The study and appreciation of the life, works and times of Arnold Bennett

Derek Beard 1936-2021

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It was with sadness that we received the news that Derek Beard – a founder member of the Arnold Bennett Society – passed away on February 11th.

Derek was a stalwart of the Society for many years, and we’re publishing the following two tributes to Derek. 

The first is from his wife – Margaret Beard MBE – also a stalwart of the Society and to whom we send our condolences and best wishes.

Ray Johnson

“Derek worked for nearly 40 years in Stoke-on-Trent libraries, the majority of that time in Hanley Reference library as the Local Studies Librarian. Towards the end of his career he became the County Reference Librarian and retired, due to ill health in 1992.

Derek began to work in the library at the age of 18. In 1954 he became a founder member of the Arnold Bennett Society and remained a member for nearly 60 years. He was recruited onto the committee almost straight away – initially he was Secretary, then Vice-Chairman.

He played a principal role in organising the Bennett Centenary celebrations in 1967. He also had the pleasure of escorting Margaret Drabble to notable Bennett locations when she was preparing to write her book on Arnold Bennett. He did tell me once that it hadn’t always been easy to pin down notable speakers for the Annual Dinner, especially someone like Vera Brittain and Phyllis Bentley, as such people had so many ties and commitments – but he managed it!

Derek was an avid reader – from newspapers and journals, to fiction and a vast range of non-fiction. He amassed an encyclopaedic knowledge and could always answer the most obscure quiz questions – and invariably supply a pertinent quote about prominent people.

Possibly the most famous person he met during his career was Jorge Luis Borges during his visit to England sponsored by the British Council in the mid 1960s. Borges had ancestral links with the Potteries as his paternal grandfather had been married to Frances Ann Haslam, born in Northwood. He was also regularly on Radio Stoke in its early days, on John Abberley’s ‘Clock on Club’.

Latterly Derek was known at the Annual Dinners for saying grace and proposing the votes of thanks. As his health slowly but inexorably declined he was no longer able to attend, but he faced life with fortitude and I never heard him complain. Derek was a modest man who never sought the limelight but preferred to stay in the background despite all his achievements.”

Margaret Beard MBE 

“I had not known Derek for very long when in December 2006 Margaret persuaded him to join our little band of players who were putting on a dramatisation of Bennett’s short story “Vera’s First Christmas Adventure” in the Old Town Hall at Burslem.  Derek stole the show when he dropped a China vase that smashed into many pieces – of course it was all part of the play” 
Carol Gorton

Kath Reynolds – a Library colleague of Derek.

“Derek was head of the Local Studies at Hanley Library. I was, and still remain, in awe of his encyclopaedic knowledge of Stoke-on-Trent and of reference library work in general.

Whenever anyone was stuck with a reference query, we would defer to Derek who would listen to the question and where we had searched for information, nod his head and silently walk away. He would relish the challenge and in those pre-internet days would leave no stone or page unturned until he found the answer.

Library staff will tell of the tales of days gone by that Derek would regale us with at tea breaks. Sometimes the tale would be told with dead-pan delivery and at other times he would barely be able to tell the tale because he was laughing so much. 

Derek was a lovely, gentle chap who was always happy to help anyone. Around 20 minutes before the library closed, Derek would wander over to browse the periodical stand. Derek would appear to be lost in whatever he was reading but would suddenly boom “Ten minutes to closing time!” at the top of his voice. Staff and library users alike would jump out their skins whilst Derek kept on reading!

A fount of knowledge, an avid reader and wonderful colleague; Derek was loved, respected and admired by all who worked with him.”

Kath Reynolds

Margaret and Derek

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