Goodbye Mr Blance - an inspiration to us all

JIM Blance, who died in Hexham on Friday, July 23, was an inspirational teacher who will be remembered by many former pupils.

He always said that inspired teachers depended on inspiring pupils, but there was a certain gaiety in his classes where everyone was taken seriously.

You knew he was up for it when you found him leaning back in his chair like a sheriff in a John Ford movie, feet up on table, hands behind head, counting you in with a sideways, slightly toothy grin.

Mr Blance showed his pupils that life and learning were one and the same if only you had eyes to see. And Mr Blance had eyes to see – that you didn't need permission to discuss art; that culture wasn't confined to books; that knowledge was too important to be left to intellectuals; that the greatest comedian could be found on the next desk, the best dramatist on a number 11 bus, the smartest economist at the bookies.

Only someone as gifted as him could offer this in ways that were not banal or self-serving. And once he thought you could go forward, and wanted to, then an exacting relationship developed.

The nice part could involve smoking Mr Blance's (or his mother's) cigarettes up at Willow Grove, and enjoying the banter.

But the harder part involved getting put straight with an intellectual toughness not normally encountered at school.

His idea of learning was steeply curving, left leaning and, like the Red Arrows, usually joining up in the end. James Murray Blance was born in South Shields in 1940. Sister Greta was born three years later.

He was brought up in Regent Street.

His father, James William Blance, was a blacksmith's striker at Brigham's shipyard. His mother was Caroline McDougall.

He went to Laygate Lane Juniors and after grammar school, he won an Open Exhibition to study politics, philosophy and economics at Exeter College Oxford before becoming a teacher.

He taught for 10 years in South Shields – one year at Brinkburn Secondary Modern, one year at the Marine and Technical College, then eight years back at the Boys' Grammar, where he met and married biology teacher Christine Dodgson.

In 1973, he moved to Haydon Bridge.

Out there in the Tyne Valley, he loved the Wall, the craic, the golf, the cricket and, of course, the racing.

For many years, he played a leading role in organising the annual Hexham Music Festival.

In the 1990s, he ran into poor health, mainly diabetes.

He retired in 1993, the same year that his marriage ended.

In 2002, dad-of-two Mr Blance met an old flame, a Shields girl called Marjorie Henry, recently returned from London.

From that morning on, the couple tended their allotment with loving care, and many good things grew there.

Mr Blance died at home from pancreatic cancer, with his family around him.