It is with much sadness that I have to announce the death of Chas Wethered, BSoA 1959 – 1962. Chas died on 24 January 2011 in Somerset after a long illness. His funeral was held at St John’s Church in Axbridge, Somerset on Friday 11 February.
Chas Wethered 1939 – 2011
It is not easy to summon up some ones’s personality in just a few words, or indeed attach a label that describes them to the ‘T’, as over the years that we have known a person, we take their traits, actions and beliefs for granted. However, with Chas neither of these challenges were difficult, as he was on the surface what he was in himself. There was no facade or pretence about him. He was bold and proud of his characteristics, and he flaunted them with honesty. So what were they?
Throughout the fifty years that I had known Chas, from when I first met him at the Beckenham School of Art to the last time I saw him just a few months before he died, he remained ‘the perpetual art student,’ with all the positive attributes that this implies. How did this come about?
Chas was brought up in the austere years of post WWII with its food rationing, dull grey clothes, frequent power cuts and inhibitions of public behaviour. When the first signs of recovery emerged in the mid 1950s, and with it an amazing new phenomenon called pop culture, Chas, as we all did, embraced it with open arms. What did that include?
Grafted onto the British pop culture was the hippy movement that had been imported from California. It seriously challenged our ways including dress code, speech mannerisms, attitudes, values and coiffeur. Clothes became colourful, jeans became de rigour, poetry became popular and above all, a brand of music that acted as our anthem resounded everywhere. All of this was of course a reaction to the previous years. Most significantly, at the epicentre of this new era was the art school where revolt became a style.
Chas was talented enough to enrol at art school where challenging traditions, and seeking new modes of expression was the norm. Most importantly, it was a place where the likes of he and I found our niche. I cannot imagine what would have happened to Chas had he not discovered the art school. The point I am making is that while most of us graduated into the real world, and through professional pressures adapted to its more conservative conventions, Chas did not, ‘he did his own thing’. He remained, much to the pleasure of all those who knew him an ‘art student’, and was so for the rest of his life.
This is to say that he continued to be creative on his own terms, for while his day job was teaching, for which it goes without saying that he was very popular with his students being as he was considerably unlike other teachers in appearance and pedagogical method, he pursued to a professional standard, pottery, photography and painting. His clothes, his political opinions and his general distain for bureaucracy and pretension echoed those who had spent their formative years in the so called ‘Swinging Britain’.
His breadth of character often surprised people for he was also quite a high brow, being most familiar with all of the arts. He was highly read, and his general knowledge and memory were phenomenal. He would recite Dickens, the catch phrases of radio shows of the past, lines from the classic films and the beat poets of the 1960s. Little wonder that he could dash through the broadsheet’s crossword puzzles and shine at pub quizzes. He also had what seemed a bottomless well of jokes that would be drawn upon for every conceivable occasion we found ourselves in.
Chas loved jazz music and was not only an avid collector, but made a pilgrimage to New Orleans where this highly expressive music started. Not surprisingly, his funeral opened with a few bars of “Just a closer walk with thee,” played by an authentic New Orleans jazz band. It is a hymn played as a dirge and formal funeral rite. When the opening bars echoed around the chapel, all those who knew this mournful lament could not but smile, just as Chas would have wanted. True to tradition, the funeral ended with the same band playing “When the Saints go marching in”. Another hymn, but played up tempo so that the congregation would leave in high spirits. What with this, and a troop of Morris dancers forming a guard of honour as the cortege made its way to the cemetery and then performing a merry selection of quite cheeky ditties and dances, we all adjourned to Chas’s favourite watering hole. Chas would have loved it all.
Morris Dancers at Chas’s funeral.
It should also not be forgotten, as the minister rightly mentioned during the service, that Chas was a gentle man and a gentleman. This was much in evidence when you heard Chas speaking philosophically, click on linktext However, we should also not forget that both his sneezing and laughter were explosive and bellowing!
In the last few years of his life, Chas took to drawing very funny cartoons which were often used as his Christmas card to all of us.
Another mark of Chas’s personality was that he was game for anything, and on some occasions this led him into quite precarious situations. I recall when he came over to California, that he decided to have a go at body surfing. Now, it is essential to have a considerable knowledge of the behaviour of waves before you even venture into the sea, particularly if the waves are over four metres high, and on that day they were. What you do is to wait for the wave to heave upwards just before it breaks, and then as it does, hitch a ride as it unravels its way to the beach. You can be fifty metres out at sea and treading water before the right moment arrives. After watching the locals for a few minutes as they lunged forwards just as the waves tumbled over and carried them gracefully in a prone position on the surface to the water’s edge, Chas announced that he was ready for it. And boy, was he was ready for it!
What Chas had failed to notice was that the locals, who were all experts succeeded in catching every wave. Chas was unaware that if you missed the strategic timing, you would be at the mercy of one of nature’s mightiest forces. Chas did the right moves, but at the wrong moment. Watching him from the beach, I was quite anxious as he disappeared for quite a long time. Soon, to the amusement of the surfing crowd, who by now had gathered to watch this total novice, we saw Chas. He was silhouetted and spread eagled upside down in a wave as it rose to its crashing point. For the next few seconds we witnessed the occasional leg appear above the surface, then an arm followed by his head with mouth open squirting out sea water and then gasping to refill lungs that must have been near empty. Chas was then tumbled down and around again like a cloth in a washing machine. “At least he’s heading towards the shore,“ said one onlooker. Chas was beached unceremoniously up on the dry sand with his swimming shorts around his ankles. It was hilarious! I recall that he remained unusually quiet for the rest of the day.
On another occasion, we went camping high up in the Sequoia Forests. While walking along the top of a very steep cliff, Chas began to slip towards its edge. I had never seen anything like it before or since. Rather than falling down and rolling towards a mighty drop, Chas was sliding but in a standing position. The only thing I could think of was to yell, “sit down!”. I can still hear the thump of his rear end as it hit the rock accompanied by the clatter of cameras and other attachments that were fixed to his belt and slung around his shoulders. This action just stop him a few inches from the edge. Reaching down to help him back and with that great sense of humour he always had, he declared that hence forth, this part of the planet shall be called Chas Falls.
Thanks Chas for all the laughs, may you enjoy eternity in the great art school in the sky.
Chas Reading in a Caravan August 1975 by Alun Pearce-Roberts