Obituary: John Simpson

John D. Simpson
(OC 1954-1961)

Born 1 October 1942, died 11 June 2022

I met my brother when he was 18 months old. Newly arrived on the planet, I don’t actually remember and probably neither did he. After banging around in prep schools we both gained direct grant places at Caterham. My brother came as a boarder the year before I did. Back then Caterham was all boys, mostly boarding with only a few dayboys. My mother hoped that he would keep an eye out for me as we were eventually in the same house – Townsend. Maybe he did, but I was mostly not aware of it at the time. In fact wanted nothing to do with the scruffy urchin, especially during the walk to and from church in town on Sunday mornings. I did follow his footsteps in many ways, 1st XV rugger, hockey goalkeeper, he 1st X1, me 2nds and Senior Scouts. He was appointed as a Sixth Form prefect of the house and had his own study he shared with head of house, John Pinner. I didn’t. He took all the sciences in the vain hope of becoming a veterinarian. I stayed with the Arts.

A refrain often heard from the masters was “why aren’t you more like your brother”. But he was a tough act to follow and I stayed in his shadow. He did persuade the school not to keep me back after my weedy showing at “O” level results. Irony is, he didn’t get any of his “A” levels. I squeaked by both of mine.

At school strangely we rarely interacted. Yet at home we were mostly the best of friends picking on our younger sister and driving mother crazy. Loved playing games of all kind with Christmas parties being a high point. At an early age we were both recruited into the local Amateur Dramatic Society (Juniors). Neither of us really enjoyed being on stage, though we were dragged on from time to time. We both worked on set building, lighting and stage management for both the Christmas and the Summer productions through the years.

Out of Caterham, we both floundered for a bit and then decided to apply at Teacher Training College with an emphasis on Drama. We both lasted a couple of years in the teaching field and then went our different ways though ultimately quite similar. John started with Arts Council as a trainee for theatre management, I went to America and became an entrepreneur.

The next thing I knew was it was 1973 and he had started a theatre lighting rental company. He was also managing the King’s Road Theatre for the long lasting run of the Rocky Horror Show. The company thrived as the Company website shows. Click here to read their obituary for John.

As in all families, I suspect, we take our siblings for granted. They are always there at family events, bit of reminiscing and wait until the next one. Living in America, I did not see family often enough. Partly economic as travel and phone calls were absurdly expensive and partly living in my world and family, he with his. Working long hours to advance his business, taking a turn at racing Mini Coopers at Brands Hatch and raising his three daughters a task that might perhaps try anyone. Near the turn of the century, with his encouragement, my wife and I started a US sales branch for his company in conjunction with our other ventures. We were able to talk often and met at conventions and events in both the US and England.

By then his marriage had unravelled and he took more opportunities to indulge his hobbies. He continued his association with the RAC and was steward at Brighton speed trials and marshalled on the Marina as the entrants from the Annual London to Brighton arrived. No longer racing, he went in for vintage motor cars and took pride in owning an Alvis Speed Twenty and a Riley 9 Monaco. The barren years with little contact melted away. In his final years we got together a great deal more. Will I ever know who he really was. Does anyone ever really know who someone is? What I do know that he always tried to do what he thought was the right thing even though it sometimes was not always to his advantage.

And now he isn’t here anymore. These fleeting school and other memories help to fill out that imperfect picture. And I miss him.

by his brother Peter D Simpson (OC 1953-1962)

Peter and John at their last outing of the Vintage Brighton run.