Dr. Paul Mowbray Clark (1941-2015)

Living Archive’s First Honorary Trustee of the Board

Paul Clark was involved with Living Archive since Milton Keynes’ first musical drama documentary All Change!was produced by Stantonbury Campus Drama Group in 1977.


He composed and performed many songs both for that production and,throughout the 35 years following, for subsequent documentary shows that came under the auspices of Living Archive. In addition, during the last quarter century he served not onlyas the Chair of Living Archive’s Board and later as its Vice-Chair; he also simultaneously pursued a high-powered career in education taking him to the top echelons of his profession.

Canadian by birth, Paul came to England in 1963 with a first degree in Engineering Physics and gained a doctorate in Theoretical Physics. As a pioneering don for the Open University in Milton Keynes, his lectures were broadcast on BBC TV. He progressed through being Dean of Science at the OU, Director for Teaching and Learning at the Higher Education Funding Councils for both England and Scotland, and became a much respected author of books and articles in his field. Paul ultimately fulfilled the role of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) at the Open University until he retired in 2008. He was a Visiting Professor such as at the University of Abertay in Dundee and spoke at conferences all over the world, from Asia to Australia. Yet it is in Milton Keynes, at Living Archive, where we have enduring evidence of Paul’s special qualities – not only his careful stewardship of the organisation during some of its most challenging times, but also the musicianship and the poetry of his songs, written specially about, and for, the people of Milton Keynes.

Membership of Living Archive Board

Paul was first appointed to the Board in 1984 and became Chairman later that year at the time when ‘The Living Archive Project’, co-founded by Roy and Maggie Nevitt and Roger Kitchen, was morphing into a charity, with Roger and Roy as its first Directors and Maggie as the original Development Officer and Administrator. The founding Trustees with Paul included Peter Cheeseman, Geoff Cooksey, Bob Moon, Sheila Lindsay and Eric Thompson. Paul was Chairman at a crucial time in the organisation’s history when, in 1991/1992, it moved out of its original office on Stantonbury Campus to its present home in the Old Bath House in Wolverton and it acquired its first full-time General Manager, Roger Kitchen.  Roger says:‘It’s never easy to make big changes in any organisation, and Paul’s calm and measured leadership was crucial in helping Living Archive ‘grow up’ into an organisation with its own premises and full-time staff, whilst making sure it kept true to its unique vision of using the past and present life of Milton Keynes as the inspiration for all its work’.

When Paul’s professional duties took him away from Milton Keynes, he became Living Archive’s Vice-Chair, a position he held until June 2012.

Composing original songs about the people of Milton Keynes

Paul wrote his songs after studying in detail tapes and transcripts of interviews with those who lived through the events and periods of history which the dramas document. He said, in an interview for CRMK radio in 1986: ‘I find the melody by itself first. I sit at my desk with a pencil, and start whistling until I find something I like; then I scribble it down. Having a tune gives me the cadences that the words of the song have to fit – you can hear where the rhymes and accents have to go in order to fit with the bounce of the tune. So it tells you what words you can use, and what words you can’t.’


Paul played piano, clarinet, string bass, and electric bass, although the acoustic guitar remained his principal instrument – all experiences which informed his musical compositions. He played in jazz bands, and in the Living Archive Band during three of its incarnations; and he wrote twenty songs for Living Archive productions. He commented: ‘Being given a particular function by Living Archive can be quite liberating. It gives you a framework to start, rather than just sitting down and waiting for inspiration.’


He was one of the founder members of the current Living Archive Band when it was formed for Worker By Name in 1992 under the musical direction of Neil Mercer. Fellow long-serving members of the Band – Kevin Adams, Brad Bradstock, Marion Hill and Sue Malleson – say:


Paul’s songs are miniature masterpieces, both lyrically and musically. His facility to write verse, with never a syllable out of place, matches his        command of melodic invention and harmonic progression. His songs ‘sing themselves’ – there are no awkward corners where the singer has to wrestle with meter, phrasing or tune. Most importantly, in this rather specialist        field of writing music to describe the lives and activities of real people and places, Paul’s songs deliver the facts without being dry – they are wrapped in the appropriate emotional blanket and communicate the whole story…


‘If songs were visualised as pieces of machinery, the efforts that the rest of us come up with would appear like Heath-Robinsonian contraptions; Paul’s would be a Rolls-Royce…


‘Paul’s unique ability has transformed information into ballads, rich in their imagery, truthful in their accounts and beautiful in their construction – both lyrical and musical. The songs live in their own right and have become the folk songs of Milton Keynes, each detailing an essential element of the town’s history…


‘We’ve sung Paul’s songs so many times, but they never fail to move – both the audiences and us!’

Paul songs for Living Archive’s trailblazing musical documentary dramas were created in the latter end of the 20th century. His lyrics and how he came to write them are archived on the Living Archive website (www.livingarchive.org.uk); performances of his songs are on the Living Archive Band website (www.livingarchiveband.co.uk); both are enduring memorials to the unique musician that was Paul Clark.




Folk on the Green, 2000




The Paul Clark songs for Living Archive productions 1977-1994


1977: For All Change!

The story of the railway coming to the Milton Keynes area in the 19th century:

  • Captain Swing(*)[1]: Resentful, unemployed farm-labourers describe their treatment during the agricultural unrest of the early 19th century, just before the railways came.
  • McConnell’s Song (later called ‘The Ballad of James McConnell’): The first Chief Superintendent of Wolverton Railway Works presents his credentials,
  • Denbigh Hall: A riotous chapter in the railway history of the area near the modern Stadium:MK – whence travellers had to travel on by stagecoach… after a little break!


1977-8: For Your Loving Brother Albert

Letters, discovered in a Wolverton attic by the great-niece of a boy-soldier of the Great War killed just before his 17th birthday, provided the inspiration for this drama:

  • In Memoriam (*): Seeing the names of soldiers listed on the wall of Wolverton’s St George’s Church leads to reflections on why they joined up.
  • The Parapet Song (*): A soldier in the trenches thinks of what he has left behind – a poignant finale to the show when Private Albert French is killed by a sniper.


1980-81: For Days of Pride

Created from the taped memories of New Bradwell resident Hawtin Mundy, the show focused on the Great War of 1914-18

  • Valley of the Shadow (*): Paul said:I’d read Hawtin Mundy’s description again and again of his experience at the battle of Arras. I knew that the song had to be slow and somewhat stark because of what it was describing.’ It has become an anthem for the Living Archive Band and the most performed of their repertoire.
  • No Heroes No Cowards: Again, inspired by Hawtin’s words, this classic anthem is a powerful anti-war song.


1982-3: For Sheltered Lives

Interviews with Wolverton and New Bradwell residents inspired this evocative picture of life between the wars, and the onset of another World War.

  • Letters Home (*): The reminiscence of two London brothers evacuated to Wolverton is the source of this song – complete with its childlike breathlessness!
  • Sheltered Lives (*): Paul said: ‘The song had to be an idealised, optimistic view of life in Wolverton, while what was going on stage was much less pleasant. And because it was set in the ‘30s, it had to be a jazz tune.’
  • The Forestry Song: Wolverton schoolboys help the war effort by enthusiastically cutting down trees…
  • Hymn to the Future (*): A ballad about the nation’s challenges during the war – and hopes for the future.


1983-4: For Nellie

Based on Nellie Abbott’s diaries 1913-1919, the show charts her irrepressible activities on the home front – in local carnivals and pastimes and at work in the Sewing Room at Wolverton Works, despite the sombre backdrop of war and strikes.

  • The Bike Song (*): Nellie’s friend Effie describes the delights of being a pioneer lady bicycle rider…
  • The Glorious New Year: The Sewing Room girls join together in a New Year’s celebration


1985-6: For The Jovial Priest

A celebration of the life and times of New Bradwell’s most eccentric priest – Father Guest

  • The Ballad of Joey Guest: a unique man’s life in song


1991-2: For Worker By Name

The life of Stony Stratford resident Tom Worker was dramatised in this play, from his schooldays and his working life at Wolverton Works to the harder times afterwards.

  • Old Bill the Carthorse: A wonderful cameo of an idiosyncratic working horse with a mind of his own!
  • Fegan’s School: The renowned orphanage in the town – now a restaurant off the High Street – is the focus of this song
  • The Stony Schools: an affectionate overview of all the schools in the town

1993-4: For The Works and The Fabric of Milton Keynes

The Works was co-produced by BBC Three Counties Radio and Living Archive. The original broadcast and now DVD includes first-hand accounts of life in Wolverton Works and the changes experienced over 50 years.The Fabric of Milton Keynes was a one-off unforgettable event in Christ the Cornerstone Church in CMK and recorded live on BBC radio – where people from all over the new city came with their artworks, tapestries, dance and music.

  • It’s Dirty It’s Dusty: Paul said: ‘I looked to the folk idiom, something with a lilt in it. I had listened to the tape of men from the Works telling of what it’s like when you’ve seen the work you’ve been proud of destroyed, and you no longer see a place for yourself in the world of work.’
  • Orange and Blue:Paul said: ‘The song had to represent a tapestry made by Wolverton 6th formers of their impressions of the Works in decline. They had used orange and blue patches showing a sense of things having ended.’
  • The Wolverton Whistle: A nostalgic depiction of the town’s ‘alarm clock’ – the hooter.

‘Paul’s songs are wonderful to sing.

They’re full of pathos with beautiful melodies that embed themselves.

Once sung, they can never be forgotten.’

The Living Archive Band

The Living Archive Board’s unanimous decision

On 6th June 2012, Living Archive’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to make Dr Paul Clark their First Honorary Trustee – a unique position of lifelong membership of the Board. The Minutes record:

TH (Tim Hill, Living Archive’s Chairman) said that following discussions, he had asked PC (Paul Clark) whether he would like to be the first LAP (Living Archive Project) ‘Honorary Trustee’ and to step down as Vice Chairman.  PC explained that his wife was Greek Cypriot and that they were hoping to spend more time in Cyprus.  He had supported the LAP for 35 years and didn’t wish to stop contributing

Tim added:

‘Paul’s continued and valued connection with Living Archive in the role of our First Honorary Trustee…recognises the outstanding contribution he has made during the course of his 35 years’ association with Living Archive.’

Paul died on 18th February 2015 after suffering with Parkinsons for six years. His work, his friendship and his wonderful music will never be forgotten.

Compiled by Marion Hill



More information on The Living Archive Band here
Paul Clark’s band profile here
Audio samples here

No Comments

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.