EDWIN SHIRLEY October 16th 1948 – April 16th 2013
by Geoff Piper and friends
Edwin was always the life and soul of the party, even if there was no party: always positive with the attitude of "yes let's do it" rather than "hmm maybe". He was very sporty and was an excellent front–row forward in the 1stXV, always energetic and hard-working: he played hockey very much like a rugby player! The rugby field was really the only place where he was hard-working at school: he was academically gifted which means that he didn't need to overstretch himself while the rest of us had to try hard, however he was totally down to earth and pleased to help others. Edwin was one of our founder members of the motor cycle club in premises underneath the art room (hut) where we spent sessions taking engines to bits and nearly back together again. Edwin was good at this having grown up on a farm where some engineering skills are necessary. He was more remembered for his awful blue ford van and his one (or maybe two) Morgan three-wheelers with nothing much more that the undercanvas showing on the tyres. In the days of "one for the road" this meant that occasionally (such as when driving Mike Heeley home) the Morgan ended up in a drainage ditch on Romney Marsh: this was nothing that the blue van and Cranbrook School boy-power couldn't cope with on the next day.
Also of course Edwin loved being on stage and was a talented actor and joined the National Youth Theatre (NYT) where he received much aclaim. We all remember Edwin at parties too: he always managed to "get off" with the prettiest girls....how we hated him! Not really – in fact Edwin was very popular with everyone, was generous in giving out help and above all was LOUD: his natural high decibel voice was perfect for the stage. Edwin not only took part in serious drama plays but also the annual "sing-song" which was an annual revue written by, acted in and produced and directed by the pupils. (We were called "pupils" in those days not "students"). In our last revue (1966) his most memorable characters were a caveman in one sketch and a bank robber in my first (and last) film blockbuster "The Allen Film: the Great Cranbrook Mail Robbery". Yes Edwin joined me and half of Horsley House in being the FIRST EVER members of the new Allen House in September 1965 when Horsley was split as it had become twice the size of the boarding houses (and therefore won all the housematches).
Though we met occasionally I did not see a lot of Edwin after we both left Cranbrook School though it was nice that my daughter was friends with his two daughters at Cranbrook School many years later. His younger son also became a Cranbrookian (and of course an OC).
All of Edwin's talents earned him a place at Cambridge where he especially continued his acting and even appeared in "the Footlights" – he never forgot his experiences with the NYT and returned to them years later in more of a supporting role backstage and with lighting.
Edwin's "let's do it" attitude led to him becoming a successful entrepreneur: he had contacts in the music/rock band circuit and spent some time as lighting engineer and van driver for groups such as Ike and Tina Turner, Paul McCartney – on his first tour of Europe with Wings – and David Bowie. In 1973 having noticed that all the bands toured in terrible cheap, uncomfortable vans he and an old friend created "Edwin Shirley Trucking" in which he transported bands and their equipment in relative luxury: bands including the Rolling Stones and Queen. EST motto: "you rock, we roll".
In the early 1980s Edwin left EST and formed Edwin Shirley Staging which transported staging (!) and lighting equipment for BIG music events such as including the stage for the London "Live Aid" at Wembley Stadium in 1983. Edwin was the Mr Big behind the scenes for so many productions a name known to few outside the industry but to nearly everyone inside.
Edwin lived in the east end of London and saw the potential of some old warehouses which he and colleagues bought, soundproofed and converted to large and successful studios. Three Mills Island studios were home for many films, the first production of "big brother" and the production of Little Dorrit. I remember him telling me that he decided to do a Three Mills Studios calendar and told the pretty models would they mind going on a film shoot in the East...(pause)...(smiles from girls)...End of London!
Edwin was very much a larger than life person and always very lively – he had a huge circle of friends because of his huge personality and willingness to always help people and do them favours. His businesses did not always run according to plan and he left the studios and created his own small company: he was basically a "Mr Fixit" for film and stage companies. If a film producer needed an elizabethan costume or an Austin 7 in a hurry it would just take a phone call to Edwin and it would be found and delivered.
Sadly Edwin contracted bowel cancer in 1990 but it did not stop him working and enjoying life. Indeed when my friend Tim Jackson (OC) visited him in Edwin's last year, Edwin was constantly being phoned up as they chatted. Edwin even visited the USA a few months before he died.
Cancer won in the end: I shall not say that Edwin "battled it" or "fought it bravely" because Edwin would have thought that a stupid thing to say: I gather that he largely ignored it as much as he could – what an amazing character. Edwin is missed by so many people: witness the huge number at his funeral at which the vicar wore a white shirt with "you rock, we roll" written all over it and Edwin's coffin rested on a packing case with Edwin stencilled on it. And witness the HUGE gathering at his memorial celebration which more or less filled the Round House in Camden for a few hours. Bye Edwin, you are missed.