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Bernard Wigginton

Bernard Wigginton

19th May 1945 – 21st August 2018

(A eulogy by Keith Wait, given as a funereal tribute on 3rd September 2018)

Very occasionally in life you come across a person who immediately strikes you as being remarkable. Seldom do you have the honour of being able to count such a person as being a great friend.

In Bernard Wigginton I have been very fortunate in knowing such a person and have enjoyed his company as a friend with whom I have been able to share many common interests.

Firstly, Bernard was remarkable above all in his erudition and his intelligence. To describe someone as erudite makes them seem very dry, but not so with Bernard, who wore his learning lightly and expressed it through his love of beauty, seen both through his knowledge of the arts and thorough his passion for horticulture. Be it beauty in its man-made realisation thorough the arts or the beauty of nature, Bernard’s understanding was comprehensive, deep and ardent.

For almost a quarter century, I have been able to share Bernard’s delight in these things. A great meaty chuck of this time was being fellow judges of the Arts Richmond Swan Awards (the “local Oscars” as they are known). In the almost impossible task of deciding between best and very best, Bernard’s insight into what makes a piece of theatre tick was invaluable, as was his very wide knowledge of the theatre, as he invariably had seen many productions of each particular play before.

As has already been touched on, since his schooldays at Hampton Grammar, Bernard has been a loyal stalwart of OHADS, in latter decades principally as its Secretary. From time to time he has passed a script by me that he was keen the OHADS should produce. Inevitably if the play has gone ahead, it has been a great success.

Bernard’s knowledge and love of music equalled that of the theatre, as we are hearing in his own choice of this morning’s music. It is ironic that the music we have come in to is the enormously touching adagio from Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23, as when he came out of hospital I gave Bernard a CD of Mozart arias sung by Kiri Te Kanawa, which he was ecstatic about, and he suggested that we listen to together when I returned from my recent three-week Golden Wedding trip. Alas it was not to be. However, I do have fond memories of going to many Richmond Concert Society recitals with Bernard.
Moreover, the last opera that I saw with Bernard was Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Bernard would occasionally come to the opera with me and my wife, Elizabeth. It is of course an art form that combines his twin loves of music and the theatre.

Bernard’s love of the arts was very broad, and we have had many conversations about the visual arts (Bernard was often to be found in art galleries) and about architecture (which incidentally he had a professional interest in prior to retirement). He was very knowledgeable about local architecture and about local history, and was of course a Richmond Heritage Guide, one of the local “Blue Badge” guides. On a personal note, Bernard was very supportive of my dipping the toe in the local history waters, particularly in my annual summer playlets at Garrick’s Temple.

Such was Bernard’s thirst for knowledge, that I last left him avidly reading David Starkey’s latest book about the Reformation, looking for local references.

Bernard was also remarkable in his modesty. In spite of being exceptional in anything he did, and it was a broad spectrum of creative arts encompassing for example acting or photography, he hated being lauded for it. At Oxford he had read French and Spanish, but few knew of his knowledge of the drama and literature of these languages. In the same way, he wrote analytical but very readable reviews of music for my Mark Aspen website, but only under a nom-de-plume. Three years ago he was awarded the prestigious Swan Accolade (effectively the lifetime achievement award for services to Drama in the Borough) and at the unexpected presentation he was clearly looking for something larger than a bushel to hide his light under.

Finally though, Bernard was remarkable in his stoicism. We had known that he was pretty tough and fearless. Most summers, he would take off in an old car, without any preparation, maybe to the Cote d’Azure or perhaps across the Pyrenees, taking in his stride anything that hit him. Unfortunately, what hit him was sometimes the balustrade of a remote rustic French bridge! Since Elizabeth and I usually do similar mad trips in our Morgan, Bernard and the two of us would meet over a glass to swop traveller’s tales and show our photographs. In Bernard’s case, the photographs were beautifully composed and executed works of art.

Bernard’s stoicism was obvious in his last few weeks, when, against all odds, he not only carried on his intellectual pursuits, but remarkably carried on his support of others in their making Richmond-upon-Thames a shining beacon of the arts.

I have saved mentioning Bernard’s garden until last. Again, this is another interest that Elizabeth and I have shared with him: comparing notes, looking over each other’s gardens, discussing snail warfare, perhaps over a glass. However, Bernard’s garden is always well tended and well-studied, indeed for many years it has been the focus of Hampton’s offering for the National Garden Scheme. Surely, this garden has not only been the enduring passion for Bernard, but one of his most enjoyable creations.
Now Bernard did not believe in a spiritual afterlife, but we all have something that will be there, a part of us after we have gone, that we can be remembered for. In Bernard’s case, this will be his garden, a living memory of his love of beauty.

Farewell to an old friend, and thank you Bernard for the memories of a most remarkable man.

Keith Wait
September 2018

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