A summary of the memoir

On June 5th, 2016, around 100 people met at Netley Marsh, the headquarters of Tools For Self Reliance, to celebrate Glyn’s life. Michael Jacobs, who hosted the two-hour gathering, introduced around 20 speakers and videos. Many of the speeches are reproduced on another page, here. Michael’s own talk was drawn-in large part-from Glyn’s own memoir. In effect it is a briefer summary of the entire thing. It is reproduced below, in memory of a lively, sunny and much enjoyed afternoon remembering Glyn.



5th June 2016

Tools for Self Reliance, Netley Marsh



Good afternoon and welcome to this celebration of Glyn Roberts’s life, spirit and values. It’s wonderful to see so many people here.

My name is Michael Jacobs, and I am honoured to have been asked by Glyn’s sons, Björn, Daniel and Adam, to help put this event together, along with Mary Tolfree and Sarah Ingleby here at TFSR.

I first encountered Glyn in 1977, when I was 16, and beginning to think about politics and development. I read his pamphlet Questioning Development, and it helped give me a framework of political thought and practice which I’ve carried with me throughout the rest of my life. I first met Glyn in 1981, when he came to collect the refurbished tools from a Tanzania solidarity workcamp I’d organised; he gave me my first job, here at Netley Marsh, in 1983, and we worked together almost every day for a year and a half; and we remained lifelong friends. Over the last week, in preparing for this event, I have had the privilege of reading Glyn’s memoir, which is now available online at the fabulous website which Adam has created – the address is on your programme. It’s been like spending time with Glyn again, and I thought it would be good to share some of this with you today.

Early life                                                                                                                

So, Glyn was born on 1st August 1937 in Jericho Hospital a few miles north of Manchester. His parents were Robert and Ruth Roberts. Robert Roberts – the family had a long history of difficulty coming up with names for their children – grew up in poverty in Salford, and later wrote two books about it, The Classic Slum, and A Ragged Schooling, which became standard works of reference in the field of social history. Ruth Dean (originally Dehner) was born in Sheffield, the daughter of second generation German immigrants. Her father was an internationalist and socialist, and when they moved to Salford became part of a community of, as Glyn puts it, “anti-militarists, vegetarians, socialists, choir members, ramblers and Esperantists”, and it was this which brought Bob and Ruth together.

Socialist Esperantist camp Bob and Ruth

Here they are at a socialist-esperantist camp some time in the 1930s – Bob on the far left, Ruth the woman in plaits.

Bob died in 1974. Ruth long outlived him, and many of us here will remember her. She was a woman for whom the word ‘indomitable’ was designed. She died in 2004. When I said to Adam that it was a shame she couldn’t come to today’s event, he said ‘I wouldn’t put it past her.’

But back to 1937. Glyn nearly died in his first week of life. He was vomiting and losing weight. The doctor said things would sort themselves out, but Ruth went straight to the main library in Manchester to look up baby illnesses. Back at the surgery, she insisted that he might have pyloric stenosis, which is fatal if left untreated. The doctor demurred yet again. At this, Glyn threw up all over him and was rushed to hospital, where he had a life-saving operation. Glyn described this as his first escape from death. He counted at least eight others over the years.

At this point Glyn still didn’t have a name: I told you about this family problem. A little later, on a train on their way to the North Manchester Esperanto Association, Bob noticed on a card the name of the station master at Whitefield. “It was Glyn Roberts,” Ruth later recalled, “So we picked ‘Glyn’ for that afternoon – just until we could agree on a regular name for you.”

They also tried to make Esperanto Glyn’s first language, but didn’t succeed, and by two he could only speak English.

At the age of three, Glyn, Bob and Ruth moved from Salford to escape the threat of German bombing, settling on a remote farm called Weet Ing in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire.

They had no electricity and the toilet was an outhouse 40 yards from the home.

Glyn was allowed to roam around the valley wherever he liked, so long as he was back in time for tea.  Early one morning, when he was about six years old, his parents came downstairs to find the front door open and a pencilled note on the kitchen table. It said: “I have gon to seek My fortune. GLYN”.  They were apparently not particularly worried, didn’t ring the police – they had no telephone – and that afternoon he was back, safe, sound and hungry. Sixty-six years later, when Ruth died, Daniel and Adam found in her purse a folded slip of paper:

i have gon to seek my fortune

At Weet Ing Glyn turned their old tin bath into his first boat, attaching a rudder and tiller to the stern, but to his deep regret there was no room for a mast or sail. That would come later.

Unfortunately we haven’t got a picture of Glyn in his tin bath, but we do have this one:

batting barefoot

In those days two cousins occasionally used to come to visit, Dorothy and Lorna. I am delighted to say, they are both here today, and Dorothy is going to say a few words.

  • Dorothy Cussens on memories of Glyn as a child

School days

At the age of six, Glyn started school in the village of Pecket Well, a long walk from his house through fields, bogs and woods, wearing wooden clogs with leather tops. But at seven his parents argued, and Glyn was taken by his mother, first to Surrey, and then the following year, in 1945, to Chiddingstone in Kent, where Glyn was sent to a progressive school, Long Dene. For the first few months, Glyn was not happy there, rejecting the various activities on offer. But then something happened. He wrote: “I had been invited to take part in a school production of the Mikado, but had refused, several times. One afternoon I sat in our tower and sulked while the others rehearsed in a room below. Strains of Sullivan’s music came floating up the stairs, and I felt miserable. Slowly, a quiet voice in my brain said, “You don’t have to say No to everything. If you wanted, you could go downstairs and ask to join in….”  Somehow, the strength welled up in me to do just that – and my life changed. My last 18 months at Long Dene were the happiest and the most formative of all my schooldays.”

At Long Dene Glyn’s school reports said that he was lively and original – enjoying – listen to this list –“music, story-writing, geography, carpentry and modelling in plasticine”, but they also said he was “undisciplined, and ambitious beyond his abilities”.

But then he was brought back by his parents to Yorkshire to do his eleven plus. He passed it and went to Hebden Bridge Grammar School, and then later to Calder High School, one of the first comprehensive schools to be opened in Yorkshire. There he learned to carve, he wrote his first poems, and he began to indulge his love of acting. One of his acting classmates was Pat Harwood: this is them together in the play Berkeley Square.

play with pat

Glyn and Pat – now Pat Williams – remained in touch with one another his whole life. Sadly she can’t be here today, but she sent some words about Glyn, which Erika Collins will read.

  • Pat Williams statement – read by Erika


 LSE and Sweden                                                                                                 

Glyn left school in 1956 and went to the London School of Economics to study geography and social anthropology. He particularly enjoyed the latter: by studying the anthropology of “less-advanced” societies, he said he began to see social institutions in Britain in a different light. While at the LSE he campaigned for the abolition of the death penalty, and protested against both the Suez invasion and the Soviet invasion of Hungary. But most of the time he appears to have been acting, becoming President of LSE Drama Society and taking a production of Twelfth Night on tour to Germany, Switzerland and Northern Italy:

sir toby maria and feste

Now we know where he got the idea for his beard. And for those of you thinking, maybe it was Glyn’s beard, I think we have documentary evidence that it wasn’t. Here’s Glyn in his skiffle group, the Poor Boys:

poor boys

During his final year at the LSE, in 1958-9, the BBC Home Service advertised for two young presenters for a new teenage programme, Younger Generation. 500 people applied; Glyn was selected, along with a girl called Judith Chalmers. The two of them had many adventures making the programmes, including going gliding, and meetings with John Betjeman, later Poet Laureate.

On graduating from the LSE Glyn flirted with the idea of a broadcasting career. But the BBC felt like a huge bureaucracy where you needed contacts and patronage to get ahead. It was not him. Still not sure what he should do with his life, he decided to apply for an overseas scholarship to do a Master’s course, and was accepted by the University of Stockholm, to conduct a survey on the Stockholm transport system.

A natural linguist like his father, Glyn picked up Swedish quickly. His first year in Sweden was marked by three noteworthy events: buying a sailing boat, Claire, on which he got lost in the Baltic Sea; being arrested by the Swedish police; and singing to the King and Queen. But we haven’t got time to go into those. He also hitchhiked to the Arctic Circle with his friend Henry Scott. Challenged by Henry to wear his cricket trousers for the trip, he upped it by declaring he would also do the whole thing in his bedroom slippers. And indeed he did, making the 2,470 km trip there and back, but only just.

It was in Stockholm, struggling through his statistics classes, that Glyn first met a tall, bespectacled student with a smiling face and a delightful personality, who was to become a friend for life – Göran Dahlgren.

Goran prepares his entrance

That’s Göran at his birthday party. He couldn’t be here today, but recorded this video for us: Göran Dahlgren video


Back in England in 1959, Glyn decided to write a book about his experience sailing in the Baltic. Sailing in a Sieve was published by Methuen in 1963, and translated into Polish. Glyn meanwhile had been called up to join the Army, and had decided to follow his father’s example and object to doing military service. Anticipating the hearings, he felt it would be wise to do some voluntary work abroad. In the spring of 1960 he joined the Swedish branch of International Voluntary Service (IAL), went on a short training course for work camp leaders and then led a three-week international work camp that summer, in Sweden. Glyn found the whole concept of volunteer work camps inspirational. As he wrote: “To be in a group of ten or twelve young people from different countries, working together on a useful community project, in a spirit of equality – I had not experienced this euphoria since Long Dene School. It had elements of the early years at Weet Ing and aspects of LSE Drama Society at its best. But it had a greater universality, to promote international understanding and peace while working together. It inspired an enthusiasm in me that my parents had for Esperanto.” As workcamp leader, Glyn felt he should look older and more mature, so he grew a beard:

last night singing

Familiar, huh?

In 1961 Glyn applied for a job with the Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service (CCIVS) in Paris, which needed two new staff to run its secretariat. He arrived in Paris in April, and was joined not long after by his co-worker, an American named Arthur Gillette.

This is Arthur looking (as he did) like Jack Kennedy, with his wife Nicole:

Gillettes west Indies 1970

Glyn and Arthur hit it off immediately, sharing the same sense of humour, enthusiasm, and commitment to volunteering. In view of their minimal pay, they decided to give themselves fancy job titles, Arthur spending three years as General Secretary and Glyn as Executive Secretary of the CCIVS.

Arthur and Glyn became lifelong friends. I am very sad to say that Arthur died the week before last. He had been deeply affected by Glyn’s death, but Adam managed to visit him, still in Paris, a few weeks ago, and he wrote a statement for the funeral, which Adam will recall.

  • Arthur Gilette statement remembered by Adam Roberts


In Paris, Glyn and Arthur restored an old houseboat, Genevieve, and lived together for two and a half years floating on the Seine, just below the Pont de la Concorde.

One evening in June 1961, Glyn went with friends to a concert. There was a rather stunning Swedish girl in the party. A few days later he wrote in his diary: “Another day of delightful events, of which the most important was eating lunch at UNESCO with Sigyn Erligh – a very pretty and charming young lady. Didn’t get back to the office till 3.45 p.m. … She really is very, very lovely”.

early photo sigyn

And so she was.

The early 1960s saw a major change in the nature of international volunteering. Up till then, most had occurred in work camps lasting two or three weeks. But President Kennedy then created the Peace Corps, with two-year postings in developing countries. In fact, this formula had been successfully pioneered by, among others, VSO in Britain (Voluntary Service Overseas), but the U.S. government initiative was on a vastly greater scale, and it was soon copied by many other countries. Many volunteers took jobs as teachers, for which they had no qualifications.

Glyn was not at all sure about the value of this, and in 1962-3 took on an 18-month global survey, sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, to evaluate the effectiveness of the new programmes. His trip took him to Algeria, Morocco (including a night in a jail cell, of course), Senegal, Mali, Upper Volta, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania – where he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for the first, but not the only time – and Kenya. Then he took the boat to Bombay, travelled around India and East Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, Hong Kong, Philippines, Japan, Hawaii, and across the US from San Francisco to New York, then home to Paris and eventually to Manchester.

Glyn’s conclusions on long-term volunteering were published in a booklet, Volunteers in Africa and Asia, and he attended international conferences to discuss poverty and development. But this experience left him disillusioned. They signed International Charters deploring poverty and injustice, he wrote, but were housed in posh hotels and ate too well. It felt hypocritical, and added to his growing conviction that the big international aid agencies were benefiting the rich at least as much as the poor. On one occasion they were all invited to the Vatican for a special audience with Pope Paul VI. He congratulated them on their commitment to work for a better world. The next day the Vatican instructed the Catholic participants to oppose any mention of birth control in their final report.

After what appears to have been a slightly uneven wooing process, Glyn and Sigyn eventually got married in 1966, in Paris. It was a rapid, rather unceremonious ceremony, in the registrar office of the 16th Arondissement, witnessed by his parents, Arthur and Nicole, and half a dozen other friends.

So what did Glyn do for a wedding ring for Sigyn?

Yep, you’ve got it. He made Sigyn’s ring himself, forging it, along with one for him, out of gold alloy bought on the backstreets of Stockholm, using a tiny blowlamp in his room.

He did at least have the grace to give Sigyn the slightly less misshapen one – though it only looks like this because he took it to a professional jeweller to be redone. They had a joyous wedding party on the Seine:

I am sure you can recognise Glyn’s imitable artistic style. But this picture is particularly special, because it comes from the cradle which Glyn made for Björn, who was born in 1969. It has since been used by all his children and his grandchildren:

Björn is going to say something about Sigyn.

  • Björn on Sigyn


Glyn and Sigyn spent two years in Ethiopia in 1966-68, Glyn as Deputy Field Director for the Swedish volunteer agency, looking after volunteers all over the country. But Glyn later fell out with an incoming field director, whose vision Glyn felt betrayed the volunteer spirit. Glyn resigned, and returned to Sweden to argue his case with the development agency, eventually doing so in public, in the newspapers, and on TV and radio. Later in 1968 his book Volunteers and Neo-colonialism was published, and at a conference on voluntary service in Geneva, Glyn helped draft a Universal Charter of Voluntary Service.

It was during this conference that Frank Judd, who was later to become UK Minister for Overseas Development, publicly challenged him to go beyond writing books and try putting some of his principles into practice. “Start an organisation,” he prophesied, “and you will find that keeping to ideals is not so easy. You too will have to make compromises.” As Glyn wrote later: “Little did I know it, but this challenge was to needle me for ten years, like the grain of sand in an oyster shell, until Tools for Self Reliance came to be.”

After Björn was born, Glyn and Arthur sailed across the Atlantic on their boat Amitié.

Glyn spent the six weeks writing this single, very long letter to Sigyn.


And then the family moved back to Sweden, to Gothenberg, where Glyn lectured at the Sociological Institute at the University. Daniel was born in November 1970. In 1971 Glyn was invited by Arthur – now working for UNESCO – to help a primary school project in Uganda. Glyn’s scathing report on the uselessness of the colonial curriculum was never published, but the trip did lead to Glyn’s first encounter with tools.


As Glyn wrote: “One evening, over his drink, the UNESCO expert was complaining that trainee teachers were helping themselves to tools from his precious visual aids display. ‘No sooner do I turn my back, but they pinch a chisel,’ he muttered, ‘Next it’s a saw, then a brace & bit…. And these are demonstration tools – not to be used!’ I visited village craftsmen next morning and saw their chisels sharpened down to the last half-inch, hammers misshapen, flat rocks serving as anvils. Yet these artisans were directly improving life in their villages. They, by the thousands, not the foreign experts, were the real development workers, yet their equipment was badly worn and woefully inadequate.” An idea was born.

By this time Glyn was looking for a change of career, and he found an opening at Portsmouth Polytechnic for a Senior Research Officer to head up their new Social Services Research & Intelligence Unit. Sigyn was a little reluctant, but they moved from Sweden to Portsmouth in 1972 and Glyn started at the SSRIU. His parents moved to Gosport to be with the family. During this period he became active with Ex-Volunteers International (EVI), trying to radicalise volunteers going overseas so that they would see “underdevelopment” in a new light and become activists for a fairer world when they returned to the UK.

In 1974, Questioning Development was published. It analysed the development process and the role of aid and aid workers in terms of relationships of power. Here’s my copy, the third reprint, from 1977. 30,000 copies were published in all, including translations into French, Dutch, Japanese, German, Italian and Esperanto (of course), and it influenced several generations of development workers and volunteers. The booklet was published a month after the birth of their third son, Adam, who would later become a writer himself. Adam will speak about Glyn the writer.

  • Adam on Glyn the writer


Glyn’s father Bob died in 1974, Glyn at his side, and the following year Glyn and Sigyn bought a house in Little Anglesey, Gosport, which would become the family home for the next twenty years.



Glyn continued his work with the Research Unit on social services practice, and his involvement with the ex-volunteer movement. He published two more booklets, Thinking About Power and the Handbook for Development Workers Overseas.

Glyn had been thinking since his visit to Uganda that the thing people really needed in Africa were tools. But he couldn’t work out how to raise the money to buy them, or how this would forge any links of understanding between working people in Britain and rural Africa.

It was Glyn’s mother Ruth who first suggested that he could make a start by emptying the garden shed of his late father’s tools. Glyn picked up the story in Keeping Something Alive, the history of the first ten years of TFSR he wrote with Mark Smith. (I’ve changed it to the first person.)

I sniffed at the very idea. Mothers! I wanted fifty thousand gleaming beauties, razor sharp, in nice plastic cases, not rusty rubbish from the 1940s. But when we looked them over I had to admit that my father’s stuff was in quite good shape. And then Ruth pointed out that in their street there lived “several other widows and retired working men who would surely let us have what they don’t need, rather than see it go to waste” – and with those words the central concept of TFSR flashed into view.

But would people hand over their tools of a lifetime? Ruth went out, knocked on a few doors and came back smiling. The two of us then did a few sums. On a town plan we counted the number of streets in Gosport, then added estimates for Portsmouth and Southampton. Thousands. Next, what about London, the Midlands, the industrial North? It became astronomical. If our street were anything to go by we could get millions upon millions of tools, and all for free!

I didn’t sleep that night.

During a visit to Tanzania in the spring of 1978, again arranged courtesy of Arthur at UNESCO, Glyn put another piece of the jigsaw into place. He discovered SIDO, the Small Industries Development Organisation, which supported artisans – carpenters, blacksmiths, motor mechanics, tailors and women’s groups – especially in rural areas. SIDO’s Director General, Basil Mramba, latched on to the idea immediately, and soon sent them a detailed request.

The first meeting of “Tools for Tanzania” took place at 1 Little Anglesey Rd, Gosport, at 7.30pm on 7th November 1978. Present were Glyn, Ruth, Sigyn, and Sarah and Charles Hirom, both long-term activists with the World Development Movement. Sarah and Charles are here, and Sarah will recall those earliest days.

  • Sarah Hirom on the early days of TFSR, including statement by Chris Judd



TFSR 1979-82

February 1980 saw the first ever TFSR gathering, at Minstead Lodge in the New Forest. Those present included Mark and Sheila Smith and Eddie Grimble, all long-term stalwarts of TFSR who sadly can’t be here, and also Jan and Jackie Hoogendyk, from South Africa. He had been one of those accused with Nelson Mandela at the infamous Treason Trial of 1958-61, both became mainstays of TFSR for many years, he Chair; sadly they are no longer with us. Later that month, with Sigyn’s agreement – but not without her worries at the prospect – Glyn secured six months’ leave of absence from his job to fund-raise for TFSR. By mid-March, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust had allocated TFSR £15,000 to see them through the coming three years, and in April 1980 TFSR was registered as a charity. But its  “administrative centre” still consisted of one corner of a bedroom at Little Anglesey, where Sheila Smith typed away by day, and Sigyn and Glyn slept at night.

By this time quite a number of collecting groups had sprung up around the country, and thousands of tools were arriving at the house. They had a workshop and store in the cellars of the Old Rectory, but these had been built in 1348 for the Bishop of Winchester’s wine imports, and were small, cold and damp. Sigyn argued, not unreasonably, that Glyn had to find new premises for the tools scheme – and soon.

It was at this point that Peter Gardner, of the Minstead Lodge community, reported that he had seen some derelict buildings for sale at Netley Marsh, on the edge of the Forest.  Peter is here.

  • Peter Gardner on finding and buying Netley Marsh

So Netley Marsh was bought, and now work needed to start making it fit for purpose. Eddie and Hilary Grimble started on it first, quickly followed in the autumn of 1982 by Mary Atkinson. Mary can tell you what it was like.

  • Mary Atkinson on the early days at Netley Marsh

TFSR’s development 1983-87

In September, 1983 Glyn resigned from the SSRIU and joined Mary and me at Netley Marsh as a full time Coordinator. It took a lot of courage and faith on Sigyn’s part.

Glyn’s and Mark’s book tells the story of TFSR’s growth and development in this period. In 1983-4 an MSC Community Programme renovated Netley Marsh, and the first tenants in the craft workshops were installed. The mural was painted by Anne Moorshead, and a development education programme started, funded by the EEC (as it then was). New groups were formed in Holland and Denmark. But there were also bitter arguments over whether TFSR should become a more democratic organisation, with a regional structure and more professionalised procedures, and whether Netley Marsh was taking up too much time and resources and should be sold. These disputes came to a head at the TFSR AGM in April 1986 at the Africa Centre in London. It was decided on a vote not to sell the site, and some members resigned. But TFSR flourished. In 1986 the first European tools conference was held in Amsterdam, and in 1987 the 100,000th despatched tool was celebrated with Richard Briers and Lenny Henry at an event in Covent Garden.


In 1987, too, Archbishop Trevor Huddleston and Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere became patrons. Glyn and Kevin Petrie from Settle went to Tanzania to evaluate the impact of the tools and met Nyerere, discussing tools and their role in development at length.  But Glyn came back dissatisfied, concerned that TFSR was not living up to its ideals. He wrote in a paper for the Directors:

Alas, TFSR is not the radical “development” organisation we’d like to think we are. Despite our literature and criteria, we fall far short in practice. On requests, our information is so scanty that we are really dishing out Aid packages to unknown recipients. Minimal exchanges of ideas. We know almost nothing of the values that motivate their work. Likewise, the recipients know nothing of TFSR, what motivates us, our values.

It was typical of Glyn. It wasn’t just about the tools. TFSR had to be more, a tangible expression of solidarity between people in the developed and developing worlds. I’d like to introduce now two people who have carried those values through over thirty years’ association with TFSR: Tony Care from the Crickhowell Group, and Harry Iles, also from Crickhowell – well, Abergavenny – who with Ruth joined the Netley Marsh team in 1988 and later the Board. In his memoir Glyn describes Tony and Harry as “like brothers to me”.

  • Tony Care on TFSR’s practice


  • Harry Isles on TFSR’s political philosophy

TFSR 1987-95

From the late 1980s TFSR went from strength to strength, with a new London centre and regional coordinators. Netley Marsh saw a visit from Princess Anne, who asked pertinent questions and stayed to debate them. It also got a new asphalted courtyard out of her visit, paid for by Hampshire County Council. Glyn had rung them up to say that the courtyard was very uneven, and it wouldn’t look good if a royal ankle was sprained on a visit to Hampshire, would it?

Meanwhile a new tool-making programme in Tanzania took off, and TFSR was challenged by recipient organisation ORAP in Zimbabwe to think again about the power relationships in the development process. In spring 1992, TFSR agreed a new statement of Shared Values, and in November a landmark conference was held in Arusha in Tanzania, bringing together 42 participants from ten countries. It was addressed by both Trevor Huddleston and President Nyerere. (The other person in the photo is Mr E.B. Toroka, Director-General of SIDO and longstanding supporter of TFSR. He would also like to have been here today, but was unable to come.)


By 1994 TFSR had reached the milestone of its half millionth tool despatched, with nearly 70 refurbishing groups and another 115 collecting groups. It organised an All-Africa Tool-Making Conference, Competition and Exhibition in Ghana, and an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons calling for the recognition of the importance of hand tools in government aid policy.

By early 1995 Glyn felt that the time had come for him to move on, and for TFSR to stand on its own feet without him, and he wrote to the Directors to announce his resignation. Glyn said goodbye at a big gathering here at Netley Marsh.

As Julius Nyerere had put it, “To pass on the tongs is to sustain and perpetuate the blacksmithery”. And TFSR has indeed been sustained ever since. I’d like to ask Sarah Ingleby, the present CEO of TFSR to say a few words about the organisation today.

  • Sarah Ingleby on TFSR today

We’re very grateful to you, Sarah, for hosting this event and for all your work – and that of Ian Limbrick and your team here – to make it happen. The other person who has been instrumental in organising this event is Mary Tolfree. I remember when we appointed Mary in 1983 as our book-keeper and finance person. She was an exotic species to us: a prim conservative voter from Lymington who had no idea about the Third World or socialist politics. She isn’t any of those things now!

  • Mary Tolfree on Glyn the inspiration


Glyn’s beloved wife Sigyn died, of breast cancer, in 1994. She had been ill for some time, and though he and the boys were desolate at her death, they were also relieved that her pain and suffering was ended. Two hundred people attended her funeral on 4th July and later the family held a gathering in Alverstoke Church Hall with many friends and loved ones giving tributes to a wonderful wife, mother, teacher and friend.

But Glyn’s boys brought him much consolation, as they variously went to university, got jobs and got married, had children and developed new projects. Glyn moved in 1997 with his mother Ruth to a new house, Binstead Hall on the Isle of Wight.

He revived his old interest in carving, eventually leaving many works of his art and thought scattered across the Island.








The family unveiled a plaque to him beside one of them yesterday.


In 1998 Glyn and Arthur decided to sail across the Atlantic again, in their latest yacht, Amity, this time with Arthur’s son and another young friend. They survived a series of hairy incidents with broken steering and forestay, creating makeshift solutions in classic Glyn style.

Over the next few years Glyn worked among other things with the probation service, overseeing youngsters doing community work, and with a group of pupils at Medina High School on a play about Amnesty-supported prisoners of conscience in Myanmar / Burma. The kids had previously known nothing about the country or its repressive politics, but over the next 10 weeks they studied the situation, wrote a script, rehearsed it and then performed it in the Quay Arts Centre in Newport. Glyn wrote that it went brilliantly and he was so proud of the kids. Eighteen months later a member of the cast, by now working at Sainsbury’s, rushed up to him in the frozen food section, calling, ‘Sir, sir, isn’t it great? Aun Sang Su Ki has been released!’


Glyn’s Mother Ruth died in 2004. Not long before, a doctor had attempted to assess if she was confused, asking her whether she could tell him the name of the Prime Minister. She replied, “I certainly can: it’s Blair, and what a liar he has turned out to be. He and Bush have got us into this Iraq mess…”

Not long after, Glyn, Björn, Ellie, Dan, Adam and Anne flew to Sweden to scatter Sigyn’s ashes in the churchyard where her parents were buried, close to the farm of her childhood. I believe some of Glyn’s ashes will also be scattered there.

Dan was around this time living and occasionally working with his Dad on the Island; they later collaborated on a charming book, Curious Carvings, Odd Odes and Tall Tales of the Isle of Wight. Dan is going to speak about Glyn as a father.

  • Dan on Glyn the Dad


The last seven years of Glyn’s life were made exceptionally happy by Erika. Friends for more than thirty years, she enticed him into playing in a music trio in 1999, and they eventually came to share a new home overlooking Portsmouth harbour, travelling and playing music together, and enjoying the company of Glyn’s four grandchildren, Magnus, Edvard, Linnea and Jim.

  • Erika on Glyn and their life together


The last word

Over the last few years of his life, Glyn became ill, but at the same time started to write his memoir. From his hospital bed in April he wrote some final lines. Recalling the little note he’d written as a six year old in which he said he was going out to seek his fortune, he wrote:

“The fortune in my life has been to share it with inspiring parents, family, relatives, friends and campaigning comrades. These good people, my wife Sigyn and partner Erika among them, have put up with, cared for and loved me, and combined with “the kindness of strangers”, years of excellent health, a positive outlook, some imagination, useful artistic and practical skills—and many a crucial intervention by my “Guardian Angels” (they worked overtime!)—this was all my fortune.”


We thought it would be nice to play two short videos of Glyn to finish.

  • Videos of Glyn singing and telling the story of the early days

Because this is a celebration of Glyn, we had to have some songs, didn’t we? But first I’d like to invite David Crawford to lead a toast. David came to work for TFSR in 1985, and has come to be with us today all the way from Finland.

  • Toast – David Crawford 

And now, to lead the singing, I give you: Ian Backhouse!