John passed away in the early hours of Sunday 14th
February, 2010 at St. Richard's Hospital.
John asMayor of Bognor 2006-2007
John, 67 had been wheel chair bound for most of his life. Although born in Oxford (29th March 1942), in 1958 at the age of 16 he moved to Bognor Regis to become one of the original residents of Ashley House, a home for disabled men in Aldwick Road, Bognor which was run by the Shaftesbury Society.
In 1989 he moved into a specially fitted out flat in Glencathara Road, Bognor and since 2004 had been living independently and looked after by his Cousin Robert Barnes.
John with his Mother Norma
Despite his physical disabilities he led a remarkable life - always a driving force in whatever took his interest. In the early days of Ashley House he helped to run a folk club and in 1963 also helped to organise a variety show put on by the residents at Ashley House to fund a holiday in France.
John arriving for a Ashley House
holiday on a charter flight to France 1962
In 1973 the residents staged their first full pantomime (Aladdin) and the Ashley House Panto group was formed. The group went from strength to strength with John writing most of the scripts and often as not doing the directing as well and eventually the annual event moved into the newly opened Alexandra Theatre to accommodate the growing audiences. The panto ran for nearly thirty years and countless Bognor children have either participated in the productions or seen the shows and all will have their own special memories of these wonderful theatrical events which leading lights from many local societies were only too willing to participate in.
1987 Production of Sleeping Beauty at the
Alexandra Theatre Directed by Chrissie Lester
If you had not seen or participated in a show you could be forgiven for thinking that this was all just a bit of fun including and run for disabled people, but a write up in the local paper on the 1986 Aladdin production may give a clue to what John's shows were really all about - 'It would be all to easy to say this show was a wonderful effort by a group of extremely dedicated people, determined to help the handicapped overcome their disability and do something which tradition would have us believe only the able-bodied could do. But that would hardly be a fitting tribute to the cast as a whole and the Ashley House residents in particular. For anyone who knows them would realise that they would never be satisfied with accolades based on on the fact that they were disabled. And it must surely be a far greater tribute to say that several of the cast being in wheelchairs was unnoticeable.'
In 1980 John helped to form the Bognor Regis Christian Drama Society including writing and directing a play about St. Wilfrid and directing The Vigil in 1981.
The Bognor Regis
Christian Drama Society's 1981 Production of Ladislas Fodor's 'The Vigil'
After Ashley House Panto, John still carried on directing and 'treading the boards' helping to form ‘Act in Faith’ and again directing The Vigil in 2004 with Fr. Roger Calder playing Peter the Fisherman at Boxgrove Priory and the Alexandra Theatre. John also became President and acted with the Regis Players.
Incredibly this drama side was just one facet of John's interests - he was an enthusiastic railway modeller and Chairman of the local Model Railway Club until last year, organising exhibitions (including the next one on 1st May in our church hall). His bedroom both at Ashley House and later his flat was mainly a very impressive and ever changing model railway! He was a regular worshipper at St. Wilfrid's Church in Bognor, at one time a member of the PCC and very much part of the church life.
He took a great interest in the Winged Fellowship who provide holidays for disabled people and did a 1,200 mile John 'O Groats to Lands End trek in 1990 and later in 1994 with cousin Bob participated in a 3,130 mile coastal trek around Britain which raised £175,000.
Finally he took an interest in local politics, first as a councillor, quickly rising to Deputy and then Mayor of Bognor Town Council (2006 - 2007.
Perhaps one of his lesser known talents was as an artist - despite having very little arm movement and incomplete fingers he created some wonderful paintings and drawings and always did the artwork for the posters and programmes for his own pantomime and other productions.
You may ask where did all his driving force and energy come from? John once said his part with the Ashley House boys in Ken Russell's film 'Tommy' was such an inspiration and when Ken Russell visited the town in 2007 they had a long chat about old times. He was also a friend of the actor John Wells who was president of the Panto Group until the actor's death in 1998.
So many other qualities - always the one to be on the side of in a general knowledge quiz and a runner up in a televised 15 to 1 panel game where they even constructed a special rostra for his wheelchair.
Once John was televised being interviewed on the Today programme about his part as Emperor in a production of Aladdin in the Alexandra Theatre and I will always remember his thoughtful reply to why he did it and what the Ashley House Panto was all about - he said that this was his and his fellow residents way of thanking in some small way the local community for all their love and care for the residents of Ashley House.
One of Bognor's most well known and loved characters - we shall all miss him more than words can say.
I am most grateful to Trudy Lockyer, warden of Ashley House, cousin Bob and many of John's friends for loan of a huge treasure chest of photos and memorabilia which is destined for inclusion in one of the many additional web pages that I will create to cover John's life. What is shown below is just a start, but hopefully even at this stage of development a worthy indication of a remarkable life.