Rachael Claridge and Thomas Webster

Martin at Oxford University Press Click the flowers to navigate the site


I first met Martin at OUP about twenty years ago, when we both worked in the OUP Music Department. I think it was inevitable that Martin ended up at OUP – with his love of language and words (English and many others). Many conversations ensued in the office and in the pub regarding the use of words, grammar, and punctuation. Most of the details are lost in the mists of time – there were so many – but fortunately they continued via e-mail and ’phone after he left OUP.

Even more fortunately, I am terrible at deleting e-mails, so I leafed through a few (if you can leaf through e-mails? I would like to have asked Martin what he would think about that – I’m sure he would have an opinion) and thought I would share a few examples which also go some way towards reminding us of Martin’s unique, and often surreal, sense of humour. Plus, in any case, I thought preferable to use Martin’s wording in preference to my own as much as possible.

Some years ago at OUP we had a “Worlds Classics rebrand” (another one…). The marketing blurb described the new covers as “fresh and clean”, and Martin’s response to this was:

“I look forward to seeing the new 'fresh and clean' covers, although I quite like the present ones (which must presumably now be perceived as 'stale and dirty' by comparison)”.

We discussed the difference, once, between ‘speciality’ and ‘specialty’, of which Martin had the following to say:

“I don't like 'specialty' but I believe it has a different meaning – it's what a medical person specialises in professionally. So my arthritis consultant's 'specialty' is Rheumatology, whereas for all I know her 'speciality' may just possibly be juggling live ferrets at parties while dancing the rumba. So long as she doesn't confuse the two, I don't mind!”

Martin also sent me the following headline from the BBC news website:

'Woman repels bear using courgette'

He added: “PS: What exactly was the bear using the courgette for? And why did it find the woman repellent? I think we should be told.”

There was some time a few years ago when we were corresponding on a matter of French pronunciation, and Martin’s reference books were in storage, which was a great source of frustration to him. He complained:

“…all my reference books are packed up in boxes at the moment, awaiting the Grand Shift-Around of rooms here, so I can't look anything up except on-line. I'm amazed by how much I miss 'proper' dictionaries and other such stuff. Must be an OUP thing, I guess, even after all these years...”

I mentioned that we first met when we were in the Music Department, and we followed each other around various departments within OUP, coincidentally. All the time that Martin was at OUP, though, Fairford life loomed large and we heard about it often. There was one occasion when some of my Music Department colleagues were at the British Music Fair in London and Martin turned up late. Now whenever Martin turned up late, one always knew that the reason for this would not be straightforward, and on this particular occasion it was because Gummo had fallen out of the upstairs window (but was completely unscathed, I believe).

I think we all know that Martin was a fantastic musician, but he was also incredibly modest and it was only some time after I met him that I began to realise the extent of his musicianship. His interests were very wide-ranging, and the application of his musical knowledge and skills even more wide-ranging still, and certainly not confined to the day job in the OUP Music Department and participating in the OUP Guitar Group. After Martin left OUP, we corresponded often about music and he liked to keep me informed of what he was doing musically at home and round and about in Fairford (usually with hilarious consequences), so although I have never been to Fairford, I feel like I have been here before; but whether the situations Martin found himself in are typical of family and musical life in Fairford, I wouldn’t like to say. Here are just a couple of examples:

“You would have been amused by my morning's work today as an unpaid Teaching Assistant in the music department at school with a bunch of fifteen-year-olds. Started off helping a nice lad writing a twelve-tone serialist piece (a genre about which I know nothing at all), then helped another boy transposing unplayable guitar tablature on the computer on Sibelius 3 (a program about which I know nothing at all) and then got roped in as an impromptu rehearsal pianist for songs from Oliver! (which luckily I knew from memory from doing it at Cambridge thirty-plus years ago so the kids didn't spot that I was doing the whole thing by ear on a wing and a prayer (to mix my metaphors) and they obligingly turned the pages for me even though I wasn't reading a single note from the score). I think I got away with it all!”

Last one – a nice vignette of Fairford life with a reference to an OUP composer at the end whose works Martin would have been actively selling whilst at OUP (with apologies in advance to the current members of the OUP Music Department who are present today):

“Just back from singing for a wedding where the best man was bizarrely (but delightfully) the bridegroom's nine-year-old grandson, who is a guitar pupil of mine. And we had a dog in the choir, and two girls in karate outfits along with the rest of us in our solemn red robes. It all makes sense really out here in the sticks. I defected from tenor (which I detest singing) back to my native bass, and at the end one of the tenors said 'firing-squad for you, Martin' to which one of the basses said 'Oh, we could think of something much worse than that – just play Rutter to him endlessly'. Wonderful!”

I should say at this point that although I knew Martin through OUP initially, he was so much more than an ‘ex-work-colleague’, but I’m not going to attempt to describe Martin’s qualities myself. Instead, I’m going to read out a letter from Thomas Webster, who also worked with Martin at OUP. The letter speaks for itself.

Dear Nicky,

Since I heard the very, very, sad news about Martin, I’ve been thinking a lot about him and particularly why he was such an unusual and engaging person to be around.

It’s almost exactly thirty-one years to the day since I first met Martin at OUP when we were both very new to the world of publishing.

From the off it seemed to me that Martin had bagged one of the most enviable jobs in the publishing world – being paid to travel around the Mediterranean, practice his languages, soak up the atmosphere, and sample, at OUP’s expense, the wonderful food and wine.

How could this be fair, I and the rest of his colleagues asked ourselves? Why couldn’t we spend our time in such a way? Well, Martin was always very kind, and generous to a fault, but even he wasn’t prepared to offer up this idyllic start to his publishing career to any of his colleagues.

But as I got to know Martin over the next couple of years I began to realise that here was someone very different from your average corporate citizen. He may have worked hard; he enjoyed the odd jousting match with colleagues; he even took a certain amount of pride in working for an illustrious institution. But at heart here was someone whose raison d’être was not about scaling corporate ladders.

Clearly Martin had managed to discover what was really important to him at a much earlier stage in his life than many of us do. He’d already resolved in his early twenties things that, sadly, some of us are still struggling to resolve all these years later.

So he talked to me, over too many pints of beer, through endless darts matches, and games of pool that he always won, much more about the things that really mattered to him than about work (although he certainly wasn’t averse to some quite salty gossip!).

And it quickly emerged that you, Nicky, were the rock around which Martin’s life was built, and my goodness, did he sometimes need that rock!

For Martin always struck me as an extraordinary combination of a highly intelligent man, right up there with the best and quickest of brains, and an innocent abroad, perhaps not possessing quite all the necessary guile and cunning to navigate life’s perils unscathed on his own.

Family, friends, music, and an endless curiosity about the world, were so clearly the real touchstones of Martin’s life. His work, although enjoyable much of the time, was the backdrop to his life in Gloucestershire, which he rightly felt was more real and worthwhile than much of the corporate life we both experienced.

So as I got to know Martin I quickly realised he was super bright, quicker off the mark than anyone I’ve ever known. So quick in fact that he often finished my sentences for me, because he’d got there quicker than I had! Sometimes, I have to admit, this did grate a little, but Martin was easily forgiven because I knew there wasn’t an ounce of malice in his character, and that it was done more to tease than to show his own sharpness of mind.

But he did sometimes drive us all up the wall, and I’m sure he must have driven you to distraction occasionally too. He could be amazingly stubborn if he didn’t agree with someone. And there was a wholly admirable if rather alarming tendency to take the most idealistic approach to issues in corporate life that sometimes brought him up very sharply against the establishment.

So, in the same way that he never seemed to lose sight of the importance of the people who mattered to him, he never lost sight of his values either, even when most of the rest of us would have conveniently left them in the desk drawer to make corporate life easier.

The young Cambridge graduate I met in 1980 was full of curiosity about life and its possibilities. He was charming, sometimes a little rash, often hopelessly naïve, but always very generous in spirit and brimming with enthusiasm. I always thought of him as a sort of Candide with a guitar slung over his shoulder, ready to have fun and discover the world.


Martin Clare Music Fund

Rachael works at OUP, where Thomas was a former colleague

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