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Piano music Chopin Scriabine Busoni Vernon Warner-flying, pigeons  
  
 
 
 
 

 
 

Dudley Vernon Steynor AFC
16th October 1909 – 4th December 2009


Dudley Steynor: classical pianist, inventor, RAF pilot and recipient of the Air Force Cross, glider instructor, pigeon fancier and motoring enthusiast. In his lifetime he owned and drove a variety of two- and four-wheeled vehicles and invented many devices still used in one form or another today. His piano career was interrupted by the WWII but Dudley always considered himself more of an inventor than a pilot or even a pianist. His letters were often published in the Telegraph, of which he was a keen reader, and he appeared on television in interviews about David Niven.

Dudley was born in Malvern, the home of the Morgan motor car. His family was close to the Morgan family and Dudley celebrated his centenary this year along with the iconic British car. His father was a dentist who attended many of the famous actors who took part in the heyday of The Malvern Festival – names like Robert Donat, Ernest Thesiger, Alastair Sim, Yvonne Arnaud, George Arliss and others. Dudley himself was invited into many a social occasion and reminisced fondly about a table tennis game that included Sim and Arnaud.
His schoolboy years were spent in part at Stowe School; he started there as one of the first class of pupils in 1923, along with schoolmates who included actor David Niven, Geoffrey de Havilland, and Sir Nicholas Winton, acclaimed as the English Schindler. In later years Dudley bumped into David Niven at Heathrow Airport – and Niven recognised him immediately. When the life history of David Niven was filmed for the BBC, Dudley was interviewed on his recollections of Niven as a schoolboy.
Dudley’s musical education included studying with Vernon Warner, one of the finest pianists during the early years of the last century. He also studied the piano at the London Academy of Music and followed this with two years at the Edwin Fisher school in Berlin, just prior to the outbreak of war, where he was taught by Conrad Hanson.

Dudley’s nascent musical career was interrupted by the Second World War. He had joined the Hounslow Flying club in the mid 1930s, along with his brother Martyn; as well as enjoying flying immensely, Dudley had shown great skill. During his two years in Berlin he became convinced that Germany was preparing for war. He was billeted with a German family who were very pro-Hitler and Dudley saw a lot of Hitler at rallies and even rubbed shoulders with Goebbels. He recalled that the general attitude was summed up by the words of a pub owner he met: “We would like, with England, to rule the world.” There was certainly no animosity towards the English, he remembered, but the feeling of “we are the master race” prevailed everywhere. He took a rather untimely holiday in France in 1939 and only just managed to return home the day after Hitler invaded Poland.
His wish to assist the war effort as a pilot was initially thwarted by poor sight in one eye, and he spent some months as a ground link trainer instructor with the Oxford University Air Squadron. His commanding officer, ‘Jumbo’ Edwards was flown from his own house to Swindon by Dudley and, upon landing, demanded to know why he was not flying full time. When he heard the reason, Edwards arranged a medical for Dudley in London with the Chief Medical Officer of the RAF. This doctor, primed by Edwards, tested Dudley’s eyesight by requesting him to read the chart with his good eye and then – without changing the chart and looking the other way – asked him to read it again. Dudley passed the medical, including the eye test.
Some months later Dudley bumped into the same doctor and thanked him for passing him but asked if he realised that in fact his sight in one eye was really quite poor. The doctor replied that he knew people who could see perfectly, but who were quite dangerous in the air, whereas there were some people – like Dudley - who had less than perfect eyesight but were excellent pilots. And as one who lived on the ground he would prefer people like Dudley above him!
As he was 31 when war broke out, Dudley was too old to sign up as a fighter pilot and so qualified as a flying instructor posted to Booker airfield (now Wycombe Airpark) in charge of B Flight. Here he met and subsequently married in 1943 Ann Creighton, who was helping run the Officers tea wagon, along with the nieces of King Zog of Albania who were living in exile at Parmoor close by.
Dudley taught many people to fly over the period of the war, teaching on the standard training airplane of the day – the Tiger Moth. Booker took a major role in training pilots who subsequently flew troop carrying gliders for the Arnhem landings. Dudley’s war time flying experiences included getting caught up in a wayward barrage balloon and only just missing the Church steeple in Marlow. The latter came about through flying in close format  behind his lead, CO Cecil Lewis, in a training attack in the form of a Stuka dive bomb simulation on the town’s gunnery placements. Dudley’s contribution to the war was recognised when he was awarded the AFC in 1944.
After the war he succeeded Vernon Warner as the music teacher at Brondesbury-at-Stocks, near Tring, where he taught for 16 years. His passion for music remained with him until his hearing became sufficiently impaired that he could no longer enjoy listening to his music. When he was in his late 80s and early 90s, he produced two CDs of his favourite pieces, largely comprising Chopin Studies, of which – along with Warner – he was an acknowledged master.

As an inventor Dudley created a wide variety of devices, including the Verdik petrol economiser, a pre-cursor of most of the post-war carburettor designs, and the design of which, in the absence of having any patents, was copied extensively by the motor industry. He also produced, in the early 1950s, the first canvas windbreak for use at the seaside, now seen in a plastic version on many a campsite and beach today.
Another invention included his Watch Dog car immobiliser system, tested by the High Wycombe constabulary – who were unable to defeat it – and sold to many car enthusiasts to protect their pride and joy. He then turned from theft control to pest control when an uncle in Birmingham, past owner of the hardware emporium Frederick Jeavons, asked him to design a humane rat trap to replace the, by then obsolete, Monarch trap. Dudley’s research showed him that rats would only willingly enter a trap where they could see an unobstructed way right through it.
The design that Dudley came up with led to the Kleerun Master Rat Trap, produced by a manufacturer in High Wycombe. The traps could catch up to six rats at one time and were sold in their hundreds to Frederick Jeavons to be marketed at 13/6d each, of which Dudley received 6/9d. Then came government intervention. The Prime Minister of the time, Harold Wilson, decreed that with rationing, locals supplies were strictly controlled and materials were to be exported. Although Dudley was using British steel, he had to buy it through Canada and, of course, pay the extra cost for something that had been exported and then sent back to the UK. This meant a large price increase in materials and the trap eventually became too expensive.
However, there was a twist in this particular rat tale. A surgeon who specialised in burns was staying in Lane End in the house of the Hon Mrs James when he spotted one of Dudley’s rat traps and said: “That is the mesh I am looking for!” There was, he told Dudley, no requirement in law to fit guards to electric fires and tiny children were often brought to him with terrible burns after gripping the glowing elements.
The surgeon had managed to get a bill through parliament making guards mandatory on electric fires and asked Dudley to arrange for guards on every LCC (London County Council) electric fire. The co-operation of the LCC led to orders from several electricity boards and the works at High Wycombe were kept busy turning out the ANN-D guards by their thousands. This was followed up by the gas boards. Dudley also made the BRADDEL guard for open fires with a considerable demand for it from a Belfast hospital.
Another invention of Dudley’s that made him money was his strawberry frame which made it possible to grow about 24 plants on a ground area of 3ft x 2ft. The frames were bird-proof, slug proof and could be watered from the top, and Dudley had four of them on his patio which were over 35 years old and still in good order.
After he dug and installed – by hand – a swimming pool in his own garden Dudley’s attention moved to some form of heating system. This resulted in the innovation of the Solar Coil solar panel, which came to market in the mid 1970s. This was tested at the alternative energy research centre in Wales and found to be as close to 100% efficiency as their then state of the art instrumentation could quantify. The design, though simple – comprising as it did a single length of copper pipe wound into a flat pancake style coil – was expensive to make, and commercial success was therefore limited.

Dudley’s earliest motoring passion was for motorcycles, and he regularly competed in pre World War II on- and off-road trials, on lightweight Villiers-engined James and Francis Barnet motorcycles. He won a Silver medal in the Villiers Cup Trial in 1930, beating the legendary Vale Onslow (SOS motorcycles) in a final stage where the slowest ascent of a hill won the day.
His many and varied cars included two estate-type modified Rolls Royces, one of which, a Phantom 1 purchased for £75, was photographed on the Llanberis Pass along the Pyg track in what is now Snowdonia National Park. These were the cheapest family cars he could buy at the time, with the contemporary lack of regard for seat belts and free-standing canvas bench seats for his passengers. Through his family connection with the Morgans of Malvern, he also owned a number of Morgan three-wheelers. His favourite car in recent times was his Alfa Romeo Spider.
In the 1960s Dudley’s delight in the non-conventional led to his purchase of an Aveling and Porter Steam Roller steamroller (on the recommendation of a steam engine fanatic, Chris Edmonds). This was used to roll a number of community roads in his local village of Lane End, where Dudley had moved with his new wife Ann in 1943. One of these was the School Road, when Dudley was accompanied by the local MP of the time, Sir John Hall.
On another occasion Bill Connor – Cassandra of the Daily Mirror – asked Dudley to let him have a go at driving the roller and Connor duly arrived complete with photographers for the event. He had arranged for lunch at the Blue Flag pub, a couple of miles away, and wished to drive them there himself on the steamroller. However, steering a steam roller is not easy and Dudley only narrowly averted a crash (and considerable embarrassment in the media) by taking over with rapid use of the reverse gear.
Dudley’s passion for motoring led to his greatest period of financial stability, when he bought the local garage in Lane End – Goodchilds. The garage began by selling the Hillman Imp and then moved onto the novel DAF Variomatic transmission cars; at one time Dudley had the largest-selling franchise of the marque in the UK. He sold out this business at perhaps the peak of the smaller independent garage market.

After the sale of his garage and subsequent retirement, Dudley concentrated on his passion for gliding, developed in the 1970s. When Dudley’s eldest son, William, took up gliding he decided it would perhaps be fun to resume his own love of flying, so he joined the local flying club at Booker: the same airfield as his war time exploits. He became not only a highly regarded glider pilot, but was also acknowledged as one of the best glider instructors of his generation.
Dudley also regained his private pilot’s licence, which allowed him to fly powered aircraft, including his beloved Tiger Moths and tug aircraft used for launching gliders. His passion for flying was increasingly focused on instruction, and he often took on “impossible” pupils whom others had failed to train and successfully trained them so that they, too, could enjoy flying solo.
He established the Tuesday evening gliding group which provided after work gliding for both pupils and joy riders during the summer evenings. This became acknowledged as the best evening of the week, with his wife Ann providing nourishment for the team at the end of each evening – regardless of the lateness of the final flight.
His flying continued for some 30 years and he was still instructing when he decided to retire from flying at the amazing age of 84. He was made an honorary lifetime member of the gliding club in recognition of his great contribution to the sport. He was also awarded a British Gliding Association Diploma in 1989.

Dudley had owned pigeons at various stages throughout his life, and by the time he died was still looking after a flock of more than 60 Birmingham Rollers, his particular favourite. In his later years, Dudley developed a keen interest in UFOs and, by strange coincidence, the MoD announced the closure of its UFO unit on the day of his death.
He kept himself fit physically and mentally by doing at least 10 minutes a day on his exercise bike, reading the Telegraph and a variety of books, and completing fiendish Sudoku puzzles until only a few months before his death.
Dudley’s greatest wishes of recent months were to live long enough to celebrate his 100th birthday with his family and friends, and then die peacefully in his sleep so he could rejoin his wife Ann, who passed away in 1996.
He achieved both of these, the first with a centenary celebration in Lane End attended by close to 100 of his relatives, friends and former gliding students. Jonathan Vickery, the surviving son of Mrs Vickery, to whom Dudley sold his Aveling steamroller in the early 1970s, kindly transported the steam engine back to Lane End, where it was on display, along with various vintage cars. The celebrations included flying displays by a glider, a Tiger Moth and a Spitfire.
Dudley Steynor passed away in the early hours of Friday 4th December, with his children William, Linden, and James by his bedside. He is survived by his children and his grand-daughters Harriet, Louise, Juliet, and Helen.

 

 
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