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Betty Tadman obituary

My friend Betty Tadman, who has died aged 88, was a gifted artist and inspirational teacher. Her career was largely spent in two posts: first as a class teacher at Queen's House school in Hampstead, north London, where many of her pupils were the daughters of Holocaust survivors, and then at Kingsway College, where she set up and ran the textile department in the 1970s and 80s. Her students there included the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, with whom she got on well – her anarchic streak was every bit as strong as theirs.

She possessed a true talent for drawing out strengths that her pupils did not know they possessed. Beautiful and charismatic, she had a gentle way of helping them to conquer their self-doubt, having overcome the uncertainties of her own childhood.

She was born in Sale, Cheshire, the illegitimate child of the woman she grew up believing was her sister. To avoid social stigma, Betty's grandmother raised her as her own daughter, and as a fun-loving eccentric who prized the latest Hollywood movies above time "wasted" on homework, she passed on to Betty a lifelong appetite for entertainment. But Betty often said it was Dickens, whose novels she discovered at a very early age, who really brought her up.

Betty was 16 and had just won a scholarship to Manchester School of Art, when, in the course of a family row, she discovered the truth about her real mother. She learned nothing about her father, but secretly believed that when she came of age, as in a Dickens story, he would seek her out. It didn't happen. But it was never in Betty's nature to dwell on disappointment.

As a born comedian and raconteur, Betty naturally gravitated to the theatre, at first working backstage, dressing a young Julie Andrews, doing ­Vivien Leigh's hair, and generally assisting the actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit. Later, with her husband, the music critic Michael Church, Betty co-wrote her own plays.

But painting remained her first love and she never stopped producing ­pictures. Her style was eclectic and she could achieve – seemingly without effort – any virtuoso effect she wanted. She was much inspired by Greek mythology and the Mediterranean. She despised the values permeating the London fine art scene, and never courted fame. Appreciation by connoisseurs and friends was quite enough.

Michael survives her. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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