Last Wednesday was the funeral of Uncle Les – Mr Leslie George, OBE – who became my uncle when he married my mother’s sister, Helen, in 1961. He was the founding headmaster of Christleton High School (which is now an academy but was then a secondary modern) in 1958 and stayed in that position until his retirement in 1980. He remained active in education-related areas for the rest of his life.
That’s the formal part. I remember a kindly man, a proper uncle who, after visiting us in Wymeswold, would slip us children a half-crown each with instructions not to tell mother. I remember staying with Auntie Helen and Uncle Les on several occasions, once after the end of term at Oxford when the rest of the family were on holiday, when I proudly showed him a story I had written, “Alcain and the Swamp Demons”. “A bit ploddy,” was his verdict. What does he know, I thought. This brought the house down at the OU Speculative Fiction Group when I read it to them after the pub one evening. But he was right and I had to put lots more jokes in before I managed to sell it. I remember a quiet, appreciative comment about the engagement ring I bought for Diana. I remember how easily he spoke to an audience, a one-man BBC keeping people informed, entertained and educated. I remember more, the particular, the general, too much to write here.
The funeral was at Malpas church, which was full, though not bursting at the seams. The general view was that many people were leaving the funeral itself to family and close friends, and instead electing to go to the memorial service in Chester Cathedral a few weeks later. Les’ daughter Juliet spoke beautifully about her father.
The hearse, funeral car and a procession of four further cars, containing family, closest friends and the vicar then headed for Wrexham Crematorium, taking a cross-country route and including one traffic light-controlled junction where the green was on insufficiently long and the tail of the procession went through a red light. The ceremony at the crematorium was brief and we departed for the “Cock o’ Barton”, a short trip away round the ring road, where the other people from the church were already long assembled, and there were tea, coffee, sandwiches and cakes for sustenance, and a chance to talk.
Someone said they had seen John Prescott at the church. Yes, the John Prescott, Lord Prescott, former deputy leader of the Labour Party. In a previous school Les had taught him and was instrumental, some years later, in enabling him to go to Ruskin College, Oxford and on to better things than a 15 year-old secondary modern school leaver might have expected. He wrote about it in his Daily Mirror column on 25th October – click here and scroll down to the second piece “He’s a man in a million”. He also called Juliet to speak with her. Good man.