John Izod believes in divine intervention which is possibly not a phrase you might instantly associate with him. It may well be Divine Intervention that has taken his life in many colourful directions or perhaps it is his easy going manner and openness to grasp opportunities that crop up along the way.
Some will think of John as the man sitting on the bench outside Grammar School Records where he now works as the “Saturday man”, playing his way through the jazz collection. “I can’t think of a better job. I fell into it and stayed nine years and I’m owed such a lot of holiday but to my mind being there is a holiday”. He is well known too for his witty cartoons depicting life in Rye, arriving on a boat as Father Christmas, the force behind the Rye Bonfire Society, a Rye Town Councillor (second time round), a Rye rugby club champion, and of course a regular in the local ale houses.
John arrived for the interview after listening to the Rye Singers singing “The Messiah”. He has always been interested in music and is a keen singer . “My music teacher at Dulwich College was very enthusiastic and encouraged me to join the choir but as it was the toadies who joined, I went without!” At school he won prizes in art, became a prefect and was in the first 15 rugby team. On leaving Dulwich, he did National Service.
“When signing up and having medical checks at East Croydon Station with my half a pint of urine, I saw posters offering 48 shillings rather than 24 shillings if I got an army commission, so I became a cadet and was promoted to an army officer. They later show you the small print of the page you signed in Croydon that says in the unlikely event of your becoming an officer, your three years starts then”.
He spent time in the artillery on the northern plains of Germany: “the winters were ghastly and morale was low”. They were stationed with the British Army on the Rhine, who were not popular. That was followed by seven weeks on a troop ship from Southampton to Hong Kong: “Shangri-La”.
The question eventually came from his father: “what are you going to do with your life?” He decided to go to Canada with a mate from the street and they headed to Toronto. “When you arrive in Canada as an Anglo Saxon with rucksack and axe you usually sell real estate and make a fortune and then have a town named after you”. John’s life took him in another direction. The British Lions rugby team had jumped boat from New Zealand having been thrashed in the Pacific and it was a miserable time. “It was decided to have a big party and singing broke out. I found myself on a table singing risqué versions of athletic songs. The General Manager of Rowntrees in Ontario, who managed the Ontario Rugby Union, asked, “who is that man? I want him on my team” and so I became a production assistant at Rowntrees”. Divine intervention number one.
John stayed in Canada for ten years, working and playing rugby. His rugby trips involved travelling down through the States of Michigan, Baltimore, New York. “It was marvellous – the skilful weedy drinker types from Canada could beat the Yale yankees by their knowledge of the game”. On his trip to New York he found a “lively lovely girl behind a bar” and married her three months later. They went back to Canada and had a son, Max, now a graphic designer with a five year old daughter. In Canada he had a brief spell as a film star when he responded to a request for paunchy, balding 50 year olds and successfully gained a role and a trip to Jamaica to film “Misfortunes” about a group of people marooned on an island. The film was later withdrawn on the basis that it was too similar to “Castaway” starring Tom Hanks although John has a copy for interested groupies.
In the 70s, John’s family came back to the UK and rented a house in Malvern, John getting a job as a window cleaner pro tem.
Divine intervention number two: John had been involved with journalism and advertising and went for an interview with a “laid back Etonian” – an Australian – in a London PR company. “He was rather like Mussolini with a large podium and desk, and he put me on a pouffe in the corner. I had to say, I’m sorry but I feel uncomfortable and I want to sit in front of you. That gesture got me the job and we ended up living in a flat in Mayfair”. Eventually the marriage broke up and John went back to Canada where he married wife number two, a marriage that lasted five years. In 1994, he left Canada after 26 years and went to stay temporarily with a friend in Iden, and divine intervention number three, turned into an eight year stay.
And now firmly rooted in Rye, John took on many roles. For seven years he was Chairman of the Bonfire Society, wading through health and safety regulations, signage and burning boats. He is on the Chernobyl committee that organises funding for children affected by the nuclear disaster. He has visited Belarus and the charity sends money to two nurses who help mothers and children with physical problems. He is on the Town Council, Vice President of Rye Rugby Club and on top of all that is busy designing Christmas cards for local businesses as well as taking a swipe at local bureaucracy through his cartoons.
John sums up his feelings for Rye as follows: “it is one of the most agreeable climates in the civilised world. People are fleeing political turmoil, snow and floods in the North and every time you look at the map you see us situated in this little bit of Sussex poking out as if untouched by any of it”.
I’m sure there were many more stories left to tell but I was running out of note paper and John had to head for a pint and music with friends at the Ypres.
The Mayor and town
councillors pull Father Christmas over Rye’s rooftops
Recent photos by Dee Alsey and Clive Sawyer, Cartoon by John Izod