As we are just about halfway through this most recent lockdown and we all know that it is pretty difficult on the ground. For the staff, for the children and young people and for their parents and families, in and day out, we are just trying to keep this ‘ship’ afloat. As someone said to me this week…’that’s just the way we live now’. All that said, I thought that this week I’d try to make things a little lighter.
Even though I say that and I committed to that last weekend, I woke on Sunday to the news that Des O’ Connor has passed (not to be confused with ‘I’ll name that tune in 3 Tom’ – Tom O’Connor). For some of you Des’ passing will have held no significance at all. I guess age and upbringing play a significant role here. If you are under the age of 35, you are not likely to have heard of Des, or Tom for that matter. If you are over 35 and came from a more ‘middle-class’ background you may not have had a great deal to do with ‘our’ Des. I do know there are people who, when they were younger, through the 70s and 80s, we’re not allowed to watch ITV – and that was when we only had 3, yes 3, channels to choose from (and most of the time BBC2 was on shut down or it was the Open University!). Des spent most of his professional career on that channel. I am getting to the age when those entertainers who defined my childhood are now making the headlines for particularly sad reasons. For many, stardom has passed, quite literally. (Quick reference to Bobby Ball here too – Rock on). It does make one reflect on one’s own mortality and personal history.
In many circles Des O’Connor was something of a very light light-entertainer but, I contend, he was a cleverer man than any of us give him credit for and his approach to his life and entertainment is something that we could take a great deal from.
The most popular British entertainers of the 1960s, 70s and 80s were Morecambe and Wise. Today we cannot comprehend those days when almost three quarter of the population would tune into the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special – yes just one programme and all of us at the same time! Almost everyone who had a television would have it tuned in to those two. And it was always well worth it. The mix of slapstick, musical and surreal comedy defined an era. And, strangely, Des O’Connor was at the centre of much of it. However it happened, and some say it was Des himself who wrote the jokes which Morecambe and Wise then used, Des O’Connor became the central butt of many of the Morecambe and Wise skits. How brilliant of Des. Put yourself front and centre with the most significant double act of the era and your star will rise, whatever your talent.
In addition to this there were Des’ numerous hit albums and number one singles and his hit TV chat shows and quizzes. A career that spanned almost 60 years, most of it at the very top. And what was Des O’Connor’s approach to all of this? Laugh at yourself, don’t take it all too seriously and enjoy every single moment. Des contended that if it felt like work you shouldn’t be doing it, it’s only when work doesn’t feel like work that you know that you’re in the right place.
It would be stretching it, somewhat, to say ‘well that’s something that we should all be able to achieve’ – I’m not sure that’s the case and I’m not sure that all of us are as fortunate or talented as Des. However, his central belief, I think, remains true. Especially for those of us who work in education. We can and should accept that – and I know that the job is difficult! – that we should really try to enjoy every single moment. We are fortunate, we are privileged and we do have the opportunity to shape and manage; not only the lives of the children and young people which we work with, but within the work itself. We have opportunities many others do not have. We have the control that others don’t have. We have a professional future which for many diminishes as every day passes.
Working in schools or in the college should be and is an absolute privilege. More than that, it should be an absolute joy. Like Des we should accept and appreciate how fortunate we are to be working in the way that we do work and within the environment in which we work.
And in the words of Morecambe and Wise…
“Des, short for desperate”
About his new album “The Best of Des O’Connor” – a blank disc
If you want me to be a goner, get me an LP by Des O’Connor.
It goes on, try…