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Obituary: Stuart Mitchel

I first met my dear friend Stuart “Mitch” Mitchel in 1965 when he was teaching at St Albans College of Further Education. Now, 40 years later, Mitch has died in his sleep (I'd guess he was in his early 80s but he regarded age as an irrelevance) and Beryl and their four children and seven grandchildren have lost a strikingly original, handsome and intelligent companion.

Mitch taught at the College until he retired and never ceased to be a polite, determined, constant irritant to the educational establishment. Well, all establishments come to that. Earlier, he'd gone to prison for nuclear civil disobedience - he was London convenor of the Committee of 100 - and he remained an occasional contributor to Peace News.

Motorbikes and philosophy

Mitch came from a naval family in Portsmouth and served - below decks - during WW2. Later, he distinguished himself by coming out as a pacifist while still in uniform and was discharged. When I met Mitch he called himself an anarchist (he later returned to Marxism) and his libertarian approach to teaching attracted me to him immediately.

In fact he was a vegetarian ascetic - a stoic really - who somewhere along the way had taken a degree in philosophy at London, travelled to Algeria by motorbike (his daughter Bella was named for the liberation leader Ben Bella) and committed himself to permanent opposition to war.

His life, of course, was paradoxical; he still had a photo of Stalin on the piano when we first met. When Bella was born he refused to register her birth and gave his age in moon years when he taken to court. Beryl and he educated her - and Nikita, Natasha, and Maxim - at home, and they've grown up to be as talented as their parents. Beryl is now a solicitor and Mitch wrote - and discussed philosophy at the University of The Third Age - until the very end.

Poet and essayist

His novel, Clerks in Lowly Orders (Gollancz), was a success d'estime in the early 60s and he'd intended to live the life of a writer. In fact, apart from occasional journalism, nothing else was published though he wrote several more novels. Mitch was philosophical about his lack of (material) success and continued to write poetry and essays - many concerned with war and peace - which he'd send me by post. He used to claim - not entirely flippantly - that the basis of a good friendship was never to meet and only correspond. He'd discourage us from calling on him but, in the event, was pleased when we did.

Wonderfully idiosyncratic company, he made us laugh a lot - usually intentionally. Shelley was one of his great loves and Mitch introduced his poetry and politics to me. His late fatherhood was also my inspiration and I liked and admired him from the off.

Unforgettable

Mostly his students were liberated by him, but some of his more conservative male students couldn't cope with the freedoms his teaching offered. Mitch stuck to his (metaphorical) guns though, and I doubt any were unaffected by him. I certainly wasn't and I loved his poems too. He was an unfashionable writer; immune to literary trend and celebrity but engaged and quirky.

Two things stand out about him above all: his constancy in the way he lived his life and his proper adherence to his philosophic ideals. He was an instinctive nonconformist and quite unforgettable.

Topics: Radical Lives