John Cotter: The man who rode an elephant into Hampstead

John Cotter with his wife and daughters. Picture: Ann Mills

John Cotter with his wife and daughters. Picture: Ann Mills - Credit: Archant

Not many men get to ride an elephant down Hampstead High Street.

But John Cotter, who died in October at the age of 88, did just that back in 1977 as the Royal Free Hospital celebrated its move to Hampstead in style at that year’s Hampstead carnival.

John rose from being a hospital porter at the Royal Free, back when it was on Grays Inn Road, to become the hospital administrator – and it was in that role he was pivotal in organising the hospital’s relocation to its current Pond Street home.

When the move was completed, John was lucky enough to ride a carnival elephant – long way from its natural habitat.

John’s daughter Ann said it was a highlight of her dad’s career as she remembered his passion for the hospital.

She told the Ham&High: “He was actually riding a carnival elephant. Can you imagine?

“He had started off as a porter. before marrying my mum, who was a nurse. Of course in the end he rose all the way to end up as the administrator.”

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Ann said John’s role during the hospital’s transition absorbed him.

She explained: “There was so much organisation – the move was his baby!

“He was tasked with making sure all patient records were transferred up, a huge job in those days.”

John worked at the hospital until he took early retirement in 1989.

“He worked so hard, it was important to him. He was born into a working class family in Somers Town.”

John’s early life was scarred by the Second World War, but the time he spent as an evacuee in Moulton, Lincolnshire was something he treasured for the rest of his life.

Ann added: “He really loved it up there, he was sent to the countryside and he had a wonderful time, despite everything else. It was his home from home.”

He had taken the job as a porter in the early 1950s, after being unable to do national service because of a bout of tuberculosis.

Although he was born in Somer’s Town, much of his childhood was spent in Islington,

John is survived by his wife Patricia and three daughters Jane, Sara and Ann.

In 2000, John and Patricia retired to Kent, where John’s funeral will take place – on December 28 at Margate Crematorium.