Arthur Dimmock

Journalist and champion of causes for the deaf

Born: 1918, in Whitley Bay, Northumberland.

Died: 25 November, 2007, in Hayling Island, Hampshire, aged 89.

ARTHUR Dimmock, MBE, was a largely self-taught, multi-talented man who always referred to himself as deaf and dumb, proud of his achievements in areas that many, wrongly, assume are closed to profoundly deaf people. At various times a cabinetmaker, photographer, tourist courier and writer he first became prominent as a journalist of deaf sport.

At school, he learned the importance of independent and self-directed study. His gift for languages enabled him to establish long-standing links with overseas deaf leaders such as John Lovet and Eugene Rubens Alcais, founding fathers of what is now the international Deafylimpics. His world links expanded, enabling him to promote the Review, a magazine on deaf aspects of world sport, politics and news in general. This led to an offer to join the staff of British Deaf News, where his regular column gained him recognition as the foremost deaf journalist in Europe, if not the world.

His linguistic background was unusual in that he was a firm advocate of bilingual education for deaf people, with a strong emphasis on the importance of written English. He regarded spoken English as irrelevant and, unusual among his community, never uttered a single word, preferring rapid finger-spelling in English to sign language. This arose from his acquisition of language from his mother, Eleanor, who mastered the finger alphabet and showed him a meaningful vocabulary by spelling the names of actions and relationships, not solely objects, as they arose in everyday life. From her, Arthur acquired his love of language and his fabulous skill in finger-spelling, which, with his mischievous penchant for polysyllabic inserts, was the bane of sign language interpreters.

By the age of seven he had acquired a vocabulary well above the average child of the same age and in 1925 he was admitted to the Northern Counties School for the Deaf and Dumb in Newcastle, luckily for him before the ill-advised ban on manual communication was widely imposed.

Arthur was offered a place to study fine arts at Durham University. Unfortunately, no-one would then fund a deaf and dumb student and his family could not support him. He became an apprentice cabinetmaker, specialising in the restoration of antique furniture.

In 1938, he bought a one-way ticket to London and scraped a hard living doing a variety of menial jobs before eventually finding skilled work as a cabinetmaker.

While the Second World War raged, Arthur married Jean Norman, from Ware, Hertfordshire. He was then directed to essential war work at a dock at Greenock, until 1942, when he returned to pass his London Matriculation and to begin a long happy marriage. In 1948, they were blessed with a hearing daughter, Cassandra, who grew up with a rich linguistic milieu. Arthur then became more involved with the deaf clubs in the London area and was sports secretary to the Croydon Club, spending his time in sporting events and writing for the British Deaf Times.

Formally remembered as a journalist and writer, Arthur Dimmock was this and much more. His impassioned account of the story of eugenic injustice in the case of Junius Wilson, a deaf black man in the United States legally castrated but later pardoned and compensated, shows him as a champion of minority causes.

His champion instincts came to fruition during the political activity surrounding the use of manual communication in the education of deaf children, beginning in the 1970s. Arthur was a leading activist, constantly writing and declaiming to meetings and conferences for the removal of the ban on manual languages. He was one of the founding members of the National Union of the Deaf and later its president. He was constantly invited by the Scottish Workshop for the Deaf to give presentations at their meetings, and his visits are a fond memory, not only for their intellectual and political impact but for some unforgettable creative personal and social moments.

Some of his most substantial works were published under the auspices of Scottish Workshop Publications, namely Tommy (a biography of his friend AR Thomson, the Royal Painter and a selector at the Royal Academy), Introspections of a Deaf Mind, Hand of Time, Sporting Heritage and his influential Cruel Legacy, the record of deaf people in history. For this he was invested as honorary life president of SWD.

Arthur was among the founders of the British Deaf History Society and he wrote many works under its logo, not least of which was his autobiography, Muted Passion, in which he described himself as an incorrigible optimist.

He was elected to the executive council of the British Deaf Association and at the 1992 Blackpool Congress was awarded the BDA Gold Medal of Honour for his 50 years of service to the British deaf community.

In 1995, Arthur was invested with the MBE for services to deaf people.

In July 2000, Jean died. They had been married for 57 years. In October of that year the University of Wolverhampton awarded Arthur an honorary degree of doctor of arts.

Arthur spent his remaining months in a nursing home on Hayling Island, Hampshire. He was well looked after but was not happy as, due to the restrictions of his illness, his writing was much reduced. His celebrated "Girdle" column did not appear in British Deaf News for the first time in 63 years, and one of his last contributions to Deaf History Review entitled "Ear is King" showed an uncharacteristic glimpse of pessimism about the deaf condition.

We are all unique, but Arthur Dimmock was an outstandingly unique man. He was admired and respected nationally and internationally by many deaf and hearing people.