Peter Stephens, a Tribute, (presented at his funeral 11th November 2016)
Having decided that I did not want to go to university, I came to Stafford 1960 to do a student apprenticeship with English Electric. (I have just realised, rather worryingly that was 56 years ago)
The educational part was at Stafford College of Technology to do a London University Electrical Engineering External Degree. My course tutor was one Peter Stephens, I did not know what that meant, but I discovered that as a helper and mentor he did a great job.
As a senior lecturer, Peter taught me: 'Mechanics of Fluids' and 'Strength of Materials'. At the first lecture he read out the London Syllabus, and then told us we would cover half of it if we were lucky, so the lecturer had to guess which topics would come up that year. He did not tell us that the course had a 90% failure rate.
Stafford College of Technology was housed in bits of the Stafford College of Further education at Tenterbanks, where it was obviously not wanted, while waiting for the Beaconside campus to be built. Locations for classes were all round the town and the timetable said things like: Mathematics, “Masonic Hall basement”; Electrical Machines, “Borough Hall stage”; Applied mechanics, “Baptist Chapel meeting room”; Electrical theory, “Museum workshop”; Fluid Mechanics, “28 Cherry Street, (upstairs back bedroom)”.
On one occasion I recall being with a group of students meeting Peter in town on the green bridge going the opposite way. He said “Aren’t you with me next?” We said “Yes Sir, at the Methodist Chapel, but you are heading for the Baptist Chapel”. So he decided to follow us to the next venue.
Peter’s Staff Room was upstairs in a house in Cherry Street, which he eventually discovered was known as “Nellie's room”, the working area on one of Stafford’s more notorious prostitutes of the 1950s. As for the degree, Peter was right and most people passed his subjects. Sadly, others weren’t, so amongst my qualifications is a BSc.(failed) – handy for working in India where that used to be on many business cards.
I went to the Folk Dance Club to discover that Peter and Irene leading lights. Peter was a regular caller at the club and at outside events. They were both good teachers, mainly of traditional dances, and always willing to help. Peter even encouraged me to have a go as a caller, which later led to my doing hundreds of barn dances round the region. I sometimes went with him to see how it was done and I learnt that the dances were far less important than ensuring people had fun.
Peter recruited me to Morris in a novel way. At the Stafford Ring meeting of 1969, he told me to keep an empty car park clear and not let anyone in. After half an hour of my being much abused by frustrated motorists, some 400 men arrived for the show.
When I complained, Peter just said “If you had joined the Morris Men you would not have had to do that.” I joined the next week, in the loft behind the Crown Inn, where Peter and Johnny Burke were the main instructors.
I am grateful to him for giving me nearly 50 years of pleasure. It’s hard to understand why everyone does not want to dance the Morris. Perhaps that’s summed up in a cartoon I saw recently. A young by says: “Mummy, when I grow up I want to be a Morris Dancer”. She replies “Well you will have to choose one or the other”.
The annual Tideswell family weekend was a main item on calendar. My first date with Carol followed the classic chat up line: “Would you like to spend the weekend with Stafford Morris Men in the Peak district?”. Irene and Peter in particular made her feel at home and years later we took our children along. Stafford Morris really is a family and its founders should be proud of that.
There has been an association with Taastrup Folkedanserforening, Denmark since 1976 and Peter was also much involved in that project. I could talk for hours on all these things, but I only have minutes to summarise a very full life.
As a folk dancer, he was a caller for both experienced dancers and total beginners out for a fun evening at barn dances. He was a musician, a choreographer, a dance creator, with Stafford Folk Dance Club, with Chase Dancers, whose formation was largely due to Peter, and with many other clubs. He was a musician with Beggars Oak, etc., etc. Indeed, he was a great missionary for all things Folk.
As a Morris Man, he was the
founder of the current Stafford Morris Side, whose diamond anniversary is next
year. He was the first squire in 1957 and was squire at our 50th
anniversary. He has been, Foreman, Bagman, overseas visit organiser and we must
acknowledge the amazing achievement of keeping the club logbook for over 50
years. He had danced with Cambridge Morris for over 30 years and was a regular
on the Travelling Morice Tours. He was a Performer and a Musician in innumerable
shows and festivals; a Teacher and Speaker for many organisations, from
schoolchildren to pensioners, including many international gatherings.
Indeed I wonder why he was never awarded an EFDSS Gold badge.
I, along with many thousands of people, owe a debt of gratitude to Peter, as a teacher, as a dancer and above all as a friend. He will be sorely missed.
I would now like to ask Stafford Morris Men to perform a dance called “The 29th May” to the tune 'Royal Oak'. You may know it as a hymn tune for 'All Things Bright and Beautiful', the tune that the Puritans banned. Morris dancers have always ignored authoritarianism.
(I noted after the performance that the sounds of Peter Stephens and Johnny Burkes bells were both heard during the performance)