ANYONE who knew Robin Sisson would say he was a one-off and a gentleman of the old school.
To hundreds of pupils at Bradford Grammar School where Robin taught English, he had an unusual, certainly unique style. Apparently without structure, his classes would be a barrage of random stories, perfectly quoted snippets of 18th century literature, perhaps a rant or two and, of course, a few anecdotes about the peculiarities of the UK rail network. His lessons were goldmines to the adolescent mind.
What came through most was Robin's real passion for literature and teaching itself. When those of my generation did our A-levels in 1996, the buzzword around the subject was "flair". This was an ephemeral mixture of inherent wit and, to use a phrase at which Robin would have baulked, "the X factor" in a pupil's writing. But it was widely accepted this much sought-after quality could not be taught.
I'd say that's exactly what Robin did teach. His infectious passion and love for virtually any subject, combined with humour, meant he gave his pupils a real connection to what they were studying. And if they took away little else many can still quote verbatim the entire back catalogue of Radio 4's Round the Horne thanks to Robin's lively re-enactments. Robin was born in Manchester in 1955. He was brought up in Lincoln and shifted only a few railway stations south to complete his education at Nottingham University, where, while studying for his doctorate on the influence of music on 18th century literature, he was a tutor at Hugh Stewart Hall. It was a relationship that would last his lifetime and he often found himself a guest at the hall's top table.
When one thinks of Robin it is undoubtedly music, and that of Handel particularly, that comes to mind. His musical and literary skills came together in perfect synthesis when Robin parodied his hero in writing and producing the comic opera Millennius for Bradford Grammar in 2000.
The school's most celebrated trips were the annual sixth form visits to the London Handel Festival. Robin was editor of the Handel news magazine and remained a friend of the festival right until his death, attending this series of concerts every year, often with former pupils who'd also caught the Handel bug. One friend describes Robin fondly as an "over-enthusiastic member of the basses" in the school choir. It was a talent he never shied away from practising. All those who've shared a drink with Robin will have been treated to a few a capella arias of varying volume and length. Additionally, Robin was a talented pianist.
Another passion of his – for the railways – benefited Bradford Grammar immensely. It was he who campaigned tirelessly for the reopening of Frizinghall station, achieving his goal in 1987. He kept close ties with the station as its "adopter" under a Northern Rail volunteer scheme. It's still used by hundreds of pupils every day. Robin's true legacy, however, is the countless number of friendships he forged with former pupils across two decades of teaching. Many stayed in touch with Robin through literature, music and the odd visit to the pub. The last time I saw him he said it was these relationships which made his entire career worthwhile.
It was therefore difficult for Robin to give up teaching, but the rigours of modern education led him to leave BGS in 2003. The move to a new career as a magazine journalist saw Robin troubled by even more deadlines and computer technology; still, at Today's Railways UK magazine he managed to combine his consummate writing ability with that all-encompassing love of trains. After a stint at the Rail Passengers Council – where he'll perhaps be best remembered for his witty and well-judged letters to complaining passengers – Robin was made assistant editor of Today's Railways UK in 2006. There he wrote numerous articles, including his popular "Just the Ticket" feature every month. His colleagues remember him bringing a new clarity of style and sense of professionalism to the magazine. It was outside his office in Sheffield that Robin was hit by a car and killed on June 24. He wouldn't necessarily have been there were it not for a typical run-in with his home computer that meant a deleted article had to be retyped at work.
Robin, who leaves his mother Barbara, was the most kindly and warm-hearted man, inexhaustibly energetic and with a wonderful sense of humour. It was not surprising he was such an aficionado of the 18th century. He embodied all that was best of that age. Robin always said there's a Handel quotation for every occasion. I wish I had his deep knowledge and love of the great man's work to be able to pick one so perfectly as he did on many an occasion. Perhaps the best is the one that sticks in my mind when I think of my dear friend: "Nations, who in future story, Would recorded be with glory, Let them through the world proclaim: 'Friendship is the road to fame'."
Ben Moore, a former pupil of Bradford Grammar School where Dr Robin Sisson taught.