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Eric Howker

Eric Howker

Eric was born in Bournemouth in 1944, of somewhat ignominious ancestry, albeit that his most illustrious forebear was the British Prime Minister, Lord North, and his cousin is Lord of the Manor of a town in Lancashire. The name Howker is Gaelic for "Potato Picker" and his great-grandfather, who pursued that occupation, left Ireland following the potato famine of the mid-nineteenth century. Eric’s father was a resident of Canada and archetypal soldier of fortune. He had "boot-legged" liquor into Chicago and numbered three friends called "Al" – Al Capone, Alcatraz and Alcohol! On a visit to England in 1986 he became a "regular" in "The Kings Arms", Ockley, whilst his son was busy directing "Murder in Company".

Eric received his secondary education at Brockenhurst in the heart of the New Forest and, at the tender age of seventeen, whilst "cramming" to qualify for admission to teacher training college, he was, for eighteen months, Principal English Master at a seaside preparatory school, working a seven-day week for £150 per annum (50p per nine-hour day!). Then, unexpectedly finding himself the family breadwinner, he was obliged (with little reluctance!) to abandon his teaching ambitions and to treble his salary by accepting the menial post of Office Boy in the Christchurch Magistrates’ Court. This was the springboard to a thirty-year career as a Court Clerk, serving in such salubrious environments as Lymington, Winchester and East Cornwall. He prefers to forget about Lincolnshire, where he spent the most miserable six months of his life. In 1985 he came to Dorking which he immediately adopted as his permanent home. He now lives in retirement in Beare Green but has always favoured Ockley as the focal point for his social activities.

Eric has been stage struck from a very early age. Music and drama have been his passions. As a child in the mid-fifties he attended live theatre at least once a month, enjoying both local repertory and vaudeville. He was also an avid cinema-goer. His own theatrical appearances began less inspirationally. When aged three, he led on the chorus of "Chu Chin Chow" and immediately marched off the other side, never to be seen again (to the dismay of said chorus). At five, he elected (through his appreciation of wood) to play the little pig who built his house of that material – but his family moved away from the village (Sydling St Nicholas) before opening night. He came late to the amateur dramatics of his adult years, believing that audiences who paid real money for his performance deserved better! However, he was coerced into "saving the show" by playing the "Mr Plod" character in "Suddenly at Home" for the Liskeard Drama Group in Cornwall. He still remembers his very first line – "Good evening, Mrs Tenby". The rest is history. To date he has been involved in over thirty productions for various societies, regarding the roles of King Henry VIII and Crocker-Harris ("The Browning Version") as his favourites. Whilst playing prosecuting counsel in "Witness for the Prosecution", he obliviously left out (for the first four nights) a sizeable, but obviously non-crucial, chunk of cross-examination. On the last night, he decided to put it back in, leaving the poor defendant covered in confusion. Diffident playing comedy, he has made several moderately successful attempts, notably an alien in Elizabethan gear in "The Space Between the Years" and "Hamlet"’s Ghost in "Don’t Blame it on the Boots". He has even aspired to authentic Shakespeare, taking minor parts in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and "Antony and Cleopatra" (wherein he played the dual roles of Lepidus and a "camp" Egyptian). He has directed, to date, only five times, his three presentations for Ockley spanning fifteen years – two murder mysteries and the Bob Larbey comedy, "Sand Castles". He considers the latter to be his finest achievement, having overcome his apprehensions about that medium and because he had the perfect cast. He has also directed, for Ifield Barn Theatre, "Time of my Life" and "The Winslow Boy".

Since he rejoined Ockley Dramatic Society in 1997 (after a seven-year gap) he has become most closely associated with pantomime, in both Ockley and Ifield, and was typecast as the regal buffoon for five consecutive Christmases. This, of course, has involved singing and he made his debut in a legitimate musical in 1998 as a gangster in "The Night Maxie Tortellini Hit Big Lola Latrobe’s".

Musical theatre is, in fact, his first love. He extols "Les Miserables" as perfection in the medium, avoiding, as it does, the histrionics and clichés of grand opera and the use of any spoken words required by conventional musicals to establish the plot. It also happens to boast magnificent music, beautiful songs and a masterpiece of English translation of French lyrics.

Eric himself (a singer/songwriter who can neither sing nor write music!) aspires to present his own musical adaptation of "The Black Arrow" (renamed "The White Rose"), his "magnum opus" begun in 1981! He plans to stage it as a vehicle for young people with a handful of adults playing the older characters. Meanwhile, he has a separate repertoire of some fifty songs, for which he has composed music and lyrics, including some for which he can accompany himself on the ukulele (a virtuoso of four chords!). In this capacity, he is occasionally invited to fill slots in variety shows, singing, playing and reciting his poetry. Having adapted, combined and abridged the major speeches from "Henry V", he has performed the finished product for the last four St George’s Days (incidentally the date of Shakespeare’s birth and of his death). In addition he has recorded several readings for the blind.

He does relax – in front of the television or music centre – and does have other interests besides "showing off". He enjoys, as a spectator, snooker, formula one motor racing, tennis and soccer (eschewing rugby, cricket and golf). He likes to have a shilling each way on the boat race but his only active physical pursuit is swimming (or, rather, floating about all day in the sea. In the fresh water of the public baths, he tends to sink to the bottom). He adores the countryside, river and, particularly, the coast. He appreciates flora and fauna in the wild and especially loves the seaside and all things nautical (not to mention seafood). He is an ardent heterosexual and incurable romantic. Having originally been single-minded in his determination to marry (he proposed to four different women between 1985 and 1993 – one sixteen times – and regularly booked his favourite church for the first Saturday in June!), he is at last jealous of his bachelor status and feels relieved to have had so many lucky escapes!

Gregarious and "laid back", he never experiences boredom or loneliness, although steeped in nostalgia and reminiscence of lost loves – not least Pamela Bedford whom he courted at the age of six. Having previously denounced atheists as cynical pessimists, he today espouses the cause as "the only possible path to world peace". He is thus passionate about politics, has committed many of his cherished philosophies to paper and vows to become Prime Minister by 2011! God help the nation!

With sadness we report that Eric passed away peacefully on 4th February 2008 after a long illness. Eric was a long time supporter of the society and was an active member in the 1980s and, following a gap of some years, rejoined in the late 1990s. Eric was chairman of the Society for five years until around a year ago and was an active supporter and enthusiast of local theatre, especially of pantomime, both at Ockley and nearby at Ifield.

He will be fondly remembered as a man of wit, integrity and a bon vivant.


Productions participated in

Murder in Company Nov 1986 Director
The Twelve Pound Look
One Month to Pay
May 1987 Assistent stage manager
The Browning Version May 1988 Andrew Crocker-Harris
Hiccups Oct 1988 Producer
Now and Then
Don't Blame it on the Boots
May 1989 Lighting & Sound
Aladdin Jan 1998 The Emperor Chow Mein
Dick Whittington Dec 1999 Alderman Fitzwarren
Sand Castles Nov 2001 Director / Man with kite
Sleeping Beauty Feb 2003 Assistant Stage Manager / Publicity
Say it with Flowers
Much ado about Woman
Jul 2003 Publicity
Murder by the Book Nov 2003 Director / Publicity
Abigail's party Jun 2005 Co-producer / Co-director / Publicity
Jack and the Beanstalk Jan 2006 Producer / Director / Widow Doodle