Gordon Smith attended Brighton College from 1946-52. Upon graduating, he studied at Trinity College, Oxford, where he read English. He went on to work in various educational institutions, including Brighton College, where he was House Master of Aldrich from 1963-1967 and then Head Master of the Junior School from 1970-80. He is now retired but still maintains close ties to the College and has been an active member of the Old Brightonians, having been captain of the OB cricket club. We were very interested to hear of Gordon’s time at the College, both as an ex-pupil and staff member!
- When you were at Brighton College, what did you want to be when you ‘grew-up’?
I left school with the firm intention of becoming a priest in the Church of England, to serve as a school chaplain. I had been inspired by the example of Bill Peters, who was appointed after a period when there was no full-time school chaplain.
- What are you now you've grown up?
Because my bishop was reluctant to license me as a school chaplain until I had reached middle age – a decision I find very hard to understand – I am ashamed to say that the idea of ordination faded, and I became a schoolmaster, because I knew that I felt called to work in a school. I was lucky in that a job became vacant at the College because of the sudden sickness of Ralph Farnell; Bill Stewart was able to negotiate my early release from the Education Branch of the Royal Air Force where I had taken a short service commission.
- What is your best memory of school?
It is hard to isolate one from so many happy memories. I will pick two, one specific and one covering a long period. I still have a photograph (see below) with Denis Compton’s autograph on it showing me keeping wicket behind a classic off-drive made by Compton in his first game after a knee operation in 1950, when he was playing for MCC in the annual fixture against the College 1st XI. My second happy memory is really of the whole of my last year at school, when, through my father’s generosity, I stayed on (much later than is customary nowadays) with really no objective in view other than to be Head of School; the experiences of “man-management” and administration I gained in this position were invaluable in later life.
- What was the best piece of advice you were given?
My housemaster in Bristol House was the wonderful Alf Lester; he had an old-fashioned and rather Puritanical attitude to life but I still remember his saying that, when he was at Rossall, it was hammered home to the boys that they owed a lot to their school and that it was their duty to repay that debt. I tried to follow that precept in several ways: I taught at the College, I was secretary and later President of the OBA, and I was secretary and captain of the OB cricket club; I have not been involved with OB activities lately as I now live some distance from Brighton and travel is difficult.
- What do you do/did you do as a career?
After starting as an assistant master at the College, I was appointed housemaster of Aldrich early in my career, but I left the College to be Head of English at King William’s College in the Isle of Man. Very quickly, however, I returned to the College as headmaster of the Junior School, where I served for ten years before being appointed head of Belmont School in Mill Hill, from where I retired in 1991.
- What does/did your job involve?
The most important job that a headmaster does is to appoint staff (although governors might say that ensuring a healthy “bottom line” is more crucial). Of course, without a healthy financial position, the school would soon decline and eventually fold, but that, I think, goes without saying. It is an easy thing to say but it is so true, that a school must try to enable every pupil to achieve his (and I am sorry to be gender-specific but my whole career has been in single-sex education) optimum in whatever field his talents lie. As a Christian, I sought to run the two schools for which I was responsible following the teachings of the Gospel; this was not easy when I got to Belmont, where boys of other faiths were in a numerical majority.
- What are the most challenging parts of your job?
Apart from the difficulty mentioned above, the most difficult part was finding the right staff for what I wanted. As well as making sure that personally every applicant felt the same way about life as I did, it was not always easy to fit the available applicants into the slot that was vacant. I remember specifically one appointment I had to make when I had to replace a mathematician who ran the hockey and played the tuba!
- What have you done that you are most proud of?
I was honoured to be elected Chairman of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools in 1986, thus representing the views of over 500 heads in matters of educational significance
- What is the single thing that would most improve the quality of your life?
I find this question very hard to answer, as I have been very fortunate; I have been retired now for twenty-five years, and have been able to do almost everything I have wanted to. I greatly regret my decision some sixty years ago not to proceed with ordination but now at my age there is nothing I can do about that! I am fairly healthy, and the miracles of modern medicine have given me two new knees and one new hip, so I am able to lead a happy life, particularly as I have had the happiest of marriages, which has now lasted for fifty-six years.
- What are the three objects you would take with you to a desert island?
Two things spring to mind immediately: a Bible, and a piano. I would also hope that my desert island had an e-mail facility as I would be very unhappy not to correspond with my children and grandchildren. How would you like to be remembered? I would like to be thought of as someone who tried his best to serve his fellow-creatures and to make them happy.