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.