John Curtin died in 1997 in Rio de Janeiro. I had known John for over a quarter of a century, and between 1973 and 1975 he was Head of Elementary Studies at Anglo-Continental, while I was Deputy Head and we shared an office.
John went on to become Director of Studies of ACSE London (and I got his old job!). We co-wrote Survival English for Mary Glasgow Publications, and it was originally designed as the “business-lite” course for ACSE London. Later Heinemann sought a new version, then Macmillan did a further totally new version.
I’ll always remember John as a truly gifted linguist – he spoke Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French at bi-lingual level, and could also communicate in Arabic, German and Hebrew. John had learned some Arabic and Hebrew while in the army in Palestine. He told me how he had been assigned to the rescue operation, then to clear up the bodies after the Irgun terrorist bombing of The King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946.
He was known to correct students’ Spanish. He had lived in Spain for many years, and had worked at one time as a puppeteer. Karen and I remember John arriving for dinner in the mid-1970s, insisting that we drink La Ina sherry and no other. John said it was the best, and in the rare moments when I’m offered sherry, usually in Spain, it’s still my choice.
John playing piano at the 1972 Anglo-Continental Christmas pantomime, Aladdin. Dave Gibbon on guitar.
John was also a fine pianist, as well as an actor who enlivened our stage productions at ACSE on his rare, but memorable guest appearances in our theatre shows. I’ll never forget his role as the butler in Peter Barnes’ play ‘The Ruling Class.’
John as Tucker the butler, with me in The Ruling Class in 1973.
After a 1974 production of John Barnes’ play “The Ruling Class.”
Back row: Guy Wellman, Sally Wellman, John, Peter Viney
Front row: Karen Viney, Linda Godfrey, Nila, Nick Keeping
He was also a translator of note, translating plays from Portuguese into English, and an expert on the dramatic works of Oscar Wilde. John was an inspirational teacher, and I often felt when I was watching him, that the classes were hypnotized by the power of his personality.
We only met on a few occasions after John had moved to Brazil, though we stayed in touch on the phone and by letter. The last time I saw him, several years before his death, we had lunch at IATEFL in Brighton. He will be remembered by literally hundreds of students who were lucky enough to experience his teaching.