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Remembering Brian Patrick - a man with a fine sense of humour

PUBLISHED: 18:57 02 August 2020 | UPDATED: 18:57 02 August 2020

David Armstrong at the organ for All Preachers Great and Small at Happisburgh parish church. Brian Patrick has the role of Victorian vicar the Rev. Benjamin Armstrong greeting his great-grandson!.

David Armstrong at the organ for All Preachers Great and Small at Happisburgh parish church. Brian Patrick has the role of Victorian vicar the Rev. Benjamin Armstrong greeting his great-grandson!.

Archant

Former headmaster Brian Patrick forged a class act out of admiration for a Norfolk Victorian clergyman with a wonderfully dry sense of humour and utter distaste for time-wasting. Handy teaching and preaching tools in any age.

Gifted and genial Brian, who died recently at 92, put his fascinating “altar ego” on display to telling effect as he turned into the Rev Benjamin Armstrong, Vicar of East Dereham, for a marathon fundraising tour of local churches lasting best part of 20 years.

All Preachers Great and Small productions evolved out of my Press Gang entertainment troupe in which Brian played a key role as calming influence amid so much mayhem and mirth with thought-provoking readings, reflections and verses. He regularly composed special poems to fit our location.

His love of cricket, theatre and local writers, especially Adrian Bell, shone through those stage outings. He often teamed up with old friend David Woodward –“a pair of Suffolk Punches pulling their weight” – and they carried their partnership into churches and chapels.

While Brian shared extracts from Armstrong’s 19th century diaries, David dipped into pages recorded by Parson James Woodforde, who cared for his Weston Longville flock in Georgian times. When David handed over that part to former Cromer Town Crier Jason Bell in 2007, it set up an intriguing reunion.

Brian was a young teacher at Beccles Crowfoot Primary in 1953 – and he cast Jason as Court Chamberlain in the school’s Coronation pageant following impressive displays in drama and speech classes. They first shared a pulpit together at Lyng Parish Church over half-a-century later.

The fact Armstrong saved some of his more acerbic observations for a certain north Norfolk watering-place added cheerful chortling to many evenings as congregations twigged Jason and I had arrived with strong credentials in support of the location under fire.

Little gems like “The wretched little place was quite full”, “Always about fifty years behind other places – few lodgings, no gas, no pavements” and “ Always disappointing on a first visit” left Cromer way down the charts as a rather crabby vicar recounted travels around our region.

The Patrick penchant for an uplifting reunion even closed a family gap stretching well past the century mark. Donning his Benjamin Armstrong dog-collar, he welcomed the vicar’s great grandson to play the organ for hymns at a show staged in Happisburgh Parish Church.

This was a regular stage for David Armstrong, another former schoolmaster, teaching maths at Beeston Hall, near Sheringham for over 20 years. and serving as secretary and president of Norfolk County Cricket Club nd as secretary of the Minor Counties Cricket Association.

I first met Brian during the early years of BBC Radio Norfolk when that station’s listening audience embraced the Waveney Valley. He joined me on the Dinnertime Show in Cell 33 with regular news and views from that area along with colleagues John Baxter and David Woodward.

Brian was born in Lowestoft but evacuated inland to Beccles during the war to live with his grandfather and attend the town’s Sir John Leman School. It was there he met Bridget Howlett; the girl destined to become his wife for just over 66 years.

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They were married in May, 1954, an occasion marked in an article by celebrated “local” author Adrian Bell who happened across this happy event during his regular Beccles rounds. The couple repaid such a compliment countless times as proud members of the Adrian Bell Society with public readings of his essays.

Brian did his National Service with the Royal Army Educational Corps and then became a teacher, a decade in Beccles primary schools followed by 27 equally fulfilling years as headmaster of Ilketshall St. Lawrence County Primary School.

Enduring passion for cricket led to 20 years of membership with Lowestoft Town and then a regular spot on the boundary to watch Norfolk fixtures in the Minor Counties. Bill Edrich, who lit up our first-class scene with Middlesex and England before his Lakenham return, was Brian’s home-grown favourite.

He relished with wife Biddy, as she became widely known, a keen interest in local stage productions as founder members of the Beccles Border Players and Gilbert and Sullivan Society, now called Waveney Light Opera Company.

A long and masterly innings on a pitch he read perfectly must earn Brian Patrick a standing ovation from loving family. Including sons Simon and Nick, and host of friends who cherished his inspiring company.

Skip’s Aside: A few of Brian Patrick’s favourite extracts from Benjamin Armstrong’s diaries shared with church and chapel gatherings by the magic of an ecclesiastical time machine:

February 15, 1855 – Today I buried the corpse of a parishioner whose weight with the coffin was 60 stone. There was great difficulty in getting him through the largest door of the church.

May 2, 1858 – During the sermon, a woman clothed in scarlet glided in, took a seat and before the blessing glided out again. It turned out that she is an insane woman from Cromer and often announces that she is the Holy Ghost.

August 4, 1860 – Went to a three o’clock luncheon at Captain Haggard’s. At the head of the table was a peacock. Afterwards we played a game of cricket, myself, the squire and the manservants all joining in. It is a very wholesome English pastime.

September 6, 1863 – Our gardener while digging up potatoes turned up a gold coin very thin not larger than a shilling. It is pronounced to be a noble of Edward 3rd’s reign and it is in excellent preservation. Our gardener tells me he has heard there is a great deal of money hidden in the vicarage garden. If so I only wish that he could find I as it is a somewhat scarce article with the vicar …

January 1, 1868 – I have often observed how little out of the common one comes across even in a parish of 4,000 inhabitants. But today I met with an old gentleman of 74 who last week married a lady of 84. He told me he could not tell how he had come to marry at such a late age but it is said in the town that the old lady had an income of £800 a year!

April 7, 1875 –We took tea with Mrs Hipperson of Hoe. The whole thing was done rather as a joke as the old lady provided hot cockles which our party had never tasted before – and which we are not in any hurry ever to taste again!


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