Cecil Ballantine obituary

Other lives: Teacher and a literary adviser on BBC costume dramas

My partner, Cecil Ballantine, who has died aged 86, was a teacher who specialised in the literature, history and politics of the Victorian period and acted as a literary adviser for the BBC’s costume drama productions of Middlemarch and Martin Chuzzlewit. He also wrote introductions for editions of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Edmund Goss’s Father and Son.

Cecil was the son of Bert Ballantine, who worked in the accounts department of a tobacco importer and his wife, Elsie (nee Hunneyball), a foundry manager. He was raised in London until he was evacuated to Tunbridge Wells, Kent, during the second world war. Aged 16 he left the Skinners’ school, Tunbridge Wells, to work in the City in marine insurance; the following year he was deployed as a translator in the Intelligence Corps in Tripoli. Shortly after he was demobbed Cecil married Joan Lock, an embroiderer with the Co-operative Society. They settled in Leyton, east London, where Cecil began a civil service career in international telegraphs.

Both Cecil and Joan were politically active and supporters of CND, Cecil becoming its vice-chair. In the late 1950s he qualified as a teacher at Culham College, near Abingdon, Oxfordshire, and taught in schools in Sussex and Kent.

After taking a degree in English at Sussex University (1966) and lecturing at Eastbourne College, he returned to the university to lecture and was appointed to the Cambridge Examinations Board. He continued to serve there until retiring, as chief examiner for the Victorian paper in English literature, in 1997.

In 1974 Cecil set up and ran the first BEd courses at St Mary’s College in Cheltenham and was later appointed head of languages. He also lectured for Bristol University’s extramural department and the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA). A member of Mensa, and encouraged by Joan, he reached the semi-finals of the BBC Radio 4’s Brain of Britain contest in 1983. During vacations he taught in Germany, Norway, France and Poland and at summer language schools in Oxford.

Cecil took early retirement to spend time with Joan, who had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her early 30s, and for whom he cared throughout their marriage of 42 years. Joan died in 1992. Cecil then began voluntary work with Amnesty International, presenting evidence of human rights abuses to the foreign affairs select committee and addressing audiences on human rights violations in Chechnya.

He was a scholarly man with strongly held views on world affairs, politics and religion. Although not a believer, Cecil greatly admired the scriptures, music, art and buildings of those inspired by religion.

For many years Cecil was a member of Cheltenham and County Cycling Club, achieving success in 24-hour team endurance trials, and cycling on average 7,000 miles a year. In retirement he continued to study, adding Russian and Arabic to his portfolio of languages. Travelling widely, and walking great distances, he also enjoyed beekeeping, music, art, the theatre and films. We met in 1993 through mutual friends.

Cecil is survived by me, his three daughters, Susan, Rachel and Petra, six grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and his sister, Peggy.

Margaret Orritt

The GuardianTramp

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