As a schoolboy I was fortunate to have a teacher who enjoyed reading stories to his pupils. Every Friday afternoon around 3.30 Mr. Cassidy would climb up on a desk and gather us boys in a close circle around him and for the final thirty minutes of the school day he would read to us.
Mr. Cassidy was from Ireland and had the God given gift of a beautiful voice. The first story he read to us was R L. Stevenson’s novel, “Treasure Island.” He didn’t simply read; he dramatized, taking us out of the cold Manchester grime and on down to the Cornwall coast to the Admiral Benbow Inn to meet Jim Hawkins, Dr. Livesey, Squire Trelawney, Long John Silver and the good ship “Hispaniola” and the heroes and villains who sailed in her. Spellbound, I would often close my eyes and listen as he read. I’ve since read that book several times and always enjoyed it, but never quite as much as listening to Mr. Cassidy’s captivating narration.
Next up was “The Master of Ballantrae” followed by “Kidnapped” from the same author, Stevenson; stories written for boys to be enjoyed by men. And just before that year’s Christmas break, we got Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” What could be a better way to end the school year?
From this experience I developed a love of radio plays such as BBC’s Afternoon Theatre, A Book at Bedtime and Appointment with Fear. For me, a radio play beats a television drama hands down, simply because you are able to use your own imagination. I also came to enjoy reading stories to others and have often done so.
It’s to Mr. Cassidy that I owe my love of books. And over the years I’ve often recalled him, sitting on his desk in his rumpled tweed jacket, hunched over his open book reading to us, acting out the character’s parts and transporting us boys as on a magic carpet to distant lands and fabulous places. Memories.