Stanley taught me English at High Pavement Sixth Form College in the mid-seventies. It was the very first year that the boys and girls schools had merged, and we were an experiment. He was my form tutor as well, and really encouraged me to do all the things I wanted to do. I took French and German, but Stanley could see that I had a passion for English, too.
We studied a lot of DH Lawrence with him and he taught all of it with a mad passion. He won his Booker Prize in the years I studied there, but he never mentioned it so we didn’t know at the time. He was very modest – never talked about his writing – and I don’t think any of us realised quite what an accomplished writer he was.
He was a passionate teacher. He often used to bang his fists on the desk, either in excitement or frustration. When we spoke about books in class we were not allowed to use words like “nice’” to describe them. He made people step up and think about their vocabulary and didn’t allow lazy answers.
He would always try to get us to relate what we were reading to things in our real life; often in funny ways. He would get us to compare the amount that the thinly-disguised father-figure in Sons and Lovers drank on a Friday night to what we could drink on a weekend down Mortimer’s Cavern (now Rescue Rooms). He tried his best to make us understand what the history of Nottingham was like.
After I left and moved to Brussels to work as an au pair we kept in touch, and he’d send me copies of his books along with letters, which I think I still have in my mum’s attic. He was an avid gardener and so there’s always at least one character in his books who knows a lot about horticulture. Having read many of his books, I can definitely see comparisons between him and his characters.
He was often accused of being a provincial writer and I’m not sure if that bothered him or not. I remember being at university and hearing that he’d turned down the OBE because he was “just doing his job.” That really came across to us as his pupils. He was an intellectual giant and a very modest, warm and friendly man.