Peter Hardwick obituary

Other lives: English teacher who exercised a decisive cultural influence over four decades

Peter Hardwick, who has died aged 84, was an English teacher of exceptional brilliance and inspiration, despite a complete lack of pedagogical training or qualifications. With one brief interruption, he taught at Stonyhurst college, the Jesuit school in Lancashire, for four decades. For many of his pupils, his was a decisive cultural influence, not just on their education but on their lives.

He was born in Birmingham, the son of a primary school headmaster. After national service, he read history at Jesus College, Oxford, where he was a contemporary and friend of the critic Kenneth Tynan. But his real interest – and gift – was in literature, as he discovered when, in 1955, he became a temporary teacher at Stonyhurst.

A Catholic by birth and (despite a brief period of scepticism early on) by lifelong conviction, Hardwick was a great admirer of Jesuit thought and education, but his own style of teaching was in some ways a departure from the tradition: expansive and discursive, taking in philosophy, music, art history, politics; engaged as much in contemporary British, American and Russian literature as in the classics; though always shot through with the very Jesuit-like conviction that an education in literature could and should be a moral education as well.

In their sophistication and intellectual challenge, his classes – whether on English literature or on general topics – were closer to university seminars than conventional sixth-form teaching. Examinations were regarded as minor irritations. Few who were taught by Hardwick would forget the experience; many continued to see or correspond with him decades later. A significant number went on to have careers in the arts and broadcasting, the director Charles Sturridge and the Hollywood screenwriter Charlie Peters among them. He followed my own adventures at the BBC and Channel 4 with amusement and fierce loyalty.

He married Brigid Bodkin, who would also teach at Stonyhurst, in 1956, and they had four children together. In 1994, after many years as head of the English department, Hardwick retired. He continued to support culture and education at the school.

Walking had always been a great love of his, and over the decades he had walked every yard of the hills and valleys around Stonyhurst, the landscape of Gerard Manley Hopkins, whom he particularly admired. In retirement, he led walking holidays in Greece as well as joining friends for walks in the north of England and beyond. His later years were also spent looking after Brigid, who had been diagnosed in 1990 with Parkinson's. He felt immense pride and pleasure in his children, his 13 grandchildren and, last year, a great-granddaughter, who took his place on the traditional family Christmas expedition up Longridge Fell when, for the first time, he was too ill to go himself.

He is survived by Brigid, their two sons, Christopher and Tom, two daughters, Mary and Lucy, grandchildren and great-granddaughter.


Mark Thompson

The GuardianTramp

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