Gordon ‘Delme’ Thomas

At the weekend I heard the sad news that my favourite English teacher, ‘Delme’ Thomas died in August. I felt saddened because it is sad news in itself, and 72 has long since stopped seeming like a ‘ripe old age’, but also at my own failure in leaving it too late to get in touch with him again. I’d intended to several times over the years, but never quite got round to it. Not long before the summer holidays I googled him to see if I could find an email address, and found one, but waited until I had time to sit down properly and think what to write. Well, of course I didn’t carve out that time. It’s too late for him to see it now, but I have taken the time to think about the teacher of mine that I most owe my being an English teacher to, and the one I have most wanted to emulate. Sometimes (it doesn’t happen often), when a lesson has gone well and the students leave the room bubbling with enthusiasm, I think, “that’s how Delme would have done it”:

His spittle-flecked enthusiasm drew us in
To 1984 in ’84.
Round shoved-together tables, clustered lads,
Set free from deadening dictatorial rows,
We mapped the tension, characters and plot
With sugar paper, coloured pens galore.
The whirling-limbed and laughter filled approach
Of those thin lips, eye-beams, that signpost nose;
The floppy fringe flicked back Fred Trueman-like
As he threw back his head with a guffaw,
Then bent, nicotined-breathed, to chat with us
As though we mattered, since, to him, we did.
He led us then down the glass corridor
To watch Dench and McKellen in Macbeth
On huge en-cabinned screen, on video.
(He made the ‘d’ alone last half that word!)
In that melodious South Walian lilt
He spoke of cinema, scarce drawing breath,
Yet somehow no superfluous words were spilt.
We went to Harrogate theatre: Oscar Wilde’s
Coruscating wit seemed no more sharp
Than what we heard each day in Delme’s class,
Addressing politics, Pontypridd or Pope,
Cynddylan on a Tractor, Evelyn Waugh,
A Neath fly-half, or Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’.
That he was younger then than I am now
Seems quite absurd; he had such gravitas –
Yet leavened with a levity of touch.
I wish I’d written, got to see once more
My English teacher, whom I owe so much.

Donations in his memory can be made at: https://www.justgiving.com/GordonDelmeThomas/, and those who knew him can leave tributes at: http://gordondelmethomas.co.uk/

3 thoughts on “Gordon ‘Delme’ Thomas

    1. And I’m sure you’ll have let him know Steve.

      This is the reply I thought of making when you first posted, but didn’t. I don’t know why. Sorry.

  1. So sorry that I missed this. A touching piece for a man who seemingly touched many. I was a border at Ermysteds 1971 to 78. He instilled a passion within me for the written word: I was a dullard then, he helped me to see the beauty in language and taught me to look for a laugh, even in the stiffest prose. He also taught me how to seam a cricket ball and throw a dummy to the opposite ’10’. Years after leaving school I coached Varsity rugby at The American School in London. At the start of every Fall term I’d take my relative fledglings up to Yorkshire where Delme would arrange a Saturday fixture with the 1st XV and a Sunday mauling up at Wharfedale. Of course the Yorkshire lads would thrash and kick the crap out of my boys who always came away from the weekend bewildered but buoyant more in love than the game, beer and each other than on Friday. Delme was always a kindly and witty host. He’d fuel me and my assistant coach with Tetley’s and tales of… me. Me: ‘twinkle toes’. His protege. His blue eyed boy. He remembered every break that I’d made, every dummy scissors, every perfectly place chip. And this was the magic of Delme Thomas. He made every kid under the shadow of the beaky, beady eyed gaze feel like a potential hero. His selfless enthusiasm for life was addictive; he always put the boy stage centre. He was Merlin to many Arthurs. Under his benevolent beam we all felt emboldened, enhanced. We believed in ourselves. And yet… if we ever got ‘up’ ourselves he was quick to stick a pin in an over inflated ego with a withering, witty critique, that trademark guffaw echoing as chastised, humbled and a little dazed, we reset ourselves, wiping his spittle off our over pumped chests. He inspired us to be modest heroes: not a bad carrot to dangle to a wide eyed kid; all of us heroes in our little orbits. He taught us to love life and to love and laugh at ourselves, and to love our mates. Delme recognised the alchemy of childhood, encouraging camaraderie, coaxing us gently out of playground and onto the pitch. He wasn’t the only one: Adge Douglas and Vernon Rook surely played their part, but while you kind of knew that they hung up their hats at the end of every teaching day you sensed that Delme was forever on point, there if needed. ‘You were a cheeky little bastard and never quite as good as I thought you’d be’ was his assessment of my rugby ability 20 odd years later ‘but Christ, you had the best hands of any fly half I’ve ever coached.” As a 40 year old I felt again the power of DT. Emboldened, an inch taller. I believed in me. As I strolled to the bar (as directed) he shouted after me “Ah, but cricket? Hopeless! You coming in at 11. Us needing 5 off the last over. You straight batting every delivery like Boycott. Playing yourself in for Chist’s sake! You were a witless little f*cker Jones.” he cackled, spraying my back with spittle. Bet he’d remembered. He’s remembered. And I remember him on the touchline, a prompting Prospero; spitting, cursing, chiding, howling with laughter. His beady eye on me, only me: his blue eyed boy.

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