menu

Obituaries: Former Staff

Alastair Mackenzie 1933-2015

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.

Jeremy Garnet

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

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.

So sorry he has left us...

Richard Buxton (1966-1971)


Stephen Thomson 1943-2015

“Where's Mr T?”

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.

Robin Wedderburn

 

Tony Retallack 1922-2018
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.

We miss him dearly.

Address: Lonsdale Road, Barnes, London SW13 9JT • Tel: 020 8746 5390 • Email: opcadmin@stpaulsschool.org.uk