John Trillo was part of the first trickle of the swelling stream of bishops who did not have a public school and Oxbridge background. Brought up in modest circumstances in Cricklewood, on leaving school he went into the film industry and earned his first wages carting film-cans round Soho for British Lion. His first degree was won by slogging at night school - sometimes he woke up saying his Hebrew verbs - and, getting a First, he was bright enough to tutor at King's College London from time to time.
During his curacies his early provenance gave him a special rapport with young people in north London, which drew him to the attention of the nascent Christian Education Movement (the SCM in Schools) and he was sent to pioneer the work in Yorkshire's grammar schools. His gentle, genial, unassuming disposition soon won the hearts and minds of the tough, independent-minded northern Heads who, initially, might have been resistant to a cockney. And the movement was soon solidly founded. On his part, Trillo relished the high-powered intellectual and ecumenical character of the Student Christian Movement which, 50 years ago, was powerfully represented in the universities and colleges.
Broadened in both mind and vision by this experience (he was almost congenitally resistant to narrowness of any sort), he went to his one and only living, St James' and St John's at Friern Barnet. He was not a great preacher in the traditional sense, but he had a gift of communication, peppering his talks with cogent, homely illustrations and trenchant humour. For he could be very, very funny. And his capacity to care was endless.
After a few years at Friern Barnet he was made Principal of the Anglican Theological College at Cheshunt, an appointment which surprised people who did not know how lightly he wore his academic hoods or how much thinking went on behind that sometimes almost clown-like face. Again, he brought ecumenical broadness to the courses he introduced and the staff he appointed. But, more significantly perhaps, it was here that the perilous and parlous condition of the Church of England was borne in upon him. That was 40 years ago and everything that has happened has confirmed his prescience.
So, when his friend Robert Runcie, who was then Bishop of St Albans, offered him suffragan bishoprics at Bedford and Hertford, he realised that in accepting them he was starting on a private via Dolorosa. And when he got his own Diocese of Chelmsford, though he enjoyed the public part - going round the churches, and the garden parties for the mayors at Bishop's House - he was profoundly worried at the state of the Church and he spent sleepless nights wondering how on earth the clergy were to be paid.
John Trillo was not much of an original or creative thinker, but he was prepared to listen to those who were, and one of the most marked features of his episcopate was his co-operation with the Grubb Institute, a think-tank which brought to ecclesiastical affairs minds which were tuned in to politics, economics and sociology. Some of the most important innovations in the diocese sprang from this dialogue.
As he approached retirement, however, the burden was too much for him, and the slow disease which was to take him began to manifest itself (though then undiagnosed) and there was a touch of sadness in his last days at Chelmsford.
John Trillo was one of the most rounded people I ever knew. In the 50 years of our friendship, his character deepened but it did not change. He was utterly devoted to his wife and three children, and he was totally committed to essential Christianity. His loyalty to his friends was absolute. To be a friend of John's was to be in touch with goodness.
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