Bob Dixon was born on 29th November 1931 in Spennymoor, Co. Durham, then a mining village. He was brought up by his grandmother, only to discover when he was a 14-year old grammar school boy that Hilda, the woman he has though to be an older sister was in fact his mother – he had been an illegitimate baby. The experience would later be reflected in the poetry for which he is mostly remembered.
Like most children in those days, he failed the eleven plus. Two years later, however, he gained a place at grammar school by means of an “occasional admittance” exam, which was part of a drive to recruit more teachers. From there, he climbed quite high up the educational ladder by going on to Nottingham and London Universities.
After National Service in the late 1950s he was sent to GCHQ in Cheltenham to study Russian, along with contemporaries such as Michael Frayn, Alan Bennett, Dennis Potter and Jim Riordan. His experience of deprivation and working-class poverty in County Durham, and then the strict hierarchical and class system in the army, helped create the basis for his later belief in socialism.
The army posted him to West Germany, where he was more interested in Bertolt Brecht’s theatre in East Berlin than doing any spying on the Russians. After demobilisation he began teaching at a grammar school in Spennymoor, County Durham, before taking up an exchange research scholarship to Czechoslovakia.
There he met a Cuban woman with whom he fell in love and who told him about the Cuban revolution and Che Guevara. He returned from Czechoslovakia very much on the political left.
He began teaching at the Risinghill school at the beginning of the academic year in 1963. It was in one of the toughest areas of London and responded with an attempt to adopt non-authoritarian approaches to discipline that gathered intense media criticism to such an extent that it closed in 1965. After various temporary teaching jobs in London schools, Bob Dixon became a lecturer in English at Stockwell College of Education, Bromley.
He wrote three books on the malign ways in which the publishing and toy manufacturing industries have shaped the stereotypes and attitudes of generations of British children. As well as being the author of a number of talented books analysing children’s literature, Dixon contributed to the left-wing cultural journal, `Artery’ in the 1970s. Artery magazine was a project of a small group of mostly Communist, or Communist-inclined artists, under the editorship of Jeff Sawtell, published from 1971 until 1984. It is now largely devoted to publishing.
Described by those who were close to him from this experience as a “quietly spoken and extremely modest man”, he wrote poetry that is “characterised by an upfront, acerbic wit and deep insight”. He was a well-known figure on the leftwing poetry scene, reading at CND rallies and other political events. Bob Dixon was “an uncompromising and highly principled socialist, and this did not always make it easy for his friends, though his warmth and deep humanitarian beliefs always overcame any criticism one might have had.”
His poetry savagely reflected cynical political attitudes and the impact such politics have on individuals and society. His collections include: Make Capitalism History (2006), Agitpoems (1985) and More Agitation (1999). Shortly before his death he had finished writing a rather bitter and melancholic autobiography, `The Wrong’.
He made mainstream media news when he put his mother’s “time capsule” house in Durham Rd, Spennymoor on the market; described as such since its décor had remained unaltered, though immaculately maintained, since 1961. Bob was infuriated when this story was splashed in the Sun and the Daily Mail without his permission or knowledge, particularly because they failed to mention the publication of `The Wrong’, the launch of which had prompted the local press interest in the property.
Bob Dixon’s contribution is remembered as “immense, from his days as a teacher to his powerful poetry, he will be remembered by us all for his warmth, wit and generosity, he was a socialist stalwart with a communist vision, ever ready to contribute to the liberation of humanity.” He died aged 76 on 4th October 2008
Sources: Morning Star December 11th 2007; John Green, The Guardian, November 25th 2008; http://www.arterypublications.co.uk/