Dick Knowles obituary

My father, Dick Knowles, who has died aged 86, was a geography teacher and lecturer who devoted much of his spare time to running jazz clubs in London.

Dick was born in Lincoln to Sid Knowles, an art teacher and artist, and his wife, Ivy. Educated at Lincoln City school, he then attended St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, to study geography. His teaching career began at Rickmansworth grammar school in Hertfordshire in 1959, and while there he collaborated with a colleague, Peter Stowe, to produce two volumes of Europe in Maps: Topographical Map Studies of Western Europe, the first in 1969 (Book One) and the second in 1971 (Book Two) – both of which ran to many editions. These were followed, in 1976, by North America in Maps: Topographical Map Studies of Canada and the USA.

Dick Knowles teaching students from the then University of North London about postwar land reclamation on the shore of Lake Sloterplas, Amsterdam, in 1993
Dick Knowles teaching students from the then University of North London about postwar land reclamation on the shore of Lake Sloterplas, Amsterdam, in 1993

In 1968 he became senior lecturer in geography at the North Western Polytechnic (later University of North London and now London Metropolitan University), where with a colleague, David Bryant, he led residential field trips with small groups of students across the UK, Scandinavia and eastern Europe. In many respects a shy man, Dick was nevertheless an inspirational teacher and an early adopter of visual and interactive teaching. He remained at the university until his retirement in 2001, by which time he was a senior lecturer.

By the early 1970s, Dick’s extraordinarily tidy mind and remarkable sense of order were being put to good use by his friend the publisher Mike Morris, who produced the commercially successful series of Key Facts cards and books that helped many students to pass their exams.

The two of them worked closely together on their production, and the idea was very much based on how Dad’s mind worked, with key information distilled and written on index cards. He also wrote the content for the geography cards and books in the series, of which there were numerous editions, including some for students overseas.

When not teaching, a passion for visual arts and jazz consumed much of his time. He ran various jazz clubs in London during the 70s and 80s, including at the Seven Dials in Covent Garden and the 100 Club in Oxford Street, ably supported in both by Paul Wilson.

They featured artists who reflected the breadth of UK modern jazz, including a new cadre of young black artists, as well as established American and African jazz and blues musicians. Perhaps the most famous event he and Paul put on was a Rolling Stones gig at the 100 Club in May 1982, which served as a warm up for the UK leg of their world tour. Dick also wrote a regular jazz column for his local paper, the Ham & High.

His marriage in 1960 to Eva (nee Kjaerstad) ended in divorce, but they became close friends in later life. He is survived by Eva and their two daughters, me and Christina.

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