'One in a million' - Bradwell teacher who brought joy to the classroom

Ralph Brackenbury of Woodlands Middle School, Bradwell

Teacher and comedy legend Ralph Brackenbury has died aged 89. He is pictured here around the time of his retirement in 1995. - Credit: Hannah Brackenbury

A primary school teacher whose Christmas comedy performances were the stuff of legend has died aged 89.

Ralph Brackenbury inspired a generation of children at Woodlands Middle School, Bradwell, with his passion and enthusiasm, channelling his love for comedy and performance into his "stand-up" role in front of a class.

As both an educator and entertainer, his daughter Hannah Brackenbury said his Cecil the Caterpillar sketch was a hardy annual that delighted pupils causing shrieks of laughter to rise up from the school hall.

She said the family was stunned by the number and content of glowing tributes on social media saying he was "one in a million", "a legend of a man" and "someone who made the world a better place".

Ralph Brackenbury with a class at Woodlands Middle School in the 1990s.

Ralph Brackenbury has been described as 'one in a million' by former pupils of Woodlands Middle School mourning his loss. He has died aged 89 but left a lasting legacy inspiring many with his passion, enthusiasm and sense of fun. - Credit: supplied by Hannah Brackenbury

Mr Brackenbury, whose 38-year teaching career began at Alderman Leach Boys School in 1957, was known for his warmth, humour and for "making learning fun", the 42-year-old Brighton-based comedy performer said.


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Born in Great Yarmouth on March 8, 1932, Mr Brackenbury was the eldest son of Lily and Bertie Brackenbury, and brother to Brian.

He attended Caister Junior School and Great Yarmouth Grammar School where he passed his exams with flying colours in 1948.

Ralph Brackenbury with Woodlands Middle School pupils in the 1990s on a school trip.

Ralph Brackenbury on a school trip with children from Woodlands Middle School, Bradwell, in the 1990s. - Credit: supplied by Hannah Brackenbury

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His working career began that same year at Grouts Silk Factory where he was a keen member of the company cricket team, before carrying out his National Service as a recruitment clerk in the Royal Air Force, spending some time in Egypt.

In 1955 he began teacher training at Grantham College and qualified two years later to take up his first teaching position at the Alderman Leach Boys School in Gorleston.

In 1963 he began teaching at Bradwell Junior School where he became deputy head in 1972, before moving to the new Woodlands site in 1976.

He was deputy head at Woodlands until his retirement in 1995.

Ralph Brackenbury a popular teacher who has died aged 89.

Legendary school teacher Ralph Brackenbury taking part in one of the famous snow ball fights at Woodlands Middle School in Bradwell. - Credit: supplied by Hannah Brackenbury

Former Woodlands colleague Tracey Lilly said: “Ralph was very supportive and encouraging, and someone that young teachers aspired to be like. He had a great sense of vocation which he carried out with unique humour. The staff respected him immensely and the pupils adored him. Everyone waited with great anticipation for his Christmas Talent Show act which always finished off with his famous rendition of Cecil the Caterpillar.

Former colleagues Pete and Sheila Russell said: “Ralph was a man who saw the humour in everything. He was an amusing and adorable man who was a pleasure to be with and work with.”

Ralph Brackenbury who made learning fun

Ralph Brackenbury was no stranger to the dressing up box. He is picture here as Worzel Gummidge, his outfit for the Bradwell charity bike ride. - Credit: supplied by Hannah Brackenbury

A keen sportsman, he played football for Caister FC, as well as tennis, badminton and cricket for other local teams in his youth.

He was a keen golfer and snooker player in his later years. For many years he was a regular participant in the annual Bradwell charity bike ride, often leading the way in fancy dress - most memorably in a Dick Dastardly outfit complete with cardboard plane wings attached to his bicycle.

Ralph Brackenbury was a teacher who entertained and educated.

Another charity bike ride costume - on this occasion teacher Ralph Brackenbury dressed as a mummy. - Credit: supplied by Hannah Brackenbury

He is survived by his wife Maureen, children Joanne, Glen, Karen, Hannah and step-son Thomas.

He had eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

His youngest daughter Hannah added: “He was so well-loved by everyone that knew him.

Ralph Brackenbury outside Wellington Pier

A young Ralph Brackenbury outside Wellington Pier in Great Yarmouth. - Credit: supplied by Hannah Brackenbury

"He always had a new joke to tell and he just loved entertaining people, from relatives and friends at family parties to the pupils at Woodlands school assemblies and talent shows.

"He loved music and comedy and despite being very poorly was still making us laugh right up to the end.”

Mr Brackenbury had been ill with cancer for some time, but still always had a smile on his face, his daughter said.

Ralph Brackenbury supporting Comic Relief

Ralph Brackenbury supporting Comic Relief at Woodlands Middle School. He has been described as someone "who made the world a better place." His sense of fun and ability to see humour in everything have sparked many memories among former pupils saddened by his death aged 89. - Credit: supplied by Hannah Brackenbury

Himself a frustrated performer whose ambition had been to be a clown, he took great delight in his daughter's career and last went to see her at the Brighton Fringe in 2019.

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