It has not been a great year for my old alma mater, Cardiff University’s School of Journalism.
A couple of months ago my old tutor on the broadcast journalism postgraduate, Bob Atkins, died. Bob was a larger-than-life character who, along with Colin Larcombe, knocked hundreds of would-be journalists into shape and influenced probably hundreds more. He was one of the main reasons I am where I am today, and convinced me to stick with the course when I was questioning my own abilities.
Blunt, honest and thoroughly entertaining, Bob wasn’t afraid to tell you your work was rubbish (I have one of my old scripts somewhere with Bob’s writing saying: “This is crap” on it), but was also a fantastically kind and generous person who enjoyed his job, and passed that enthusiasm down to his students. I think its fair to say Bob WAS the broadcast journalism postgrad.
He also knew how to get the best out of people. Running up to one production day, our group was in a bit of a crisis trying to put together our first live, 2 hour breakfast show. Bob, being Bob, saw the chaos and boomed across the room: “Right, I’m cancelling the breakfast show. We’ll do an afternoon broadcast instead.” Two hours later, we were fine tuning our packages and early the next morning a somewhat shambolic, but entertaining, show was broadcast to the Bute Building.
I didn’t blog about Bob’s death at the time as I really didn’t feel like I could add anything to what others were saying, and was still in some sort of shock as I’d only completed the course 12 months ago.
Now, in the space of less than 3 months another old lecturer, this time on the undergraduate course, passes away suddenly.
I didn’t know James Thomas as well as Bob Atkins, as I only took one of his modules, but his death feels even more shocking. Bob’s health wasn’t brilliant. James, on the other hand, barely felt to me like he’d started.
As with Bob, James was one of those lecturers who could inspire and entertain, and make what you learnt stick with you. You never wanted to skip his classes because they were so engaging.
I wouldn’t really call James larger than life. Indeed, I don’t think his first lecture made much of an impression on me. But soon his lectures became the highlight of the week, and his enthusiasm for his subject, dry wit, and a genuine desire to help each and every student that knocked on his door meant he was one person who, no matter what the subject, you’d turn up because it was, well, James Thomas.
Two lecturers. Two very different styles. Two people who’ve left an impression on thousands of graduates around the UK and beyond, and two people who’ve cruelly been denied the chance to leave an impression on thousands more.
RIP James. RIP Bob. JOMEC wouldn’t have been the same without one of you. Without both, the department has lost two outstanding members of staff, and two outstanding human beings.