[r-t] John Ketteringham

Philip Earis pje24 at cantab.net
Sat Dec 26 10:52:19 UTC 2015

I’m sorry to read that John Ketteringham died on Christmas Eve, aged 86. 

John - also known as Tokyo Joe - had a deep love for Lincoln and its Cathedral, and for Lincolnshire more generally. He researched and wrote the definitive book "Lincolnshire Bells and Bellfounders" amongst many other publications.  His ringing autobiography is on his website, http://johnketteringham.me.uk/autobiography/bellringing.html, detailing amongst other things how he was struck by lightening whilst ringing at St Alban's in 1964. Whilst his relations with ringers in Lincolnshire weren't always a model of harmony, he brought a wealth of knowledge and interesting perspective to many situations and conversations. He will be missed.

Of relevance to this list, John was a very prolific composer for many years. It is hard to summarise such a large body of work (incorporating large numbers of peal compositions of Rutland Major alone), especially one produced in a time when ringing expectations and fashions were very different. There is a risk that, in the words of Philip Larkin, a poet who referenced Lincolnshire, 

"It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind"

John’s compositions tended to be true, and of a kind, getting from start to finish in a simple way. On eight bells he often chose to maximise metrics such as “combination roll ups” and minimise perceived “undesirables” such as 82s at the back; on higher numbers features such as keeping the 6th in 6ths place, and having three courses of 65s, were often prime aims. 

These inputs came together in his compositions, and at times there is a certain on-paper elegance to his closing out of q sets, such as in:

5040 Yorkshire Surprise Royal
John R Ketteringham (no 99) 
23456  M  W  H  
42356     3  -  
54326     -     
42365  s  2  3  
64325     -     
34256  s  2  -  
23456     3  - 

At times John’s output seems to exhibit a wilful bypass of little-bell courses, and a uses of blocks of three courses purely for padding, irrespective of how duff they may be. Clearly, much of this style of composition has gone far out of fashion. From today’s perspective, it’s a little difficult to see how some of John’s 10- and 12- bells compositions got off the drawing board (or perhaps how they got on there). An illustrative example would be:

5040 Plain Bob Royal
John R Ketteringham (no 7) 
23456  W   M   H   
63425  s   s       
64235  -       2   
63245  -       3*  
46235  -       3   
26345  2       -   
36425  2       -   
23465  -           
3* = - - s

However, my intention is not to give a supercilious commentary and write with smug disdain from a vantage point several decades later.  Indeed, at his best John produced some notationally-elegant compositions, especially on eight bells, which achieved what he set out to do. An example would be: 

5120 Bristol Surprise Major
John R Ketteringham (no 70)
23456  M   B   W  H  
62534      -   2  2  
35264          2  2  
24653  2   -   2  2  
52436  2       2  2  
54326  1   -   2  2  
36245  2   -   2  2  
32465  1   -   2  2  
53624      -   2  2  
26354          2  2  
63425  2  F,I  2  2  
64235  1   -   2  2  
25346  2   -   2  2  
23456  1   -   2  2   
Contains 139 combination rollups

Even on higher numbers, John used some innovative embryonic ideas: the context is of their time but the execution is ahead of the curve. It’s necessary to recall that although Bristol Maximus was first pealed in May 1950, there wasn’t a single peal rung of it in the 16 calendar year period from 1952-1967. Compositions of the era therefore naturally focused on stability, given the lack of experience bands of the time had.

In this composition, John neatly uses both 4ths and 10ths place calls to maximise 56 / 65 being in their home positions. The use of both 4th and 10th place calls is a powerful enabling tool here, and has been replicated a number of times over the years.

5088 Bristol Surprise Maximus
John R Ketteringham (no 153)  
23456   I  W  M  O  H     
(46325)  s     -  s        
34265      -     s  2     
24365            s  2     

Moreover, in a subsequent composition (with just 10ths place calls) the total number of calls is kept to a minimum and bell 6 stays firmly in 6ths (save for one typically duffer course that is singled-in at the beginning).  Within these constraints there is some very nice linkage, notably the concluding section OOOIO which delightfully transitions through the attractive coursing orders 24536->23456->25346->24536->52436->53246 :

5280 Bristol Surprise Maximus
John R Ketteringham (no 160) 
23456  I   V   O   
42356      ss  2   
25346  -       3   
54326  -       3   
23456  -       -   

Whisper it quietly, but you’ll find the same concluding transition used subsequently (in Bristol Royal) by the likes of David Pipe, Jim Clatworthy, David Hull, George Campling, Roger Baldwin and doubtless others...

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