Edward M (Martin) Dyson, Master-in-charge of Cricket (1960-65)
Image: One of Martin’s School XIs is shown in the photograph above, taken at Cromwell Road before the School’s move to Barnes
Martin Dyson died aged 84 very peacefully on the 22nd December 2019 after a long illness bravely born. He had been living at the Hospital of St Cross in Winchester for the past seven years.
Martin attended QEGS Wakefield from 1947 until 1954, playing a particularly important role in the success of school cricket as captain in 1953 and 1954.
After school and national service, he attended Keble College Oxford and in 1958 gained his blue, playing for Oxford against Cambridge at Lord’s. His playing career continued with selection for Yorkshire 2nds and membership of various clubs including M.C.C., Harlequins, Free Foresters, Incogniti and I.Zingari.
He also distinguished himself as a golfer, playing occasionally for the County Cricketers and being a member of a number of different clubs including Swinley Forest and The Berkshire. His teaching career includes many happy years at St Paul’s School (1960-65) where he was master-in-charge of cricket, followed by Eton and Ludgrove, and throughout his life he maintained contact with former colleagues and pupils. He particularly enjoyed his friendship with his first head of department at St Paul’s Mr Don Perkis. One of his first school XIs is shown in the photograph above taken at Cromwell Road before the school moved to Barnes.
His wife, Evelyn, pre-deceased him but his daughter and son and their families were frequent visitors, keeping in close contact from Australia and Gibraltar.
Malcolm Heath played for Hampshire from 1954 to 1962 and was an integral part of the Championship winning team of 1961. Derek Shackleton and Malcolm formed a formidable new ball bowling combination. Their enterprising captain Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie referred to them as “Cab Horse” and “Wonder Horse”.
Malcolm was a wonderful man in many ways. In 1958 he took 126 wickets including a match analysis of 13 for 87 against Derbyshire at Burton. Those 13 wickets were some of the 39 that fell in one day in a game that Hampshire lost. Malcolm was also the only member of the team prepared to sit in the passenger seat of his captain’s car as he drove idiosyncratically on the winding A-roads of pre-motorway England for the duration of a 28-match season.
Malcolm was upright in all senses of that word. He had a beautiful, high action which made best use of his lean 6’6” frame, and firmly held views on how life should be lived and how cricket should be played – competitively, fairly, skillfully and for enjoyment. He always maintained that he had been fortunate to play in a golden age.
His great experience, deep knowledge and gift for communication helped to make Malcolm an impressive coach. With his warm, rich tones, smiling visage and relaxed demeanour, he worked by encouragement and persuasion, never diktat. He was both greatly liked and hugely respected by the boys, who never doubted his judgement. He abhorred excessive noise and any hint of exhibitionism on the field but admired application, effort and skill, whether by friend or foe. His imaginative warm-up exercises and competitions, particularly at the end-of-season festivals were extremely popular, as were the prizes for them (usually made of chocolate).
Always immaculately dressed whether in ‘civvies’ or ‘whites, Malcolm made a massive contribution to the cause of Pauline cricket.
In 2001 he retired to his much loved Stroud, and in December 2019, in the words of his wife Margaret, “he was run out going for his 86th run”, and so sadly he will not attend the re-union of the unbeaten 2000 1st XI, who so admired him, which is planned for June 2020.
William (Billy) N J Howard (Headmaster, Colet Court 1973-92)
Billy Howard, one of Colet Court’s longest serving Headmasters, has died aged 89. Mr Howard took up his post in April 1973, just a few years after the school moved to its current home in Barnes. The new site was still something of a “work in progress”, modern buildings, but no science labs for Coletines and pupils still
being bussed to Osterley for their sports activities as the grounds were not yet
finished. By the time of his retirement in 1992 there was a new science building
and sports were played on site.
Educated at Winchester and New College Oxford, Mr Howard went straight
into teaching and was already a headmaster of a typical rural prep school
by the age of 28. Taking on such an outstanding and much bigger, urban
school was a very different proposition but one that he and his wife, Liz, felt
Colet Court was already a centre of excellence, not only academically but also
in the wider areas of music, drama and sport. What Mr Howard brought to the
school was an energetic, somewhat less stuffy, hands-on approach. Quickly
getting to know the boys, the staff and the much more pro-active and ambitious
cohort of parents was key. He was omnipresent, dropping in on lessons unannounced to observe teaching, eating lunch in the canteen with the boys,
teaching scripture to the younger forms and, with Liz by his side, standing on the
touchlines of matches and always available to greet parents at concerts, plays and other school events.
He served on the committee of IAPS and took his wealth of experience into retirement as an inspector and Governor of several schools, some run by excolleagues. Retiring to the New Forest allowed more time to pursue his other
interests, primarily sailing and gardening. He continued to take an immense interest in the lives and progress of all of his former pupils and staff.
Written by: Anna Gualtieri, Daughter and Old Paulina
Alastair Mackenzie who passed away on the 29 June aged 82 was a much loved member of the Company which benefitted greatly from a man who lived a such a rich and rewarding life.
Alastair joined the Company in 1972 and became Master in 1994. Many will remember him for his gentle and erudite good humour and his encyclopaedic knowledge of all things, from the ancient classics and English literature to cricket and wines.
Alastair was educated at Clifton College and Brasenose College, Oxford. It was at Clifton that he took up fives, later becoming one of the top players in the country and continuing into his seventies. Shortly after leaving Oxford he became a Master at St Paul’s School where he taught English and Classics. He was also appointed master in charge of fives which he continued to run for many years.
He has been described as a Renaissance man; he took huge pleasure in a wide variety of arenas, from Classical Greece and Rome, to music and the arts as well as many forms of sport. He was an avid tennis enthusiastic and no mean cricketer. One former pupil remembers Alastair for bowling both right and left arm in the same over much to the bemusement of the batsman. He was a lifelong member of the MCC.
When he was Master, the Company’s golf day was inadvertently arranged for the first day of the Lords Test match. Golf was probably the only sport that did not interest Alastair. Nevertheless, he dutifully attended, listening to the commentary throughout on his radio.
Alastair’s appreciation and knowledge of wine was second to none and he organised various hugely enjoyable Livery wine tastings. He was an honorary life member of the Circle of Wine Writers and co-wrote standard works on Sauternes and St Emilion and Pomerol. His book, ‘Daumas Gassac:The Birth of a Grand Cru’ in 1995 brought this hitherto little known wine to a wider audience and has become a classic.
Alastair was a loyal and steadfast supporter of the Company, as he was with everything he joined. His charm and erudition made him a much sought after dining companion. He will be sorely missed.
Our thoughts too are with Pauline and his family.
* * * * * * * * *
I was very sorry to learn of the death of Alastair Mackenzie from the latest Old Pauline Bulletin.
Although Alastair did not teach me anything in the classroom it was in the world of sports that we met. I first got to know him aged around 14 in 1968 when boys first had the chance to learn to play squash at St Paul’s (instead of Fives in the Spring term). In those days there were no squash courts at St Paul’s and therefore he took us to Queen’s Club in Barons Court (about 15 min walk from the old school site in West Kensington). I can remember seeing lots of smashed rackets hanging on pegs outside a huge court from a sport I learnt that was called Rackets! That sport remained a mystery to me until St Paul’s miraculously obtained its new racket court in 2000!
I can remember Alastair carefully showing us how to position our feet correctly in order to hit the ball in squash. Alastair was an excellent teacher of all ball games and a good organiser. He soon organised a tournament for us beginners and I can remember the thrill of playing against Peter Kaufmann in the final (who later would find fame in the great 1st X1 Cricket side of 1970).
I will always be grateful to Alastair for installing into me a good technique for squash and a love of the game.
The other great memory I have of Alastair is his umpiring and general encouragement in all matters cricket. In my day Alastair was in charge of the 2nd X1 Cricket. In 1970 as a 16-year-old I was selected to play for the second X1 in the last game of the season. I was not called upon to bowl or bat. I cannot remember having any involvement at all apart from probably fielding!
However on the coach coming back to the school Alastair stood up and announced from the front of the coach that any the boys who had not been awarded their 2nd X1 colours could have it! Great joy on my part! Having worn a plain black funeral type tie for four years it was a thrill to obtain a 2nd XI tie. I remember I proudly wore it every day to School despite having done nothing to deserve it!
A few years ago through the good offices of Peter King I bumped into my old school friend Philip Cullen watching a 1st XV rugby match at the School. When I visited Philip in Paris, where he works, he reminded me that it was thanks to him that we won the match in question and he had scored about 30 runs! Memory does not allow me to recall which school we played against but interestingly I have a picture of the team from those days which I obtained from him. There are, unusually, 12 us in the team! Maybe Alastair was kind enough not to insist that I stood down to make it 11! He must have turned a blind eye.
Another memory of Alastair is his slow lob bowling which he performed for the Old Pauline Cricket Club 3rd X1 with much success.
When I organised a dinner for the Old Pauline Football Club B XV about 1980 in honour of the retirement of Jimmy Howard I found it quite hard to organise and find a suitable venue. On hearing of my difficulties Alastair rallied to my aid by allowing me to put all the order for wine on his account at Peter Dominic, Barnes. Many readers will know that Alastair was a noted master of wines and an expert in this field. I can still remember him commenting with great authority on the quality of the wine at the Mercers Hall!
I think Alastair in a very long career gave a lot to St Paul’s and the Old Pauline Cricket Club. I will always be grateful to him for developing and encouraging my love of cricket and squash.
Our father was always known to us as Tony. He didn’t like ‘Daddy’ at all. He was always particular about words, conduct and dress. He had joined the 7th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment at 18, a year into the war, where he saw active service in Italy and Syria. Latterly, he became the Commanding Officer of the CCF at St Pauls. He was always immaculately turned out whether in uniform or civilian dress. So, as a family, we always felt that the military had shaped him, especially when we were found wanting in our appearance or behaviour.
In fact, Tony had been shaped in a quite different way; he was the only child of adoring parents, his father a successful businessman in Birmingham, his mother an elegant and gentle presence who always made a striking impression when she arrived at Oundle School to collect Tony at the end of term. Tony had a remarkably liberal upbringing in the wide avenues and extensive parks of Sutton Coldfield. At the age of 8 he would leave home to play in Sheldon Country Park and not come home till dusk – he and his friends were free in a way no modern child can possibly imagine. This is where he became so adept with his hands at making things with wood and metal – he constructed soap-box go-carts and tree houses with his gang and no one told them to stop playing or to go home. Add to this, later, the liberal ethos of Oundle School in the 30’s, and Tony’s teenage years were as constructive and stimulating as those of his childhood. He even learnt how to shoe a horse from the visiting blacksmith, just one of the varied extra-curricular activities on offer at that school in the pre-war years. He became an outstanding actor as a schoolboy and played leading Shakespearian roles both male and female – his Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew was something of a legend.
And Oundle is where he learnt to paint. Tony was a very talented water-colour painter and painting became his life-long passion. As a young man, he wanted to act and to paint but in the years immediately following the war, he married Pauline Kingsmill, went to Keble College, Oxford and had two children, John and Jane. So he needed to earn his living; by 1952, he was a master at St Pauls and there he remained for the next 35 years.
Generations of Paulines remember Tony from his long career at both Hammersmith (1952-68) and then Barnes (1968-86). In the ‘old school’ he became Housemaster of High House in 1960 and remained in post until 1975. Together, he and Pauline ran every aspect of daily life in the house with rigour, compassion and kindness. When a former boarder, Kwok Li, organized a High House reunion in 2014, it was remarkable how many pupils attended the dinner in Oxford and how many sent positive letters and e-mails in which they expressed their gratitude to Tony for the wisdom and warmth that he had shown them in their formative years. As Kwok put it, he and Pauline were ‘the consummate double act. When Tony was the enforcer, Pauline provided compassion and calmness.’
In 1964, their third child, Guy, was born. In 1967, Tony became Head of Modern Languages and the department had 10 staff teaching 5 languages. Tony continued to cycle to work, often with his dog, Jill, in the front basket. He introduced the first full-time female member of staff to the school in 1974 when he employed Marie-Jose Gransard to teach French. In 1975, they bought a house in Barnes where he and Pauline created an exceptionally beautiful garden that backed onto the reservoir.
Tony retired from St Pauls in 1986. In the same year, his beloved Pauline died at the age of 62. They had planned to move to Malvern and to run a retirement home for Friends of the Elderly but Pauline’s death put an abrupt end to that plan. Tony found a house in Stow-on-the-Wold, a town he had visited with his mother and father on their excursions from Birmingham in the thirties. Some 50 years later, he was very fortunate to meet a local gallery owner, John Davies, who employed him as his mentor, manager and framer for the next 16 years. Tony’s knowledge of 19th and 20th century French and British painting was extensive and he slipped into this new role with both aptitude and pleasure. The gallery faced his house. He accompanied John Davies on many buying trips to auctions in Brussels and Paris. And of course, on these trips, Tony’s French greatly helped negotiations. Tony had found a new metier and his second retirement was not until 2002 when he was 80.
John Davies’ words on Tony are worth recording here:
‘I, and many friends and visitors to the gallery will remember Tony’s presence with great affection. His passing does, to a great degree mark the end of an era. He was an archetypal English gent, concerned for others, and polite as his trousers were crisp. He will be sadly missed.’
Tony remained in Stow until his death, in February 2018, at the age of 95. He looked after his lovely garden and he was devoted to his Norfolk terrier, Sally, who went everywhere with him. In his later years he had many close and loving friends, and his children, John, Jane and Guy were frequent visitors, right up until his final days. His death certificate records that Tony died of ‘frailty of old age’; he lived a full and happy life right until the end. He died peacefully at home with his family at his bedside.
David M Rollitt (Teacher of Mathematics and Rugby Coach, 1977-2015)
The Old Grey Fox
David was born in Wakefield on 24 March 1943 and died peacefully on 17 December 2022 in Charing Cross Hospital London after suffering for four years with multiple medical problems associated with Metastatic Prostate cancer. The family were with him at the end.
The cremation was conducted by the Celebrant Lucy Fergusson at Mortlake crematorium on 18 January 2023. Many friends from school and the rugby world supported the family and packed the Crematorium. Following the service, everyone was invited to attend the wake, held at Richmond Rugby Club. Shirley, Pippa and Eben, Neil Lamb (a former Master of SPS), Bob Reeves (the past President of the RFU), and Mark Hoskins (Bristol RFC Historian) all gave tributes and shared their memories of life with David. At the Six Nations Calcutta Cup match in February 2023, the England RFU also saluted David along with others who had recently died.
When David was young, his family moved from Wakefield to Wombwell, South Yorkshire, where he attended Barnsley Holgate Grammar School after passing his 11+ examination. He played rugby for Barnsley, Wakefield and Yorkshire school sides, and remembered playing for school in the morning then Barnsley in the afternoon. The only former Barnsley Rugby Union Club player to play for England, Barnsley were instrumental in his selection for a South Yorkshire Seniors trial which steered towards a rugby career.
In 1960, he went to Bristol University and gained a Physics BSc. Then, in 1964, he gained a diploma in Education from Loughborough Colleges. He played in and captained the Bristol University 1st XV and also the Loughborough College 7-aside teams and won the UAU trophy. He was selected as England reserve for an international Western Counties v New Zealand match.
David returned to Bristol in 1964 to teach Physics and Mathematics at Colston’s School in the days before full-time professional rugby. His Bristol rugby debut was against the Metropolitan Police on Easter Tuesday 1964. He was awarded his cap in 1966 and his blazer two years later. In total, he made 415 first team appearances, scoring 101 tries. In the 1965-66 season, he scored what was then a club record for a back-row forward: 20 tries in a season. He was appointed Captain in 1969-70 and continued in this role throughout the following season. Anxious to concentrate on developing his own game, he was instrumental in having Peter Colston appointed as the club’s first official coach, and the pair worked superbly together in moulding what was to become a great Bristol side in the early 1970s. In 1973, he was a member of the first Bristol side to reach a Twickenham cup final.
An unforgettable figure on the rugby field with his prematurely white hair (which led to the press nicknaming him ‘The Old Grey Fox’) and his all-action style of play, Dave Rollitt was speedy in attack and a superb tackler in defence. He was also supremely fit and adopted a ‘professional’ attitude to training and fitness in an era when such an approach was not always encouraged – notably with the England selectors! He played in all three back row positions for England picking up 11 England caps between 1967 and 1975; he also played 16 times for the Barbarians, the multi-national invitational team. He made his England debut against Ireland in 1967, having played throughout the whole Five Nations Championship and going on to join England’s tour of Canada. He was named Captain of an England touring team of South Africa in 1972, but his employers Colston’s School refused to release him due to the apartheid system of racial segregation.
David captained Gloucestershire to three County Championship Finals and played for them 78 times. He captained the Western Counties and was a member of the side that defeated Australia in 1967 and Fiji in 1970 and drew against South Africa in 1969. He also played for the South & Southwest Counties team, which beat Australia at Bath in 1973. In 1971, the South & Southwest played an RFU President’s XV in Bristol as part of the RFU’s Centenary celebrations, and David was again captain for this match. He also faced New Zealand in Bristol as a member of the South of England XV in 1967.
Following his teaching and rugby career in Bristol, in 1977 the family moved to London. David taught a full timetable of Mathematics at St Paul’s School and managed SPS rugby touring sides to South Africa, Australia, Fiji, Argentina, Canada, Prague, Italy, Holland and Ireland. He also took numerous Paulines on ski trips to resorts in Europe over a 10-year period. Dave was joined at St Paul’s by his wife, Shirley, who was the school’s Head Science Technician. Before retirement, David took a 3-month Summer Term sabbatical to find out how the Australians coached rugby. In Australia, he resided at Scots College, and joined Australian national coach Bob Dwyer and Jeff Sayle at Randwick NSW; the result was an undefeated SPS side the following season.
He also coached the United London Hospitals and Imperial Medical teams for seven years, taking them on tours to South Africa and Canada, and Easter weekend tours to Cornwall. The Rollitt family organised many fundraising events, including quiz night and dinners in special surroundings, over the years to aid Paulines and medical students who could not afford to take part in rugby tours.
In addition to his full-time work and coaching duties, he continued to play for Richmond as well as the Middlesex County side before retiring in 1979. After that, he took part in an intense coaching course with the RFU, then coached Richmond, Harlequins, Surrey, and was a guest coach at Bristol. He later became Southeast England divisional coach. During school summer holidays in the early 1980s, Dave coached the ‘Gentlemen of Aspen’, an Eastern Rockies rugby team in Colorado. The family were able to join him when their school terms finished. He also coached London Lebanese and took them on tour to Beirut. In 2005, he was acting Head Coach at Rosslyn Park RFC during the days when they were in the lower tier and the ship needed steadying by the influence of a good man.
David was awarded a centenary B.Ed honorary degree from Loughborough University in 2009.
His other major contribution was obviously being the father of Pippa and Eben. Pippa is a well-known Rosslyn Park RFC physio of 20+ seasons. She is now Head of Medicine at Rosslyn Park and Director of Richmond Physiotherapy. Pippa was a Team GB Physiotherapist for several Commonwealth Games and the Sydney Olympics. Eben, an Old Pauline (1986-91), graduated from Cambridge with an MA in Architecture and earned a Blue during his time at the university. Eben played for Bristol and Wasps RFC and gained an international cap for the Gulf in the 2003 World Cup. He is currently Executive Director of the Events Investment Fund for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Finally, after retiring, David returned to SPS multiple times until 2015 to assist with cover in the Mathematics Department and rugby coaching.
In his spare time, David was a talented pianist, as were several of his cousins, and a DIY specialist. An accomplished carpenter, he designed and made furniture for family and friends. He also undertook the management of and assisted with major reconstruction work in our house: re-roofing it in early 80s, adding a loft conversion and redesigning the kitchen using recycled bricks and wood, before adding a garden room extension and finally landscaping the garden. As the son of a Master Builder, these skills had been developed during his school and university holidays.
David was a key support for Shirley on local community projects. Shirley Chaired the ‘Friends’ group, supporting the staff and clients of Brentford Lodge Respite Care Unit for seven years; they raised funds by organising BBQs and quiz nights. He was also active with Shirley in the Neighbourhood Watch Group and Ward Police.
Bristol University RFC are currently planning to award a ‘David Rollitt Cup’ to the Maroons after a match with Richmond Rugby Club. This will become an annual event from 2023.
He was a wonderful, devoted husband, father, grandfather and uncle, supporting us all at every stage of our lives.
Probably no single person can do justice to the many sides of Chris Rowe and the many riches he had to offer those who knew him. He was educated at University College School and St John’s College, Cambridge (as was the present writer who even attended the same prep school), and he arrived at St Paul’s in 1957 after three years on a short-service commission in the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant-commander. Regarding his St Paul’s career it is hard to improve on the anonymous Valete written for The Pauline in 1981, which is here lightly revised.
“In his twenty-three years at St Paul’s, Chris accumulated a formidable list of duties, offices and achievement, yet the strongest recollection of him is of the pleasure of his company: he made things enjoyable. He was Chairman of the Curriculum Committee, where his light touch with serious matters could put vigour into a discussion and encourage others to follow his lead. He was a much-respected Undermaster, a job whose dull cares were not perhaps entirely congenial to his natural good spirits. He was Master in Charge of the Timetable, a task far more continuously burdensome than is ever apparent from the neat and authoritative documents seen by staff and pupils. He was coach of many Under-14 XVs and referee or umpire according to season. He was a violinist in the orchestra – until, that is, his exceptionally gifted children were old enough to take up the task. He was artiste in the Colet Clubs Revues (in the remote past) and Chief Weasel in the Staff production of Toad of Toad Hall (within living memory: an inspired portrayal of gleeful malevolence). He was Officer Commanding the Royal Naval Section of the Combined Cadet Force, a regular member of the Arduous Training camps and (but not necessarily as a consequence) the one to undertake the unpleasant task of putting the whole C.C.F. into mothballs when the school embraced its policy of unilateral disarmament.
“Yet no one has ever been readier to look up from the crossword (he was no mean exponent of the art) if he so much as half-heard a colleague wondering how some problem of manpower could be solved. Chris’s services would be on offer before their recipient had even worked out that he needed them – and those services might range from sitting-in on a class to transporting loads of furniture for a colleague in that familiar minibus.
“Somehow, all these activities were fitted around the ordinary working life of a very effective mathematics master with a reputation for enjoyable teaching and unusually good results. Indeed, although he taught at every level from Oxbridge to Fourth Form, and was Chief Examiner in Additional Maths for the O & C Board, he was actually happier with the less brilliant Paulines and would volunteer to forgo the pleasures of stratospheric mathematics for the more recondite – not to say earthbound – satisfactions required of humbler sets. There is no doubting that he is a strict disciplinarian, but his strictness bred no resentment because it was in the end clearly conducive to concentration and hard work. Nicknames notwithstanding, the old phrase about bark and bite seems appropriate here; rumours may have abounded but not even the worst miscreant could claim actually to have been killed.
“Chris’s enormous good humour and cheerfulness were what were obviously most missing from the Common Room when he left. There was an emptiness which spread far beyond the Mathematics department – at least as far as the Coach and Horses, where his irreverencies could often do much to sooth the savage magisterial breast of a Friday evening.”
Chris was at Dulwich for the final twelve years of his career. No one who knew him will be surprised to hear that his combination of clarity, firmness, humanity and humour made the most of a demanding job. The Former Master of Dulwich, Tony Verity, writes that “Chris was in effect headmaster of 500+ boys going through the worst three years of adolescence, and I left him to it. I don’t remember a single occasion when I felt obliged to interfere in the way he ran things. He ran a tight ship, which was exactly what was needed, though most of the time it was an assumed persona. I once stumbled on him delivering a terrific corporate reprimand to a sports hall full of examinees; very frightening, no one moved a muscle, except for his beloved terrier Newton, who accompanied him on his rounds, and sat there trembling at his feet like a dutiful visual aid. We fell into step outside the hall, and Chris’s face broke, as often, into a large grin; he always saw the ridiculous side of things. He took the job seriously, but not himself. He was a wonderful colleague and his influence on thousands of boys ran very deep.”
In retirement Chris and the ever-present Sue enjoyed life in their house and beautifully-organised garden at Ealing. Many will have enjoyed their hospitality, and appreciated their horticultural skills. Chris and Sue found time to travel to remote places, but also of course to keep in touch with Jeremy, Simon, Matthew and Elizabeth and their ever-expanding families. Chris’s love of music was enriched by their professional and semi-professional careers, while in later years he was a regular usher for Opera Holland Park.
I personally received immense support from Chris in many ways at the start of my own teaching career and, like no doubt many others, owed him much. He was a man of many skills, both technical and personal; but he was also a man of great modesty, downplaying his mathematics as so much else. He once confessed to me that he would have enjoyed being a long-distance lorry-driver! His memorial service, held at Barnes on 23 July, was attended by a large number of former colleagues and friends; it gave ample testimony to the warmth in which he was held, a celebration of his life hugely enhanced by the musical contributions of his offspring and grandchildren. He leaves the warmest memories in the minds of many, many and so many colleagues, friends and former pupils: a long, enriching and rewarding life.
It is with great sadness that the family of William Robert “Bob” Skeat announced his death, on 9 April 2023, at the age of 83. He died peacefully at Kingston Hospital after a long and very courageous battle against pancreatic cancer. He will be lovingly remembered by his wife of 59 years, Hazel, his son Chris, his wife Cate, and their two teenage sons Liam and Jake.
Bob joined the school staff in the Latin department of Colet Court in September 1975. He became a “first form” teacher for new boys joining in their third year, teaching “catch up” French and Maths on Saturday mornings in the 1980s. He remained at the prep school for 25 years, mainly teaching Latin, before retiring in 2000. For many years he taught in the same classroom on the first floor above the main entrance, known back then as 3S. He also taught Latin in St Paul’s senior school for a number of years.
Whilst at Colet Court, he enjoyed several trips as school leader of the ski expeditions to various resorts in France and Italy. He was a keen sports enthusiast and, whilst at the prep school, he completed numerous laps of Richmond Park for the Leonard Cheshire Homes and Royal Marsden charities on the sponsored school walks.
He was born in Westminster on 7 April 1940, attending St Clement Danes School in London in 1951. He went on to study Classics at St Andrews University in Scotland in 1958, graduating with an MA in 1962, teaching at Liverpool College and Lady Margaret’s School, Parsons Green, before his employment at Colet Court.
The funeral was held at St Anne’s Church on Kew Green, where he had been a parishioner for nearly 40 years, on 15 May 2023. If anybody wants to make any charitable donations, Bob chose The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and Kingston Hospital, who took such good care of him.
I used to hear this when Old Boys came back to the school and wandered into the music department. There may or may not have been a preludial “Hello; how are you these days?” or whatever; it would really be Stephen whom they were after. Mr T to them, Stevie to us staff. He worked with us for half of the week, his arrival on Wednesday heralded by the drawing up of the white van, the creaking of his self-made harpsichord trolley and “Heigh-ho, Mr W; happy new week.” He taught keyboard and coached chamber groups with us for more or less thirty years – was it 1983 when he joined us?
To us, his colleagues, Stevie was always a bit of a mystery. Where did his prodigious stamina come from, his capacity to work at full stretch from pre-dawn to post-dusk (which he did until the forward march of Correct Workplace Practice clipped his wings) in the interests of his pupils? These lucky people were, in a way, his life – not in any possessive way but with some kind of extra ingredient which drew them to seek him out beyond the school context, visiting him in his Hampshire cottage in the holidays and keeping in touch after their time at School. Stephen was welcomed by his pupils’ families and maybe found this especially nourishing through his having never enjoyed a long stretch of a happy family life of his own (at his funeral there were no next of kin). Yes, there were things most of us, perhaps all of us, didn’t know. He was a private person and one whose own high standards in work and personal conduct were what he expected from others – and yet the guttering flame of a tentative pupil’s enthusiasm and progress was more likely to be kept alight by Stephen than by any of the rest of us. Luxury was unknown to him; until fairly late in his time at the school his accommodation during his weekly spells with us was the Spartan but impressively well-ordered interior of his van, where a camp bed would be put up in between a harpsichord or two on their sides, the trolley and piles of sheet music. Only in the coldest of cold snaps would he ask if he could make use of one of our houses; on those very rare occasions a bed would be refused. The camp bed would grace the drawing room floor and, next morning, Stephen would be noiselessly gone long before our alarm-clocks had woken us. He was back into School to tune the harpsichords for the day ahead.
Stephen’s teaching was unlike anyone else’s. It was all very relaxed and yet there was something of sacred business about it – learning to live, not just to play. He would nurse the beginner and develop the very talented with equal joy and effectiveness. He was, first of all, a harpsichordist, organist and fortepianist, to whom phrasing by articulation was always of the greatest importance. (This came across so vividly in his own splendid, characteristic playing.) The modern piano was not his territory, and matters of colour and touch on it were something of a blind spot. He believed that harpsichordists should begin to develop fluency in figured-bass from the word go – hence the electrician’s green insulating tape plastered all over his baroque continuo parts, leaving the bass-line and figures visible but obscuring the editors’ realisations on the treble stave. So many pupils learned this from him over the years, a skill rarely acquired today until professional aspiration and training make it a necessity. To J.S.Bach’s teenage sons this would have been like falling off a log; that’s how Stevie wanted it for his harpsichordists – and got it.
Harpsichordists? But how do you practise at home? No problem for Stephen’s pupils; once they’d got off the ground he was round to the family house in the van to drop off one of his many instruments – a kind of BarOcado service, with regular tuning part of the package.
The chamber groups – only Stevie could get useful rehearsal time out of an SPS morning break; admittedly a bottomless supply of biscuits helped. The performances – frequent presentation of music by composers seemingly unknown even to music-lexicographers, splendid performances of Bach’s multiple-harpsichord concertos (five needed for the A minor – who else could produce this in a school?), the shaky efforts of the less expert; not for Stephen the immaculate, sterile collar-and tie performance, although often the results were wonderful – no, get them up there doing their stuff was his policy. So many pupils pleased with early successes, and grateful parents. So much encouragement. His compact figure sitting next to a beginner pianist at his first concert performance to reassure, the clean white shirt with small black ink-stain on the breast-pocket (there was never a jacket), the jangling bunch of keys attached to his belt – all these things, along with the trademark Mr T phrases, entirely part of him and never applied for effect.
Like many people who have achieved remarkable things – Montgomery and St Paul come to mind in an SPS context – Stephen was not an easy team-member. If he had an objective he wouldn’t be deflected from its fulfilment. Sometimes his wiles in circumventing obstacles, or even vetos, generated exasperation and mirth in equal measure. That the Stevie Factor was almost always, in the end, accommodated in the department’s routine and plans is an indicator of the respect and affection in which he was held.
I heard that Stephen had been in hospital but was now out and making progress. When I telephoned and asked, “are you up to enjoying some Columbo episodes on video?” (These were a favourite of his.) “Oh yes,” he said, “and playing a bit of Haydn.” He died not long afterwards, peacefully in his sleep.
St Mary’s church, Upper Froyle, where Stephen had been organist, was packed to the walls for the funeral, with friends from Milton Keynes (where he taught for many years on days when he wasn’t at SPS, Charterhouse or Tonbridge), from SPS and SPGS, from his Hampshire neighbourhood and from elsewhere. One old pupil had come over from Hong Kong. The hymn-singing was memorable, full of the sense of connection between musical voices and warm, thankful hearts.