We regret to tell readers that one of our most valued contributors, Tom Aitken, has died in Richmond, London, from complications caused by COVID-19.
Alan Tristram writes: ‘Tom was our London correspondent for many years, writing with perspicuity and wit about politics, people and the arts.
From the King Country to the UK
Originally from the King Country, Tom’s life as a teacher took him to the UK, where he taught for several years.
I visited him at Richmond twice during UK trips and recall with delight his gentle commentary of the local arts scene, and historical connections, as we walked along the Thames, and its surrounds after literary lunches.
Tom was a great friend of a Raumati couple, Mike and Janet Secker, and it was through this link that he — and also his late wife Ros –began to write for KIN.
Tom Aitken was born in Paeroa to Hazel (nee Brock) while his father ( also Tom) was on active service in Egypt in WWII.
The family story is that Tom’s mother gave a friend a lift to town on the back of her bike and did a few jobs before heading in to the hospital to give birth.
His father returned from the war when Tom was just under four years old.
His brothers Allan and Graham were born soon after; and the family lived in Taumarunui, where they were stalwarts in the Salvation Army congregation.
Founding pupil of Taumarunui High
He attended Taumarunui Primary and was a founding pupil of Taumarunui High School when it was built and opened.
He won the Lincoln Anniversary prize for an essay by a school student. The prize was a whole lot of books for himself and for the school. It was presented by the NZ Prime Minister of the time.
Later, he went to University in Wellington.
He married Rosemary Rowe then taught at Taumarunui High School, where his nickname was “Stretch” on account of his height
Tom moved to UK – and worked in London and then Gloucestershire. He Taught music at Chosen Hill School.
His daughter Vivienne and son Michael were born at this time.
Life as a secondary teacher
After his first marriage broke up, Tom married Rosalind and moved to Richmond, where he worked again as a secondary school teacher.
He taught History and English Drama at Isleworth Grammar School, and directed several impressive theatrical productions.
He also played in the London Collegiate Brass band.
Freelance writer and theatre critic
Then he left teaching to become a freelance writer and theatre critic.
In 1986 his children’s novel ‘Water Lane’ was published (Hodder & Stoughton).
In 1994, he published ‘Nowhere to Hide: A story of Cassino’ (Lamberti Federico e Figili, Editor) about the area where his Dad last served in WW 2
In 1995, he became resident film critic for the Catholic periodical The Tablet (despite not becoming a Catholic) — and became a jury member for the Berlin and Venice film festivals.
He was also a Member of the Critic’s Circle and PEN International and edited several publications, including Brass Band News and PEN News.
His contribution to many journals and papers
He contributed to various other publications including ‘The Times, Times Literary Supplement, Church Times, ‘The Guardian’, ‘Kapiti Independent News’ & ‘Reviewsgate’.
( He also contributed to several poetry anthologies edited by Eric Parrot, including ‘How to be well versed in poetry’ Viking Books).
Fellow of St Deiniol’s Library
In 2005, he became a Fellow of St Deiniol’s Library (now Gladstone’s Library) in Wales. In 2005, he published essays on Film and Theology in Cinéma Divinité (2005) and Through a Catholic Lens (2007).
2007 saw the publication of ‘Blood and Fire, Tsar and Commissar: The Salvation Army in Russia 1907-1923. This was part of ‘Studies in Christian History and Thought Series (Paternoster).’ 2009 Published 101 Beautiful Towns in Great Britain.
Another victim of Britain’s COVID nightmare
In March 2014, he became a widower, following the death of Rosalind. And on 30th June this year, he died the day after his 79th birthday, in Kingston hospital, Richmond, from complications associated with Covid-19.
He was laid to rest in Henley-on-Thames natural burial ground, in a woodland plot next to Ros, on 21st July 2020
Tom Aitken was truly a gentleman and a scholar –a man who loved music, travel, photography, food, history, wine, cinema and theatre.
He is fondly remembered by his family and friends in the UK, New Zealand and elsewhere in the world.
I played with Tom in London Collegiate Brass in the 1970s. We sat next to each other though played different instruments – his the cornet and mine the Bflat bass. He was a quiet, witty man and served the band well for over 10 years. One of his best stories (which he said was true) was that he and Ros planned a holiday to Madrid and a male colleague was also roped in. On arrival at Heathrow airport the passport authorities took one look at Tom’s NZ passport and said that he needed a visa. By this time Ros and the colleague had already gone through and were waiting for him. “What do I do?” said Tom. “Go to the Spanish Embassy and get a visa.” Tom did a pantomime urging Ros and colleague to go on without him. A hurried return journey to London, this time with visa, got him on the next flight. Once there he realised that Ros had all the details of the hotel and he only had a vague recollection of what it looked like from the travel brochure! The next hour was spent driving round Madrid with Tom craning his head out of the window tring to recognise the hotel. Having found it he entered to a scene of tension. The hotel staff had naturally assumed that Ros and the colleague, on their arrival, were husband and wife and had accordingly given them a double room. When Ros returned and explained the circumstances the staff were indignant that she had tried to pull the wool over their eyes! Tom’s entry at this point only made things worse because the staff assumed that he would be outraged and that a crime passionel was likely to ensue.
We lost touch after I left London and I am very sorry to read of his death in such sad circumstances. As an aside, my wife and I visited NZ in 2016 and had a wonderful day on Kapiti. We look forward to coming back some day and discovering more of the coast.
Thank you for this kind commemoration of my father. He would have been very pleased to have been remembered in this way. Regards – Viv Aitken (Tom’s daughter)