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Tributes to a true gentleman

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24 MAR

Tributes to a true gentleman

By timesecholife on in All News, Leek news

Tributes have been paid to a true gentleman of the Moorlands. Gerald Mee, who many will remember from his filming of so many community events over the decades, has sadly died at the age of 96.

Tributes have been paid to a true gentleman of the Moorlands.

Gerald Mee, who many will remember from his filming of so many community events over the decades, has sadly died at the age of 96.

Gerald, who lived in Leek, passed away last Wednesday (March 16) at Macclesfield Hospital.

During his interesting lifetime, Gerald was a pharmacist by trade and also a very keen photographer and film maker. He made hundreds of films documenting a variety of events both locally and abroad.

During the first years of the Second World War, Gerald served first as a messenger in the ARP and later worked in the ARP control room in the bowels of Leek’s Town Hall. In 1943, he joined the Royal Observer Corps and served at the Observer Post ‘Nan 3’ in Rushton Spencer. He later joined the Royal Air Force serving in many places including overseas.

During his life, Gerald has been involved with many local organisations namely: Leek Amateur Dramatic Society, Leek Scouts Gang Show, Leek Arts Club, Historical Society and Civic Society, North Staffordshire Optical Association, North Staffordshire Pharmaceutical Society (former president), Staffordshire Moorlands Talking Newspaper for the Blind (editor and chairman), Stoke Film Theatre (Chairman of the Governors), Stoke-on-Trent & Newcastle’s Scout Show (Screamline) and Stretch Ancestral Research Society (former Chairman).

Neighbours and close friends of Gerald’s, Christine and Bill Birch, have known Gerald for more then 40 years.

Christine said: “Gerald was a gentleman and a scholar.

He came round to ours for Christmas meals and, of late, I had been taking him meals round on a Sunday.

Gerald was well learned and he liked playing Trivial Pursuit.”

Christine added that Gerald had been very supportive of their family, in particular when her husband Bill had not been too well.

She said: “Gerald was always interested in what our family was up to and he was very supportive of our whole family when Bill was poorly.

Gerald was always a great supporter of the town of Leek, as well as our residents group Action West End.

He told us once that his greatest regret was not having ever stood for council.”

Christine added: “It is very sad that Gerald has passed away. We are going to miss him very much.”

Gerald was a member of the St Edward’s Church congregation in Leek. A spokesman for the church said the day Gerald passed away: “We were sorry to hear the sad news today of the passing of another longstanding member of our congregation, Gerald Mee.

A very lovely and kind, gentle man who through his photographic and filming skills brought great pleasure and interest to the lives of many people.”

Meanwhile, Leek Town councillor Matt Swindlehurst told the Leek & Moorlands Echo: “I met Gerald for the first time just before lockdown.

I was finishing off producing a DVD of archive movie film shot in the late 50’s and early 60’s by Endon Farmer, Alan Williamson.

Gerald welcomed me into his lovely home and gave me lots of useful advice.

Alan and I were booked to show the film at Gerald’s cinema club, but then Covid arrived.

A true gentleman.”

At the time of print, no date had yet been set for Gerald’s Funeral. For enquiries, contact David H Smith Funeral Directors in Leek on 01538 399661.

In January, in our sister publication of the Leek Life Magazine, we published Gerald’s life story as told to us by Gerald himself. In Gerald’s honour, and for all to be able to read his amazing journey through his nine decades, here it is in its entirety:

I have visualised a number of goals during my lifetime in both work and recreation. Although having an interest in Leek’s industry and my own (Hammersley) family connections in dyeing and going so far as to register at Leeds University for a degree course in Colour Chemistry & Dyeing, I decided to change to Pharmacy.

On leaving school, with a Higher School Certificate in 1942 at the age of 16, I began my pre-university training with John Martin, a Leek pharmacist. He was a friend of the family who had given me much help in my schoolboy hobby of photography.

My ‘apprenticeship’ with John Martin lasted for the prescribed time of three years, or 2,000 hours (whichever was the shorter). During this time, I began to take photography more seriously and had tuition from this real ‘master of the art,’ in both still and movie camerawork and processing. John Martin was already a very well-known figure in the photographic world, nationally and internationally and had been awarded associateships in both the Royal Photographic Society and the British Institute of Photography. It was while I was working with John that I acquired my basic knowledge of cinematography.

John was one of the founder members of the Stoke-on-Trent Amateur Cine Society and the driving force behind the society’s pre-war major international achievements. In 1923 he bought one of the first Baby Pathe 9.5mm cine cameras. In 1925 my father bought this from John. I still possess it.

During the first years of the war I served first as a messenger in the ARP and later worked in the ARP control room in the bowels of Leek’s Town Hall. In 1943 I joined the Royal Observer Corps and served at the Observer Post ‘Nan 3’ in Rushton Spencer. I owned my first car.

Whilst with the John Martin organisation, I also developed an interest in Ophthalmic Optics and decided to study for a qualification in this field. I started a correspondence course, run by Mr. C. A. Scurr of New Barnet, over a two-year period. This required weekly study papers and practical courses at the North Staffs Technical College (later the Polytechnic and then becoming Staffordshire University) plus a two eek pre-examination practical tuition period in New Barnet.

I successfully sat the first part of the examination at the London Refraction Hospital in 1944. By this time my pharmacy pre-training was coming to an end and I had to make a choice as to which university I wanted to attend.

I considered Manchester, Nottingham and Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh but finally decided on the College of the Pharmaceutical Society at London University. It was the society’s secretary and registrar, the late Sir Hugh Linstead, who advised me on my choice, after a lecture visit to Stoke.

Optics had to be put back for a while as the pharmacy course was a very full-time occupation. This was just at the end of WW2 and things in London were not too easy. However, I did manage to achieve one more of my ambitions – my first journey abroad.

A friend who shared my ‘digs’ at 40, Queensborough Terrace, Bayswater, asked me to join him on an 18-day holiday in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland. This was the first of my overseas holidays, holidays which have since taken me to over 30 different countries – more of this later.

I qualified as a pharmaceutical chemist (PhC) in 1947 and was preparing to enter for my Optical final examination when my National Service ‘call-up’ papers arrived on the doormat.

After several appeals, which took several weeks to process, I was finally turned down but not until December. By that time, I had taken the exam and passed. I was now a Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers (FSMC). This Fellowship of an ancient London Guild resulted in me being granted the Freedom of the City of London at an interesting ceremony at the Guildhall.

I joined the Royal Air Force in January 1948. After my initial training in Bridgnorth I was posted overseas with the rank of Sergeant. Now I was to see more of the world.

I spent nine months in Egypt’s canal zone at the headquarters of the Middle East Air Force in Abu Sueir then a further seven months at a medical stores’ depot at Luqa airport, Malta. During these two periods I was able to travel extensively. I visited almost all the stations in the Suez Canal zone and was in contact with the stations we supplied in Iraq, Greece, Cyprus and Malta with its subsidiary airports in Libya, Tripoli (Castel Benito), Bengazi (Benina) and Tobruk (El Adam). This was really the start of my great interest in foreign travel.

The first 18 years of my father’s life were spent in Zimbabwe in Africa or Southern Rhodesia as it was then. I grew up hearing stories and anecdotes of those early pioneering days, told to me by my paternal grandmother. What adventures they had and what hardships they endured during the years of the Boer War.

My mind was full of African stories and it was my ambition to explore that wonderful continent more extensively. That dream was fulfilled. I have always imagined that a little bit of Africa had somehow got into my blood. In 1959 I was able to spend five weeks in Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda. Much later in 1992 I had an invitation to visit my family’s old hometown of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. I was to see many of the sights that had been embedded in my memory since boyhood.

Another ambition in foreign travel was to circumnavigate the globe. This I achieved in 1994. I travelled west from Heathrow to the USA. Then via Hawaii and the Pacific Island of Guam to Yokohama, Japan where I stayed with my godson for the second time. It was while there that I had the opportunity to visit Hiroshima and to video material for my documentary on the war in the Pacific – Alpha and Omega. I journeyed on to Hong Kong and eventually back to England arriving from the east at Gatwick.

John Cartwright and I had founded Leek Amateur Cine Society after becoming involved with presenting film shows while we were at Leek High School. We met regularly and in the early years of WW2 we organised three public film shows in aid of current charities.

The first was in aid of Leek’s Spitfire Fund. The town was to raise money to buy an aircraft as part of its war effort. This came to fruition in the purchase of a Spitfire names The Spirit of Leek. Our show raised the sum of £14 from the sale of tickets priced at 4d, 6d and 9d. The second show was for the British Red Cross Society and the third in aid of Mrs Churchill’s Aid to Russia Fund.

In 1946 Stoke-on-Trent Amateur Cine Society was revived after the war years. In 1950, on my return from national service, I was invited to join by John Martin. John Cunningham and I joined in the same month and this was the start of our lasting friendship.

I have served on the committee almost since I joined and, since the death of Stuart Day in 1973, I have had the honour to hold the office of President. The Institute of Amateur Photographers (IAC) had also started up again after its wartime stand-down and I joined in 1954.

On being discharged from HM services I took up pharmaceutical locum work for a while and was then invited to join the firm of Duncan Ross to open a new pharmacy in Normacot. I stayed for seven years before going ‘up the road’ to Meir where I remained as a director of the now Limited Company until I retired in 1986.

In 1948 the National Health Service came into being and pharmacy was a real full-time occupation. I had intended combining optics with pharmacy but it soon became obvious that this was no longer a possibility (there were previously many ‘chemist opticians’) so I never have practiced ophthalmic optics. This was ironic. The main reason for joining Duncan Ross was because a colleague, Fred Clarke, was practising optics in rooms above the pharmacy and I thought I would be able to achieve some practical experience with him.

In the film world I grew up with three big ambitions. I wanted to achieve an award in the IAC’ international competition. This I did in 1957 with my Tale of a Golden Isle, winning the ACW silver plaque in the travel class.

The IAC’s most prestigious prize is the Daily Mail Challenge Trophy. This I won with Laurie and Stuart Day in 1958 with Passport to Paradise. My third aim was to win an Oscar in Movie Maker’s ‘Ten Best’ International Competition. In 1980 the film Mau’ing the Saggar, which I filmed and directed for Stoke ACS and in 1982 my film Daylight on Dal, both won ‘Ten Best’ awards.

As a member of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) I wanted to emulate, in a small way, my friend and mentor John Martin and in 1984 I was elected an Associate for my 16mm film work.

I was elected to the IAC council in 1967 and became its technical officer and later was elected a Fellow. In 1982 I took over from Jack Jennings as Institute chairman for two years. When Leslie Froude retired as president he nominated me as his successor, on election, I held this prestigious post for seven years.

I had always been interested in the International Union of Amateur Cinematography (UNICA). I had researched our UK connections with the organisation and the unfortunate withdrawal in the 1950s. Whilst attending a Scandinavian Film Festival in 1985 I was invited to travel to Almelo, Netherlands, for the 1986 UNICA Congress with the aim of discussing the feasibility of the UK re-joining. The terms seemed acceptable for the IAC to represent the UK and I was delighted when council decided to apply for the reinstatement of the UK membership. This resulted in the renewal of the membership in 1987.

Since then, a party of IAC members has attended regularly and the UK film programme has been awarded many bronze, silver and gold medals. I was honoured by being presented with a UNICA gold medal for my services.

Since 1995 I have been compiling an annual video ‘Newsreel’ of events in the North Staffordshire area. This is forming a useful collection of archive material recoding today’s happenings for tomorrow’s history. I was honoured in 1997 with a Stoke-on-Trent Arts award ‘In recognition of the outstanding contribution to the cultural life of Stoke-on-Trent.’ The certificate and exquisite glass sculpture are treasured possessions. The final honour in 2008 was the award of an MBE for film services in the area.

In 1992 I was proposed and accepted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and have enjoyed the events which I have been able to attend. In 2004, the 250th anniversary of the RSA, I was pleased to take some guests to attend a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty the Queen is Patron and Prince Philip President of the RSA. It was a most enjoyable occasion.

During my life I have been involved in many local organisations namely: Leek Amateur Dramatic Society, Leek Scouts Gang Show, Leek Arts Club, Historical Society and Civic Society, North Staffordshire Optical Association, North Staffordshire Pharmaceutical Society (former President), Staffordshire Moorlands Talking Newspaper for the Blind (current Editor and former Chairman), Stoke Film Theatre (Chairman of the Governors), Stoke-on-Trent & Newcastle’s Scout Show (Screamline) and Stretch Ancestral Research Society (former Chairman).

So, what is left to aim for? I still enjoy travelling. I would like to go to South America – so much to see there. Now that I work exclusively in video, with non-linear editing on computer, I would like to execute just one more ‘masterpiece’ but maybe that is wishful thinking.

Gerald Mee, January 2022

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