A Tribute To Tony Smailes RIP

These images were kindly donated Tony Smailes' daughter, Mrs Katie Davies.

Tony Smailes, geography  teacher at Joe's died in 2010. These are the tributes paid by those who knew him.

David Iddon (Joe's 1960/1967)
Tony Smailes taught me Geography in the Sixth Form from 1966-1967.  I remember when he first walked into class; he was tall, very thin and wore those nerdy, thick, black-rimmed specs that made him look like Eric Sykes.  From that day on we all referred to him as Eric.

Fresh from Uni, he was a breath of fresh air in what was not an enjoyable environment for lots of the students there.  I remember a class discussion about future careers having gained a degree in Geography.  He suggested Meteorology was good because you could be a weatherman on TV.  His impression of the weather presenter sidling into the view of the imaginary camera was hilarious, quite like another Eric - Morecambe.

He told the joke about the Hellarwe tribe in Africa, who were 4 feet tall in a grassland area where the grasses were razor sharp and grew to 5 feet tall. They spent all their time jumping up and down shouting, "We're the Hellarwe!"  "The razor-sharp grasses were a problem if you sank to your knees in exhaustion."

As well as having a really funny sense of humour he was also a fantastic and inspirational teacher.  He accompanied us on a school trip to the Lake District, taking us up to Langdale Tarn and then across Pavey Ark, which I'm sure would be regarded as too risky nowadays.  After he left St Joes I saw him on TV with a party of kids on top of the Empire State Building in New York.

I'm sure that there are many others who found him to be an inspiration.  I went on to do a degree in Geography, to follow a career in Education and to try to be as inspirational as Tony.  Many times over the last 50 years, when seeing an interesting Geographical feature, I have said to my wife, children and grandchildren that, "Tony Smailes would love it here!"

I am really sorry to hear of his passing.  He is missed.

Bernie Thraves (Joe's 1957-1967)
Tony Smailes was my geography teacher for about six years up to and including the Lower Sixth. My clearest memories of him are from classes held on the ground floor of the new classroom block. Tony would come half striding-half skating into class with leather briefcase in one hand and a stack of exercise books cupped under his other arm. The room was set up with a projector so that slides could be shown. In particular, I remember a set of slides he had taken from a moving train showing some part of northern France. We must have been studying Western Europe that term. They were not award winning images but that train was going somewhere and I could imagine myself onboard. Perhaps that was it. Geography could fire up your imagination and take you places. Tony brought that sense of adventure to the classroom every day and, like David Iddon, I remember the field trips to the Yorkshire Dales. Sunny days.

My academic record at Joe’s was far from stellar. After three quite pleasant years in the prep school my progress came to abrupt halt in Form 2A from where I was demoted to Form 2B. I spent the next four years firmly entrenched at the bottom of the B stream. My one salvation was geography in which thanks to the supportive environment of Tony's classes I was able to excel. I remember studying North America, and Australia and New Zealand. I devoured the textbooks and would spend each weekend making voluminous notes to which Tony applied the desired tick marks. Did he read every word? Well, probably not. But, importantly, my wholesale transcribing of great chunks of the textbooks was never discouraged and when exams came around I knew my stuff—well in geography anyway. And just in case they are still needed, I still have some of those green-backed geography exercise books. I discarded all other shades of underachievement decades ago.

Around the summer of 1966, Tony left St. Joe’s for what I later learned were better career prospects elsewhere. His departure came as a bit of a shock with my progress through the Upper Sixth completed under the guidance of one of the brothers. Before departing Tony had marked our mock A-level papers and assigned me a mark of 52%. Not great by today’s inflationary standards, but his comment—'able and industrious, should do well'—counted for much more. It provided both a spur to achieve and a lasting source of encouragement. Despite pursuing a career in academia and being the recipient of major service awards in geography, Tony’s comment remains the most treasured assessment of my abilities.

And that would be the end of my story except for a chance encounter in 2001 at University of Otago, New Zealand. I was attending a conference jointly hosted by the New Zealand Geographical Society and the Institute of Australian Geographers. At breakfast one morning I spotted a fellow registrant whose name badge identified him as Dr. Peter Smailes of University of Adelaide. In conversation I mentioned that my high school teacher shared the same surname. To my surprise Peter indicated that he was Tony's brother. So two geographers in one family! From the contact details Peter provided I was able to get in touch with Tony and we exchanged some notes on life's progress since St. Joe's. He seemed happy and content with life.
I was saddened to hear of Tony's passing and regret never getting to meet him in later life.

An inspirational and supportive teacher fondly remembered.
John Cartmell (Joe's 1950-1957)
Tony Smailes and I joined the St. Joseph’s staff as newly-qualified teachers in September 1961. Tony had the more interesting day. The zip on his trousers broke and he attended his afternoon lessons sheltering behind his briefcase. At the end of the day we joined a staff meeting with Headmaster, Bro. Carroll. At one item on the agenda Tony, exemplary Yorkshireman, was rash enough to make a suggestion. Joe Bung smiled around the assembled lay staff and said “Ah - straight out of University!” When Tony and I met him at the end of the meeting, Carroll did say that he hoped he hadn’t upset Tony, but we had got the message. It occurs to me now that that the other Brothers never attended Heads’ meetings with the lay staff during my tenure from 1961 to 1966 which said something about our relative status.

Geography was not taught in the Sixth Form when I was there from 1955 to 1957; there was no Geography graduate on the Staff. In typical St. Joseph’s fashion, staff were shoehorned into teaching subjects in which they were not qualified. We had been taught Geography in year 3 by Bernard Howe, a Modern Linguist. Having been appointed to a Mathematics and Physics post I was dismayed to find my first timetable consisted of Chemistry and General Science. When I questioned this I was told “You’ll learn a lot!” I suppose the pupils and I survived but the preparation and Chemistry practicals caused me concern.
Tony’s arrival as an expert Geographer not only transformed the teaching of the subject but led to a proliferation of Field Trips, often attended by non-Geographer colleagues drawn in by Tony’s enthusiasm. He and I were up early one Saturday morning to take a party to the auctions at Fleetwood Fish Market (Saturday morning school having been abandoned by then.). On another occasion we took pupils across Fleetwood Ferry and walked to Glasson Dock and Galgate. He took huge groups to places like Malham and it wasn’t only geographers who learned about limestone pavements and the like.

Later Tony and I took pupils to learn to sail at Fairhaven Lake often accompanied by other staff such as Bob Freeborough, Kevin Hickey and Joe Holleran. On one occasion Tony and I were in the back of Joe’s Ford Pop, in which the road was visible through holes in the floor, when we drew his attention to the fact that we were peering through smoke. When Joe stopped, a passing motorist produced his fire extinguisher. This reminiscence of the days of the Banger reminds me of ‘Snip’ Newsham who, as a Sixth Former, dealt in second-hand cars, advertising most days in the Gazette, always introduced by Snip! He would arrive at school in a different car each day; I remember his cronies like Andrew McKeman grinning as they passed me in an Armstrong-Siddeley.

Tony and I enjoyed being members of the staff cricket team which played the staffs of other Fylde schools throughout each summer. A core of serious cricketers captained by Bob Freeborough with his leg-breaks, fast bowler and all-rounder John Carrington, wicket-keeper Mike John, St. Annes opening bat Jim McKenna were supplemented by lesser men like Smailes and me who enjoyed putting pressure on Freeborough by showing our keenness to bowl by trial looseners on the boundary. One season Charlie Stayers the West Indian fast bowler, then the Blackpool professional, was giving some lessons to St. Joe’s lads and he agreed to join the staff team to play Rossall staff.  The previous season we had been tested severely by an MCC swing bowler they had. Unfortunately our anticipation of the effect of Charlie’s arrival for the match was spoiled when it rained and we all adjourned to Fleetwood Cricket Club for a social evening instead.

Tony Smailes was a great teacher and a good friend.

If you would like to add your tribute, please email me at jvward2003@yahoo.com


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