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Obituary - Mike Wilkinson - 1953-2012

Mike Wilkinson died of a heart attack as he waited for a train to London. He was on the way to see a play at the National Theatre. It was perhaps an apt passing for a man who had spent his career bringing his passion for plays and stagecraft to thousands of young people at Cranbrook School in Kent.

Born in Ealing, West London, in 1953, Mr Wilkinson attended Ealing Grammar before training as a teacher at Westminster College in the city of Oxford from 1972 to 1976.

Soon after, he took a job as a teacher of English and drama at Midhurst Grammar in West Sussex, where he proved a popular addition to the staff. But after three years, his dream of becoming a theatre or television director drew him away from education to a job as a floor manager for London Weekend Television and other TV companies.

Over about five years he worked on many shows, including Magpie, Thames Television's rival to Blue Peter. During this freelance period, he also worked on the technical side of West End shows while nursing his dream of theatre direction.

But when the job of head of drama at Cranbrook came up, Mr Wilkinson spotted a great opportunity. Not only would he teach his favourite subjects, English and drama, but he would also be in charge of the Queen's Hall community theatre on the site. He would decide its programme of performances, lure in the best acts and put on shows himself.

Mr Wilkinson, who never married, was responsible for forging a long-running relationship with the Cambridge Footlights comedy troupe, which now performs at the theatre annually.

His own school productions ranged from musicals such as Grease to serious plays such as Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

In the classroom, he worked hard to impart his love of Shakespeare. He took a year-long sabbatical from his 28-year stint at Cranbrook in 1998 to complete a master's degree in Shakespearean studies in Stratford-upon-Avon.

After his return, he staged a school performance of Twelfth Night in the grounds of a local mansion, one of his many innovative and highly technical productions.

In school, he was known as a committed member of staff who would step in whenever a safe pair of hands was needed. For example, he was more than happy to give up his Saturdays to drive sports teams around the South East of England in the school minibus. In more recent years, he stepped in when a housemaster left with little notice, moving on to the school site to look after a boarding house of 45 boys for a year.

Around the school, he cut a relaxed and avuncular figure, a sage who had "seen it all". When other teachers felt exasperated by difficult pupils, he would fight their corner, believing they would come good in the end.

Outside of school, he was a dedicated fan of Queen's Park Rangers and enjoyed sailing. He was also an enthusiastic member of the Campaign for Real Ale. Indeed, friends are certain that, among the colleagues, pupils and old boys who will mourn his passing, there will also be local publicans.

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