Octogenarian's witty memoir will 'cause eyes to pop'

28 September 2011

A frank and witty portrait of a life well lived, of the Canterbury province and its university, and of New Zealand over the last eight decades, will be launched by Canterbury University Press this week.

A frank and witty portrait of a life well lived, of the Canterbury province and its university, and of New Zealand over the last eight decades, will be launched by Canterbury University Press this week.

Sliding Down the Hypotenuse is the memoir of veteran journalist Eric Beardsley. In the 80 years since he arrived in Christchurch from the West Coast, he has lived a full and varied life and devoted much time to observing the Canterbury scene, its people, politics, conflicts and progress. The result is Sliding Down the Hypotenuse, an eclectic and delightful mix of memoir, biography and history.

His career was split largely between two decades at The Press newspaper, where he rose from night messenger to leader writer, and nearly a quarter of a century as the University of Canterbury’s Information Officer. This makes his autobiography almost an unofficial history of significant times in the lives of the two institutions.

He reckons there might be a few things in his frank account of events and descriptions of characters that “will cause eyes to pop”.

Highlights during his newspaper days included working alongside Kiwi literary icons Allen Curnow and James K. Baxter in The Press’ “subbery” and the mind-broadening provided by his stint as a Commonwealth Press Union travelling fellow in 1961, which allowed him to study newspaper editing on Fleet Street and at the Yorkshire Post, and to take a Commonwealth Affairs course at Oxford University.

Beardsley, who studied at the University of Canterbury following school years at Aranui Primary School and Christchurch Boys’ High School, says he was fortunate to work at the University during what he describes as its “golden era”.

As Information Officer he was the one-man unit responsible for the University’s public relations and communications. During his time in academia Beardsley established the campus publication Chronicle in 1964.

“It was known at first as the five-minute silence, which I took as a compliment, for anything that could silence a university, even for five minutes, had some merits.”

He was co-author of both A History of the University of Canterbury 1873-1973 and Design for a Century, the centennial history of the School of Engineering. Among the anecdotes of his Canterbury days recounted in Sliding Down the Hypotenuse he recalls some of the VIPs and academic visitors he escorted around the new Ilam campus, including the former British Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who at the time was Secretary of State for Education, and British author Dame Iris Murdoch, whose life inspired the 2001 biographical film Iris.

While often richly humorous, the book contains a poignant passage in Beardsley’s memoir reflecting on the fact that many of the buildings in which he has lived, learned and laboured have been destroyed by the seismic activity of the past year, including the Press’ historic Cathedral Square building and the shop his parents had lived in. The February earthquake even caused the book’s manuscript lie prisoner in the Red Zone for two months in editor Anna Rogers’ Arts Centre office.

It was another offering of Mother Nature – August’s snowstorm – that caused a postponement of the book’s initial launch date. Sliding Down the Hypotenuse will now be launched at the University Bookshop tomorrow evening (Thursday 29 September) by UC Registrar Jeff Field, who was Beardsley’s successor when he retired from UC.

  • Sliding Down the Hypotenuse, by Eric Beardsley, published by Canterbury University Press, August 2011, RRP NZ$35, Paperback, 211pp.  ISBN 978-1-927145-00-5.

For further information please contact:
Maria De Cort
Canterbury University Press Publicist
Communications & External Relations
DDI: +64 3 364 2072
Mobile: +64 27 299 0741

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