June Benn

Teacher and late-flowering novelist


June Mary Barraclough, writer and teacher: born Brighouse, Yorkshire 2 December 1930; married 1959 David Wedgwood Benn (one son, one daughter); died London 25 March 2006.

At the age of 55, with The Heart of the Rose (1985), June Benn began a new career as a novelist under her maiden name, June Barraclough. A former teacher, she published 25 novels, which she once modestly described to a journalist as "popular genre romances and family sagas". She wrote to hold the readers by a plainness of style and plotting that moved them, lifted or dashed them in their eagerness to reach the next page. She had no need for exaggeration either of subject-matter or language.

A young woman falls in love with a young man; she says nothing to him or to anyone; he goes out of her life. She grieves as one would, never forgets him, but later marries a widower with young children and brings up a largish family. Simple? I think not. Not as she wrote it.

Her first published novel was the favourite, but I would recommend a later novel, Portrait of Maud (1994), which contains a remarkable account of a highly intelligent 16-year-old schoolgirl's love for one of her teachers. The girl is obsessed, but her observation and judgement are not diminished. The teacher, Q, is a doctor of philosophy and obviously excellent in the classroom, but in many ways a foolish woman. Benn balances the contradictions so that our sympathies are aroused and bruised. The writing is, as always, direct. It made me, an old man, feel as a 16-year-old felt in a rather puritanical society all those years ago. A remarkable achievement.

I never saw a single review of this book, but the libraries took it up; and Benn's Public Lending Right figures show the extent to which she captivated her readers. That is the reward this clever, independent woman would have wanted.

June Barraclough was born in Brighouse, Yorkshire, in 1930. Educated at Whitcliffe Mount school in Cleckheaton, she spent a term in Paris before going on to Somerville College, Oxford, where she graduated with honours in Modern Languages in 1952. In 1959 she married David Wedgwood Benn, most of whose career was spent in the BBC World Service.

She was by now a teacher of great experience and energy and had further qualified herself with a postgraduate certificate, gained with distinction, at London University's Institute of Education. Shortly afterwards, she gave birth to her children, Piers and Frances, and cared for her family until they were able to look after themselves, when she returned to teaching "to get out of the house".

She gained her expertise in teaching and teaching teachers at several London schools and colleges. When she left one of them, Kidbrooke Comprehensive in Blackheath, to have her son, a group of her pupils rang from a public call-box to beg, "Mrs Benn, please come back."

June Benn was not afraid to defend unpopular causes. She deplored the running down of the grammar schools and, though she approved the motives of the promoters of the policy, she argued that the change did not achieve its end - to give working-class children the chance to profit educationally at the highest levels.

What one noticed at once about June Benn was her tremendous energy. Whatever she did, she gave the task her full power and concentration. If she had to visit London for a medical or dental appointment, she would always manage to fit in an exhibition. She read with the same ferocious relish to the end of her life.

She could be sharply critical: my own first contact with her was a letter correcting an error in one of my novels. She felt that the public library was Everyman's university, used it herself regularly from early childhood and was influenced by what she read there. Vera Brittain's 1933 Testament of Youth had determined her to complete her general education at Somerville.

June Benn was not only energetic but careful, scholarly and diligent. As quite a young girl she kept a "writer's notebook". In 1955, at the request of Richard Wollheim, she translated Condorcet's Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind. She published an anthology of feminist writings, The Woman's View, in 1967 and in 1986 the excellent Memorials, a selection of verse and prose suitable for use at funerals by agnostics and non-believers.

Her most remarkable achievement, the writing of novels, came late in her life. She had the true novelist's assiduity and nothing, until the final illness, was allowed to interfere. She never slackened once she had found her true métier. She did not neglect her other concerns, her family, her garden, her many friends and her foreign languages, but in writing fiction she felt fulfilled.

She never lost her novelist's touch, even at the end. Two and a half weeks before her death, she was brought back home from hospital, and as the ambulance-men carried her up past her beloved garden, she took note of the flowers and their slow struggle towards maturity in this cold year. As she described the terminal illness to me over the phone, she spoke in a strong, clear voice, displaying a mastery of the emotions and language that I could only envy.

Stanley Middleton

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose
News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£22000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Thame i...

Graduate Project Manager

£25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

PPA Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Teaching Assistant Cornwall

£45 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Plymouth: TEACHING ASSISTANTS REQUIRED F...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past