Monday, 2 March 2009

Mike Ingham 1949 - 2009

Mike died on 22nd of February. For ten years between 1980 and 1990 I played with him in a band called The Moles, along with Derek Guy and Henry Holzer. It started out as a ceilidh band. We met on Friday evenings at Henry's house to rehearse and chat, and played gigs maybe once a month, but more frequently in the summertime. In the early years I didn't have a car and Mike would pick me up every Friday in his Morris Traveller. Ellie and Emily always looked forward to his arrival and it usually took at least half an hour's conversation before we were ready to leave.

Mike was a terrific guitarist. He grew up listening to his dad playing all the standards on the guitar, and he had an encyclopedic knowledge of those old songs. Sweet Lorraine was a favourite of his dad's. He was brilliant at working out the chords, too, and also at faking it when he wasn't too sure. We called that improvising until Mike came up with a better word - impoverishing! Sitting on a stage for hours while country dancers leaped around in village halls all over Norfolk we had plenty of time to figure out the most interesting ways to play the three chords we needed for the dance tunes. And as time went by we worked out songs with even more chords and sometimes vocals and then played and sang to anyone who would listen. When we weren't playing we chatted. We talked about everything, but mostly about education.

I had trained as a teacher years before, but never taught. Mike convinced me that in spite of the ever-increasing stranglehold of the bureaucrats and politicians on education it was still possible to be a creative and exciting teacher. We had endless conversations about education, and they all focused on the amazing things that children did. Eventually I started to wonder why I was missing out on such an interesting life and I found myself a job. Without his influence I'm fairly sure I would never have done that.

When Mike stopped being a headteacher and became an inspector and adviser I was surprised because I knew how much he loved working in a school community, and how great he was with children. When he was head of Crowfoot Primary in Beccles he taught music whenever he could. He kept all the instrument in boxes (he loved musical instrument cases!) and I watched him teaching a class one day. He had made a box labelled "silence", and whenever silence was needed, a small boy opened the box. It was brilliant.

But it wasn't just that he was great with kids (I work with a young teacher now who was a pupil of Mike's and the shows he wrote and produced are her most vivid memories of primary school). He was great with grownups, too. Someone who taught in that same school told me the other day that Mike used to wait in the school entrance on a Friday night and say goodbye to every member of staff as they left. Not a lot of people do that.

And that's why he was so good at the job he chose to do. He influenced me, and he influenced very many other people, and through them thousands of children. That was clear from the amazing number of people at his funeral. He was a good, kind man who made a big difference to people's lives. I miss him very much.


  1. A wonderful and accurate description of this man. My wife and I knew him for the years my son and daughter were at the Crowfoot. He always had time for everyone and my children tell me he was a great teacher. He was humorous, a good sportsman and a fine musician. His legend lives on in Beccles.

  2. I come back to this article every year. It's wonderful. Thanks so much for writing it Paul.

  3. Great to hear from you Tim. I hope you're all well. You might be interested to know that I just ordered a guitar from Rob Armstrong. I remember how excited Mike used to get about driving up to Coventry and waiting for the guitar to be made. I'm lucky and I only have to wait until August! Cheers. Paul.

  4. I still return to this, Paul, and always will. In a world rife with distraction, it's a very important snapshot of my dad - a focal point. Thank you again. I hope your Armstrong has served you well!