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Remembering Philip Prowse

Alan Maley reflects on the life of Philip Prowse.

Philip, who died recently, will be remembered by all who knew him as someone who made many valuable contributions to ELT.

As Director of the Bell College in Saffron Walden in the 1970’s and 80’s, he ran a highly complex institution with a relaxed, yet watchful – and, above all, caring – way. He was deeply committed to less privileged regions of the world; in particular to Africa.

Following his departure from Saffron Walden, he worked on the Education Writers’ Group of the Society of Authors. He was tireless in his defence of authors’ rights, and in promoting their publishing careers.

He was a passionate advocate of the key role of extensive reading, and became the series editor of the highly innovative Cambridge English Readers. These titles aimed to provide learners with engaging stories, written in authentic English, without the constraints of word and structure lists. He constantly encouraged contributors to write simply and accessibly from an intuitive understanding of learner levels.

Unsurprisingly, given his commitment to extensive reading, he was also one of the key founder members of the Extensive Reading Foundation, helping to establish frameworks for the organisation in its earliest stages. He was closely involved with the establishment of the language Learner Literature Awards.

As Reviews Editor of the ELT Journal, he took a proactive role in the books to review, ensuring that less well-known titles and authors were given an airing. As such, he was highly influential on thinking in our field.

Concurrently, he began a long and productive writing partnership with Judy Garton-Sprenger, publishing a string of highly successful coursebooks.

In his ‘retirement’, he had begun to establish a reputation as the author of a series of spy-novels. Three titles were published: Hellyer’s Trip, Hellyer’s Coup, and the recently published Hellyer’s Line – all rompingly good reads! Philip prided himself on the authenticity of his overseas settings, based on his earlier postings with the British Council in places like Egypt and Greece. These novels are all fast-paced, racy, action-packed narratives, with intriguing plot-lines that keep the reader guessing. I am sad to be deprived of his next book in the series.

Philip made a great contribution to our profession. But he was also a man with a great sense of humour, a zest for life, a highly developed sense of social responsibility, and a generous capacity for friendship. I shall miss him greatly, and I am not alone.

Images courtesy of Steve Johnson and Philip Prowse
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