The authors of a new play about the former LEH Classics teacher, who led a truly extraordinary life as the “godmother of Sumo Wrestling”, want to hear your memories of her.
In the autumn of 1950, an 18-year-old Midlands girl called Doreen Clarke gazes up at the turrets and tall chimneys of Girton College, Cambridge. A world of possibilities is before her eyes. She has no inkling of how her life will unfold but she knows she is on the brink of a change that will shape her future.
Eighteen years later and the girl is now a married woman, Doreen Simmons. She has been teaching the children of British service personnel in Singapore since 1960, but her contract and her husband’s job have both come to an end and the couple have decided to return to the UK. Doreen is about to take up a teaching post at The Lady Eleanor Holles school in Hampton.
Five years, and an appearance on Mastermind go by before she decides to move on from LEH. Perhaps the students she taught there never hear of her again. Perhaps some of them occasionally wonder what happened to Mrs Simmons. Well, I can tell you that she had quite a life!
Soon after leaving LEH, Doreen moved to Japan. This time she was alone, as her marriage had come to an end. She had visited Japan before, as part of an extended period of travel in early 1968, and had been very taken with the place, particularly its culture. She began teaching English and became Director of Studies at the Tokyo International Language Centre.
Ever the linguist, Doreen now added Japanese to her list, mastering the language so well that she gave up teaching. Her new job was with the Foreign Press Centre and she also worked for the Japanese government as a translator and editor. These jobs were Doreen’s bread and butter, but she packed so much more to her schedule.
She wrote a series of booklets about aspects of Japanese culture, among them Kinzo the Potter, Bon Odori – Summer Dancing
and Fine Feathers in Sumo.
She developed a particular interest in sumo wrestling and, as with all of her interests, she was keen to learn all she could. Her eventual expertise in the subject led her to become a respected columnist and from the early 1990s she was a successful commentator, working with the English language service of the broadcaster NHK. In November 2010 the Japanese-British Society gave her an award for contributions to Japanese-British relations, with particular reference to sumo.
Doreen had a strong soprano voice and sang at various times with the St Albans Choir, Tokyo Madrigal Singers and the British Embassy Choir and was also partial to a spot of karaoke. She loved acting and belonged to the Tokyo International Players. She was an agony aunt for a period of time, appeared on a TV cookery show, did various voice-overs and audio recordings, including the voice of Miss Marple, enjoyed playing a variety of percussion instruments and loved to socialise. She was an active member of St Albans Anglican Church and a patron and member of FEW – For Empowering Women in Japan. As part of their 30th
anniversary celebrations, FEW recognised Doreen with a lifetime achievement award.
Doreen’s love of travel took her around the world: the Americas, the Far East, Africa, Antarctica and Mongolia, where she did voluntary work for the charity Habitat for Humanity, returning home complete with Mongolian tattoo. Her 71st birthday was celebrated with a bungee jump, such was her zest for life and new experiences.
In 2017 Doreen’s contribution to the promotion of Japanese culture was recognised by the Japanese government: she was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, the highest civilian honour. She died in Tokyo in 2018 at the age of 86.
I only became aware of Doreen and her fascinating life after her death. My good friend Jane Russell had read an obituary online and was intrigued, as Doreen was from our home city of Nottingham but we hadn’t heard of her. We started to research her life and the more we uncovered, the more interested we became. We agreed that someone should do something to bring this woman to people’s attention.
I thought about it for a while, then it struck me that we could do something ourselves. Jane was immediately taken with the idea and after some discussion we decided on a play. We have been working on it for almost two years and we think it is almost finished, although we do keep finding new information and tweaking here and there. Our aim now is to see the final version brought to the stage so that we can share the story of Doreen’s amazing life.
If you have any memories of Doreen from her time at LEH we would be very interested to hear them. Please feel free to email me direct. My address is email@example.com