John Harrison obituary

Other lives: Teacher of classics and driving force behind the creation of a theatre at Oundle school

My friend John Harrison, who has died aged 85, influenced countless lives through his work as a classics teacher and theatre producer, director and enthusiast. He was the chief driving force in the creation of the Stahl theatre at Oundle school, in Northamptonshire.

John was born in Walsall, West Midlands, the son of Joseph Harrison, a borough treasurer in Dudley, and his wife, Mary (nee Albarn), who worked in retail.

He attended Stourbridge grammar school, where he enjoyed Latin and Greek. At the age of 16, he won a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, to study classics and philosophy, graduating in 1954. While there, he played rugby and cricket for his college and became keenly involved in drama productions.

In 1956, after two years’ national service in the Royal Navy, he joined Gresham’s school, the independent Norfolk boarding school, to teach classics. Scholarly but unstuffy, he doubled the number of pupils choosing the subject. He coached the school’s rugby team and also began producing plays with the students.

At Gresham’s he met Amrei, the headteacher’s au pair, who was a student interpreter from Munich. They married in 1964, by which time John had moved to Oundle, where he became head of classics and a housemaster.

In the late 1970s, at John’s instigation, Oundle purchased the former congregational church in the town and turned it into a theatre, serving the town and the school. He continued to teach at the school while supervising the theatre conversion project. In 1980, he was appointed its director. He set the highest standards in his own productions and attracted the best touring companies. The theatre remains a vibrant asset to the town today.

Retiring in 1993 to the village of Thursford, near Holt, Norfolk, John and Amrei dispensed warm hospitality to friends and former pupils. Here John formed the Open Stage theatre, producing plays in open spaces around the county. In 2012 he went back to Oundle for a production of Love’s Labour’s Lost in the Stahl. It was his 100th production.

John co-edited 13 Greek tragedies in translation for Cambridge University Press, now widely used by schools, universities and theatre companies. He also taught a regular class on Homer for the U3A, the University of the Third Age, in Oundle, travelling the 150-mile round trip by bus from Norfolk.

He is survived by Amrei and their two children, Tom and Lisa.

Vic Northwood

The GuardianTramp

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