The Geat Hall, OBA Annual Dinner 2007
Written by Richard Willmott (former Head of the English Department, Deputy Head and Director of Studies)
Saturday, 24 November 2007

As we set off from Hereford I gave a little sigh and, when questioned by Isobel, admitted that I was wondering why I was setting off on a gloomy November day to drive two hundred miles across England for a dinner. Once we had arrived, however, all doubts were dispelled as we plunged into the happy hubbub of old friends.

Here were OBs who had been supportive governors as well as parents of pupils that I had taught or whom we had looked after (well tried to, anyway) in Fenwick: for example Stephen Cockburn (S.1953-58), father of Miranda, now herself the mother of a girl in Fenwick (when on earth was there time for all this to happen?), and Ian Dodd (H. 1956-60) and Margaret (former head of Hawkhurst and mother of the three Hollinshead girls, all committed members of Fenwick).

Here were OBs from the Upper Sixth of my first year at the College: Geoff Bailey of the mighty cricket bat (A 1972-7), and Michael Banner (A 1972-7) and James Brenan (S 1972-77) whom I taught for A level. Here too were stars of stage and screen, well stage anyway, including Sarah Mann (F 1985-7) and Glen McCready (S 1985-7), inspirational as Martha and George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a play in which I can only claim to have watched the rehearsals, since they really produced it for themselves! And also James Adutt (L 1982-7), the only Peter Quince that I can remember playing his ’cello on stage, albeit now more known for his performances on the piano. How splendid, too, to see so many of James’s contemporaries.

Here also were OBs who were now responsible mothers (time playing its tricks again): for example Katie Hackett (F 1985-7) with cheerful memories of the past (we exchanged mutual forgiveness) and Carol Hay (née Grant, F. 1985-87) and her husband Nick (C. 1981-86), no longer the rosy-cheeked scrum-half I coached in the under-14s, or even the much improved member of the successful 1st XV of Jason Burroughs’ era, but a veteran of the RAF. Here too was Carol’s brother Stuart Grant (A. 1987-92), to bring back happy memories of my one unbeaten U14 team, not to mention that famous year when he was captain of an unbeaten 1st XV, and with him his wife Claire (Rodgers), and her sister Nicky, two stalwart members of Fenwick from the 80s.

Here were even OBs from our time whose children had, still more improbably, already passed right through the College: yes, Fiona and John Aiken (F 1979-81 and A 1976-81). This gives me a welcome chance to acknowledge Fiona’s sterling work as administrator, and indeed also to thank Alex Bremer (R. 1979-83), his camera in action as always, for the excellent website.

And what a weight of learning and wit sat down at our table! Bill Blackshaw, that truest of headmasters, and his wife Elizabeth; John Page, head of Classics in my time, but before that a housemaster of Chichester, as smiling and cheerful as ever; Tony Whitestone, a shrewd colleague and good friend as well as our President Elect, and his wife, Alison. And then all those Heads of English . . . Tim Pearce, whose fault it all was when he persuaded Henry Christie to appoint the young man doing his teaching practice to the English department (he assured us that his departure a year after Philip Robinson’s arrival was entirely coincidental); John Griffin who took over the English department for the next four years and on whose watch the College’s English department gained another stalwart in Simon Smith; then me; and finally, when I had stepped down to become Director of Studies, the man himself, Philip Robinson.

What’s more the speeches were as good as any I can remember at an OB dinner. David Gold (S 1986-91), our outgoing president, spoke with his customary charm and has clearly left far behind him the dubious advice he used to receive from me when he was in the E-SU public-speaking team. Next Richard Cairns eloquently outlined the importance of the College being a place from which its students reach out across both national and social boundaries, and appealed for support for a further scholarship for a pupil from a disadvantaged background.

Last of all, Philip Robinson spoke with wit and affection of his time at the College. As we listened to his memories we were reminded again of the breadth of his commitment and the wealth of talents that he brought to the College. Above all, as we sunned ourselves in the warmth of his personality, we knew how lucky we were, pupils and colleagues alike, to have such a good friend.

And so why did I drive two hundred miles, and why did others even come from abroad? Why, to celebrate friendship, of course, with those whose lives intertwined with our own at the College, and whom we were delighted to see again.

An after-thought: When I arrived as head of English in 1976 I had taught one year longer than Robinson and Smith combined (a fact that unaccountably failed to give me any sense of confident superiority when I faced the pair of them together). After the dinner that night I calculated that I would now need to have taught for seventy-one years to say the same thing.

"Dear Philip, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I am truly sorry that I can’t be joining you tonight to celebrate the retirement of a great schoolmaster and a great friend. Alas, I am stuck here in Chicago and can only be with you in spirit.
In the 34 years that I’ve known Philip he has been, at different times, my teacher, my guide, my best man, the godfather to my daughter and always the best dining companion anyone could have. Philip and I have been at table in many countries, towns and cities and our credit cards still bear the scars.

During the nine years my wife and I lived in Italy, Philip was a frequent and always welcome guest at our house, and there are still today throughout Rome, Florence, Siena and Venice a score of chefs, restaurateurs and waiters who, at the mere mention of the name P. V. Robinson, bow their heads in silent reverential awe.

So, Philip, although tonight I am an ocean away, I raise a glass to you and to your retirement with great thanks and in happy memory of all the things we have shared together:
the meals,
the thoughts,
the laughter,
and even, on one notable occasion, my wife in the back seat of Calcutta taxi-cab!

I shall leave Robinson to furnish the details."

Graeme Thomson, (D. 1973-77)

Those who attended included:

Abraham, Ralph (B. 1959-63)
Adutt, James (L. 1982-87) x table of 12
Aiken, John & Fiona (A. 1976-81/F. 1979-81)
Alexander, Charles & Mrs Alexander (L. 1943-45)
Amirpashaie, Manou & Mrs Amirpashaie (B. 1977-82)
Amirpashaie, guests x 2
Appleton, Joey and Angelica (D. 1979-84)
Appleton, Graham (D. 1953-57)
Apps, Chris (H/A. 1942-46) x 2 tables (OBA Lodge)
Bailey, Geoff (A. 1972-77) & Miss Amanda Menahem
Banner, Michael (A. 1972-77)
Bech, Derek (L. 1943-46) & Mrs Bech
Bichbihler, Sabrina (F. 2003-04)
Blackshaw, Mr & Mrs William (HM. 1971-87)
Blake, David (B. 1952-56)
Bourne, Harry (D. 1954-58)
Bremer, Alex & Miriam (R. 1978-84)
Brenan, James (S. 1972-77)
Brown (nee Greig), Janet (F. 1975-77)
Cairns, Richard (Headmaster)
Chauchard-Stuart, Sophia (F. 1985-87)
Collins, James (A. 1982-87)
Dodd, Ian & Margaret (H. 1955-60)
Easton, Robert (Guest)
England, Carrie (F. 1982-84) & Justine Tate
Evans (nee Bridgen), Amanda (F. 1975-77)
Flude, Richard (A. 1972-77)
Gold & Elliott, David & Mark (S. 1986-91)
Goodwin, David & Gillian (D. 1972-77)
Horvath (nee Hattersley), Martine
Heater, Joyce - Hon Archivist
Johnson, Alex & Mrs Johnson (R. 1987-92)
Johnson, Rebecca (F. 2000-04)
Jones, Ros & 7 guests (current parents)
Katz, Mark (1976-81)
Kenway, Louise (Guest)
Khabarova, Svetlana (W. 2002-04)
Langridge, Rod (A. 1956-61)
Loadsman, Tim (L. 1951-57)
Mann, Sarah (F. 1985-87) x table of 12
McBrien, Richard (H. 1970-75) & Ms Pippa Harris
McCready, Glen & Mrs McCready (S. 1985-87)
Miller, Rebecca & guest (current staff)
Page, John (Ex staff)
Paris, Malcolm (A. 1954-58)
Pearce, Tim (Ex staff)
Pett, Martin (H. 1970-75)
Robinson, Philip (Guest of Honour)
Shakirzyanova, Lilia (F. 2002-04)
Shaw, Russell & Audrey (A. 1972-77)
Skirrow, Bill & Judith (H. 1972-77)
Smith, Simon (Guest)
St Clair Jones, Robin & Anja - parents
Steer, Graham (H. 1973-77)
Symonds, Andrew & Iris (A. 1955-59)
Thakerar, Shilen (S. 1987-92)
Underwood, Adrian (A. 1976-81)
Walters, Duncan (H. 1982-87)
Whatman, Carol & 3 guests
Whitestone, Tony & Alison (staff, 1971-2006)
Willmott, Richard & Isobel (Ex staff)

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