Obituary: Elizabeth Garrett, teacher, filmmaker and patron of writers

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Elizabeth Garrett, teacher and producer/director. Born: 14 September 1930 in Aberdeen. Died: 3 November, 2019 in Aberdeen, aged 89

Elizabeth Garrett was a multi-
talented educator and enabler whose progressive thinking gave thousands of youngsters their introduction to sex education.

Her pioneering television series Living & Growing was first broadcast in the late 1960s on Grampian Television, where she was schools liaison officer, and went on to be shown across the UK, picking up several awards.

Later she set up a video production company with comedienne June Imray, best known as The Torry Quine, before working as a director for the Mental Health Film Council and, in retirement, establishing a clifftop retreat to nurture writers’ creativity.

An Aberdeenshire girl from the village of Echt, she had a huge intellect and gained a place at Aberdeen University, from which she graduated with an MA in 1953, becoming an English teacher.

Her first post was at Galashiels Academy and within a couple of years she had married her Galashiels-born husband Edwin Garrett in Aberdeen. Returning to the Granite City, she taught English at Aberdeen’s High School for Girls and at Summerhill Academy.

Mrs Garrett was a huge admirer of Summerhill’s headmaster RF Mackenzie, a controversial and reforming head with a liberal attitude to exams and corporal punishment. He wanted to ban both and was in favour of pupil councils to set the rules.

He had been appointed in 1968, around the same time she was working as schools liaison officer at Aberdeen-based Grampian Television and involved in the production of Living & Growing.

The educational series, for five to 13-year-olds, took a matter-of-fact look at various aspects of life, reproduction and growing up and eventually transferred to Channel 4 in 1987. Its success took Mrs Garrett to Japan to collect one of several awards.

By the mid-1970s she was back teaching in schools and had risen to depute head of Summerhill Academy during a period when Mackenzie’s progressive ideas were not universally accepted by colleagues.

The school attracted the interest of educators from around the world but the staff was split on his methods and in 1974 he was effectively sacked by the local education committee which had originally appointed him.

The decision sparked a mass walk-out by hundreds of protesting pupils. Mrs Garrett closed the school for several hours to give the youngsters the opportunity to return to their studies.

She, too, soon returned to her studies, gaining a law degree from Aberdeen University in 1978 and in the early 1980s she and June Imray, a former teacher and Grampian TV announcer, started Aberdeen Video Productions.

They produced safety and training videos for the burgeoning oil and gas industry, plus other films including Journey North, which won a silver award at the 1982 New York International Film and Television Festival.

She later moved to London, working as director for the Mental Health Film Council, founded following an initiative by the charity MIND, and established a collaboration with the Council and the BBC to improve the service, at the end of any BBC programme featuring mental illness, that provides information to the public who may have been affected by any such issues. It was an example of the unassuming but impactful work ethic that defined her career.

During that period she was also involved with a Nigerian-Ugandan educational project, going out to Uganda and helping to arrange a Ugandan school visit to London.

After retiring and returning to Aberdeen, she and Edwin lived on the outskirts of the city and bought a second house on the coast which she developed as a creative retreat for writers.

Once again she was ahead of her time as her concept of Cliff Cottage was based on the philosophy of “paying it forward”. She did not charge her guests but asked that they repay the kindness not to her, but to others, in any way they wished.

In addition she provided their food, cooked and transported from her own home each day, leaving them free to concentrate on only one thing – their writing.

She loved books, just as much as she loved film, and one of her favourite things was a bookcase filled with works – anything from Mills and Boon romances, to crime and non-fiction – written by the Cliff Cottage authors.

A voting member of Bafta UK for many years, her interest in the creative world extended to radio – she was once part of a group bidding to run a new local radio station in Aberdeen – music and art.

Mrs Garrett enabled writers, musicians and artists where she could and collected artwork, often quirky and with an emphasis on people and the human condition, something that pervaded her whole life and career.

Predeceased by her husband Edwin, she is survived by her sons Robin and Nick and five grandchildren.

ALISON SHAW