John Airs obituary

Other lives: Teacher, campaigning socialist and dynamic member of the National Association for the Teaching of Drama

My father, John Airs, who has died of cancer aged 81, was a drama teacher who inspired lifelong devotion from his pupils. He was also an active and campaigning socialist, and one of the Guardian’s more prolific letter writers.

Born in Edinburgh, John was only three when his father, Wilf, an RAF navigator, was shot down over France during the second world war, leaving his schoolteacher mother, Mary (nee Ward), to raise him and his younger sister, Kathleen.

John attended Fort Augustus Abbey school in Inverness-shire before going on to study English at Edinburgh University. It was there that his passion for drama grew and, before graduating, he was rusticated for spending too much time directing and acting in drama society productions.

A spell in the Dominican Order reinforced John’s profound sense of justice, but the life was not for him, and he moved to Liverpool in 1967 and qualified as a teacher. In 1968 he joined the English department at Quarry Bank comprehensive school, where he was also responsible for drama productions. A colleague introduced John to my mother, Jane (nee Bryson), in 1972. They married soon after and I was born in 1976. John was a brilliant father, entertaining me, my older half-brother, Rob, and later his grandchildren, with Shakespearean renditions of our favourite children’s stories.

In the mid-1980s, John met Chris Ball and together they set up a drama education unit funded by the local authority. It was work that he lived for. Their large-scale immersive productions were outstanding.

Both he and Chris were made fellows of the University of Liverpool for the work they did there with students and staff, and John also shared his skills with teachers in Palestine and Jordan. He was a long-term member of the National Association for the Teaching of Drama, contributing to many conferences, the national executive committee, and the editorial board of its publication, the Journal for Drama in Education. He was always as rigorous, insightful and supportive of others in these roles as he was in his practical drama work.

The congeniality and radicalism of John’s adopted hometown had always suited him and when he retired he was able to devote his energy and passion to politics. Latterly, he drifted away from the Labour party, but remained a firm advocate of the humane radical approaches of Jeremy Corbyn. He wrote numerous letters to the Guardian, which published more than a hundred of them.

John generated deep respect and affection from everyone who encountered him, and this sociable socialist leaves an irreplaceable gap in our lives and hearts.

He is survived by Jane, Rob and me, his sister, Kathleen, and two grandchildren, Jack and Molly.

Jamie Airs

The GuardianTramp

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