Gerard Benson, poet
Gerard and Cathy Benson.
The inimitable Gerard Benson, actor, poet, raconteur, book reviewer, editor and co-founder of the ‘Poems on the Undergound’ project, former Barrow poet, former teacher at the Central School of Speech and Drama, died on Monday evening, 28th April 2014.
He was an immensely talented poet – and any poem read in his wonderfully resonant tones was a joy to listen to.
But apart from his prodigious talents (which included being able to proclaim poems in Anglo-Saxon from memory at a drop of a hat – actually any poem from memory at a drop of a hat), he was, as anyone who knew him would agree, the most delightful individual.
The first time I met Gerard was at a Society of Authors meeting. He was wearing a rather dashing trilby, a black velvet jacket, and bright purple shirt. He entered late, and even as he walked across the room I realised that this was a person of immense charisma and personality. He sat at the back, and when he asked a question, I first heard that voice. I then spent the rest of question time hoping he’d ask another so I could hear him again.
Below is Gerard reciting ‘River Song’ from ‘To Catch an Elephant’, Smith/Doorstep Books.
I was lucky – a few months later I was invited to a poetry retreat for children’s poets. Gerard and his wonderful wife, Cathy (incidentally another excellent poet, and illustrator) were also there.
That was 2006, and for many years I and the other poets in the group have had the privilege of Gerard and Cathy’s company, as they didn’t miss a retreat until recently, when Gerard’s health began to fail.
There was also a rather wicked side to Gerard’s humour – he wrote ‘The Pheasant Plucker’s Song’ which is posted below, from a YouTube copy of a BBC Radio 4 programme on which the Barrow Poets recited it together. We heard personal renditions several times and never with a word wrong…
Kindness, consideration, wit, a true gentle gentleman with twinkling eyes and a fount of knowledge, wisdom, an incredibly gifted teacher, he gave us cherished memories of the happiest times we have spent in poetry.
It was rather poignant therefore that the poetry group we all belonged to was meeting this year on the very day that Gerard died, and at the time of his death we were unknowingly reading his poems and watching the films we have of him.
Rest in peace, Gerard Benson, most beloved of poets, we will miss you terribly.