110 not out! Britain's oldest man

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Emily Dugan meets Reverend Reginald Dean and hears him lament the decline of cricket

They gave the Reverend Reginald Dean the last rites three months ago. Yet today Britain's oldest man celebrates his 110th birthday and will receive another telegram – his 11th – from the Queen.

Back in July he was not expected to make it. His son Chris had raced from Portsmouth to the Peak District to be by his bedside, prematurely it turned out. Mr Dean, survivor of two world wars, three marriages, 24 prime ministers and most of the 20th century was not going to be carried off by a urinary infection. After a few perilous days he looked up from his bed and announced to his son: "I've decided not to die, Christopher."

Today he will blow out the candles on two enormous cakes in his room at a care home in Wirksworth, Derbyshire. He is bed-bound but still remarkably chirpy and sociable.

"Are you up to it?" a friend asks him tentatively when I arrive for the interview. "Ooh, yes," he booms in reply. "I'm up to anything." The voice is unexpected: deep and sonorous.

And he has a sense of mischief. Asked what, in his 110 years, has been the worst development – the atom bomb? Aids? Nazism? – it is something of far greater consequence: the decline of cricket.

"I'm a fan of cricket, but not in fancy dress, and not as a one-day game. I like village cricket in whites on a green grass field," he harrumphs.

Anything else? "Yes," he says, getting into his stride, "motor cars in their millions. It shows that we are affluent, self-satisfied, important people. But we're not."

Though registered blind, struggling to hear and finding sitting up in bed painful, he's still a master conversationalist. Asked which of the 11 decades that he has lived has been his favourite, he replies in a flash: "This one."

Noting my incredulity, he chuckles. "No, that's just a bit of fun. I think the third decade was the best. When I was 30, I was in Singapore. I was working as an assistant chaplain in the cathedral. The climate was great: I loved the tropics."

Born in Tunstall, Staffordshire, in 1902, Mr Dean trained as a minister and worked in Singapore and India before being stationed in Burma as an army chaplain during the Second World War.

It was here that he had his first brush with death. "I nearly didn't come back from Burma, I was under shell fire so often. The second-in-command of our regiment was a friend and he was in the same trench with me when the shells were coming over. I said, 'What are you going to do when they come here?' He said: 'I'll lay about them with this kukri' – that's a Gurkha knife. Luckily, he didn't have to."

After the war, Mr Dean returned to England, settling in Derby in 1947. Since then he has worked as a minister and schoolteacher, spending his spare time doing amateur dramatics and running a church choir.

The worst thing about ageing, he says, is not being able to see his two grandchildren. "I have two of them, I think," he jokes.

And the second worst? "Not being able to run about is really most annoying. I used to be a cross-country runner."

Unsurprisingly, being stuck in one place is a recurring gripe. "I don't want to be in bed. I'd like to be out in the streets, out in the lanes, out in the country, out in the town."

His favourite of all the 24 prime ministers he's witnessed is Harold Macmillan. "Maybe because he published Thomas Hardy," he muses. "Hardy is a very great favourite of mine." When asked to think of the prime minister that he liked least, though, he flatly refuses. "No," he says, "I don't dislike many people."

Not wasting too much energy on hating people might be one of the secrets to his longevity, I suggest. "Yes, probably," he agrees. "That and having a religion I can trust. I think what Jesus did all his life was right."

While both of these may well have helped him enter his 12th decade, his diet may have been an important factor. Mr Dean has been a vegetarian for more than 30 years. "It was compassion for animals that made me give up meat. I had a dream about some people asking me to take a young pig to the slaughter house. Soon after, a young pig came towards me, grunting and wagging his little tail, and I couldn't do it."

The thought of killing animals still gives him nightmares. He puts it down to an experience when he was 10 and he saw his uncle and father kill a cockerel for dinner. "When dinner came, I said, 'No thank you'."

And what of romance? Has Mr Dean been married, I ask. "Yes," he says, his eyes twinkling. "Three times," letting out a deep chuckle, before looking serious and launching into a story. "My first wife died through curiosity: she went into a cellar at a house where she was staying for a short time and they locked her in without realising. She died of hypothermia. My second wife is a big mystery... And my third wife..." he says, moving on before I can ask any impertinent questions about the second, "was a co-worker." She, Anne, is still alive, though she has a new partner now.

After more than half an hour of conversation, Mr Dean is beginning to look tired. As I go to shake his hand he takes mine and kisses it, managing to be every bit the gentleman, even from his bed. Does he think he'll be here for his next birthday? "Oh, yes, I shall reach that. Maybe even 115, I don't know."

That, I say, might make him the oldest man in the world. "Oh good," he beams, "I do hope so."

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 People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home