Obituaries

Noel James Diserens

1931 - 2011

Jim Diserens was born in Brighton, the second of four children of bellringing parents. Being born two days before Christmas, he was given the name Noel. However, he was always known by his middle name, “Jim” except for ringing records, in which he was always “Noel J.”

It was during the war that he first took up ringing in Reading, where the family moved in 1939 on the outbreak of war after a few years living in Balham. Thus he initially learned to ring on handbells until the wartime moratorium on church bells was lifted 1943. Then he was able to learn to handle a tower bell at St Lawrence’s, Reading at the age of 11 with some open ringing at Caversham. In 1948, he became a member of the band at St Mary’s, Reading with the rest of the family, as his mother “preferred to ring on 8 bells rather than 12 bells.”

After the War, he quickly advanced, ringing his first peal in 1945 in Goring, his first in hand and first on twelve in 1946, calling his first peal at Harwell and calling Stedman Triples in 1950. After leaving school, he went to work for EMI in Hayes, Middlesex as an electrical technician. Whilst working there, he studied for his degree by taking evening classes at Chelsea College, which was affiliated to the University of London. Through this association he rang with the founder members of the University of London Society.

He also rang with other contemporaries of his day and with them joined the newly-formed Roving Ringers’ cycle tours. He was also invited by Wilfred Williams on tours and joined Alfred Pulling in Peals in Oxford. With his father at the helm and Jim doing the bulk of the conducting, the Diserens family formed the core of a very fine eight-bell band at St Mary’s, Reading, ringing eight-spliced with Glasgow and Belfast long before they had become commonplace. Within a short time, he became renowned as an accomplished ringer, conductor, handbell ringer and back-end/tenor ringer.

On a personal side, he met and later married Helen at St Mary’s, Reading and moved to Woodley, then a village just outside Reading. Four sons followed in quick succession, Michael, Tony, Roger and Brian, all of whom were taught to ring. After moving jobs to AERE Harwell and then to the Rutherford Lab (now RAL) on the same site, where he worked until 1990, the family moved to Wallingford and took over the ringing at Brightwell. There, Jim spent many hours maintaining the bells, teaching recruits and leading the ringing. At the same time, he continued to support ringing at Wallingford and the 12-bell practices in Reading.

Hard work and exercise were something of a theme in his life. He was very fond of cycling. In his youth he often used his bike to get out and about, cycling to the south coast for a ringing tour for example, and he would frequently cycle the 10 miles to work. From around the age of 40, he took up running to keep fit. He joined the running club at work and at the age of 50 ran in the second London Marathon.

In 1990, he and Helen moved to Canada when he went to work at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. in Chalk River, some two hours’ drive west of Ottawa. With little opportunities for ringing, other hobbies took over: choral singing, Scottish country dancing, canoeing and cross-country skiing. Following his retirement in 1996, he and Helen moved back to Wallingford and rejoined the bands in Wallingford and Reading.

He had many highlights in his ringing career, too many to list them all, varying from the youngsters’ peal at Exeter Cathedral with an average age under 21, to a peal of Bristol Max at All Saints’ Worcester with an average age over 65, and recently several handbell peals with an average age well over 70. Other highlights include the record length of Belfast Major, the record 45-spliced Major all-the work (both records stood for over 30 years); the first Bristol Maximus in hand, the first non-conducted Bristol Maximus and eight-spliced Maximus, and many other peals with the “flying circus” band organised by Mike Moreton and David Hilling. He was very proud of his family peals, especially a peal of minor rung with Helen and their four sons for their silver wedding anniversary. In all, he rang just over 1,200 peals, including 200 in hand and 150 as conductor.

It was not just the leading edge of peal ringing which was important to him in ringing. He got just as much pleasure teaching learners or helping ringers through their first quarter or first peal. He was active in ringing organisations, serving on the Central Council for 9 years (supporting the peals analysis committee), and serving the Oxford Diocesan Guild as deputy Ringing Master, Steward and bell fund trustee. For many years he organised and ran the ODG residential course at Easthamstead. He led the Reading band in the first few 12-bell competitions (his panicked tones on the recording of the 12-bell 1978 at St Philip’s, Birmingham when one ringer turned up late have gone down in history), and organised that competition in Reading in 1979, including writing the first version of the competition rules and objectives.

However, it is in the field of composition that he leaves a lasting legacy. He much admired Albert Pitman’s peal of four-spliced Major and developed his own. He was never too happy with this, as he considered it too much like Pitman’s. To branch out, he developed a peal of eight-spliced all-the-work Major, which was rung in its original form, but he soon improved it to give better music and method balance. This is the “classic” composition still often rung today. Working professionally with computers (a rarity back in the 1960s), he used his knowledge and access to mainframes to develop peal-proving software in collaboration with Jim Taylor and John Baldwin, which he used to prove his eight-spliced which had been developed with pen and paper. He used this programme to good effect: He liked to recall checking John Mayne’s composition of spliced 16-in due to be rung that evening, only to find it was false. A timely telephone call to John allowed a suitable correction to be made and the peal was duly rung.

Other areas of composition to which he also contributed include bobs-only Cambridge Major, Surprise Maximus and odd-bob Stedman Triples. He also invented Thamesdown Surprise Maximus in the 1970s, a challenging clean-proof-scale method.

Outside ringing, he led an active life, often extolling the virtues of “enough exercise.” On returning to Wallingford, he joined the local choral society singing baritone in oratorios and other works, including masses and requiems. He was always very fond of mountains, and most holidays were spent in mountainous areas. Over the years, he walked the highest peaks of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. In 2008, when he came to visit his son Tony in North Wales, he said he wanted to walk up Snowdon one last time. They took the short but rocky Pyg track from Llanberis pass. Even at 76, he walked at a good pace and reached the top successfully. As they walked, he talked about death and nearing the end of his life. He said that even if he died the next day he wouldn’t complain, as he’d had a ‘good innings’.

In September, he was visiting his son Brian in Germany, indulging in his love of forests and walking. He’d attempted a handbell peal and was to travel to Dordrecht for two attempts at ten-spliced Major. Sadly, he died at his son’s house on 8th September of a sudden heart attack, despite emergency services arriving within 10 minutes. He was full of life to the end, only just short of his 80th birthday, on which he’d planned to ring an inside bell to a peal of 23-spliced Major on the new bells at Shiplake. Although he will be sadly missed, his energy and enthusiasm will live on in those he encouraged and inspired over his long life. May he rest in peace.

BRIAN DISERENS
(with Antony Diserens and John Wells)


There are many epithets for Jim, a caring husband, father and grandfather, a first class exponent of ringing that included conducting, composing and tenor ringing, an Oxford Diocesan Guild supporter, a College Youths member - and a friend to many.

Jim, his first Christian name was Noel having been born just prior to Christmas 1931, was the second child of Albert and Freda Diserens. He had an elder sister, Audrey, and two brothers, Neville and Ron. Jim was born in Brighton and his father worked for the Post Office. The family moved to Balham and was evacuated to Reading at the commencement of WWII.

All six rang and the family became a post war Reading ringing dynasty setting standards in the south. Practice night on the splendid bells at St Mary’s, Reading was not for the faint-hearted. The striking was expected to be impeccable and invariably was, ringing the standard eight and Glasgow and Belfast S Major, a significant achievement at that time. The Diserens led band flourished during the fifties and sixties and included Frank Lewis, Bernard Groves, Brian Luff, Frank Rivett and Pat Lewington. Jim and Helen and family moved to Wallingford in 1973 and others then led the Reading band which remained a force with the added responsibility for ringing on the twelve bells St Laurence’s.

Jim was an enthusiastic member of the Society of Roving Ringers alongside other up-and-coming youngsters of the day including John and Michael Chilcott, and David Parsons. A peal of Stedman Caters was rung at Beddington in 1949 and one of Stedman Cinques at Exeter Cathedral in 1952, each of which had the record of being by a ‘youngest ever’ band. Later Jim conducted and rang the tenor to a Society peal of Cambridge S. Maximus at Worcester Cathedral.

Peals, challenging for their time, were arranged by Jim, Neville and Ron and included Gorbals S Royal and silent S Major. Invariably Jim would ring the tenor and do so to an exact rhythm and a well judged pace.

Jim enjoyed the technical challenges of multi method peal ringing, of the advancement of peals on handbells and of composition. His compositions of Cambridge and of Spliced S Major have stood the test of time. Others include Spliced S Maximus.

Jim shared with me his peal proving programme which ran in the 1970s on an IBM mainframe computer. It was impressive, taking less than ten seconds and a room full of computing kit, to check 5000 changes! It was Jim’s software that I used to prove John Fielden’s compositions of Spliced S Maximus rung so often by the Flying Circus band. Jim was a stalwart in that band, ringing with solid effect – usually on the eleventh alongside Michael Moreton on the tenor.

Jim spent much of his career working at Harwell at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment and then the Rutherford Laboratory when AERE was divided into several sections. There he was a research scientist and involved in the design of components for nuclear accelerators. He took early retirement in 1990 and then went to work at the Atomic Energy of Canada for five years before finally retiring.

I have known Jim and his wife Helen for fifty years and it wasn’t only in ringing that I had the benefit of their friendship. In 1971 my wife and I settled in Reading at a house with a rear garden that resembled a wild version of an arboretum. It was Jim, Helen and their four boys who spent many hours with us on lumberjack duties until the wild arboretum was tamed.

Jim’s enthusiasm for ringing remained with him throughout his life. He had arranged a peal attempt for his 80th birthday and was to ring inside to Norman Smith’s 23 Spliced S Major. Sadly this aim was not to be fulfilled. With Helen he was visiting son Brian in Germany when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

All of us who had the pleasure of knowing Jim and ringing with him will miss him enormously.

DAVID HILLING

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CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers