Brian Yorke Deakin was born in Middleton, Greater Manchester on 13th May 1923.
He was brought up by his mother and attended Manchester Grammar School. He went on to study English Language and Literature at Manchester University at both undergraduate and postgraduate level from October 1941 until July 1947. It was here that he became friends with and shared lodgings with the dramatist and scriptwriter Robert Bolt.
During his time at University war broke out, and he was drafted to serve the war effort in India in the Queen’s Royal Regiment from August 1943 until October 1946. Consequently, he was to spend his 21st birthday on a troop carrier en route to Burma.
Many of his memoirs contain recollections of his time in India, as do many of his short stories, which blend together fact and fiction, such as ‘A Butterfly in No Man’s Land’ where he became the character Christopher, who at the start of the story was able to rescue his platoon from being lost in the Burmese jungle after the less than adequate map reading skills of their lieutenant had left them without bearing. It was the combination of map skills and geometry of Brian, and of course Christopher, which safely led the squad back to base.
Brian resumed his education at Manchester University after his return from the war, completing his masters and teaching diploma in October 1947, a step which would determine perhaps the most consistent direction of his life. After he had completed his diploma he chose to move to Paris in order to join as an assistant d’Anglais at the Ecole Normale de Saint Cloud, where he would continue to work from 1948-51.
He spent many of his happiest days in France, sat outside the Plas de la Concorde on the banks of the river Seine. He loved Paris, loved French, the food, the culture, the literature, the ideas, the post-war energy and optimism, the mixture of French, British and Americans there at the time. He continued to read in French throughout his life and would return whenever he could.
In 1951, Brian left France for Italy and worked at the British Schools Group, as the Principal at the British School of Milan and as the Principal at the English Language Institute in Rome from 1952-1961. Later, he would also work as the Director at the Oxford School in Verona and the Assistente d’inglese at the Universita di Padova from 1964-74. While working at the British School in Milan he organized a school choir of Italians which broadcast on the Italian Radio on several occasions.
Between the times in which he had taught in Italy he had also returned to England in order to work at the BBC. He was a Senior Producer of English by Radio and Television at BBC London from 1962-4 and he also during this time wrote a radio play with his friend, also from Lancaster, Martin Starkie called The Bostonians based on a work by Henry James, which was broadcast in 1964.
Brian entered semi retirement in 1974, leaving The Oxford School in Verona in 1977 in order to devote more time to his writing; he moved to Germany and worked at the Volkshochschule Augsburg (VHS) from 1979-2011.
It was always important to Brian during his lessons that he was able to foster in his students a passion for the English Language and its literature. He would later write:
‘English is a wonderful language, one of the richest, and as it is rich, so it enriches life. There are few aspects of human nature it cannot express. Its literature, its poetry, its drama, bring understanding and enjoyment. It can castigate sin and foster virtue. It can articulate the roar that lies on the other side of silence.’
While he was teaching at the VHS he created a course of film lectures. He organized for a local cinema to show films in English of famous literary works, at the start of which he would give a short lecture explaining the story and adding a few unusual words of his own.
It was this love and language and literature which fueled Brian’s prolific writing. He published novels, plays, critical essays, books of aphorisms and historical biographies.
Brian with his publisher in Verona, Riccardo Pinali (centre) and Silvio Pontani, director of the magazine ‘EUROPA Vicina’
He took particular care over the written word, with a passion for the economy and precision offered by poetry and aphorisms. As he wrote in ‘Aphorisms of the Revolution’,
‘In the almost impenetrable jungle of words the aphorism is the keen axe which opens the way to the truth when wielded with flair and judgement.’
He continued to take a keen interest in people, the world and politics into later life. At the age of 94, he still took the New York Times every day and would often write to newspapers to offer his opinion on a range of subjects. The week before the EU referendum, he wrote an open letter to the Times detailing how disastrous it would be if the UK were to vote Leave.
Brian passed away after a short stay in hospital and a nursing home on 31st July 2017.
For the entirety of his life Brian remained a prolific writer, publishing a variety of works. It is through his writing and teaching that his voice, full of kindness and humour, remains with us. As he said ‘Aphorisms of the Revolution’.
‘Writers who are not teachers rarely take the trouble to be clear. They have never seen the dead fish look in the eyes of a bewildered class. If Browning, Ezra Pound and Virginia Woolf had been teachers, they would have thrown a lot of their work into the dustbin.’