Don't worry, however. The three excerpts consist of one gobbet and two snippets, and will not occupy much time.

In December 2005, Gordon wrote on a postcard to one of his many friends as follows.

"At the end of January 2006 I move to Winchester to become a (Red) Brother of St Cross. More details later, but I am very excited and happy about the prospect."

His excitement turned out to be well placed: Gordon was very content here. Anyone who enquired of a third party about how Gordon was faring in his latter years (and, indeed, at the time of his death) could have been met truthfully with a reply of:

"He has his health, and ampler strength indeed
Than most have of his age" The Winter's Tale, Act IV Scene 3. Gordon's favourite Shakespeare play.

Gordon died a fulfilled and happy man.

And so, Gordon ....

Fear no more the heat o' the sun;
Nor the furious winter's rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown of the great,
Thou art past the tyrant's stroke:
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dread thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have.

A song within Cymbeline, shortened a little.

And, finally .....

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest Hamlet

Be still, for the presence of the Lord, The Holy One, is here.

Music & words: David J. Evans (b. 1957) Copyright 1986 Thankyou Music

The Reverend Reg Sweet Chaplain of St Cross

Anthem: In paradisum - Philip Moore
sung by lay-clerks of Winchester Cathedral

Canon Michael St.John-Channel
Precentor of Winchester Cathedral

HYMN: O Lord, my God, when I, in awesome wonder,
Music & words: Stuart K. Hine (1899 - 1989)



Nimrod from the "Enigma Variations" - Edward Elgar

During which the Cross carried by a Red Brother moves to position with the Porter and Chaplain in front of the coffin. The Red Brothers led by the Senior Red Brother take up position behind the coffin. The Black Brothers and family mourners follow behind them.

The Procession then moves from the Church pausing at the Brother's Flat before making its way around the Quadrangle and under the Beaufort Tower. At the outer gate the Brothers stand to one side and pause allowing the cortege to leave. The Chaplain dismisses the Brothers.

Refreshments will be served after the Service – all are welcome
If you would like to make a donation in Gordon's memory,
the charities to benefit will be UNICEF [one of Gordon's favourite Charities] and the British Heart Foundation.

Gordon's daughters, Elizabeth and Rosemary, would like to thank Gordon's friends old and new for their kind words, thoughts and prayers and cards at this sad time. It has been a great comfort to hear so many fond memories of Gordon's long life. The staff and Brothers of St Cross Hospital have been most helpful and supportive throughout. A particular thank-you to Charles Acland for his advice with the music, Clive McCleester for putting together the service sheet, Doreen Jenkins for organising the refreshments and the Reverend Reg Sweet for guiding and supporting us through the process of putting together the funeral service. Sincere thanks are also due to the Organist, Derek Beck and a group of lay-clerks from Winchester Cathedral, directed by Andrew Lumsden, who provided a beautiful choral contribution of music that Gordon particularly loved. The presence of each and every person at the funeral service is greatly appreciated, and we hope to be able to speak to many people personally over a cup of tea after the service.

Mr Bill Rennison (History 1961-67), Mr Chris Royal-Dawson (English 1963-67), Len Norman 49 and the editor were among those attending Gordon's funeral.

The funeral took place in the fine Transitional Norman Church, all that remains of the original Hospital of St Cross

Gordon lived in one of these Almshouse of Noble Poverty dwellings opposite the church

Mr Bill Rennison (whose daughter and son in law were also there) and Mr Chris Royal-Dawson

Mr Bill Rennison and Frank Haslam

from the 1960 School photo

from the 1965 School photo

Mr Gordon Hemmings, born on 30th December 1926, was a native of Derby, where he was educated at Bemrose School.

He gained a First Class London Degree in English at Nottingham University and remained in Nottingham to do his teacher training, which awarded a Cambridge qualification.

After gaining these professional qualifications he did his National Service in the RAF on the staff of the Administrative Apprentice Training School at RAF St Athan. He said teaching young apprentices who were more interested in honing their typing and shorthand skills than in 'studying' Shaw and Shakespeare was a good grounding, not least for keeping discipline: reading Othello aloud to them worked! He was proud of only ever having to put one lad on on a charge.

At the age of 23 he was invited to join the staff of his old school, Bemrose, where he taught [editor: this is an archived link so please wait for it to open - does anyone have a large version of the 1950 Bemrose staff photo?] from 1949 to 1958 and was much involved in school productions. He married Kathleen in his last year there. She also taught in Derby.

At his interview for Soham he recalled noticing a photo of a recent production of Hamlet, of which Edward Armitage was clearly proud. When taking part as a Villager in The Bartered Bride he realised that if SGS could mount a production of such quality, then as had been the case at Bemrose, there was no real need to go to the trouble of importing girls for female roles. He also quietly but firmly asserted his position regarding the County Drama adviser, Miss Barr, feeling that he had considerable production experience of his own.

Some may his recall his handwriting:

Although he much enjoyed his time at SGS, with a young family to support he began to look for better paid posts. He wryly commented that his initial lack of success at this came to be seen in a new light when a reference provided by Edward Armitage for another member of staff was mistakenly returned to the applicant instead of Edward. The reference had been couched in surprisingly lukewarm terms - Gordon speculated that Edward was reluctant to lose some of them!

However in 1966 he left SGS for the very much larger Ifield School, a comprehensive in Crawley, Sussex, as Head of English. From there he went as Head of Lower School to Wood Green School in Witney, Oxfordshire, for eight years. In semi-retirement he worked at Millfield Preparatory School, Edgarley Hall, Glastonbury, Somerset. Retirement saw a move to Exeter where he helped at the Cathedral School coaching Chess.

By now a widower, in 2004 he returned to live in Ely where in his SGS days he had sung in the Cathedral Choir. As ever, he was involved in local activities. He gave the talk at the Grammarians' Annual Dinner that year.

An accident on a trip abroad alerted him to thinking about the longer term and he was accepted as a member of the Community of the Hospital of St Cross in Winchester. He found it congenial and had some light duties in the Cathedral.

He had a wide range of interests, literary, musical and historical and enjoyed contact with former colleagues, pupils and friends. As a result of the information about him on this website, a first cousin once removed in Ireland was able to establish contact after several decades. Gordon wrote "So my small family of 2 daughters and 5 grandchildren has marvellously expanded - it has meant so much to me."

Gordon died aged 84 on 6th July 2011. He had recently experienced a short period of illness during which he had kept in good spirits and looking forward to what he had planned for the summer. Gordon suffered a sudden cardiac arrest in his flat at the Hospital of St Cross, Winchester where he had lived peacefully and happily as a Brother of this historic almshouse for the last 5 years.

His funeral took place in the church at the Hospital of St Cross, St Cross Rd, Winchester S023 9SD on Thursday 21st July at 2 pm, followed by refreshments served in the Hundred Men's Hall. All who knew Gordon at any time in his long life were most welcome to join his family in remembering him.

It was family flowers only, but donations to one of his favourite charities, UNICEF, or alternatively to the British Heart Foundation, could be made in his memory.

Our condolences went to his daughters Elizabeth and Rosemary and his grandchildren.

Gordon can be seen on some of the recent Soham Grammarians' Annual Dinner pages.

Soham Grammarian Christmas 1958

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Hemmings, who, as Senior English Master, replaces Mr Joiner who left us at the end of the Summer Term.

Soham Grammarian Summer 1966

It is perhaps a sign of the educational times that three of the departing staff are moving into the comprehensive sector: Mr Hemmings, after eight years as Head of English, goes to Ifield School, Crawley; Mr Ellis moves to Rossington Comprehensive School, Doncaster; and Mr O'Toole moves to Hylton Red House School, Sunderland.

Readers of the Grammarian will not need to be reminded of the many and varied contributions of these masters to the English and sporting activities of the school.

See also:

Bartered Bride 1959 (played a Villager)
A Midsummer Night's Dream 1959
Twelfth Night 1960
2H's School & Crossbones Summer 1961
Amahl and the Night Visitors Christmas 1961
The Winter's Tale Christmas 1962: this includes an article by Gordon: The Play Produced: The Winter's Tale
The Memory Be Green 1964
Shoemaker's Holiday 1965
Horizons I 1965

Letter: Girls in the choir: The Independent, (London), May 19, 1999

Barry Lowe SG55: 26 Jan 2006: Gordon Hemmings was given a royal 'send off' from Ely on Sunday 22nd January. David Anderson, Chris Bent, Brian Ashton, John Wade, John Webster and Barry Lowe joined Gordon at a farewell lunch in the lovely setting of the Old Boat House in Ely before walking Gordon back to the Cathedral for him to hear the choristers for one last time. On Thursday 26th January, Gordon was planning to leave Ely bound for his retirement home in Winchester.

One can only hope that the Ely Reading Group will continue on the progressive path in C20 literature that Gordon initiated, and not revert to Wordsworth and Tennyson! Ely will miss him.

Peter Askem (Art 1954-72): It was so sad to hear of the death of Gordon. During his time at Soham he was an enthusiastic colleague and we worked together on many stage projects. He and his wife Kathleen and his (then), little daughters, were good family friends.

Ian Booth SG57: I have fond memories of Gordon as my English teacher and sat next to him at the Old Boys dinner just a few years ago. If you do attend please add my name to those you will represent.

Malcolm Coe SG57: Gordon was one of my favourite teachers ... he possessed the ability to enable an understanding and learning of classics and often complex literary parts of Shakespeare etc. more agreeable for a bewildered young teenager from Burwell (even visiting my home to assist in the interpretation of MSND - Hermia passages).

I was honoured, for not only being selected for excellent parts in a number of school productions but being awarded an English Prize by him.
We will all miss his frequent attendance at the Annual Dinner ... he was a great supporter to SGS and its traditions.

John Dimmock SG59: Very sad news indeed, Mr. Hemmings (as I feel compelled to refer to him by) was, without a doubt the very model of the ideal school master. Firm but fair, even handed and above all always totally honest with you. A truly remarkable person in every way, who later provided a listening ear which was greatly appreciated. I am sure he will be greatly missed by his family and many friends.

Ralph Dunham SG59: Both as a person and in his professional career he was a person, highly respected and warmly regarded, who made a positive difference to the lives of so many boys at SGS. I well recall his calm fairness when dealing with misdemeanours/unacceptable behaviour not only for those of us when in 2H, but throughout the school.

Gordon encouraged so many of us to participate in dramatic productions, poetry competitions etc and I'm sure I'm not the only one who can reflect on his positive influence in widening our horizons. My own enjoyment of drama, still treading the boards as an amateur thespian, can be directly traced to his ability in developing confidence on stage. He was no mean playwright nor actor himself - I well remember a powerful performance in The Long, the Short and the Tall at Ely High School nearly half a century ago!

Hopefully, over the last forty years in my own teaching career in primary schools, I have been able to pass on some of his quiet enthusiasm for literature to those children who have been in my classes.

Geoff Fernie SG59: I remember Gordon so well. It was obvious that he loved teaching and that he loved his subject. I remember particularly his gentle manner that commanded respect through his presence alone without the need for any bullying personality. I also remember many conversations with him about the need to create new words in our language to represent new concepts in science and technology. His voice echoes every time I correct one of my graduate students for using ‘due to’ when they mean ‘owing to’ and vice versa.

Frank Haslam SG'59': Following a lead after finding Gordon on our website in the course of family history research, in February 2010 Louis Hemmings (in Ireland, a first cousin once removed - his paternal grandfather was an uncle of Gordon Hemmings) asked me to facilitate contact with him. Louis is in the book business ...

In his 2010 Christmas card to me, Gordon wrote: "So my small family of 2 daughters and 5 grandchildren has marvellously expanded - it has meant so much to me." Louis Hemmings and his family had visited Gordon and came over for his funeral.

Dannie Nicholas SG59: Gordon Hemmings was a brilliant teacher and a lovely man. He was directly responsible for my becoming an English teacher through the linguistic and literary education he gave me and the example as a teacher that he set. I copied him in every way - even the tiny margin notes on homework! He was also directly responsible for my becoming a professional writer in 1983, because he had given me the confidence and the knowledge to use the English language with enthusiasm. I tried to repay him to a minor degree in recent years when we re-established contact by taking him out to dinner and to the theatre, but it was as nothing: I owed him so much.

Frank Haslam SG'59': 26 Jan 2008: Last weekend the Haslams and the Coxheads took Gordon out for lunch at the splendid pub close by St Cross and enjoyed a tour of the Hospital. Gordon also showed us what his Red Brother's robes look like:

Frank Haslam '59'- Gordon Hemmings - Peter Coxhead 59

Gordon, a Red Brother in the Community of the Hospital of St Cross,
wore this for the daily attendance at Matins and other special occasions

from the 2011 Soham Grammarians' Reunion, part of the Toast to Absent Friends, by Mr Gareth Wood (Chemistry 1964-72)

When Frank rang me earlier this week to invite me to propose this Toast, he did so, mindful of the fact that in the course of this year, we have lost two former teachers who were both colleagues of mine - Gordon Hemmings and John Abbott.

I did not know Gordon particularly well but he was Head of English when I arrived in 1964 and left two years later. A quietly spoken man he was a determined character and and effective teacher with a love of Drama as a list on the SG website shows. He was clearly held in great affection by his students and, when he returned to live in Ely in 2004, he was invited to speak to this gathering later that year. When he left the area two years later he was given, I quote, 'a royal send off' by a group of distinguished Soham Grammarians.

In 2008, now living in Winchester, he entertained and was entertained by Frank Haslam and Peter Coxhead – both of whom were in my Lower 6th group when I arrived in 1964. Their social event is I suppose an illustration of the interaction of Arts and Sciences. Both of those meetings, some 40 years after he left SGS, illustrate the affection in which he was held.

Hamlet - source of Gordon's story about Derek Jacobi

Robert Wilson added later: Gordon went to a theatre production in which Derek Jacobi was performing. In the Jacobi CV in the programme (presumably supplied by Jacobi himself) there was reference to 'the first time that Derek Jacobi played Hamlet'. Gordon knew the reference to be wrong, because he recalled an earlier time and place, and performance, in which he had seen Derek Jacobi playing Hamlet in a professional context.

Gordon being Gordon, he wrote to Derek Jacobi and pointed out the error, quoting time and place. Charmed by Gordon's letter, Derek Jacobi responded by suggesting that the two of them meet up and have a chat over a cup of coffee .... and they duly did. Gordon was so steeped in Shakespeare that he could 'hold his own' in any company in which Shakespeare was the main topic of conversation, so the prospect of meeting Derek Jacobi for a blaither would have filled him only with pleasure and excitement, and not with any anxiety or concern.

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Although we do not have the text of the Address, here are the notes provided to Rev Sweet by Robert Wilson ...

Gordon Hemmings Born 30th December 1926 Died 6th July 2011

Robert Wilson wrote: I came across Gordon Hemmings in 1951, when he was about to start his third year of teaching at Bemrose School, Derby, and I was about to start my first year as a pupil there. Gordon had been invited back to his old school 3 years earlier to serve on the staff, principally as a teacher of English, he having gained a 1st in English at Nottingham University. This invitation was in itself an indication of the mark he had made as a pupil at the school.

By 1951, Gordon had teamed up with the school’s highly talented Head of Music, Ken Eade, and between them they created a light operetta called School and Crossbones, for which Gordon wrote the libretto and did the producing and Ken Eade wrote the music [editor: this was also performed at Soham Grammar School]. My memories of that production are that it was a happy show. Gordon displayed a lightness of touch allied to an ability to explain to young, inexperienced performers exactly what was required of them. He had a gift for bringing people on.

It was to be another 4 years before Gordon Hemmings became a key part of my school life. I think it was no accident that he was assigned the job of being form master to the Form 5L of school year 1955-56, this particular form being considered by the staff to contain the largest number of highly talented boys that this grammar school had seen in its comparatively short existence. I feel sure that Gordon was given the remit to keep us on the straight and narrow in our O level year, and to remind us that doing well requires perspiration as well as inspiration.

Handing us over to Gordon was an astute move. Form teachers had a key pastoral role to carry out, and Gordon was well-equipped to look after us. For the first time for many of us at that school, we all gained first names, and found ourselves courteously addressed by this comparatively young (not quite 30), kindly-disposed, soft-spoken, gentle-mannered man. Of course, such an approach on his part ran the risk of being misinterpreted by callow youths, and there was always going to be someone who viewed Gordon as a probable soft touch. It was not long into the new school year that we were all disabused of such a notion.

I cannot any longer recall the identity of the miscreant or the nature of the offence (which was committed NOT against Gordon but against some other member of staff) but I do recall the reaction it provoked in Gordon when news of what had transpired reached his ears. At one particular morning form registration he launched into a diatribe that was impressive not only for its eloquence but also the strength of its righteous indignation. He did not raise his voice, but he did flush just a little as he let us know in no uncertain terms that he was not going to stand idly by whilst some clowns put the reputation of Form 5L (and thereby HIS own reputation as 5L’s form master, though he did not say as much in so many words) in jeopardy. I was impressed.

Courteous and kind and tolerant and approachable our form master may be, but he was not going to be messed with or have anything worthwhile put at risk, and his demeanour left no doubt that a line was well and truly being drawn. His indignation was real enough, and it was merited, and we knew it. There and then he won our respect and, over the course of the next 3 years (for many of us, at least) our affection.

In the autumn of 1956, Gordon was assigned what was probably his biggest challenge to date. Handed over to him as an A Level English set was a group of lads whom he would identify in later years as containing within it probably the most gifted ‘bunch of five’ that ever came his way. His remit was clear: to ensure that they fulfilled their potential, gained their A level English ‘with Distinction’ (a descriptor that our particular exam board offered at the time in addition to grades), won State Scholarships, and earned the school an overdue bigger place on the map by earning places at Oxbridge in particular. He was to be aided and abetted by (among others) Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, Jane Austen, and Will Shakespeare – the authors and originators of some of our set texts.

As an A level group, we were the beneficiaries of meticulous planning on Gordon’s part. He left little or nothing to chance; the set texts were allocated their time slots, and syllabus coverage was guaranteed. At the same time, however, he was pragmatic enough to be flexible. His antennae enabled him to sense how things were progressing, and he was not above occasionally cutting himself off in full flow, laying down a text, and remarking something like “I’ve a feeling you’ve had enough of this for one week. Am I right? Time for a change?” And he would institute a change.

Over the course of the two years there were some magic moments, some of which offered the prospect of some discomfiture for Gordon. One in particular had an awful inevitability about it. In our version of Spenser’s The Fairie Queene, coverage of the Seven Deadly Sins had been reduced by the editor from seven to six, and this fact was highlighted by the insertion of asterisks at the point in the text where the excision had been made. As a result of this absurd prudery, Gordon had a difficult decision to make. As we tackled that particular section of the book, should he make a pre-emptive strike, or should he take a chance and take the risk that his charges be considerate enough towards him and his sensitivities as to refrain from asking him the inevitable question?

Still being close enough to his own school days to sense that (notwithstanding that we liked him) there was little or no chance of his being ‘spared’ by us, he elected for the pre-emptive strike, and regaled us with something along the lines of it would be good for us to do our own bit of research to discover the missing sin, and to find out what Spenser had to say about it, i.e. he would NOT be discussing it, since (this being the set edition of the text) it was no longer part of his own remit to cover that particular point. Thus did Lust remain a topic of conversation for the bike shed rather than the classroom.

There was one occasion, however, when luck deserted Gordon in the course of his doing good deeds on our behalf. As part of our general education, Gordon offered to take us to the local assizes, to witness justice in action. I really fancied this particular outing, partly because exposure to Dickens and the like had fired my imagination as to the kinds of ruffians we may see earning their just desserts.

Of course, Gordon was not in a position to know what kinds of cases would come up on any particular day, and he was the victim of the most wretched bad luck in that on the morning that we went along all of the cases that we heard consisted of poor, wretched Derbyshire village folk in their 20s and 30s, but with mental ages of less than 10, being hauled in and rapidly tried for incest – most pleaded Guilty anyway. There was a procession of them, I recall.

Since there actually were students in the class who were unsure what constituted the crime of incest, Gordon had some tough explaining to do afterwards. I recall that we found the proceedings tedious, and were glad to leave earlier than planned. It would have been understandable if Gordon had wondered if he were being ‘stitched up’ when the first enquiry came his way, but he had the wit and insight to realise that, on this occasion, some perplexity was genuine.

At Bemrose School (a grammar school for boys) Gordon and another member of the English Department (a middle-aged woman) took turn and turn about to produce the school's annual Shakespeare play. Both were great enthusiasts. Their styles, however, were very different. She was a driver. He was a coaxer. I responded better to coaxing than to driving.

In his relationship with this female fellow teacher, Gordon showed generosity of spirit. In the years in which it was this (highly competitive) lady's turn to produce the play, Gordon would show up every night of the performance in order to help backstage with applying stage make-up to those of us who were no good at doing it for ourselves (which was most of us). On one occasion I recall that a lady was also helping alongside him - she went on to become his wife.

Gordon was one of the few members of staff who would occasionally 'let on' that he also had a private life outside the school. He allowed himself to come that little bit closer to senior pupils that most of the (generally older) staff seemed able to manage.

Once when I was 15 or 16, and he was in the course of doing the make up (with his lifelong pal Leonard Ashton alongside him) we fell to discussing the local repertory theatre, which had its own premises separate from Derby's renowned Grand Theatre. He was a regular attender, and so was I.

"And where do you like to sit in the theatre?" he asked me. "Oh .... downstairs at the front. I like to be close to the action. What about you, Mr Hemmings?" "Oh, Mr Ashton and I like the front row of the balcony, and particularly for period plays. The ladies' dresses show off to so much greater advantage up there, we find. I suppose that you could say that it puts us pretty close to at least some of the action too!" The two of them laughed. I too laughed. I realise now that he had set up this particular bit of conversation because he knew there would be a laugh for all of us at the end of it, irrespective of what my reply was to his initial question of me. Gordon had sensed that I was showing a few signs of 'first night nerves' and he was doing his bit to help me relax. Typical of him to be so considerate.

Gordon enjoyed acting and taking part in plays, but not through any great need to spend time in being someone other than himself ....... and certainly not through any great urge towards self-display. I found Gordon to be at ease with himself, and comfortable with himself. Not smug, or complacent; simply comfortable; modest, but not shy.

In Derby, he was a leading light in the amateur theatrical group which comprised staff from Derby's five single-sex grammar schools - a fine way not only for teachers to meet other teachers but for young female teachers to meet young male teachers, and vice versa.

As at his next posting (Soham), at Bemrose School Gordon would encourage his English students to go along to see this amateur group in action, and sell us tickets. The last time I saw Gordon we fell to discussing a production of Our Town in which he had taken a leading role way back in 1957 or 1958, and in the course of that discussion it was remarkable just how much about the production he could still remember. It was noteworthy too that what he was keen to talk about was not his own part, and how he played it, but about the design of the set, and the producer's perception of the play, and how that perception was manifested in how the play was staged on that occasion. I recall the high standards to which this amateur group operated - it was instructive for us to see the group in action.

Our obtaining our distinctions, our State Scholarships, and our (mainly) Oxbridge places coincided with Gordon’s departure for pastures new. Being recently married, he had little option but to look for promotion, and off he went to Soham Grammar School. At that point, he disappeared from my life for a few decades, and by the time that the two of us caught up with each other again he was retired from teaching, but still very active, and living in Exeter.

I well recall the sheer pleasure of that re-acquainting. He was instantly recognisable, not only physically but in his speech and mannerisms, and even his gait. Typical of him, he made the transition associated with our new relationship as easy as it could be. “Gordon” was what he wanted to be and how he wished to be addressed, and he made that clear at the outset. We ‘clicked’ immediately, and I am still unashamedly thrilled by the fact that he was every bit as delighted to see me as I was to see him. He remained boundlessly enthusiastic about English literature, and out came many an old photo.

With his being in Exeter, and my being in Aberdeen, the number of opportunities that we had to meet up were limited. That served only to make them all the richer. Even in his 80s, it was so uplifting to see the same Gordon still very much in evidence. There was so much about him to enjoy. There was his capacity for displaying enormous enthusiasm for areas of life that interested him – an enthusiasm supported by knowledge, insight, and understanding. He was renowned, of course, for his love of literature and of Shakespeare in particular, and for his love of music, and especially Anglican church music; he sang in Derby Cathedral Choir. That I had gone on to be a cathedral lay clerk was something that pleased him greatly.

That was another endearing feature of Gordon. He took great pleasure in the successes of his former students. More than that, however, he saw those successes as belonging first and foremost to that student, and not to himself. He did not look to claim all the credit in such instances. Whenever he talked fondly of some of his former students, and of how they had ‘come on’ as actors in the plays he produced, his conversation was in terms of what they had achieved, and not about all the work he had put in to bring about such achievement.

He was the most engaging lunch or dinner companion, with a fund of anecdotes, a fine sense of the absurd, a ready wit, and a genuine interest in others. With Gordon, tales were told in turns – there were no monologues. I found him refined and upright, highly moral, but without being priggish or haughty.

I shall miss a great deal the opportunity to meet up with him and to share his company and conversation. I loved to hear him laugh, and particularly the impish, anticipatory, clipped “Ha! Ha!” laugh (consciously on occasions, unconsciously – I think - on others) that he would insert into an anecdote immediately before the key moment was about to be revealed or the punch line to be delivered – he had a very good sense of theatre in that respect.

His was a life well and fully lived, and a life which did much to enrich the lives of others.

He was a fine Christian gentleman; a truly gentle knight, full of chivalry.

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Tour of Bemrose School on its 75th Anniversary

If you have recollections of Mr Hemmings or further photos, please contact the editor.
page last updated 19 Oct 11