|27 Jan 2021|
|Old Juddian Society|
Byron Criddle was a star in the academic firmament of his area of expertise. He was a frequent guest at dinners in Oxford where his scintillating wit, his flow of language, his provocative art of conversational dispute in reasoned controversy made him very welcome.
His obituary will no doubt appear in the national press.
He left Judd for Keele University in 1960 to complete a degree in History and Political Science. He taught briefly at a Girls Grammar in Leicester while doing his M.A. from Leicester he went as a lecturer to Aberdeen University.
His teaching charisma was such that students formed a Society for the ‘Appreciation of Byron Criddle’. Indeed, a former student set up the ‘Byron Criddle Scholarship’ for students there. He spent a year as a visiting professor at Massachusetts University in the USA. He became Reader in Politics (later Emeritus Reader), commuting between Aberdeen and London where he was a consultant on and completed assignments in The House of Commons. He spoke on Radio 4 and wrote articles for the press. He remained at Aberdeen for the whole of his professional life.
After retirement he went on lecturing with gusto and precision at Swansea University. He made his mark in a variety of publications on French politics but his later concentration was on the personnel and manoeuvrings of modern British politics. Professor James Walvin, Emeritus in History from York University, writes of him “He was quite brilliant in many ways... This, and his mastery of British politics, is on display in his major Almanac of British Politics.”
A father and grandfather, he is survived by his first and third wife who was with him when died, his son and his daughter, and four grandchildren whom he doted on.
At school he was very versatile. A powerful singer, (he loved Wesley's hymns), the star of the Literary and Debating Society, a keeper of cricket scores, a charismatic actor in the Drama Society; a great mimic, pun maker and word coiner, he brought people to laughter which lightened their day and made him much liked. Everyone who knew him will have their own special memory.
Byron was my oldest friend and one of the closest for almost seventy years. We first met on the bus from Tunbridge Wells to Brook Street on our way to Judd. We often visited each other's houses. We played lawn tennis, at which he was rather good, at the Earl's Road grass courts in Tunbridge Wells. Indeed he set up a tennis team at Judd and we played other schools on several occasions.
We visited films together, notably one about the energetic rise of China which touched us both with prophetic fear. Politics was a theme we explored in depth: apartheid, nuclear weapons, capital punishment. In fact, he took up such themes at the Debating Society a few times.
We last met in person at the Reform Club on the Pall Mall in 2019 in London, where he was a member, before the implacable pandemic put an end to everything with his death.
He had invited three OJ friends to lunch where he entertained us with his wit, his puns, his laughter, his roguish fondness for outrageous and loud commentary, his probing intellectual curiosity and his deeper knowledge about the state of our country, her people, her culture and religion.
Humour, gentle irony, warmth, perceptiveness, an ability to listen, his remarkable way with words were key features of his being. Spending time together with him was always a vitalising and energizing experience.
Of late, he would often joke of his deafness to perform his repartee with great volume and glee in the hope of just slightly antagonizing or provoking any wider audience. He was indeed very funny and made an art of being so without causing hurt or harm. On one occasion when we dined outside en famille at the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells, a sunny halcyon day, he was so outrageous in his brilliant denigration of Brexit and Brexiteers while damning the “Federasts of Europe” that nearby tables burst out laughing. The air was full of light and laughter.
On closer acquaintance his affection, his discreet kindness, his generosity became more evident despite other perspectives that darkened his moods, including the sudden death and crushing loss of his second wife Janet to whose memory he was devoted while nevertheless surging on into life with his third wife Susan.
His generosity is instanced by his lending money to a book shop owner facing bankruptcy to help tide them over, though he knew he would receive no returns, and indeed he didn't.
Born into a Non-Conformist religious background he was privately concerned about the moral tenor of his life and far more resolutely self-critical in that than most of us. A church-goer, he was obsessed with making amends for whatever injustices he felt he might have imposed on others. Despite his growing despair at “the venality of mankind”, warmth and compassion were elements of his make-up.
His literary and rhetorical gift made him an inspiring friend. Of late he often reminisced about his childhood in Stroud and the land of the West Country, the “blue-remembered hills”. He was proud of his father's Welsh ancestry and emergence from the mines as a very committed and thoughtful Non-conformist minister influenced by Bonhoeffer. Moved by concepts of social justice, Byron was as a young man, a parliamentary Labour candidate in Tunbridge Wells.
Later, no member of any party, and refusing to vote in elections, he maintained a slightly left of centre view of political life with retro elements, being tongue-in-cheek suspicious of progressive policies regarding, say, the role of women in political life which exercised his witty and curmudgeonly formulations of mock despair delivered with dramatic intent.
He was fond of gardens, indeed a gardener, parks and the outdoors and the historical cultural background of any location, of which he was always deeply knowledgeable, permeated his life.
In recent years his allotment in Richmond, especially its small hut, was a source of retreat and solace for him. But he worked manually too, having built up and repaired the dry-stone wall of his mother's cottage by hand. He was a very sound cook. A number of us often enjoyed his home cooked meals in his flat in Richmond sitting on hard Assembly pew-benches that he had purchased from Judd.
Larger than life, Byron has passed on. There is a less light and a bit more emptiness in the world for it.
Goodbye, dear, dear old friend.
Christopher Terry with Michael Barnett and Eddie Prescott
"After leaving Judd in 1960, I hadn't seen Byron for 25 years. As I looked up from my seat whilst impatiently waiting to leave a British Airways flight that had just arrived in Aberdeen, there standing down the aisle, was a fellow with long hair and a somewhat generous- fitting coat.
He suddenly turned profile, and I thought, my God, that looks like "Crid" - Byron's nickname back at Judd.
By the time I eventually left the plane, he'd gained some distance on me, and so quickening my pace, I came up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder and said with contained excitement "I think we know each other !".
Without slowing down, he half turned, glanced round and said " I really don't think so", with the tone of a man who thought he was being tapped for the price of a cup of tea.
I now knew it was Byron and persisted in this my determination to make contact, & said "Crid, it's Eddie Prescott !"
" Ted ! Where the hell did you come from !?"
Mission accomplished, & the start of a number of nostalgic wallowings at 1953 Entry reunions, 0JS Dinners and also small group lunches which included Michael Barnett, Chris Terry, Colin Whittle and Colin Tourle."
The practice at Judd, certainly in the 1950s, of seating new students alphabetically in class meant that a Criddle and a Whittle did not immediately come into close contact. Similarly, there is no doubt that there was quite an academic gap between us and so Byron and I did not spend any time in each other's company during our school days.
However, thanks to the OJ annual dinners and Eddie's organisation skills with lunch arrangements of those still local to the Tonbridge area, I have been fortunate in enjoying Byron's company on a number of occasions over the last decade or so. Three particular incidents come to mind immediately.
First, at the anniversary OJ dinner at Skinners Hall, Byron and I were seated together. On that evening, Bob Snell's description of his wit and erudite conversation were never more apt than at that event. I can still see the confused and quizzical looks of other diners around us, as Byron launched into some controversial subject, I'm sure just to gauge attitudes of our fellow guests and provoke some comeback.
Secondly, arriving a little early at Hadlow's Rose Revived for an Eddie organised lunch, I was confused to witness a car leaving the car park driven, I was sure, by Byron Criddle. Thinking I had either arrived too late as the others were leaving or, worse still, that I had turned up at the wrong venue, I went into the pub to be told that, indeed, the Prescott party had a booking and that I was the first to arrive. None of the other lunchers could explain why Byron may have left without explanation and we had been in the pub for more than half an hour, wondering if some emergency had occurred, when he breezed back in, completely unconcerned. When quizzed as to his departure, he told us that he had suddenly remembered some artwork he wished to view at Tudeley church (hardly a nearby location) and thought this was a good time to do it.
Finally, again at a Rose Revived lunch, Byron told us that on Maundy Thursday that year he had been mugged near his home and bank cards and other valuables stolen. A very unpleasant experience, of course, but when Eddie contacted us to arrange another lunch date the following spring, I thought it appropriate to message Byron with "Beware the Ides of Maundy". He came back to all on Eddie's mailing list, explaining the comment to those who had not heard about his mugging - I received an additional, more pointed, less diplomatic response.
Yes, fantastic company, an independent spirit and he will be sadly missed.
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