an edited version of the tribute I gave at Hugh's funeral
There's a water cooler where the ping-pong table used to be. Otherwise the staffroom where I first bumped into Hugh Homan is much as it ever was.
A novice from a different department, I was a little dazzled by his reputation, something of a maverick, apparently. But he couldn't have been more welcoming, and I was delighted to find a kindred spirit, in every point the man I would like to be: witty, sharp, keen on all things French, an inspirational teacher, knowledgeable about music, a gifted photographer, a bit of a bon viveur, and of course a man of the theatre – performer, director and reviewer.
It wasn't long before I was meeting the family – Kate had just been born, I think – helping put up a shed in Shalford, and tagging along on immaculately chauffeured trips to the LADS at Latchingdon or the Palace at Westcliff.
I'd watch in awe as the redoubtable, respected Jon Richards settled at a desk in the old Chronicle offices, threaded flimsies and carbon into the portable, and, without notes or hesitation, bashed out his 200 words on Ray Cooney or Agatha Christie.
And I was delighted to be asked to write the odd piece of criticism myself, which, like Hugh, I've done ever since for anyone who'd commission me, though I never rose to the eminent position of stringer for The Stage.
I've been proud to count him as a friend ever since – all too rarely performing together, alas. But always a delight to coincide at a Press Night, or to see him in an audience when I was on stage myself.
I don't exaggerate when I say that, had that encounter not taken place, my life would have been very different, much less entertaining – school trips, school productions, reviewing the arts might well never have come my way. For that, and so much else, cheers, Hugh.
I succeeded Hugh as Arts Page Coordinator on the Essex Chronicle. I was succeeded in my turn by Mary Redman, who has contributed this tribute:
In memory of Hugh Homan 1941-2014 Theatre Critic Extraordinaire
Hugh Homan (under the nom de guerre Jon Richards) was a legend in his own lifetime as a theatre critic. I first encountered his truthful reviews in the Essex Chronicle in the 1970s when I was a member of the Writtle CARDS. To say that we trembled in anticipation is true - "Is he in tonight?" - was frequently said by amateur performers before a performance.
His truthfulness cut right through the pretensions of the most arrogant of amateur actors (even if they would never admit it), which was a much needed contrast with the kind of reviewer who, lacking any real understanding of theatre, praised what they saw to the skies. This mistaken attitude, which still persists nowadays, allowed bad acting and even worse direction to flourish unchecked.
Hugh was also an incisive and humorous critic of professional theatre in East Anglia for The Stage which is the profession's newspaper in this country and abroad.
When Hugh gave up reviewing for the local press Michael Gray writing as Eric Ashley took over and I then had the honour of following both of them.