This obituary, written by John’s friend Owen Bentley, appeared in the August edition of Prospero, the BBC newspaper for retired staff members.
This obituary, written by John’s friend Owen Bentley, appeared in the August edition of Prospero, the BBC newspaper for retired staff members.
Our last boat, Florence, was an Oyster Heritage 37, designed by Holman and Pye and built in 1985. We bought her from a yard in Falmouth in January 2008, and finally launched her in August that year, following much refurbishment and after John had recovered from surgery to replace a faulty heart valve in May. Florence was not a particularly fast boat, but she was designed to be safe and strong and comfortable.
In 2008, 2009 and 2010 we cruised in Florence each summer to Normandy, the Channel Islands, Brittany, and the west coast of France.
Then, in 2011, Florence made it possible for John to achieve his long-held ambition of sailing to Denmark to visit our friends, Chris and Bente. They owned a little house on the coast, just south of Helingsor, and their village, Espergaede, has a tiny harbour, not often used by English yachts. John organised a strong crew of male friends to cross the North Sea to Germany and then through the Kiel Canal to the Baltic. I joined the crew about two weeks later, having wimpishly flown to Copenhagen. The two of us sailed around the South Danish Archipelago for a few more days before moving on to Copenhagen, and then to Espergaede, where we moored Florence by the little lighthouse in the harbour. And back, via the Frisian Islands of Norderney and Borkum, with the help of another sailing friend. It was a wonderful holiday.
The following year, 2012, was the last time we sailed in Florence, and we didn’t go very far, just to Normandy. After that, John’s health began to deteriorate and Florence was laid up under her cover in Larkman’s boatyard in Melton for the next three years. We finally made the decision to sell her in summer 2015 and were very pleased when, at the end of that year, she was handed over to her new owners, a young couple who had been looking for a suitable boat on which to live aboard and travel around the world. They set off from Falmouth yesterday, heading across the Bay of Biscay to La Coruna in Spain, then Portugal and the Canaries, from where they are planning to cross the Atlantic and eventually the Pacific oceans.
So Florence will be having many more adventures, and Matt and Amy are writing a blog about them. If you are interested, you can follow their progress.
25 July 2016
We got married on 25 July 1964, in my parents’s village in Sprotbrough, just five days after my 21st birthday. As John wrote for me two years ago, on our Golden Wedding Day:
It was a day much like this
In a real Yorkshire village, with a shop, a pub, a church and chapel
Where people were kind, and Rington’s tea was delivered by their van, just tea,
With a lost village on the banks of the Don, Levitt Hagg.
Your parents’ garden heavy with flowers and fruit, where a hedgehog family lived
And the sun shone.
It shone on a beautiful bride taken that short walk to church in a limousine,
Your father smart in morning dress, my father ill at ease as if he had a walk-on part in a play he hadn’t rehearsed,
Both mothers and my cousin, your friend Joy too, looking and playing their parts to perfection.
Hats of course, but only for the ladies.
Our friends there in the village hall, toasts in South African champagne, before it became politically incorrect, the superb cake.
There were more verses, remembering the night in the airport when the plane was delayed, our honeymoon in Dubrovnik, the heat, the sights and smells, the places we went, the beach, the outdoor Shakespeare, the food (too many aubergines), the wine, the things we did and bought, the music the orchestra played every night on the hotel terrace – such good recall he had, over 50 years. And then coming home, working, being married.
We were young, dreadfully respectable (the Civil Service and the LCC) and the swinging sixties rather passed us by. Thank goodness.
The last few lines I have read to myself again today with pleasure, and yet with great sadness:
Fifty years has passed so quickly, all the things we have done and yet there is so much we still want to do. Never bored, never boring. Thank you.
We eat few aubergines.
When we moved to Woodbridge in 1996 the first friends we made were John and Jenny. We met at Woodbridge Cruising Club; they owned a huge vessel (a 26ft Westerly Centaur) called “Flora” whilst we newbies had a tiddler of a trailer-sailer.
For the next few years we often sailed in company. Not only was this great fun, but we also learnt a great deal from John. We were delighted to travel to Dieppe in 1998 to help John (Jenny had returned to work) sail “Flora” back to Suffolk
His respect for the sea and his careful and meticulous attention to detail on board taught us the importance of detailed planning and full concentration whilst under way. He was also an adventurous sailor: he skippered his yachts to the Channel Islands, to Southern Brittany, to Cornwall, to the Baltic, and crossed the Channel on many occasions.
During the long winter months we met regularly for meals and good conversation. John was a great storyteller and raconteur and also loved to listen to other peoples’ anecdotes. Some of these were directed at “Scrounger” the stuffed cat at Seckford Street, sometimes after a glass of wine had been consumed. The story he told with the punch line “Wrong Answer!” has subsequently been used regularly in our household (many of you may remember this story of John’s). His memories referring to his Norfolk upbringing, always laced with a very broad and accurate King’s Lynn accent, were wonderful.
We will miss him.
Martin Oldfield and Judy Buchanan
The Green in My Valley film was unearthed recently by its producer Norman Saville, once the Honorary Solicitor for the Mill Hill Preservation Society and still an active member of the Committee. The film has great views of the Totteridge Valley and features members of the Society, including the then Chairman, John Turtle.
John took this photo of a much-loved view across the Totteridge Valley.
The film was made in 1991, in an era when golf course applications were threatening to overwhelm the Valley. The fact that all the applications were defeated, and the Totteridge Valley remains intact to this day, must be counted as one of the great successes for the Society. But the film is a reminder of the threats that come and go.
Peter and Jean (Jeannette) Ellwood write about John:
He made a difference—a good one
Thoughts on the loss of a contemporary for the grandchildren he leaves behind
Even though I lived near him for my first 15 years, I hardly knew my own grandfather. You, John Edward Turtle’s grandchildren, have already enjoyed much better. Your Grandpa was really good at the grandfather job. But you cannot yet know and thus remember your late grandfather as you would were you already grown up—what his friends, work colleagues, associates, acquaintances and adversaries (we all have a few) thought of him. Others will tell you of his wit, his many stories, his skill with words—as a broadcaster, writer, public speaker and more privately as a poet of the lighter variety—his yachting skills, his near professionalism in legal matters and his voluntary advocacy of civil causes. Your mothers, and especially your grandmother Jenny, will fill you in with details. For in the end, his legacy is largely in our own minds, what we remember and why we like to remember it.
Just now we are all sad, especially you and your close family. Someone who seemed to be forever is suddenly not there. We who have known him longer can at least look back and say—as we do not say of everyone—we’re really glad he was there, as our friend, our source of ideas and experiences, as someone we could absolutely rely on, in our case as literally and figuratively our best man.
John was always a leader, but not ostentatiously so. Was he Head Boy at King Edward Vll School in King’s Lynn? We don’t know, but he could have been. [Not Head Boy, but he was a Prefect and House Captain]. Certainly by the time he arrived in London to study for a Bsc. Econ at University College London, he had the necessary qualities. Not yet the performer and sketch writer he ultimately became, he joined the Dram Soc as a techie—building and painting sets, learning how to rig and run the lighting and to stage manage the productions. As residents in the nearby Bentham Hall, in contrast to others in digs a long tube ride away, we no doubt spent more time building flats, making props and sourcing costumes than was good for our academic studies. As Stage Director and chair of the Stage Committee, it was John who first brought in students from the Slade School of Art to design and decorate the sets. It was he who negotiated with the luvvies (the actors) and their producers so that college productions were practical as well as fanciful. Then, as probably now, there was friendly rivalry between student techies and luvvies: it was John who came up with the idea of dispensing with the luvvies altogether, replacing them with cardboard cut outs while the rest of us shifted the scenery and ran the lighting. It was his idea too to drop a large cardboard donkey from the flies on the final night of an opera where the plot had called for a donkey to be lost. Such were the harmless excitements on the tiny stage lodged at one end of the UCL college gym in the late 1950s.
A rare photo of stage crew assembled for the University College Opera ‘The Barber of Baghdad’ in 1959. John is second from the right in the front row, Peter is behind him.
One characteristic already evident in those days, was the care John took never to lose touch with those he met along the way. He didn’t, as so many of us do, simply move on, leaving friends, colleagues and acquaintances behind. In that sense he was a networker extraordinaire long before the term was invented. To this day (in the mid 2010s), a group of former stage committee members from his time in the 1950s meets for curry lunches in London. John, by now recognized as a writer and broadcaster, is remembered in that circle for his sketches for their Stage Committee revues. The Old Lennensians—a group John himself was instrumental in helping to revive —comprises John’s contemporaries and successors at King Edward Vll School.
Of all his attributes, a scourge (someone who can cause great trouble) is how a few may remember him—always, however, in the service of a good cause. As one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Factories, his first job after college, he was responsible for enforcing health and safety on ships and port activities in London’s docks. Despite his relative youth, he quailed many a gnarled ship’s captain using his special voice of authority to lay out just where they were falling short of legal safety requirements, and what would happen if they delayed any remedies.
As a BBC broadcaster, he was a scourge of a gentler variety in his next jobs—as a producer in Further Education Radio, then a producer and editor of current affairs and consumer programmes, and finally in radio training. A large part of his legacy should be preserved in the BBC archives of scripts and recordings, including ‘You and Yours’, a programme still going strong. [We have not found these, but it is possible to hear John present ‘The Learning World’, a World Service series about education, with his programmes archived from 1989 to 1993].
Much later, John returned to high scourge mode, when, long into retirement, he donned the last remaining suit and tie to defend north London’s green belt. Taking on greedy but extremely well-heeled developers and their lawyers, taking on council planners who were often uncomfortably close to them, John represented the interests of opposition groups, chief among them the Mill Hill Preservation Society. He planned the attack, hired the lawyers where funds permitted and at some inquiries challenged the professionals himself.
John ended his time with the BBC as Head of Radio Training, thereafter enjoying generous redundancy and early retirement when two training departments were amalgamated. Such were his reputation and skills as a broadcaster and trainer, he embarked on a third career as a consultant in broadcasting and radio training—travelling the world to raise technical and professional standards in radio broadcasting. Radio Nepal, in particular, should have a plaque on the wall, saying “Trained by John Edward Turtle, former BBC broadcaster”.
Training of another kind came out of his BBC time—in yachting skills. Although brought up in King’s Lynn, John only learned to sail when he joined the BBC and sailed on Ariel, the BBC Yacht Club boat based on the Hamble. Later, as a yacht owner himself with progressively larger boats, he trained and entertained many of us in the arcane and already dying skills of navigation using only charts and a sextant. Not that he eschewed the advance of electronic aids; but, so he said, he alone would have survived when a giant wave took out the yacht’s power supply. Voyages across the channel to Normandy ports with Skipper John were never dull, however little the wind. He took particular delight, having acquired an AIS transceiver that tracked and identified nearby commercial vessels, in calling them up on the VHF. A typical communication with a fast-moving Dover-bound ferry would be: “This is the Yacht Flora calling Pride of Le Havre…Are you aware that your port side navigation light is not visible from a point abeam of your present position..”
Sailing with Jenny further and further down the French Atlantic coast became an annual event, for them and the many others who joined on the way there and back. Good food, trips to the local markets and evenings in local French restaurants were enjoyed by all. Not for John, however, were long walks up the Normandy coast hills, visits to local museums or entertainment such as classical concerts. His preference was to stay behind, perhaps with the chance of a long conversation in interesting, and no doubt entertaining, French with others in the marina. Lines, halyards and sheets had to be whipped, stopcocks checked and navigation for the next day worked out. But this was also the time for another talent, another aspect of writing and one that does have a permanent legacy: John’s poems and other verses. Jenny put many of them together in a slim volume; elder daughter Amanda quoted one on Messiness in her own book The Ministry of a Messy House:
So, come and talk, some tea and cakes,
To love one’s neighbour messy makes,
There’s just no time to tidy up,
We always need another cup,
For family, friends, and cruel distress
Come first, and so you see
Not, John would be the first to admit, the greatest lines ever penned. But all the ones he quoted to us had some point or other—from the basic rule about which lights are red when sailing into a foreign port at night to just how the EU, the UN and boat yards in general were not quite as perfect as they would like us to think.
Another network of his retirement years, one of which John was justly proud, was the members of the Savile Club-a dignified London club you join on recommendation because you are a respected journalist, broadcaster, actor, writer, musician or something closely related. A raconteur himself, John was as welcome at the club bar as for his service on club committees, of which curating the notorious Savile rules for snooker will long be remembered. Many of us will cherish the day we came together at the Savile for his and Jenny’s Golden Wedding anniversary lunch, especially happy in retrospect that we could celebrate their life while still together.
John sharing a joke with friends at his and Jenny’s Golden Wedding anniversary lunch at the Savile in September 2014.
Of all John’s networks, the yachting one was possibly the most enduring. As others have found, having to give it up when illness took over was a big disappointment. He was happy, though, that his last boat went to a young couple who plan to take her on a voyage around the world. Debilitating as that illness was, John did not give in to it. Nor did Jenny, who became instrumental in continuing their life of travel to France, to Denmark, to Scotland, to catch up with their networks of friends. And in the end it was Jenny who became the scourge—of the medical establishment which dithered to the point of life risk in January 2014—thereby giving John, his family and the rest of us two more years of his wit, wisdom and company.
Such are some of the memories of two who knew your grandfather for most of his life. We, like you, are sad. But we are also glad for the life he led, and the way he enhanced ours.
Today, 23 June 2016, Britain votes on whether to stay in or leave the European Union. Britain first applied to join the Common Market – or the European Economic Community as it was then called – in 1961, although the application was vetoed by De Gaulle in 1963, on the grounds that Britain lacked commitment to European integration. Plus ca change!
In recent years John was a fervent opponent of the EU, and would definitely have voted for Brexit, if he had had the chance. In 1962, he wrote some slightly tongue-in-cheek lyrics about how welcome Britain would be in the Common Market, for the first UCL Stage Committee Revue, ‘Falling Flat’. The song was set to the tune ‘If you’re Irish, come into the parlour’, a recent release by Ruby Murray.
“If you’re British, come into the Market,
We’ve a place right here for you,
You may have got some ties,
With other British guys,
But we hope the Commonwealth just fades and dies.
If you’re British, come into the Market,
There’s a welcome here for you,
We’ve got the Dutch, the Frog, the Kraut,
It won’t be the same if you stay out,
If you’re British, come into the Market too!”
Many thanks to Owen Bentley, who preserved these, and other, lyrics from the Revues for over fifty years!