John Fortune and the WEA

There have been many well-deserved tributes to John Fortune, the esteemed satirist, who died yesterday. You can hear a podcast of his 2004 interview on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs here.


This broadcast led to a memorable event for the WEA in the following year, as the Guardian’s FE Diary reported:

Fortunate coincidence

When John Fortune, a recent Desert Island Discs castaway, revealed that had he not got a better offer from Peter Cook, he would have ended up a tutor with the Workers’ Educational Association, Tim Arnold, an official with the WEA, grabbed his cue and contacted him. Fortune readily agreed to give a satire masterclass with WEA students during adult learners’ week. His subject at the event, on May 25 in London, will be the government’s approach to funding FE provision.

With touching good humour, John accepted a standard WEA tutor’s contract to teach the session to a packed ‘class’ of eager students at the Abbey Community Centre in Westminster, London, on a warm May evening in 2005. He organised group work and encouraged people to use their knowledge, experience and imagination to develop barbed and witty commentaries on adult education policy and funding before acting as an inspired Master of Ceremonies for a collective and very funny cabaret-style performance.

He was generous with his time and talent on that occasion and in showing his continued respect and affection for the WEA – feelings that were returned in great measure. In an era where celebrities are too often seen as shallow and self-obsessed, it was reassuring to see someone in the public eye behaving with integrity and humility as well as great intellect and talent.

He will be missed.

About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn:

2 Responses to John Fortune and the WEA

  1. gogwit says:

    Reblogged this on Gogwit's Blog and commented:
    What an excellent story and a tribute to the man.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Ann – a fitting tribute for a great man who practiced the key tenets of social purpose education: think critically and question the powerful. I was very sad to hear of his death. The ALW event we did is still one of my career highlights all these years later. I desperately wanted him to be part of Eastern’s Centenary celebrations or WEA Conference, being as he was a Cambridge man, but sadly he was already too unwell.

    There are some photos of the event here: (including one of you, Ann!)

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