A fond farewell to Swindon’s Mr Arts
DENYS Hodson CBE, a key figure in the development of the Oasis and other arts and leisure facilities in Swindon, has passed away aged 84.
Denys, who died on Sunday, was director of arts and recreation for Swindon and Thamesdown councils, chairman of Southern Arts, governor and deputy chairman of the British Film Institute and vice chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain under Lord Palumbo.
He exemplified a new breed of leader in his field and featured many times in the Adver over the years – including when he retired in 1992.
He was often pictured testing the ice himself after a hard freeze before giving the OK to go skating on public ponds.
Building on the legacy of Swindon’s pioneering post-war librarian, Harold Jolliffe, he recruited and led a team of unusually excellent officers in the creation of a comprehensive leisure service, in which the arts and sport had equal weight.
He played a key role in the development of Swindon’s 20th Century art collection while actively promoting participation in all art forms.
Denys’ son Nicholas said: “His reputation at local and regional level led to national appointments in which he used his consummate diplomatic skills to broker relationships at a turbulent time for the Arts Council and Regional Arts Associations.”
Mr Hodson was born in the vicarage at Northleach in May 1928. His father, the Rev Harold Hodson was a parson who won the Military Cross in Salonika in 1917.
The family moved to the rectory at Bedale, Yorkshire in November 1938. There they typified the rural parson’s idyll, riding to hounds with the local hunt and visiting outlying parishes by pony and trap (or even by sleigh in the winter months).
Nicholas said: “On more than one occasion, Denys was able to ride to local dances and return home safely – despite being slightly the worse for wear – thanks solely to the homing instinct of his horse Ruth.”
He went to Marlborough College during the war, leaving in 1946. He did his National Service with the Palestine Police, returning in 1948 to go to Trinity College, Oxford, reading history.
His first job was with Imperial Tobacco and shortly after joined the advertising agency Coleman Prentice Varley and began a rapid rise in the 1950s London advertising industry. In 1970 he moved from the private to the public sector, taking up the position of director of arts and recreation in Swindon.
Over the next 22 years he was responsible not only for the development of arts and leisure facilities in this rapidly growing borough – including the Oasis pool and sports complex, Broome Manor golf course and the Wyvern Theatre – but also for establishing Thamesdown Community Arts, Swindon Dance and the borough’s public art programme, and for supporting the development of the Council’s 20th Century art collection.
During this period he became increasingly involved with regional and national arts policy and management. He was made a CBE in 1981 for services to the arts.
In retirement, he led the Friends of Fairford Church dedicated to preserving this magnificent 1th Century Wool Church.
Over the course of more than 20 years his tireless efforts secured over £1m in funding and enabled the restoration and in-situ preservation of the church’s unique stained glass windows, often described as the finest English medieval church windows in existence. He enjoyed bird watching and was an expert dry-fly fisherman on the Coln and Leach rivers in Gloucestershire.
Denys married Julie Goodwin in 1953. She died in 2009. He is survived by a daughter and a son.