A Sidley community stalwart and well-known face in Bexhill has sadly passed away.
Harold John Izzard came to Sidley in 1935 as a seven-year- old, after an early childhood spent in Eastbourne. Pre-war Sidley was a rural village quite separate from Bexhill, and John, as he was known by his family, lived at 1 Laburnum Cottages on Ninfield Road, one of a row that had been built by his mother’s uncle Albert Adams, the owner of Sidley brickyard.
Key features of John’s early life were all within a stone’s throw: All Saint’s Church, which he attended as a choirboy; the brickyard and its surrounding fields, in which he would spend hours playing; and Turner’s forge, where he struck up a friendship with the wheelwright’s son Ken.
These years before the war made an indelible impression on young John, so much so that he was able to recall this lost world in great detail when he came to write his autobiography in 2010.
It was the first time that he – an only child – experienced life in an extended family.
His grandmother Charlotte, daughter of Albert Adams, with whom he and his parents shared the cottage, was a matriarchal figure, and each Christmas Day they would be visited by her three surviving Isted sons (two having died in the Great War), and daughter Naomi Hammond, together with their own families.
John struggled with the discipline at St Peter’s School, but in 1940 won a scholarship to the Boys’ County School in Turkey Road, making him the first person in his family to continue education past the age of 14.
At this point, however, the war intervened, and he was evacuated with his new schoolmates to St Albans, where he spent the next three years. Like many evacuees, John found the experience both difficult and transformative, and when he returned to Sidley in 1943 as a 15-year-old, he had developed an independent streak that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
Wartime was another experience that he would not forget, and back in Sidley he became a keen aircraft spotter and shrapnel collector, using his bicycle to get him to bomb sites before they were cordoned off.
He joined the Air Training Corps and as well as looping the loop in a Tiger Moth (as a passenger) he lobbed live hand grenades off the promenade beyond the old Sackville Hotel.
But the key event was educational – passing his School Certificate in 1945 – a success which according to John dumbfounded everyone.
It was always his view that the exam board took into account the disruption that the war had caused, and for this he was grateful, both to them and (tongue firmly in his cheek) to Adolf Hitler!
Higher education was not part of John’s plans, and only two months into the Lower VI he joined the Royal Navy and became a Stores’ Assistant on the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable.
After one memorable voyage to Singapore and back, he demobbed in 1948 and used his School Certificate to get the job of Clerical Assistant in the accounts department of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, later BP.
He commuted to London, catching the 7am train from Sidley and lodging with his parents.
This semi-detached Sidley life ended in 1953 when he married Joy Spray and moved into rented accommodation in Sackville Road in Bexhill, catching the same train to London from the magnificent Bexhill West station.
At BP, John became known as Harold, as it was the first name on his birth certificate. Thus began a slightly schizophrenic existence which continued up to his death. In the workplace he made little headway until he reorganised the filing system, improving it but also making himself indispensable in the process.
His hard work and attention to detail resulted in slow but steady progress until in 1955 he was offered a temporary post as assistant cost accountant in Aden, South Yemen, where he had previously stepped ashore as an able seaman.
It was the opportunity that he had been looking for and it made his career. Aden was to be his home for the next eight years.
From Aden, Harold moved briefly to Windmill Drive, where he had bought a house on the fields in which he used to play, and then to Bangor, Northern Ireland in 1963, to Skewen in South Wales in 1967, and then finally back to Cranston Avenue in Bexhill in 1969, again commuting but now from Battle as the branch line, sadly, had been axed.
His first marriage ended in divorce, his second, with the tragic death of his wife Dorothy from cancer in 1968, and it was not until 1975 that he married for a third time to Kate Tomasetti, with whom he lived until her death in 2014.
The School Certificate was the only exam that Harold John ever sat. Despite this, he rose within BP from unqualified accountant to group internal auditor, a job which took him all over the world.
Following his early retirement in 1984 he joined the Insitute of Internal Auditors (he had already been elected president in 1983) and helped to transform them into the respected and chartered body that they are today.
In 1996 John was persuaded to become Treasurer of the Sidley Community Association, a charity that his mother Louisa had been involved with from the outset.
He stayed with the SCA until 2009, playing a pivotal role as it developed into a vibrant community hub, as well as offering his time and expertise to a number of local partnerships and quangos.
His work in the voluntary sector was recognised by the wider community and in 2003 and 2005 he received awards from the Bexhill Chamber of Commerce and the High Sheriff respectively.
Finally in 2008 he was presented with the Bexhill Overall Achiever Award by his son, the comedian Eddie Izzard.
In 2010 his wife Kate was diagnosed with cancer and he retired from public life to spend more time with her at home. In 2015 he attended the 80th anniversary of the De La Warr Pavilion, one of the last surviving guests from the opening ceremony of 1935, which he remembered particularly for a bun fight which led to his group of boys being ejected from the event.
In June 2016 he completed his autobiography, and signed over all royalties to the Bexhill Museum who published it.
That autumn he was diagnosed with heart failure, and after a difficult 2017 he moved to Ashridge Court Care Centre in Little Common, where he died on May 11, 2018.
He was in his 90th year. He is survived by his son – Mark and Eddie.
In a joint statement about their father, Mark and Eddie said: “No-one gets to choose their parents, but if such a choice were possible we would have picked our father.
“He gave us strength, he taught us how to be decent human beings and he supported us no matter what we did. But we will remember him most for his irreverent sense of humour, which could enliven the dullest of occasions and made him great fun to be with. As he would often say, ‘Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone’ – Ella Wheeler Wilcox.”