Tuesday, 17 January 2012

People I like very much No. 15: Ian Hay

Ian Wood Hay is one of the voices to be listened to in my life.

I treasure each – generally unexpected – phone call:

“Hello, Mike. You lovely old thing. . .”

His gravelly tones would put Valentine Dyall to shame, but not only that – there’s just so much sheer good sense and insight in what this man has to say (with or without a glass of Shiraz to hand).

His proclamations can bring a room to silence, or send it crashing into laughter, as the latest local or global events are filtered through his own distinctive lens.

Some of the funniest bar-room material I have ever heard, and I’ve heard quite a bit.

Ian would truly grace any stage – indeed I’ve seen him hold an audience or two in the palm of his hand – and, given his lifetime passion for comedy, this seems entirely appropriate.

(His annual 'speech to the nation' on Christmas Day, meanwhile – though I think occurring only in his imagination – is an acknowledged cornerstone of British Life.)

We worked nearby one another at the Colchester Art School, though typically Ian got the naked ladies as part of the job (his life models during fascinating studio days).

Essex born and bred, Ian had first stepped up to the artistic coalface in that very town (the old art school on the hill) then up to London (to the Royal College of Art itself as a contemporary of the likes of Mister Hockney and, later, teaching at my old school, St. Martins) and back again to build a life with lovely Teresa. Later the father of two lads, and lately a grandfather.

They named a gallery at the art school after him before he left, in fact, and he continues to exhibit his deft landscapes – often of his beloved county – widely.

A well-deserved retrospective (‘A Life Drawing’) at Colchester’s Minories Gallery in 2010 brought together the true scope of his work, including beautiful studies of abandoned cars from the early 1970s, portraiture and gorgeous black and white studies of town & country & coastline.

He was touched at all the fuss, I think (beyond the bluster he is a modest and gentle man, too), and deeply chuffed.

Since his retirement – and my cessation of work at the school – we maintain a brisk paper correspondence (he once briefly flirted with electronic mail before deciding it ‘wasn’t for him’) and still meet with regularity – most often on licensed premises it has to be said; whether out across that fine eastern county on Jolly Boy’s Outings with the other fellows, or in the strange twilight world of the North Countryman’s Club (at least in the Smoker’s Area outside).

A Rennaissance Man? A Doctor of Life, certainly (and the recipient of an honorary doctorate from Essex University in 2009).

A Man of The Old School, unashamedly.

My dear friend, the good doctor Hay.

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