Tribute – Jeff Sturrock

I am sorry to report the passing of my good friend Jeff Sturrock on 24 March from a suspected heart attack, two months short of his 80th birthday.

This comes from his sister Penny: “After the war, about 1949, he went to visit my aunt and uncle in Schenectady, New York. In the meantime my parents decided to immigrate and we arrived there in 1950 or so and were reunited with him. Jeff married his American girlfriend and son David was born in 1958. After a divorce Jeff enlisted in the American army and was stationed in Heidelberg. That must have been about 1961 or so. He finished his enlistment and he returned to England in about 1963 or 1964”. He spent the last 40 years a stone’s throw from Leyton Station.

Jeff and I used to cycle everywhere. We tried to cycle to the Great British Beer Festival in Birmingham but only got as far as Milton Keynes before the wind got the better of us but we did cycle to the CAMRA AGM in Reading in 1983. We went on two cycling holidays to Belgium and became regulars at the Hotel Marion in Ostend. So much so that if we were to arrive in the early hours of the morning we were given the entry code and the doors to our room left open. Jeff’s job was to find accommodation and on one occasion failed so we tried the local tavern. I returned after parking the bikes to hear the proprietress say, “I speak English, German and French but would you please stick to one language”. We got a room. One Christmas we found ourselves in the Vossenhol in Stene, a bus ride from Ostend. Behind the bar was a huge man sporting a big beard, cigar and bowler hat. Farming implements adorned the walls and we were asked what we thought they were used for. The proprietor, discovering our love of beer, bought up from the cellar some bottles of beer that he had aged. We sampled the beers both fresh and at various ages. We promised to return after our evening meal; I think he was surprised when we did. Jeff formed a friendship with the brewers at De Dolle in Diksmuide and stayed with them several times. One of the brewers, the multi-talented Kris painted his portrait which still adorns the wall in his flat.

The other enthusiasm we shared was darts. In Antwerp we found a dartboard with men measuring the oche. We challenged them to a game to which they replied, ‘we play for beer’. That was good for us as we didn’t buy many beers that afternoon. We must have impressed as we were invited to join them for a match that night with same playing for beer proviso. What was disconcerting was some players were sporting guns. I’m not sure whether we were that good or the opposition that bad but, again, we didn’t buy many beers. Snacks in the shape of pickled herring and cold baked beans were available. In a bar nearer the city centre we found another dartboard which was perilously near the door. Nobody entered all afternoon. More herring and beans. Must be an Antwerp thing.

Jeff was the music impresario for the early Pig’s Ear Beer Festivals, signing such acts as the Temperance Seven. When the festival moved to Stratford he and I managed the products and membership stall. Jeff was professional in all he did and signed up members in record numbers which have never been equalled. When we needed pubs surveying for our local beer guide in 1986 he surveyed 157 pubs and in 1991 went better with 188. He did not see the need to drink in every pub he surveyed and turned up with pen and clipboard. He got involved with the bell ringers in Whitechapel and arranged for a group of campanologists to ring out a tune at the festival. He was a prolific reader and it came as no surprise to learn he represented himself in court. He got involved in the Families Need Fathers organisation, offering advice to those dads who for whatever reason were seeing their child a lot less than they wanted or was legal. For a short while he was the social secretary for a local cycling club. He played the guitar and went on to teach himself to play the trumpet and there are photos of him on Facebook playing the trombone at a brass band summer school and at home with a tuba.

He had a keen sense of humour and his motto was ‘it might not be funny but it is quick’. I will miss him. RIP dear friend.

My thanks to Tony Hedger for allowing me to ramble on a bit. Short obituaries are no less difficult to write than longer ones.
Keith Emmerson