They had a whole gallery of people ready to take the stage of Ipswich’s #NewWolseyTheatre and pay tribute to Peter Hewett, from the humblest to the highest.
Warmly, these folk described how he'd nurtured them up to appreciate art and literature. One or two had left Northgate Grammar as early as the age of fifteen marked for good by the passage of this discerning spirit through their life.
#TrevorNunn, former Northgate scholar and once director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, paid his tribute, praising Hewett’s poetry, and a prose memoir he had written. If only, he said, Peter could have been spared to give us another volume.
There was another former pupil who was playing in London, in a West End musical, at the time. This fellow had been teetotal, and that was the one thing they disagreed on. Stan always advised him to get his fill of honest beer now and then. Before a full house the young actor now toasted his old English teacher and quaffed a mug of ale.
Yes, there were some very successful people present who did their stuff, including a boy from my form, Vernon Kyte, formerly conductor of the School Orchestra and all-round music freak. Kyte had gone on to many triumphs, composing scores for children's programmes on BBC radio and conducting orchestras in Poland and beyond. There he was, in the row in front. Saying excuse me to those seated between us I made my way along and tapped his shoulder.
'Know you among a thousand, Vern!'
There was that professional grin and a hand thrust out.
'I'd know you anywhere as well -- er, Greg?'
Some of the true Olympians from the big World were certainly present that night. It had been said that Stan Hewett had known some of the Elect, and there I saw one in particular. I recognised him sitting way up towards the back, probably dying for a cheroot: Aidan Clocherty, that 1,000-words-a-day giant of the review pages, and no mean novelist either. He and Stan Hewett had been allies in the battle to -- well, I for one could never work out what they were battling for, but by Crikey they put up a good fight.
One of the other teachers from Northgate Grammar, my former English Master, Mr Salmon, was acting as MC that night. I looked on admiringly. Neil Salmon, I thought, who helped me cultivate the first vegetables of my Muse.
Veteran of many an Assembly, Salmon spoke through the phlegm very movingly, hesitating at particularly intense moments of recollection.
'When I came to Ipswich fresh from Teacher Training (T.T. as we called it then) and was just about to start my first job, there he was, my boss, my superior in more ways than one, Peter Hewett. A real man of culture. I could tell that. A man who didn't try to impose his views. Though he ran a tight ship, he was no Captain Bligh. Everybody loved Peter, though of course he never suffered a fool gladly in his life, ha ha ha...!'
Through the evening Neil Salmon introduced numerous admirers of the deceased who gave their personal tribute plus renditions of songs and poems. One man read out a sarcastic report card written by his old teacher. It was the side-splitter of the night.
Someone from Hewett's old group of students at the University of the Third Age got up and sang Hoagy Carmichael's 'Buttermilk Sky', a favourite tune of Stan’s, apparently.
This seemed odd in one who hated the influence American literature was having on the English variety, but such was human nature.
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