Christabel Burniston MBE


CHRISTABEL Burniston who has died aged 97, founded the Southport-based English Speaking Board, which, in 50 years, has become a worldwide concern. Her aim, when setting it up, was to promote spoken English which causes neither ambiguity nor embarrassment.

The fourth of five children, Sarah Elizabeth Christabel Hyde was born in Halton – then a village on the outskirts of Leeds. Her father worked in insurance and her mother was a literature-loving suffragette and admirer of Christabel Pankhurst.

Describing that childhood in her autobiography Life in a Liberty Bodice, Chistabel recalls pranks, inspirational school teachers, uncles' farms on the Wolds, and pays tribute to her parents and the importance they attached to education and encouraging children to speak up for themselves at a time when the young were expected to be seen and not heard.

Thanks to her parents, the art of conversation, cultivated around the family table, became Christabel's fort. Helping others to express themselves well was a life's work which only slowed into retirement when she reached her 90s. But even then she remained remarkably active.

Her mother was very influential: perhaps most significantly, she wanted her children to be understood wherever they might go. They were encouraged to recite poetry and on Saturday mornings were sent to speech and drama classes.

Christabel went to Chapel Allerton School for Girls, which involved a mile walk, a train ride into Leeds and a tram out to the school. She won a scholarship to Leeds University and went on to become a teacher of English and drama.

She taught at Cheadle Hulme School in Cheshire for five years and after the war was appointed county drama organiser for Lancashire. In 1950 she founded the North West School of Speech and Drama, and in 1953, the English Speaking Board.

She married when she was 23, "but we were wrong for each other" and after 14 years and one daughter, she and Stanley parted.

Christabel never remarried. She devoted her life to developing the English Speaking Board.

She wrote best-selling books on speech and was awarded an MBE . When she was 92 she published her first novel, The Brass and the Velvet, the story of an ambitious Yorkshire girl.

She is survived by her daughter.