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14 November 2014

Gordon Lamont writes:
FURTHER to your obituary of Alvin Stardust (Gazette, 31 October): he worked with me on the BBC School Radio series Something to Think About in the early 1990s. These weekly programmes for infants were being restructured into assembly resources. I was asked to produce, and we asked Alvin to become the first presenter of the new format series.

He was an instant hit with the audience, initially with the teachers, because they knew of him, and were intrigued to hear him in a new role. This enthusiasm quickly spread to the young audience, because Alvin mastered the knack of sounding friendly but not patronising on air. He was a genuine all-rounder, able to present as "himself", then go into role for a story (we couldn't afford a separate voice to tell the story every week), and then to lead a song. He composed some of the songs, and even wrote a couple of the stories.

Occasionally his then girlfriend, Jules - who later became his wife - would join us in the studio, adding to the friendly atmosphere that made Something to Think About a joy to work on. On one memorable occasion, we were going out live, when a tape machine playing a pre-recorded story started making an ominous grinding noise. I alerted Alvin by talkback that we might need to re-jig things, and improvisation might be needed. I saw a flash of fear shine in his eyes, before he quickly got down to work scribbling some notes. Thankfully, the story played out to the end more or less successfully, though the end music had a bit of a waver as the tape started to stretch.

Alvin became more than a presenter on STTA; he was part of the team, and as such had an influence on the development of a new ethos for BBC assembly programmes, which, to this day, offer material that complies with the law on collective worship, and yet allows engagement by children of all faiths and none. Something to Think About recently recorded at Jodrell Bank for programmes on the night sky, and the influence of its first presenter of infant assemblies can still be felt in the programme's friendly and engaging style.

The Revd Angela Austin writes:
I WOULD like to pay tribute to work of the Revd John Wickens (Gazette, 3 October), at the Richmond Fellowship College.

As a 17-year old, I asked my vicar at my confirmation class: "Do people with mental illness have eternal life?" What was in my mind was a question about cognitive understanding of the gospel.

So, in those early days of my Christian walk, my interests in mental health and in Christian ministry were linked. In 1989, I learned about the Human Relations Course at Richmond Fellowship. My personal tutor for the course was John Wickens. I remember the awe-inspiring introductory meeting with the staff of the college. John was wearing a white suit.

A key part of the course for me was my fortnightly supervision with him, where I experienced attentive listening and accurate empathy. John had a melodious voice and kindly manner. He taught me the most important ingredients of working with people. John had worked closely with Frank Lake, and kindled my interest in clinical theology. John told me that he was going through a time of spiritual renewal, and enthusiastically showed me his new annotated Bible, and a wonderful illustrated book about deserts.

I remember one supervision on a sunny day in Holland Park. I was negotiating difficult emotional terrain around my mother's death when I was 16. I suddenly stopped in the middle of the park, and said sadly, "I don't know where I am." John's reply was succinct: "I do." So I learned the value of accompaniment, walking with someone through painful, disorientating experiences with minimal intrusion but with kindliness and accurate empathy. The course taught me the value of restraint, of allowing people to develop their own insights. The style of learning, and particularly John's teaching style, left a lasting impression.

I later asked John whether he would supervise me when my husband David and I set up a Battersea Counselling Pastoral Centre in Northcote Road Baptist Church, Battersea, in 1996. He was unable to, because of his commitments and health problems. We both thank God for John and his work, enabling us to develop as a couple and finally to find our place alongside each other in Anglican ministry.

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