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Peter Beardwood, 1923-2012 (34-41)

Peter was born in Liverpool in the 1920s and one of the oldest OXs.

He took a Maths degree at Liverpool University and during the war worked in top secret scientific research.

He returned to head the Maths Dept at SFX in the 1950s; he taught in schools in London before lecturing at Maria Assumpta in West Kensington. His work at Maria Assumpta as Acting Principal and his service as Chair of the Governors at the Sacred Heart School in Harrow earned him the Bene Merenti medal, awarded by Pope John Paul II for his services to Catholic Education.

He directed the annual Gilbert & Sullivan productions for St Peters Operatic Society in Ealing, was secretary and then President of the Winetasters. (If you ever offered him water he would exclaim “I am thirsty, not dirty”). One of his favourite sayings was “I call Sheila ‘My Dear Wife’, purely in terms of expense”.

Known as Blooming Peter at his Care Home after one of his catchphrases. When asked how he was, he would reply: ‘I’m blooming; blooming awful! ’

A regular churchgoer and a devoted Catholic he worshipped at Ealing Abbey for over 50 years. He read at many Masses and attended every Sunday and Feast days.

An appreciation by Bill Bewley (OX 48-55).

In addition to the Maths Department, Peter took responsibility for Drama at SFX. The college possessed what was probably the finest non-professional stage in Liverpool. It had a full proscenium arch, standard apron and was capable of flighting complete sets of flats. Unfortunately it had not been maintained over the years and although drama was still a part of the Jesuit education system and plays were still produced to a high standard, the stage itself was in poor repair. He recruited Eric Frane as stage manager, with Phil Fanning as his willing assistant. Eric researched stage technology and electrics. He completely rewired the lighting system, renovated all the footlights and filters and brought all the flats flights back into use. It transpired that Van Der Putt had, in the dim, distant past, been a film studios scenery painter and he volunteered to join the team, with the result that all subsequent productions commenced with long applauses for the sets at the first curtain rise. Peter and his wife Sheila were highly skilled in the art of stage make-up and they passed these skills on to the Sixth Form Drama Society. He was a member of one of Liverpool’s amateur operatic socities and I remember a particularly fine performance by Peter, at the David Lewis Theatre, as the lord Chancellor in Iolanthe.

Previous notes on Peter stated that he was employed in secret work during the war. This is only partially true. Peter was in fact a member of a fighting unit in the front line for the early part of his service. He told me once that wherever you go in the world you will always find someone from Liverpool and 10% of them will have gone to SFX. I subsequently found this to be a pretty good rule of thumb in my travels across the world. He told me that he was travelling on a tank during the war when they came across the sole survivor of a brewed up squadron. He was lifted onto their tank. Not only was the man from Liverpool but he was also an OX.

Peter was serving in Holland in 1944 when a signal was sent Army-wide, requesting the location of all personnel with Maths degrees. Peter subsequently received orders to return to UK by the fastest possible means. The only transport he could be given was a motor-cycle. He must have given the machine no more than a cursory glance since he assumed it to be a standard 350cc bike. Once he hit the open road, he gave it full throttle and, as he described it, there was little sensation of the increase in speed once he reached about 40 miles an hour. After many miles on flat Dutch roads, he came to a small hump-backed bridge. He got the fright of his life when the bike took off. On landing safely and coming to a stop to collect his senses, he discovered it was a 1000cc Ariel.

On reaching UK he was put to work on Radar. A problem arose at a small RAF island station and Peter was told to check it out. So as to avoid being shot as a spy, should he be captured, he was to be given a Commission and a uniform for the duration of his trip. He had to report to Baker Street where a vast wardrobe of clothing was held for clandestine operations. They asked him what rank and service he required. As he was visiting an RAF unit, it was suggested that he should go as a Squadron Leader. He flew by light aircraft to the island and made his way to the Station Commander’s office. He knocked and entered and introduced himself. The Wing-Commander exploded and demanded to know why he had come into his office unannounced and not saluted. Peter immediately threw up an army salute, hoping that the RAF version was similar and stood rigidly to attention. On examining the radar installation he discovered that the Station Commander did not believe in this new-fangled equipment and maintenance had been nil. He returned to the Commander’s office, where he was shouted down and thrown out. Back to UK. His superiors sent him back to Baker Street where he was recommissioned and re-uniformed as an Air Vice-Marshal. He was back at the island within hours of leaving; entered the office without knocking and said ‘Now about this radar maintenance’. Collapse of stout Wing Commander. Peter said that his feeling of elation was such that he would never expect to repeat.

Peter had a face that seemed little affected by age, perhaps it was those large beetling eyebrows. On one occasion he met a Jesuit who had taught him at SFX but was now a bishop. He said, "You probably don’t remember me; my name is Beardwood." The bishop replied, "I remember you well, Beardwood. You haven't changed a bit." Peter thanked him and the Bishop drily replied, "I had hoped for some small improvement."

Peter was a kind and gentle man. I had the pleasure of meeting him many times after leaving school. He particularly enjoyed joining me at the occasional military function. I shall treasure the memories of him as master, drama coach and personal friend.