Obituary: John Grant, storyteller

John Grant
John Grant
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BORN: 22 May, 1930, in Edinburgh. Died: 23 February, 2014, in Edinburgh, aged 83

Not many people have the luxury of writing their own obituary but John Grant did, as he wanted to ensure that people said the correct thing about him. At his Humanist funeral, mourners were treated to an affectionate and amusing address – very John Grant.

John had quoted writer Garrison Keillor, who had remarked: “They say such nice things about people at funerals so it makes me sad to realise that I’m going to miss mine.”

The same notion had occurred to John and the thought that the person without whom there would be no funeral has very little input in the proceeding, up-market funerals – kings, presidents, footballer – customarily feature a valediction.

He said: “I thought it would make change if I could bid you a posthumous farewell. My most noteworthy achievement is reaching this moment without having been found out, closely followed by the raising of a family, all presently model citizens.”

We also learned much more about Jack – how he attended George Watson’s College from the age of 11 and also became a competent pianist.

Being a member of St Catherine’s Youth Club in the Grange, he meet his future wife Elizabeth when he was 18, and together they created the annual pantomime, with Elizabeth doing the writing and Jack the scenery, with one Ronnie Corbett playing the Dame.

Elizabeth remembers John as a handsome young man who talked a lot. He never lost that skill and their happy marriage lasted for more than 58 years.

A keen yachtsman, he both participated and instructed in the sport before National Service inconveniently interrupted.

He had studied architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art, and was able to work with the great Basil Spence before obtaining a post with East Kilbride Development Corporation. While in East Kilbride, his family grew; he and Elizabeth had another three children, making a total of four before they moved back to Edinburgh, where they remained for the rest of their lives.

It was here that I met John during my years with the Edinburgh Children’s Book Group. By now he was an established author, having been commissioned by the BBC to write, illustrate and present his own stories of Littlenose, the small Neanderthal boy and his friend Two Eyes, the woolly mammoth.

He was the first person to both write and illustrate on camera. He also loved these forays down to London, where he rubbed shoulders with the stars – such as Bernard Cribbins, Alan Bennett, Kenneth Williams and a young Judi Dench.

He was especially delighted if his visits coincided with a Top of the Pops rehearsal day when the glamorous dance group Pan’s People were also in the building.

His children were mystified as to how their father was on their television yet in the room in Edinburgh too. Always clad in an Arran or Fair Isle jumper, he almost melted under the studio lights.

John was always willing to help either by designing or drawing for invitations and posters to storytelling at book events. We made him an honorary member, much to his amusement.

“I have become a sort of appendage of Edinburgh Children’s Book Group… where I have revelled in children’s reactions to books and stories and have felt privileged at these events where some wee soul may have been shown a slightly less restricted reading world than Page Three and the less intellectually taxing parts of Confessions of a Mad Taxidermist and the like.

Meanwhile, he was able to continue his love of sailing and horse riding but, unfortunately, his horse didn’t share his enthusiasm and a bad throw resulted in a broken hip. However, he continued to support riding for disabled children at Drum Riding School.

His work also encompassed other genres – he did a regular graphic strip cartoon for The Scotsman about the Border Reivers, a highly successful series for Ladybird Books, and She Ra and Masters of the Universe. But it will be for his stories of the small Neanderthal boy with his friend, Two Eyes the woolly mammoth, that he will be best remembered.

He leaves his wife Elizabeth, children Euann, Niall, Kirsty and Andrew, as well as six grandchildren.

As we left the crematorium to the strains of Honky Tonk Train Blues, the last word will go, as usual, to John, in the form a poem he wrote on the prospect of enforced idleness in Eternity.

Endless leisure? Thank!

Just leave me where I am below

And when my name comes shining through

On some celestial VDU

Just switch me off and let me be,

A dead leaf on my family tree.

I’ll count myself truly blessed

If I can have eternal rest

Undisturbed, I pray and trust

A handful of contented dust.

Although the Jackanory kaleidoscope has stopped turning, John Grant, spinner of stories, will always be remembered by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him. A very special person.

Valerie Bierman