Holocaust Survivor, Educator, Journalist
By Bill Holdsworth On October 4, 2012 @ 6:24 pm In Literary & Visual Arts | No Comments
If you want to know how the Fourth Estate of journalism works in the world of recording intrigue, fact, and gossip, as seen through the eyes of the Daily Telegraph, then Life Between the Lines is your book.
You can learn how the UK’s polytechnics became universities, and discover that John Izbicki, a Jewish boy who, just in time, got away from Berlin (having witnessed the Kristallnacht and the onslaught of Hitler’s Brown Shirted thugs, who smashed his father’s haberdashery shop), was the man who had the vision to make it happen.
Autobiographies and memoirs provide colourful threads from which the tapestries of history can be woven. For any reader they can also be seen as pieces of a puzzle that, clipped together, create a bigger picture of our immediate past, with possible pointers into future time.
In 1942, I was a student of building at London’s Northern Polytechnic during the blitz where many of my classmates were so different from my usual street pals. They talked about worlds of music, philosophy, the arts, and sciences in a way that planted the seeds of excitement that have steered the rest of my life.
These boys, with their unusual sounding names, were of the same faith and culture as John Izbicki and his parents, who had been lucky to catch the last boat out of Holland without a penny in their pockets, and even more so not to be interned, because the port officer thought the name Izbicki was Russian.
The Northern Polytechnic had by 1996 become the University of North London. At the end of a career as a leading educational journalist and years as the Paris correspondent for what some people liked to call ‘The Torygraph’, John was headhunted at the age of 62 to be the all-action, dedicated public affairs director, with a curriculum vitae that many an academic would fight for.
He scores high marks in his support of Shirley Williams’ battle to create the GCSE and top marks in doggedly fighting regressive civil servants to make Harold Wilson’s dream of a University of the Air come true.
The Open University, as it became known, finally made it to the statute book through the support of Margaret Thatcher, whom he once had the wit and charm to persuade to join him after a dance at a congress in Scarborough to admire the moonlight with a walk on the beach.
What he said is not recorded but it later proved that he did much better than many of her ministers, as when she was prime minister she gave whole-hearted support for his campaign to transform polytechnics into universities, which continues to benefit so many.
Life Between the Lines contains a whole cornucopia of previously untold stories: of his first love and of an eclectic life, where a love of acting enabled him to talk and write his way through a world of educational intrigue and delight. His educational successes were legion. He was not partisan and supported anybody who he thought was honest and had integrity.
I had hoped that in his last short chapter John Izbicki would have put his unerring finger upon the machinations of our current coalition government’s educational policy. An invitation to BBC 2’s Newsnight would be a good idea.
John’s life is symphonic with periods of excitement and joy overshadowed by intense sadness, tragedy, and glimmers of despair and being let down. As we all know, our lives can splinter into many shards between the lines of living.
Like the founder of the Paralympics, Dr Sir Ludwig Guttmann, he was to find his way to Britain and bring seeds of vision and enhancement to the world of the press and education.
Life Between the Lines is a story of a life well lived, and is well told. A great read with much to discover.
Life Between the Lines by John Izbicki is published by Umbria Press, 2012, £12.95 softback.
Bill Holdsworth is an environmental engineer, author, lecturer, traveller, and journalist.
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