Obituary - Richard Saville, 1945-2010

14th January 2011 at 00:00

Richard Saville was a man outside his time. The Halifax headteacher was the epitome of a Victorian schoolmaster, striding down corridors with hands behind his back, booming out instructions in a clipped baritone.

Richard Peter Saville was born in Halifax in 1945. An only child, he grew up playing with friends in the neighbourhood, often wearing the German army uniform his mother had made for use in prisoner-of-war games.

Indeed, play-acting - along with music - was an early love. Teenage Richard would take trips to London to watch opera productions, and then wait backstage to shake hands with the performers.

After school, he enrolled at York St John University, a teacher-training college. This was the only time that he left Halifax: as a newly qualified teacher, he returned to the same area of the city in which he had grown up. He did not leave again.

His initial jobs were at Mixenden and Copley primaries. Here, his love of music and the performing arts drew immediate attention. Always self-deprecating, he described his own piano playing as "Les Dawson-ish" - more thumping enthusiasm than lightness of touch.

On one occasion, accompanying pupils during assembly, his commitment to banging out the chords meant that he failed entirely to notice that the hymn had run out of verses. He played on regardless, while pupils stared at him in baffled silence.

Such enthusiasm did not run out at the end of assembly. In his spare time, Mr Saville taught at a Saturday morning dance school. Pupils in his classes learned to hop, skip and gyrate to 1970s pop classics.

On the whole, however, he had little time for contemporary music. His great love was classical music; his pet dog was called Figaro.

Staff and pupils recall him strolling around in a suit, resembling nothing so much as a Victorian schoolmaster.

Indeed, staff and pupils say that his most memorable trait was his booming voice and clipped pronunciation: his thespian youth was still evident in his assembly delivery.

He was a natural conservative, disdaining change of any kind. He had a horror of mobile phones and the internet, and a grim determination never to understand anything technical or mechanical.

In 1973, he married Dorothy; shortly afterwards, their daughter Miranda was born. Her name was a deliberate Shakespearean reference: Mr Saville's knowledge of literature was immense, his conversation scattered with quotations.

After a deputy headship at a nearby primary, he was appointed head of Salterhebble Junior and Infant School in 1987. Here, he impressed teachers with his level of individual attention: each member of staff, for example, would receive a Christmas card with a personalised message.

Others recall his ability to laugh raucously at his own jokes. He loved word play and double meanings, and would sprinkle conversations with off-the-cuff witticisms. And, inspired by the comedy 'Allo 'Allo!, one of his favourite TV programmes, he would occasionally slip into a cod-French accent during staff meetings.

He was on the board of the Keith Whittaker Trust, a charity providing vulnerable children with access to sports and dance. However, despite the dance classes of his early career, he was not a particularly sporty man. In fact, he had never learnt to swim (though as a boy loved to jump in the water, sink to the bottom and crawl along until the air ran out).

Instead, out-of-work hours were spent cultivating a taste for fine wine. He and his wife travelled the wine regions of Europe, and he was particularly proud of the wine cellar he was building up at home, until illness forced him to stop drinking.

He suffered from progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare disease that forced him to take early retirement not long after his 50th birthday, and which in later life confined him to a wheelchair.

He was never inactive, however, and used retirement as an opportunity to take evening classes in creative writing. And he continued to read voraciously, focusing particularly on classical literature.

Always the traditional gentleman, he made a point of writing his - typically personalised - Christmas cards well in advance this year. After his death, on November 30, they were distributed to guests at the funeral service.

Richard Saville is survived by his wife, Dot, his daughter, Miranda, and his granddaughter, Isabella.

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