The optician who plays music to the blind

Noble has built an extremely successful career as a dispensing optician by day and is a very versatile musician by night.

Clive Noble on the guitar (photo credit: Courtesy)
Clive Noble on the guitar
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is a poor reflection of the type of career guidance offered to British high school students in the Fifties that Clive Noble was advised to be a banker.
For with his humor, imagination and lively energy, he is a man far from the popular stereotype of the dry and prim bank manager we all dread to meet.
Indeed, after a very brief spell in the job advised by his school counselor, Noble has built an extremely successful career as a dispensing optician by day and is a very versatile musician by night.
His school counselors should have been wiser, for Noble played the electric guitar in a jazz band during school breaks and was accused of “stealing the school’s electricity.”
Most artists need a day job, but his banking career was short-lived. As a union member, he was suspected of being a Communist, and this was strongly disapproved of by the management.
He happened to pass an optometrist’s shop advertising for a student to be a dispensing optician and learn on the job.
This gave him the idea of a career change.
His wife’s father had an optical business which imported and distributed spectacle frames and lenses to the wholesale optical trade and lens finishing laboratories.
He went to work in the business and then went to college, studied ophthalmic dispensing and opened a practice in Russell Square in London.
The nearly 75-year-old Noble and his wife, Wendy, made aliya from Kenton, a northwest London suburb, with their three children in 1979 after many visits to Israel and a strong involvement in Zionist youth movements.
Their company had a lot of connections with Israel, so in the first years of their aliya he commuted between London and Haifa. Always a technician and inventor, he also took out a patent in an optics accessory.
After a period of time, he tired of the commuting. After selling the business and their family home in London, they opened a chain of three stores in Haifa, 4-Eyes Opticians, which offered a compete service of testing and dispensing as well as manufacture and technical repairs.
In recent years, they concentrated the entire business in larger, one-stop premises with its own showroom, fully equipped testing and dispensing rooms and laboratory.
Wendy trained as a children’s nurse and had worked at the prestigious Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London. At that time trainee nurses didn’t marry, but she got special permission to continue working after her marriage.
By the time the couple had their third child she was working part-time but found the conditions very difficult to combine with motherhood.
As the family optical practice was growing, she decided to study optics in order to work as a dispensing optician in the family business.
“She focuses more on the testing and I work on the technical side,” said Noble.
Asked how they face the competition of the chain stores in the shopping malls with their special offers and mass marketing, Noble replied: “We provide the very best quality and a personal service.
If any prescription goes wrong, we don’t rest until the patient is satisfied.” And, indeed, over the years 4-Eyes has a loyal clientele.
“At college 50 years ago we covered 8 METRO | FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2016 COVER – MUSIC The optician who plays music Clive Noble on the guitar. (Photos: Courtesy) ‘Imajamo’ program cover, performed in 1987 at the Haifa Children’s Theater Festival.
many theoretical subjects which are never actually used in practice. One of these was how to make Franklin bifocal lenses.
This was the first bifocal lens made and was attributed to Benjamin Franklin,” said Noble.
Modern technology took over in the bifocal industry more than 60 years ago and nobody had the need or time to make Franklins. However, there are still some situations even today where conventional bifocals or multifocals don’t work for some patients, and they are told that they must have two separate pairs of glasses, one for long distance and the other for reading.
“That’s where I come in and, together with two other old-timers in the US, we still make these Franklin lenses. I have made and supplied many dozens of pairs over the last 20 years. It’s a lot of work, but there’s such a feeling of satisfaction when you can make something so unique.
“Actually in the practice together with Jonathan Prais and our optometric team, we have tackled many interesting and difficult ophthalmic cases with great success.”
As a step toward retirement, the couple sold the partnership of the business but still work part-time there, giving them more time and freedom for the traveling they enjoy and involvement with their family. Two of their children now live in Britain and one lives in Binyamina, and between them there are eight grandchildren.
Noble’s business kept him fully occupied over the years, but he never neglected his musical talent or missed an opportunity to play and compose.
“I always loved music but I never trained. I hear a song and can play it. At an early age my parents got me piano lessons, but the teacher gave up on me, so by myself I learned to play the piano and guitar and electric bass.”
As a member of the Habonim youth movement, he loved Israeli music and later was much in demand to play the guitar for Federation of Zionist Youth events.
In 1961, he formed a group, Hane’ Arim (The Young Ones), with Nina Young, Ralph Rosen and John Simon, to perform at the Israel Independence Day celebrations in London, representing FZY. The group kept together and used to play a weekly Israeli night at a Soho coffee bar, drawing as many as 100 people into the crowded cellar. In 1965 they were spotted by a talent scout, who made a connection for them with a famous recording company on Abbey Road. They recorded their LP album Hane’ Arim with a background of a 30-piece orchestra on the day that the Beatles were visiting this famous venue.
The Hane’ Arim group gave many performances over the years, including at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
“We always took a good fee and all the money went to charity, which included a kidney machine in the Emek Hospital at Afula,” said Noble proudly. “That was 50 years ago.... I’m sure it’s been replaced by now.”
The group also played in Late Night Line-Up on British TV after the Six Day War when Israelis were still the heroes of the day.
The 70th birthday of Noble’s brother in London was an opportunity for those “Young Ones” to reunite. After 35 years they remembered all the words and arrangements for those songs. “We sang the night away,” Noble reminisced.
In 1978 he and Judy Davies created pilot shows for Granada TV after a very successful Hanukka show called Candle Cruse, an opera for young people with a cast of over 30 kids from all the Jewish youth movements in the London area and a group of jazz musicians playing with Noble.
In Israel, Clive soon found a musical niche. In 1987 he was musical director, conductor and piano player for Imajamo together with the Haifa English Theater and AACI Northern Region for the Haifa Children’s Music Festival.
“This fantasy musical was originally written in 1976, the story by Judy Davies and the music and songs by myself.” Clive explained. “We performed the show several times in London before our aliya and have a full studio CD of the show.
Here in Israel, it was performed with a large cast of adults and students from the Haifa English Theater and the English- speaking community, as well as an enormous team of backstage technicians responsible for effects, costumes and scenery.
The show was adopted by the Education Ministry for performing at schools in Israel.