Adrian Bristow obituary

Other lives: Principal of further education colleges who in retirement published an eclectic range of works of non-fiction

My father, Adrian Bristow, who has died aged 91, often remarked in later life that he had had the luxury of spending more time retired than in work. But he enjoyed his career, as principal of further education colleges and as a writer, as well.

In 1961 he was appointed principal of Newton-le-Willows College of FE, Merseyside - at the time he was the youngest college principal in the country – and in 1966 moved to Chester College of FE. He lectured and wrote extensively on further education – his published work ranged from humorous articles to a book, Inside the Colleges of FE (1976), published by the Department for Education and Science.

After taking early retirement in 1981, he continued to write and produce an eclectic mix of non-fiction reflecting his various interests. A Serious Disappointment (1995) was all about the battle of Aubers Ridge in 1915. He edited diaries by Dr Johnson and by Johnson’s friend Mrs Thrale, and wrote his autobiography, Suburban Boy, in 2008.

Adrian was born in Woolwich, south-east London, the son of John Bristow, a clerk who had been sent to Gallipoli at the age of 18, and Elsie (nee Potter), who had gone into service at 14. He had a happy childhood, an only child indulged by numerous aunts and uncles. He became a voracious reader and won a scholarship to St Olave’s grammar school in Southwark.

The second world war interrupted his academic progress but enabled him to meet Pat Wilkinson, when, off duty from the navy in Hong Kong, he spotted a kindred spirit, sitting in the sea, reading a book. He returned to Queens’ College, Cambridge to complete his degree in English. His extra-curricular activities included membership of the Bats theatre group and the Footlights, for which he wrote lyrics and several sketches and reviews.

After an unremarkable stint in industry, as a management trainee in the sales department of Macleans in Brentford, Adrian entered education. After a couple of years teaching English in a Berkshire secondary school, in 1955 he was appointed area superintendent of further education for Central Berkshire. He had married Pat in 1951, and as money was tight, our family lived on a narrowboat moored on the Thames, complete with primus stove, Elsan toilet and no running water. We moved north in the late 1950s, and soon afterwards Adrian became principal at Newton-le-Willows.

In retirement, together with Pat, he was also able to indulge his love of the theatre, holidays in France, good food and cricket and enjoy the exploits of his expanding family for many years. He will be remembered as a warm and gentle man who was always ready with a witty riposte.

Pat died in 2009. Adrian is survived by his daughters, Rosalind, Philippa and me, his grandchildren, Rachel, Caroline, Joe, Tom, John and Kate, and five great-grandchildren.

Alison Ryan

The GuardianTramp

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