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Camden New Journal - One Week with JOHN GULLIVER
Published: 12 July 2007
St Paul’s head John Wilkinson with past and present pupils at St Mary’s church.
St Paul’s head John Wilkinson with past and present pupils at St Mary’s church
‘Batman’ headteacher gets a special send-off

I RECEIVED a telephone call as I sat at my desk on Saturday afternoon wondering what the hell I was doing there on such a rare sunny day.
“Get down to St Mary’s church in two hours,” the voice on the other end whispered. “There’s going to be a big surprise.”
Arriving, as ordered, at the Primrose Hill church just before 7pm, I was greeted by an eerie silence. Nearly 300 people filled the pews in hushed expectation.
But when St Paul’s headteacher John Wilkinson walked in a few moments later the room erupted into a huge joyous roar, giving him the shock of his life.
Parents, teachers and pupils from the 27 years of Mr Wilkinson’s time at the school held the surprise party to wish the retiring head goodbye and good luck on his new life.
A flabbergasted Mr Wilkinson took a seat next to a life-size cutout of himself dressed as Batman as people from his past came to pay tribute to him in a “This Is Your Life” ceremony.
Finally, with the kind of self-deprecating humour he was famous for, Mr Wilkinson thanked everyone for “letting him pretend to be a headmaster”.
And his career in education may not be over.
A parent and friend of Nana Agyemang Badu II, the king of the Ghanian region of Dormaa, told me the king had been so impressed by the children’s obedience on a recent visit to the school that he wanted to employ Mr Wilkinson’s educational skills in Ghana.
Happy travels, John!

For £145,000, you can’t take a leisurely approach!

THE search for a director of leisure and culture is apparently hotting up at the Town Hall.
It is a job that offers the not inconsiderable annual salary of around £145,000, with no shortage of takers.
Whispers reach me of a team of leading headhunters and consultants firm, Gatenby Sanderson, inviting candidates to apply and a gradually dwindling list of choices. Some hopefuls have been ditched, I gather, for a lack of public sector experience at a high level.
Those in the frame, I’m told, include a local authority high-flyer who has worked on a government taskforce, a council chief known as a people person with a lively sense of humour, an out-of-towner used to handling budgets worth millions of pounds, and a senior employee at the Town Hall.
The role has become a subject of hot gossip at the Town Hall, although nobody has briefed the council’s press office yet.
When I made an enquiry yesterday about whether Camden had made a final selection, I was told by one officer: “Not that I know of.”
I wait with baited breath to see who eventually lands the post.
After all, several challenges await the successful applicant – including keeping a lid on the escalating cost of refurbishing Kentish Town Baths and maintaining parking policies that everybody will be happy with.
The director’s hotseat was previously filled by Peter Bishop, who quit the Town Hall last year to take up a design job with the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

More community service for Bruce

SOME readers may have been surprised when I highlighted the story of a self-styled community worker who found himself on the front pages of certain newspapers for keeping the streets of Kentish Town clear of drug-dealers.
Bruce Lawrence Herry, 32, who lived until recently in Chalton Street, Somers Town, rose to fame in April when he was photographed grappling with another man in Kentish Town, and told a trainee reporter that he was only acting as a good citizen when confronted with a drug pusher.
Underworld sources told me at the time that Herry had a colourful record.
The courts will shortly have a chance to decide more on him. Last week he was sentenced to community service for a public order offence in Camden Town. Meanwhile, he has been remanded in custody at Pentonville until a hearing later this month on another charge.

A Beryl of laughs

AFTER buying a ticket for a train to Brighton to see a relative on Saturday, I was surprised to see an old acquaintance of mine, writer Beryl Bainbridge, coming towards me on the concourse.
She looked in fine fettle and I told her so.
Getting into conversation with Beryl, who lives a short walk from our Camden office, I reminded her that a recent TV documentary, produced by a relative, had turned on baleful thoughts about death that seemed to be gripping her.
“But you look in such splendid health,” I remarked.
She looked pleased – still leaving me with puzzled thoughts about why she had earlier thought she had been dying!

The inside story of art and Turner Prize winner

AS a cross-dressing potter with a female alter-ego named Claire, Grayson Perry has had his fair share of detractors, not least when he won the prestigious Turner Prize four years ago.
I ran into the Clerkenwell artist at the opening of Insider Art at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) yesterday (Wednesday) – an exhibition of artwork by prisoners from the Koestler Awards – which Perry helped curate.
The Koestlers have been promoting art across the prison system for more than 40 years now but this is the first time the works have been shown in a major institution like the ICA.
“I am interested in outsider art,” Perry told me. “I like art that’s spontaneous, produced by anyone working outside the professional art sphere”.
Insider Art is at the ICA in The Mall until September 9

Miner’s daughter deeply involved in creating films

READERS with a long memory may recall that 23 years ago at the time of the miners’ strike, Town Hall staff twinned with miners at Bentley pit in Doncaster.
Thousands of pounds were collected by the staff to help feed families of miners at the pit.
I myself confess I got drawn into conflict – and on one occasion, with the help of a colleague, drove to Doncaster at Christimas time in 1984 loaded down with goodies donated by Marks and Sparks in Camden Town.
On another occasion when the mother of a miner arrested by the police pleaded with me for help, I recall ringing Stephen Sedley, QC, now an eminent Law Lord, at his Kentish Town home seeking legal advice which he readily gave.
Next Tuesday, the daughter of a Doncaster miner, Rachel Horne, will be presenting three polemical short films about her life and that of old miners at the
experimental Novas Gallery in Parkway, Camden Town.

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