Roger Thacker, priest, 1947 – 2010

At Ipswich School in the late 1950s and early 1960s, one of the Latin masters was James Young.  Always well turned out and with a somewhat military bearing, he was nevertheless a poor teacher and an embittered one.  He took this out on those of us teenage boys he didn’t like and it amused him to have them seated in the front row where he could direct his habitual sarcasm to the nearest targets, some of whom broke into tears under these assaults while the class looked on, appalled.

At the back of the room were the boys he did favour: farmers’ sons, middle class roughs, toughs and public school thugs, several of whom ended up as officers in the Army.  At the front of the class were his four betes-noirs: wimps, nerds and no-good-at-sports weaklings who nevertheless had a habit of scoring well in tests. I was one of them. And here’s the thing: while the biffos at the back went on to be infantry lieutenants, car salesmen and police constables, we four at the front soared away.

We band of brothers

From the classroom wall to the windows, then, we were Kerry Lee Crabbe, later to be a writer, director and TV producer, and a visiting professor at Queen Mary’s London; myself, for 17 years a diplomat in the British Council; Peter Wheatley, since 1999 Bishop of Edmonton; and Roger Thacker, sometime Vicar of Hammersmith and a noted pastor to the people of West and Central London.  It is Roger I write about now, for this is his obituary.  He has died, after a long illness, at the age of 63.

Roger and his gentle, elderly parents lived in Woodbridge on the river estuary just up the Suffolk coast. He was intelligent, witty and charming, with a ready laugh; but above all sensitive and sympathetic in the truest sense.  As such he was an invaluable source of help and comfort to all his friends.  It was no surprise when he told me, near the end of our time in the school, that he had just walked up the hill to see the Bishop and offer himself for ordination as an Anglican priest.

Having gone up the rungs of the school together, Roger, Peter and I used our good exam results to get into good colleges in matric year 1965: Peter to The Queen’s College, Oxford; I to St John’s College, Cambridge and Roger to Corpus Christi, Cambridge. No college could have been more suited to him, and he to it.  One of the smallest in the university, it seemed more like a little club with better food and better accommodation than most of us had. Roger was given sun-filled rooms in King’s Parade, directly opposite one of the most imposing buildings in the world, King’s College Chapel, and here he, a big jolly bear of a man, entertained his many friends to tea and smoked his pipe and laughed.

Priest in London

After theological college, Roger’s first curacy was at the parish church of St John’s Wood in London, over the road from Lords Cricket Ground and around the corner from the Abbey Road studios. Here he preached densely-written sermons to the rich upper middle class of that district and made himself useful around the vast Diocese of London, at one stage ministering cheerfully to strippers in Soho (and, in clerical garb, beaming at shocked taxi drivers who could not believe he wanted to go where he had just said).

Once he invited me to come and hear him celebrate mass at St Cyprian’s, Clarence Gate, a noted superhigh ‘smells and bells’ church near Baker Street.  It was more intense than Roger was used to.  At the censing of the sanctuary the thurifer swinging the censer finished a theatrical performance with a grand dramatic swing of the silver thurible right round his own head, billowing out a great ring of smoke everywhere and Roger’s startled eyebrows climbing up his face.


St Paul's at dusk

Image by robinbyles via Flickr


In 1974, Roger became Vicar of St Paul’s Hammersmith, the great tower of which stands next to the A4 flyover on the way in from London Heathrow airport (Peter was not far away, ministering in Parson’s Green in Fulham).  The large cosmopolitan community of Hammersmith was not well represented in that cavernous church and Roger set to work rebuilding a living parish for the modern era.  The story of how he managed to persuade big business to build a new vicarage with parish centre on the banks of the boat race stretch of the Thames at Chiswick is an object lesson in how priests today have to enterprise and do deals.  He visited people dying of AIDS; he put a coffee shop into the side of the nave; he counselled and comforted many.  He baptised our daughter Claudia in a side chapel in March 1981.

At some stage after that, things started to go wrong.  He told me that he had turned down the offer to be made Rector of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square; I told him he would have been great in that position.  What happened after that is unclear to me: we were living abroad by then and all I knew was that he became ill; he got married, to an architect; he was in some way ejected from St Paul’s and went to live for a time in Tring, but Licenced to Preach in St Alban’s Diocese.  Later they moved to a flat in London.

I berate myself for not making better contact with him.  Peter Wheatley did and I pay tribute to him for being so very supportive to Roger and Anne in his final years.

Three hundred people attended Roger’s funeral last month, including five bishops.  He is well-remembered in Hammersmith and many people will have felt touched and sorrowful at the thought of his love and care, bestowed so freely.  James Young, wherever you are now: you were wrong about the four of us, but never more so than in the case of the gentle giant and dear friend who has now undertaken his final journey.

“Thou shall keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.”


About rimboval

Writer, thinker and proud grandfather
This entry was posted in Belief, faith and religion, Love and friendship and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Roger Thacker, priest, 1947 – 2010

  1. Andy says:

    My parents moved to Chiswick in 1975 and Roger was such a thoughtful and friendly priest to them. In 1976, at the age of 19 I stayed with them for a while and got involved at St Paul’s; I remember taking part in a sunflower growing competition for which the prize was a print signed on the back by Athene Sale, who was also a regular.
    Roger somehow managed to get a team of us to paint the church roof inside – I remember the perilous scaffolding and Roger with a paintbrush telling jokes as we worked. I visited ST Paul’s again recently but could see no sign of the patterns we made!
    He was chaplain to the Royal Ballet at that time also, and I remember being invited to a party at the vicarage for them, and to many other social events.
    Very sad to read, rather late in the day, that Roger has gone, but it is lovely to read your tribute to him. He was a good friend to us at a difficult time.
    Rev’d Andy Bridgen, St George’s Portsea.

  2. Jack Dunwell says:

    I read and reread your OI article. And now this. Thank you.
    I remember Roger as a large pink jovial chap, but more the mystique of the then 2A !!
    It was a fine nucleus in your year. Very young, very bright. My connections were with Roger Monk, with whom I grew up and David Loxton. Peter, of course… I was amazed by the externals… singer, gentleness…
    You speak of Jimmy Young. I’m surprised that anyone survived boarding. Stuck with the same drear philistines. It takes years to learn to communicate when survival depends on silence.
    Do you remember Kerry’s Felixstowe play, Sandy Shaw music n’all? And Peter endlessly there, front row of the choir, all dangling medallion? And Roger M’s gradual dissolution?
    Right! Back to work! A quick 1700 words of translation, chop some logs, try to handle Bach’s D minor. Béarn suits us
    All best

    Jack Dunwell

  3. Wendy Compson says:

    I cannot believe that Roger has gone, as a young priest he assisted at out marriage in 1970 and then he came to Tuddenham St Mary in West Suffolk to christen our first child Emma. Sadly he was unable to christen our second daughter Annabelle as he was unwell in 1979. I feel so sad and really guilty that we had not made a bigger effort to keep in touch with him and Anne, apart from our annual Christmas Card and newsletter. He was such a selfless person and a wonderful example to all who met him, and it is so sad that he had to suffer for so long. I feel privileged to have known him and his lovely parents.

    • Jill & John Gelling says:

      My silver wedding anniversary is 22nd July 2014. Feeling very sad . Roger Thacker Will always be in our memory.

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