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News > Deaths & Obituaries > Barry Edwards (2005)

Barry Edwards (2005)

Barry EDWARDS [Staff, 1970-2005] died in March, 2023, aged 77. He was at the core of the English Department throughout his 35 years at King’s. During his time, he taught across the whole age range from 11,  or Year 3 as it was known then, to 16 , the Upper 5th and GCSE,  and finally 18, the 6th Form with A Level in its various guises. Within the Department, he was initially responsible for overseeing English in the Lower School and thus for administering the Senior School English entrance exam, once inadvertently treading on the toes of a well-known local author when he used a passage from one of his novels for the comprehension exercise. Unbeknown to all, the author's son was sitting the exam. I think the writer got in touch and I got the impression from Barry that he was not overly impressed with his great literary work being used in such a mundane manner; Barry naturally saw the funny side of it all.

In those early days, you were given a huge degree of freedom with regard to the texts that were used and the way in which you taught them. Provided the necessary skills and ground were covered, it was left to class teachers to deliver them in whatever way they thought best: this less prescriptive, light-touch approach suited Barry and his skills as an exceptional classroom practitioner were employed to maximum effect under such a system. Anyone who decides to teach Iain Bank's bizarre and controversial tale of The Wasp Factory to 13 -14 year-olds is not opting for the 'run of the mill' material or approach. Here is a teacher who is looking to engage, get classes interested, inspire and challenge with thought-provoking material, providing pupils with the opportunity to both enjoy what was on offer and flourish as a result of those experiences.

Along with some other members of the Department, Barry's degree was not actually an English one; his was Philosophy. That background allowed him to view texts perhaps with a slightly more open mind, to make unusual connections, to come at them from a slightly different angle which he used to great effect. He was innovative, enthusiastic, excellent at getting ideas across, making texts come alive; his 6th Form groups would often arrive at Tony Hallatt's classroom who shared the set with him, really buzzing, fascinated by what had been discussed in his lesson. 

He enjoyed drama immensely, was strong on exploring the dramatic aspects of a play, loved reading aloud and constantly encouraged students to do so too to get in role, get under the skin of a character, one former student recollecting the time when he got quite cross at the A Level set for not using an Irish accent when reading parts from the works of Irish playwrights like Sean O'Casey and J M Synge.

These Irish writers enthused Barry and we see just how comfortable he was dealing with difficult literature, the political elements and ramifications really appealing to him. He kept his eye on what was being staged in the local regional theatres, encouraging and taking students to experience live theatre, organising trips, one memorable one when he drove the minibus, with a co-driver, all the way down to Islington to see a production of Synge's The Playboy of the Western World. He also produced school plays, notably Carousel, Oliver and The Caucasian Chalk Circle and even turned his hand to acting in the Staff Play produced by Mike McNulty, a version of Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus in which he played the part of the somewhat lecherous doctor Arthur Wickstaff. I think Barry found the demands of learning lines challenging, leading to a degree of improvisation during the performances which kept the rest of the cast on their toes; however, it did add greatly to the farcical aspect of the play. Incidentally the proceeds from those performances funded Frank Walker's production of Nicholas Nickleby in which daughter Hannah played Tilda Price.

Numerous Facebook posts by former pupils show just how much he was liked, how highly he was thought of, how greatly he was respected: the empathy and care he showed towards those who were experiencing hard times and difficulties, the sheer pleasure he gave to his classes, one former pupil, not an English graduate, saying how much he enjoyed his Shakespeare with Barry. On one sultry summer's day, he greeted his class with the words 'Come in, chill out and put your feet on the desks' before reading aloud from 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' complete with character voices for the whole lesson, letting them drift away into that imaginary world, a skill being used today by then pupils, now parents, as they read to their own children. Making a difference, having a positive impact.

Barry, however, was much, much more than just a first-rate classroom teacher, involving himself in a huge variety of extra curricular activities, many of them of a sporting nature. One of my first memories of him was watching him driving towards the tape in the 10k running event organised by Colin Kinshott for the King's Fete back in the day; he recorded a decent time too ...... for someone then in his mid thirties! His contribution outside the classroom was immense, easily giving as much time as that by those who helped out with the major sports, for instance. That's not to say that he didn't assist in those areas too as Mark remembers he and Barry running the school's 2nd XV in the late 70s/early 80s.

More significantly perhaps was his commitment to the smaller but no less important activities on offer at the school: badminton, organising PGL holidays for the Junior school, regular ski trips to Zell am See, twin centre activity trips to the south of France to, for example, Canadian canoe down the Ardeche or bivvy on the beach, Baz lying down, looking up and contemplating the stars, a plastic barrel of red wine by his side; on another occasion, he subtly mixed the different coloured wines by accidentally topping up red with white, creating his own Wose; needless to say, he quaffed the whole glass. Finally there's sailing, every Saturday morning down at Redesmere, a commitment every bit as tying as weekend games of rugby, hockey and cricket. Here, pupils were introduced to toppers and lasers, learnt how to tie knots and gauge the wind, how to manipulate boats with confidence. Nautical adventures did not stop there as annual trips to Cambrae in Scotland were made where Barry's relaxed and easy-going approach allowed his groups to hone skills on the open water whilst having a great deal of fun.

Barry himself was in fact introduced to sailing at King's. Roger Wood on the staff at the time had a boat for sale and took Baz down to Rudyard where it was moored. Once on board Baz was away and from that moment he was hooked; it's no surprise then that he was willing and able to pass on that passion to the next generations in school, so much so that King's has now a sailing Olympian, Eliot Hanson. Even after he retired from Full Time teaching, his sailing commitments to the school were maintained for a number of years.

He was also involved in the school's D of E programme once turning up in the field with a spanking new bit of kit. This gadget was of the all singing and dancing variety: it gave grid references, could provide longitude and latitude data, the whole works; unfortunately, this sat-nav system came from a boat so had no land maps and therefore much to his annoyance was of no use whatsoever! His D of E input too continued after retirement as he also became a key component of the Gold Expedition team in the Lake District. His love of cooking, hosting and socialising were given full rein as he with Sue Waller's help served up on 4 successive evenings varied appetising meals, including his exotic delicacy, egg curry (that was a first for many!) and his Vegetarian Chef's Special, carrots cooked in a chicken stock 'to add a bit of flavour'!! Whatever was served was a real bonus if you'd been out in the field for the day in all sorts of weather, especially so if coupled with a jar or 2 of Bluebird! The team slept well, ready for the next day. Great times.

Personally, it was good to see and chat to him in the respite week at the Hospice. While things were beginning to take their toll, he was his usual social self, happy to chew the fat with a good degree of irreverence. Sadly our parting handshake did have the feel of a final goodbye. I note that he ended up catching the same flight as Paul O'Grady and Lily Savage. That would have been some trip, all Wirralians together, having a good craik, a real laugh with some proper cut and thrust of Scouse banter. Classic. Cheers Baz.

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