Last week I received the heartbreaking news that my friend and occasional collaborator Rex Walford was involved in a boat accident and is now missing, presumed dead.
Rex’s career was exceptionally varied and impressive and in retirement he showed no sign of slowing down, sitting on a huge number of committees and organising no end of courses, charity events and theatrical extravaganzas; he had enough letters after his name to write a small play (not that he ever used them). Yet I don’t think it is for this that he will be remembered so much as for the incredible generosity that radiated from everything he did. You don’t have to look very far on the internet to see quite how many people’s lives he has left an indelible mark on.
I met Rex and his wife Wendy when I became choir director at St Mark’s, Newnham, and was immediately caught up in their plans for theatrical projects (he had recently directed a hugely successful production of Dorothy Sayers’ The Man Born to be King at the church). You might think that as a young man embarking on a career in the arts I might not have been terribly interested in getting into the world of ‘am dram’, but aside from the sheer enthusiasm that made Rex’s proposals impossible not to get excited about, it was always a privilege to work for him because there was nothing ‘am’ about his ‘dram’ – everything Rex did was absolutely first rate. He didn’t get me to hang around chilly church buildings dressed in a skimpy centurion costume because it was going to advance my career: it was because he had discovered an interesting and little-known text (Spark in Judea) and knew what to do with it to make it a unique experience for both actors and audiences.
I also had the pleasure of taking on the music for a production of Richard Taylor’s Whistle Down the Wind which he directed, a hugely ambitious project which not many directors could pull of successfully. Needless to say, Rex did. Moreover, it was an absolute ball working with him, even though there were times when he could be an absolute pain for a musical director because he was never prepared to leave anything alone if he thought there was a better way of doing it. I remember in one rehearsal watching in almost apoplectic astonishment as he started leading the group of children I was desperately trying to keep in time off on a journey through the audience with apparently no consideration for the conductor’s sight lines. ‘You have to try these things to see if they work,’ he later explained; it worked and the journey stayed in the show.
He showed equal enthusiasm for what other people were doing and I always valued the input and time he gave so much of my own work. In recent years it has been a joy to see Rex and Wendy’s faces in Bedford school concerts when I’ve had music performed. Rex was always happy to offer advice about casting and locations for radio and film projects, even if it involved finding a group of prim ladies to ogle a naked gardener, and was equally happy to get involved himself (see the above still from Hide and Seek) so in a lateral sense it was him that gave us the name for our company (making a film? Talk to Rex).
The saddest thing about seeing his life cut short so suddenly is that he seemed to have enough energy in him to last another 70 years; I’ve no doubt that he was planning ambitious projects to the last and the world is a poorer place without them, but not just because he would have realised them brilliantly: it was through his work and his art that Rex demonstrated the love and commitment that was central to his whole philosophy – faith in action in the very best sense – and that is why his legacy will continue to touch people for many years to come. He will be missed, but he leaves behind him a huge number of things which those who knew him have cause to remain thankful for.