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John Clark (1937 - 2014)

An obituary by Paul Tritton

We are sorry to report that John Clark, one of our A Canterbury Tale stalwarts, died on Thursday, January 9. He was 76.

John was an enthusiastic supporter of the Powell & Pressburger Appreciation Society's annual A Canterbury Tale location walks from their inception in 1997 until a few years ago, when he was no longer able to attend due to ill-health.

Having been an 'eye-witness' and extra when A Canterbury Tale was filmed on location in 1943, John was of immense help to Paul Tritton when he embarked on researching his book about the film, first published in 2000.

During WW2 John lived near Hortons' Yard, Shottenden, which he often visited with his friends, all about seven years old.

'We took turns to operate the bellows - which had a cow horn for a handle - in the forge,' John told Paul. 'On "firing day" we would see the iron tyres being fitted to the cart wheels. The wheels would go on a big iron spindle. Neville Horton would heat the tyres over a fire and when they were red hot, four men would lift them on to the wheels and hammer them down. They poured water on the tyres before they could burn the wheels. It was very spectacular - glowing embers, ringing hammers, clouds of steam and smoke. People came from miles around to watch the work being done. They kept tree trunks piled up on the other side of the road, to season.

"We sat there watching the filming going on. I also appeared in the scene briefly, sitting with one of my friends on a stack of bricks. Our reward for being there and behaving ourselves was huge mugs of tea and large slices of cake."

In October 1943 John watched the regimental band of The Buffs leading a parade to Canterbury Cathedral for the film's final sequence. "You can see my mother and me on the corner of Mercery Lane", he said. "My mother is wearing a light-coloured coat and a turban and holding a shopping basket. I'm standing next to her, wearing a dark coat and short trousers".

John was especially proud to have driven John Sweet ('Sgt Bob Johnson, US Army') and his wife Barbara around the A Canterbury Tale locations when they visited Kent in 2000 and attended a charity screening of the film at the ABC Cinema in Canterbury.

John took a close interest in the history of Canterbury and East Kent and in 1980 was a founder member of the Canterbury & East Kent Postcard Club, serving for many years as its first chairman. He had a fine collection of picture postcards of Chilham (aka 'Chillingbourne'), which he and his wife Helen displayed at several A Canterbury Tale occasions.

His other interests included jazz and gardening (he had a very productive allotment behind his house in Canterbury) and he was a volunteer at Brogdale, the home of the National Fruit Collection in Kent.

Everyone who knew John will be sad to hear that he has died but happy to have met him and to have enjoyed his friendship. We extend our sympathy to his family.

John Clark peeps through the window of the workshop at Hortons' Yard, Shottenden, during John and Barbara Sweet's visit in 2000. With them are, from the left, Len Smith ('Leslie' in the film), Myrtle Paton (widow of Bill Paton, Michael Powell's PA) and Rodney Meadows.

John during the 2003 A Canterbury Tale location walk, standing on the corner of Mercery Lane, Canterbury, where 60 years earlier he and his mother witnessed the military parade in the film's final sequence.

John with (from the left) David Todd ('General Todd' in A Canterbury Tale), Len Smith and Lord Attenborough at the University of Canterbury during the A Canterbury Tale Diamond Jubilee Celebration in 2004.

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