Published on November 27th, 2013 | by Niamh Coghlan1
Never an ADLE momentThe time has come that many LCC students and staff alike have feared, Leslie Claridge or better known as Les, has decided to take his retirement.
Come the new term in January the atmosphere will have a noticeable change around the Elephant and Castle campus as the associate dean of learning environment (ADLE) will no longer walk the halls.
I drop him an email to arrange an official chat, within the hour I find myself sick with laughter, clutching the warm coffee he has insisted on buying me while sitting on view in the cafe at the front of LCC.
Fast-forward 97 minutes later and I’m reluctantly parting ways, the incredibly busy man makes it seem as though you’re his only appointment that day.
“I’m the A…D…L…E.” he slowly enunciates. “That Arts paper of ours never gives me my title in capitals, It’s one of my pet peeves kind of thing, I’ve had arguments about this!” He jests but seems secretly serious about getting his title correct.
He begins with one of his infamous anecdotes: “I was on a train once, and my phone rang and I said it’s the ADLE. She said ‘what’s that?’ So I thought I’d have a bit of a game with her. I joked around for a bit but it when it actually came down to it, she was like ‘oh it sounds a bit mundane’ and I suppose on paper it is really.”
It becomes apparent that Les constantly understates his role at the University but the genuine tone makes it rather endearing than attention-seeking.
While his title ADLE suggests an older man in a crisp black suit with a perfectly done up tie to match his sleek shirt, graciously sitting in a large glossy office too busy to interact with students while his PA brings him coffee, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
His infectious positivity bounds through every room he is in and you’ll be lucky to be in the same room as him for long.
Constantly on the move the man is notoriously hard to find as he is forever helping, deciding, moving, comforting, engaging and just generally providing for the LCC community.
Whilst I’m sure his position has key responsibilities and tasks, nothing seems to be outside of his remit.
From LCP to LCC and everything in between Les has been involved with UAL for near on 39 years: “One day I saw an advert for a technician at the LCP (London College of Printing) and the job spec said it was for the printer for the college and I thought, oh that’s interesting” and that spark of interest began Les’s working life at what became UAL.
He began as a printing technician on September 15, 1974, “I remember the date as it is my wife, Vivs’ birthday”, he turned up I’m sure smiling for his first day at Back Hill. ‘Vivvy it’s big, its exciting’,” he recalls telling his wife after his first day.
Les’s position has dramatically changed, grown and developed in his time at the college, as things transpired he was thrown in the deep end with some ad hoc teaching.
As an eager to please new technician he was somewhat duped into teaching a class of eager final year Lithography students: “I went up with the Head of Litho to the top of Back Hill, he pointed into a room full of youngsters he said; ‘in there are the third year litho, they’re all yours.’ To do what? I said. ‘Teach ‘em,’ he said. ‘Teach ‘em what?’ I replied. He said ‘anything you like’ I thought you’re kidding me? But in I went and taught for the afternoon.”
From there Les has climbed through the ranks of UAL starts; he soon applied for a teaching post at LCP and on January 1, 1975 he had his first official day of teaching, come his final days this December it culminates in 39 years of continual contribution to the University.
Soon LCC would have a new infamous Head of College, Sandra Kemp, as Les “used any charm that he possessed” to stay on the right side of Sandra while she ran extreme efficiency programmes resulting in a complete restructure of LCC and the loss of many jobs and courses.
Not only did he manage to keep his existing post but there came a point he was acting in so many positions including interim Head of Finance, that at that time if Les was to leave his job, LCC would have sorely felt the consequences.
“The college was in crisis, I had all these jobs and I was here all hours,” Les exclaims, assuming so many jobs roles inevitably led to his strong relationships with every staff team here at the college. “It never occurred to me I would be so involved in the academic side when starting out,” he says but in actuality his involvement in the academic side of LCC has played a crucial role in the college making it through tough times.
His career has had ups and downs but he unanimously says, “The Student sit-in was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to deal with here. I was left with them (students), I can’t believe how it worked out and when they were going on I never quite forgave the Deans at the time for leaving me to it. They talked a good argument but when the actual incident occurred they disappeared. I was the bad guy left there to hold down the fort. I was the only one who took responsibility.”
The student protests took place in November 2009 when the college was going through a rough patch, when cuts to the arts began, the students had had enough: “The students were perfectly entitled to be doing what they were doing but they had to be controlled.
“I had sympathy with them they were doing what they democratically had the right to do and were effectively demonstrating, they were only doing what students had done through the history of time. Eventually I negotiated. I asked he students to hand over their ID cards in order for the management to identify them. In identifying them we were able to commence disciplinary action, which in the first instance is suspension. It was tough but we got through it.”
For the first time in our chat I saw some genuine frustration, and it is clear Les holds some bitterness through how the protests were dealt with and what he was left to manage.
Finally an anecdote that showed a much more human side: “I think working in creative environment always has its challenges, I think they by nature say no,” Les speaks of the academics of LCC. “Which ultimately is frustrating but it sure does encourage some meaningful debates and that’s the upshot I suppose.”
So what next I ask Mr. Claridge? “Well I’ve been a chair at the magistrates court for over 20 years, I’d like to get back on the adult and youth panels. I worked on the family bench at times, but it’s not for me.”
Of course in his spare time his extra work feeds directly back to society and the local community, Les takes another step closer to becoming an altruistic man.
“I’ll increase my days at court to a couple days a week, but to be honest I’m looking forward to spending some time with my wife and seeing my daughters some more,” he said.
To get the essence of Les across through the written word is not only challenging but you miss out on being with such a joyous and infectious man.
While there is no doubt he’ll be a missed at LCC, I asked my final question, what will you miss the most?
Without any hesitation he says: “The people, the gang, the students, the atmosphere. I love it. Just being a part of an exciting buzzing environment. I leave the LCC in a place much stronger and powerful had I left it two or three years ago. Which is fabulous as it kind of means that the LCC doesn’t need Les Claridge anymore.”
We’re not so sure about that.
It is the house style of the Arts London News that job names are not rendered in capitals, unless it is a formal title like President, Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer.
But however it is written, Les will be missed at LCC and all of us on “that Arts paper” wish him well in his retirement.
Only one question remains: Who will have the megaphone when the next fire alarm goes off?