Roger Bailey — Funeral Service
Beethoven String Quartet Op 132 Alban Berg Quartet
Receiving Roger’s body
Handbells (3 leads of Oxford Treble Bob Major)
Fr Brooke Lunn (BL)
Welcome and Bidding:
Our presence here today is itself a real tribute to Roger, who inspired great friendship in people of such variety and of such divers convictions. We are not a monochrome bunch. What we have in common is our esteem and respect for Roger ... and Roger himself was different, in that conformity is not a word that springs to mind when we think of him.
Yet, gathered together, we wish to share in expressing our esteem and respect for Roger, our thanks for him and all he means to us and has done for us. We celebrate his life, and we shall take our farewell of him as we commit him to his final earthly home and resting place. Later, on 19th February at the Conway Hall, we hope to have the opportunity with many more of his friends to celebrate his life and rehearse our many memories of him.
But now, our thanks are due to the handbell ringers; to the choir which will sing ‘The Silver Swan’ by Orlando Gibbons; to Margaret Pratt, who will read a short poem “Out of Time” written by her for this occasion, and dedicated ‘For Roger, Our Esteemed Ringing Master at St. Mary’s, Willesden’, to Mike Trimm, who will give a Eulogy; and to those who have so thoughtfully arranged this Order of Celebration. For myself, I would just say how grateful I am to have been asked to share in this gathering.
Before we accompany Roger to the graveside, we will have a minute or two to marshal our thoughts and feelings.
Now, Margaret Pratt will read her poem “Out of Time”.
The ringers at St. Mary’s, Willesden have been fortunate to be taught to ring by a master ringer. For the past twenty years Roger has been doing his best to knock us into shape, (with many a choice encouraging word.) On occasion, our performance even merited a 6/10!
Out of Time
But others ride their Time buoyed up, away
Time, for this traveller, was replete,
For all his friends and loved ones here today,
The Silver Swan by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
I first met Roger when I came to London as an undergraduate in 1987, and over the 25 years or so that I knew him he has been the single most influential person in my life. Roger was a truly unique individual. He was intelligent, generous and witty. He was also rebellious, provocative and mischievous. He was forthright, forceful and blunt. He was a maverick, an anarchist and a non-conformist. He challenged the establishment, he shunned elitism and he ridiculed convention. He also had some pretty bizarre dance moves.
He was an avid Guardian reader, a keen crossword solver, a devoted fan of the Apple Mac and in more recent years an obsessive iPhone user. His interests were many and varied. He was passionate about classical music and was responsible for introducing many of us to new musical experiences, be it Nielsen’s symphonies, Janacek’s operas or Schubert’s chamber music. He was an avid listener to Radio 3. In fact the only time Radio 3 was turned off was when we were about to start ringing handbells or when the cricket was being broadcast. Needless to say, it came as a great relief to Roger when Test Match Special moved to Radio 4.
He also had a great interest in films, and in his university days was an active member of the UCL film society, where he made some close friends. He was particularly interested in animated film, and his friend Peter Shirley recalls the “Man on the Bog” sequence, one of Roger’s productions for the Filmsoc newsreel. I understand this depicted an elderly man on an old fashioned toilet with a high cistern labelled “The Thunderer”. The more the man strained, the redder and redder in the face he became, until eventually he exploded - an excellent example of toilet humour if ever there was one.
Roger travelled extensively, often to unusual and interesting places. He explored the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent, China, Russia, Japan. He’d travelled across America and Australia. In 2010 and again in 2011 I joined him on trips to South East Asia taking in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao Republic. We had semi-planned a trip to Burma last year but unfortunately the deterioration in Roger’s health put paid to that. However, I was amazed to discover that he had been to Burma at least three times previously.
A few years ago, Roger embarked on a car trip from Nepal through Tibet and western China, then into various countries for which my geography lets me down, until he got to the Caspian Sea. Then, after a 24-hour ferry crossing with no heating and only one working toilet, he was refused entry into Azerbaijan and had to take the ferry back again to get a different stamp on his visa. This meant another 24 hours across the Caspian Sea, still without heating but this time with no working toilet. Somehow, he eventually made it to Georgia and then back home.
Wherever possible Roger would travel by public transport as he found this an excellent way to understand the culture and real lives of the people and places he visited. And you wouldn’t find Roger wasting his money on expensive hotel accommodation. Phil Normington, another Filmsoc friend of Roger’s who worked in the travel industry and shared several holidays with Roger, describes as “totally refreshing” Roger’s willingness, even eagerness, to endure conditions that few others would consider. He recalls one night they spent in a “hotel” at Sidon in Lebanon in 1994, and I quote: “The room was filthy, the walls splattered with blood, the windows broken, there was no electricity, and we had to share with five trapeze artists from Georgia who all snored, but Roger lapped it all up like Atom the cat.”
Incidentally, Roger inherited Atom the cat from me when I moved to Germany a few years ago, and I understand she provided much comfort to Roger in his latter months. I am also pleased to say she has continued to provide comfort to Susie in the days since his death. Quite who will be responsible for maintaining Atom’s Facebook page - she has over 100 friends - remains to be seen.
Roger’s biggest interest was undoubtedly bell ringing. Roger learnt to ring at Holbeach in Lincolnshire in 1957 at just 10 years old. These may not have been the easiest bells on which to learn, but Roger was not deterred and thus began a lifelong passion for all things campanological. Since that day his contribution to and influence on both bell ringing and bell ringers simply cannot be overstated.
Roger was a prolific peal ringer. He rang over 3,000 peals during his lifetime, a statistic that he was slightly embarrassed about. He said recently that he may have rung 3,000 peals but he did not consider himself a 3,000 pealer. He conducted over 1,250 peals. He had rung peals on all 366 days of the year, and had rung peals in 27 different countries - easily more than any other person alive or dead.
It was handbell ringing that gave Roger particular pleasure. Of his 3,029 peals, 1,361 were on handbells, of which he conducted 823. I’m told this makes him the 5th leading handbell peal ringer of all time. I rather suspect he’d top the list if it included handbell peals lost. He rang 453 peals in his office at Imperial College and a further 205 at his home in Kensal Green. He organised the majority of these himself, although for Roger organisation was something best left to the last minute. We may have pencilled a date in our diaries, but he would often only complete the band on the day. He would ring me at work and say “Control here, I see we have a handbell peal tonight...” In later years, he would ring me at work and instead say “Out of Control here, I see we have a handbell peal tonight...”
It was an honour for me to have rung so many peals with Roger and I was privileged to ring in what turned out to be his last peal at the end of November last year.
However, it was not just about ringing peals. With three lunchtime practices a week in his office at Imperial College, Roger taught dozens and dozens of people to ring handbells, including myself. When I last saw Roger about a week or so before he died, we tried to list down as many ringers as we could who had passed through the Imperial College handbell training camp. We easily listed 50 names, and there are probably at least as many that we couldn’t immediately recall. Not all of these were taught from scratch, but it’s fair to say Roger’s influence had an enormous impact on every one of them.
As well as the practical side, Roger was also extremely interested in the theoretical challenges of bell ringing. He was a pioneer in the use of computers to solve compositional problems. He readily admitted that it was his interest in bell ringing compositions that caused him to take a job in the computer centre at UCL, where he worked for 10 years before taking a lectureship at Imperial College. His compositions were often simple and elegant, usually pragmatic, designed to be capable of being called by conductors of all abilities. Because of this, Roger’s name appears on many peal boards in towers up and down the country and beyond, even if he wasn’t ringing in the peal himself.
Another significant contribution is Roger’s ringing.info website. This is such a simple idea - in effect a list of links to any and all bell ringing related content on the web - but one which has proved such an invaluable resource to thousands of ringers throughout the world. Like many others, I do hope that this website can be maintained in the future as a lasting legacy.
I could go on and on about Roger’s immense contribution to bell ringing - his involvement in bell restoration projects; his dedication to the University of London Society, the Middlesex County Association and of course the ringing and ringers at St Mary’s, Willesden; or indeed his years of service on various Central Council committees. Indeed there are so many aspects of bell ringing on which Roger had an impact, that it would be impossible in the time available to talk about them all.
But it will be the relatively small things that I will remember most about Roger: the red ink in his fountain pen; the piles of Ringing Worlds on the kitchen table; the joke about the Japanese businessman receiving a fax on a golf course - (for any of you who haven’t heard this joke, I’m sorry to say I’ve now spoiled the punchline); his dyed and re-dyed cotton jackets; arguing over where the half-lead is, or was, or will be; drinking gin into the early hours of the morning on a UL tour; offering me a lift in the days when he owned a car, and then promptly breaking down; ordering a round of drinks at the bar and then realising he had no money on him.
But most of all, it was Roger’s dry sense of wit when he was ranting about some cause or other. This was Roger in his element, and was as entertaining to hear as it was scathing to receive. Let me leave you with a quote from Roger on one of the bell ringing chat lists in response to someone else proposing reforms to the Central Council decisions on methods, and I do so with the recipient’s permission.
“...Let’s look at you to start with. You get elected to the Council and so to the [Methods Committee]. Not because you have any track record of doing anything useful, or because you have any bright ideas, but purely because you appear to be the personification of impatience with the status quo, and thus appeal to the sort of sniggering half-wit that mostly fills the chat-list - people (I use the term loosely) who never invented any campanological idea of lasting consequence, but who spend their entire time up their own arses on the theory list, telling each other how wonderful their ideas are and dissing everyone else. In short, people who are still young enough to know everything. If they weren’t bell ringers, they’d be out vandalising bus shelters. Wasters, the whole bloody lot of them...”
Simply marvellous stuff!
It was Roger’s request that he be buried in a woodland burial park. He said he wanted to have a tree planted up his nose so his carbon atoms could be put to good use. I am sure they will be. He was a top bloke, a true friend, and he will be sorely missed.
I started ringing at the Queen’s Tower of the old Imperial Institute in the early fifties; and when, in 1976, Bill Rawlings retired, Imperial College appointed me to organise the ringing there. Later, when Dennis Randall retired as Steeplekeeper, Roger agreed to take over. In due course he relieved me of the task of organising the unofficial ringing, that is, the ringing requested by ringers, as distinct from the official ringing, that is, ringing required by Imperial College. This latter normally consisted of nine dates annually, namely, two College dates and seven Royal dates.
Roger enjoyed being steeplekeeper and organiser of the unofficial ringing, but seemed somewhat less motivated when it came to the official ringing. But, for at least two good reasons, I wouldn’t let him off the hook. Firstly as a very good ringer I found him most useful. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, in spite of the challenge, I found him to be very good company, and somebody whose friendship I greatly valued.
Here is a typical sparring-partner anecdote. In the pub, The Queen’s Arms, in the mews, after ringing at the Queen’s Tower, a difference of opinion arose on a decision I had made. Roger says: Was this a democratic decision? I reply: Yes, I consulted very fully with myself, and we agreed ... that is, the Royal We ... Roger ‘scowled’ ... with appreciation. Oh, indeed, we will miss him.
Many of you here today have known Roger better than me, including those who had a strong and close relationship with him. We think of you, and what Roger means for you, and the void that he leaves in your lives. Particularly we think of Susie, who has so thoughtfully put together this Order of Celebration today. Latterly, as Roger’s health declined, Susie gave him unstinting care, in which she received good support from friends. I am sure that Roger was surprised, and also gratified, at the esteem and concern which he inspired.
Now let us briefly marshal our thoughts and feelings about Roger. For me, a humanist is one who has due respect for that innate dignity to be found in each and every human being. So, firstly, our thoughts direct us to appreciate Roger in himself. Secondly we are thankful for Roger and for what he means for us. Thirdly, no doubt we have a sense of loss, and regrets at his passing. Lastly, we would wish to express our gratitude to all those who cared for him, especially in his latter days ... particularly the staff at the Royal Marsden Hospital, at the Pembridge Hospice, and, most particularly, Susie and her supporters ...
And now, let us accompany Roger to the graveside ...
Schubert: The Late String Quartets The Lindsays
Before we part, let us bid farewell to our good friend Roger, and may this greeting, expressed here for the last time, bear witness to our love, lighten our sorrow, and assure us that the memory of Roger will remain ever fresh in our lives ...
We have celebrated Roger’s life, refreshed our memories of him, and bidden him a last farewell. We now commit his body to the ground in this haven of nature, Roger’s final earthly home and resting place ...
Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust
And we who are left cherish this parting scene, as we unite it with all our thoughts, feelings, and memories.
Handbells by the Graveside
(3 leads of Bristol Surprise Major)