In Memoriam

Spike has died.  Anthony Martin, a teacher who gave his life to teaching at St Bede’s College died yesterday in Wythenshawe Hospital after a long fight with a failing heart.  My heartfelt condolences to his wife, Veronica, who has suffered unbelievably over these last months as Tony’s life dwindled away.

Spike as we knew him as been part of my life for59 years.  He started at Bede’s in 1957 as a master whilst I started as a pupil.  He was from St Robert’s parish in Longsight, the same as myself but he was from the posh end, up towards West Point, whereas I was from the rough end in Duncan Road.  Later on we met up again when we were in St Catherine’s parish in Didsbury together under the stern eye of Dave McGarry, Parish Priest extraordinaire.

From the age of twelve to sixteen he filled our heads with the power of literature.  He expanded our young minds to bursting, giving us reading lists to fill a library and it was never a chore.  Whatever he recommended worked and it was a pleasure returning after holidays to tell him of the pleasure we had in carrying out his tasks.

In my mind St Bede’s was a black period in my life, taught by teachers stuck in the 1930s or hell bent on punishment, discipline seeming more important than learning.  Spike’s softly softly gentle approach held the class in rapture, many taking the thug approach failed.  He was a shining light in a dark age.  As the years slipped away at Bede’s my performance went from good to poor, faced with the negativity of the staff in education and also sport.

He commiserated with me in the nets when faced by clerical sneers, he gave me extra-tuition for my GCE examinations in various subjects, the only one we did not touch on, Greek, was the one I failed.  I am what he made me.

In later years he could not agree with my hard approach on Duggan, he was too decent a man to be outspoken on the subject but he did say once to my friend Dave Smith that once he found out about boy’s trips to the Rector’s study, he never sent boys there.  He told me in a letter that Duggan nearly drove him to a nervous breakdown but he would say no more.  His love of Bede’s overpowered everything else.

Farewell gentle, kind and honourable man.  As I said this morning when talking of him, I can count on the fingers of one hand the truly good men I have ever met in my nearly seventy years and Spike is definitely one of those digits.

I would also at this point pass on my kind regards to Dave Smith in New Zealand, fellow pupil with me, who kept us all up to date with the highs and lows of Spike’s last few years and especially for organising the party we had in West Didsbury on the occasion of Spike’s 80th birthday.  Spike was in top form that night as we revelled in his unquenchable humour.  Certainly something has been removed from my soul today but at least I had the honour and pleasure of knowing him.

PS:  Stuck out here in the west of Ireland news of arrangements for Spike is hard to get.  So would any reader who reads this and knows any detail  please let me know.

3 thoughts on “In Memoriam

  1. Spike was an excellent teacher, though (as I may have said before) as my interests were more with science and mathematics than with history and literature, he had less of an effect on me than he did on you. But the fact that even today I retain an interest in history, and especially economic history, which was our O-level topic, is due mainly to him.

    As regards Spike and Monsignor Duggan, I picked up distinct vibes back in 1970-71 that all had not been well between the two of them. Spike was taking us for a year of general studies, in the Upper Sixth, and one of the books he encouraged us to read was Graham Greene’s The Power and The Glory. He remarked in passing that a teacher at St Bede’s (don’t know who) had tried to use that book some years earlier (don’t know whether it was in an English class or in general studies) but TD would not permit the book in the school. He didn’t go into any real detail, but I could tell that he felt strongly about the matter. Quite possibly it was he who had wanted to use it.

    If you have read the book you may recall that the priest who is the main character had a child. Perhaps TD didn’t like boys at St Bede’s getting the idea that Catholic priests ever had sex. Too close to home, perhaps?

  2. There are too many marvellous things to say about Spike. No website could hold them all. When I went to NZ in 1964 (just before A Levels so I have no A levels) Spike told me to stay in touch. Over the years I had from him literally hundreds of long letters brilliantly expressed but seemingly tossed off by a dazzling mind.

    When NZ stupidly started sending regular troops to Vietnam in the mid 60s (Aussie even introduced conscription) Spike wrote to me and invited me to come and stay with him if I needed to get out of here in a hurry.

    In later years he made a rather strange admission to me. He told me that when he first started teaching he was very ‘afraid’ of the very talented boys that he had to teach. For some reason he saw them as brighter than he was and often found himself on the intellectual back foot. The permissive society had him very afraid of what was happening in classrooms (he should have seen Jock Heaney!!!) and he sent boys to the prefect of discipline perhaps more often than was called for.

    I hastened to assure him that whether it was eggheads Martin Hodson, Kevin Dowling or Rob Treciokas or bozoes like me we all saw him as an unusually enlightened and super-competent teacher who lived in the same world we did whom we would never challenge. His word was law! Spike seemed genuinely surprised. To see ourselves as others see us……

    He certainly did not like Duggan (“I never liked the man”)who played him false in a very nasty way at one point. When Bill Whalley left the College Duggan invited him to supervise the school library.Spike wanted new books and Duggan agreed to 1,000 pounds.When Spike ordered the books the Bursar (Fr Jackson) hit the roof. Duggan blank-range denied authorising the purchase and Spike was utterly mortified.

    Spike worked out that the College was not doing its job re the teaching of the General Paper that it claimed to admire. He said “You won’t be able to answer questions about modern drama using your dog-eared copies of Shaw’s St Joan”. He ordered in A Taste of Honey, Billy Liar, Lucky Jim and Look Back in Anger.

    Mt all time favourite moment at Bede’s was when Jock Heaney grabbed my copy of AToH in a free period and told me to take it to the rector. I had great glee in showing him the pristine inside cover with its College book sticker proudly installed. I saw the blood drain from his pasty Celtic face.Pole-axed by the 20th century!

    Spike was utterly special and a treasure in a rather grey environment. I am proud to have been part of his life and to have been his friend if only from 12,000 miles away much of the time.We once managed to stay on the phone for over 3 hours! He had no kids of his own but, like in Goodbye Mr Chips, “They say he never had children. Nonsense, he had thousands of them”.

  3. I agree 100% with Linda.

    I had the misfortune to only be taught by him for only one year, I wish it been for every year of my 7 at Bede’s (I did the full sentence, no remission).

    Reading books by Asimov, C P Snow, Ray Bradbury, and others too numerous to mention, as recommended by spike.

    A rapier-like wit, an extremely funny man, the world is now a much sadder place without him.

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