OBITUARY : Brian Stone

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The Independent Online
Brian Stone was a brilliant teacher, an enthusiast for good English and an exceptionally brave man. He was unmistakable with his jaunty, determined, one-legged walk and air of buoyant optimism.

Stone lost a leg in 1942 when serving as a captain with the Royal Tank Regiment in North Africa and was decorated with the Military Cross. He brought the only remaining tank into Tobruk and was taken prisoner after his tank was hit in the retreat before the battle of El Alamein. His book Prisoner from Alamein (1944), with a glowing introduction by Desmond MacCarthy, demonstrates many of his qualities, including that of forgiveness. He pays tribute to the German medical team which saved his life with an amputation in the desert.

Born in Birmingham in 1919, Stone was educated at Taunton School and worked briefly in the City for Shell. As a Territorial he was in the thick of the Second World War from the beginning, commissioned at 20 and evacuated from St Malo when France fell. Following repatriation in 1943 and discharge from the Army in 1944, he returned to Shell in the Middle East, learned Arabic, took to journalism, writing second leaders for the Jerusalem Post, and married. He was now persuaded that teaching was his vocation and returned to Britain to train under the government emergency scheme. Qualified in 1948 and with a family to support, he started a teaching career which took him into primary and secondary schools while he took external BA and MA degrees in English at London University.

Concurrently he had several operations on his "good" leg, directed plays and became a fine verse speaker. I well remember his brilliant performances at the English Festivals of Spoken Poetry in the early Fifties. He inspired countless students in schools in London and Brighton and, later, in teacher training colleges in Brighton and Loughborough, with his teaching, play productions and acting. There was something particularly poignant about his one-legged portrayal of King Lear and Pirandello's Henry IV.

Stone's literary reputation grew steadily. In 1959, at the instigation of E.V. Rieu, the first Penguin Classics Editor, he produced a translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which remains in print. It was the first of a series of distinguished contributions to medieval English literature, including Medieval English Verse (1963), The Owl and the Nightingale, Cleanness, St Erkenwald (1971), Chaucer's Love Visions (1978) and King Arthur's Death (1988).

In 1969 Stone became a founder member of the Open University and Reader in English Literature and it was in this milieu that he spent the rest of his professional life. He followed his "distance-teaching" work with face-to-face teaching, his real love, at the old Westfield College, London, Digby Stuart College, in Roehampton, and, particularly, at residential weekend courses held at Maryland College, Bedfordshire, for which he had immense affection.

With Pat Scorer, a colleague at the Open University whom he married in 1985, he wrote a book for the BBC, Sophocles to Fugard, an illustrated introduction to 16 programmes shown on television as part of the monumental OU Drama Course. Among the course's many distinguished productions was Waiting for Godot, starring Leo McKern and Max Wall.

Certain of the plays, notably Genet's The Balcony, caused the BBC hierarchy anxiety and I remember, as a BBC bureaucrat myself, arguing the case alongside Stone for screenings on Sundays. Towards the end of his OU career he gave much to the course on Romantic Poetry and in 1992 wrote a critical study, The Poetry of Keats, for Penguin.

Brian Stone fought his last, very painful, battle with immense courage. The quotation on the title-page of his war book reads: "Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage."

Brian Ernest Stone, teacher and writer: born 20 December 1919; married 1945 Yvette Valensky (died 1990; four sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1980), 1985 Pat Scorer; died London 2 March 1995.