A small tribute to a very fine drama teacher from Birmingham ....
Like everybody, I have been shocked and upset by the news of Tony Grady’s sudden death on 15th December, 2003
I have known Tony for more than twenty years, and I have yet to meet a better drama teacher. When we first came in contact, I was with Big Brum TIE Company, and he was a teacher at Four Dwellings School in Birmingham. He was always one of our most supportive and impressive school contacts, and each time we visited Four Dwellings with a programme, we would know that the welcome would be warm, that the way our visit was set up and used would be perfect, and that we would leave feeling that our work was really valued. I can remember some extraordinary times there, proper impassioned discussions about the point of our work in the staffroom, and some truly thrilling moments in the hall or drama studio. In the course of this work we would sometimes be in a classroom alongside Tony, and often we would have the opportunity to observe him with his pupils. It is this experience of him which will stay with me most vividly. His approach, his respect, his wonderful quiet tone with young people, and the way in which they were with him, were awesome. I saw work of the highest quality conceivable from his students there, and later at Hodge Hill. Young people could see, as we all could, that Tony believed in them, in a rare and totally unshakable way. In a profession which has its share of cynics and time-servers, he was a teacher of real and profound commitment, whose deep thought and analysis of what is important in the work was always carried through into his practice. I am sure that his teaching over the years will have contributed immeasurably to the lives of many.
Once, when he was at Hodge Hill, I was responsible for an education project in connection with the musical Les Miserables, and Tony brought a group to be involved. The project included a visit to the show at the Hippodrome, and then later a session with one of the actors at the school. Some people can be sniffy about the kind of commercial show that Les Mis represents, but Tony was impeccably concerned with what he could draw from the experience for his pupils. The actor that was scheduled to visit Hodge Hill was Stig Rossen, the internationally renowned Danish actor playing the main part of Jean Valjean. Stig is an extremely intense person, with a commitment to the meaning of his work which in many ways resembles Tony’s, but he comes from a very different tradition, and is a performer on a grand scale. I was intrigued to see how the collaboration worked. They planned in advance, and both prepared very thoroughly. For Stig, it represented a very different world he was entering.
I collected Stig from the Hippodrome as arranged, and he came out dressed in his full ‘convict’ costume, with wig and make-up. I drove him to Hodge Hill, where he signed the register on the door as ‘Jean Valjean’, and dutifully put the badge on his costume. The pupils were waiting in the room when Tony brought him in. What followed was as remarkable a forty minutes as I have ever seen in a school. Tony, with his customary clarity and quiet authority, took the pupils through a recreation of the moment before the story of the musical started, where Jean Valjean makes the decision to steal a loaf of bread to feed his family. Stig enacted in a strikingly ‘big’ but fully whole-hearted style, Tony guided, and the young people were gripped. They explored huge subjects together - poverty, justice, love effortlessly and meaningfully. It was a spectacular collaboration.
This was one short session from a lifetime of dedication in the classroom, but it epitomises for me all the qualities that made Tony a truly great teacher. His focus was unflinchingly on the rights, needs and value of the children. He actually concentrated always on really important things, a fact which is much much more rare and special than it sounds.
For me, although I only knew him through work, Tony was an inspirational figure, above all because of that link between his politics and philosophy and his actual classroom teaching. I can only imagine how much he will be missed by his family and close friends, but I am sure that there are many like me, who were touched by him, and who will always be grateful for his wonderful example.