I first encountered the formidable Mr Glynne-Howell at the too tender age of eleven as he attempted to teach us Latin. In my case at least, he failed utterly. In my first year final exam I was awarded a mark of three percent – one for writing ‘amo, amas, amat’, the other two for spelling my name correctly.
He was a generous man.
Mr Glynne-Howell was otherwise known to us as ‘Genghis’. On the one hand this displayed our profound schoolboy ignorance, on the other it was unarguably appropriate. He would bear down upon us, dark of gown and of physiognomy, take us by the cheek between finger and thumb, and shake us like rabbits; he would steady our face with one hand and slap us with the other, admonishing us to ‘Take it like a man’. He would then extract his handkerchief from his pocket and fastidiously wipe his hands of our contamination. This was not at all what we were used to, but we were far too young, and intimidated, to protest.
And yet there was also humour. ‘Don’t bray like an ass’ he would say as a victim struggled to translate some incomprehensible passage. Or more particularly, to myself : ‘Bundell, you are like an ape staring into space – you see everything, and comprehend – nothing.’
He was right of course.
Later on he also taught us ‘A’ Level Religious Studies, by which time we were a good bit older, and he less intimidating. Nonetheless, it was only many years later – after I had left school, after I had lived in India for a while, and after I was married to an Indian – that I came to some kind of an understanding of where Alan was coming from.
He was coming from a world which no longer existed. India gained its independence from the British Empire in 1947. The Raj was finished. Like many others of Anglo-Indian descent Alan, and his wife Tessa, were face with a decision as to where to build their future. He had done well in an India ruled by the English language and its culture. He had obtained both Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in English, from the Universities of Bombay and Benares respectively, and won a William Shakespeare Cup along the way. He had trained as a teacher and then taught at the prestigious Church schools of Bishops High in Pune and the Cathedral School in Bombay. He had taught the sons of Rajas, as well as the sons of other important members of the Hindu, Christian and Muslim communities. But the world in which he had been brought up, and in which he had competed, was quickly fading – and England had always been referred to as home.
In 1962 the Glynne-Howells decided, like other members of their family, to move to the UK. Alan first taught at an independent girl’s school in St Ives, Cambridgeshire. One wonders what the girls made of him – and he of them. Presumably he did not require them to ‘Take it like a man’. In 1965 he joined Price’s Grammar School for Boys in Fareham, Hampshire. It was a rather traditional establishment, with something of the English public school about it, and was led by a Headmaster, Mr E.A.B. Poyner, of firm Christian convictions. These characteristics would no doubt have helped Alan feel at home.
However, this was the nineteen sixties and England, like India, had also changed, and was changing still. At Price’s Alan was largely put to teaching Latin, obligatory in the first year, but never a greatly popular choice thereafter, and Religious Studies – of which he was Head – but again a minority pursuit beyond the statutory one class a week. Meanwhile he was denied the opportunity of teaching his beloved English Literature. I believe this may have been at least partly owing to a perception that Alan’s approach to the subject was rather old fashioned. And so it no doubt was. Yet Alan’s old fashioned erudition and use of the English language were glorious, and I for one have never recovered from them.
At the same time, outside of school, Alan suffered on occasions the prejudice and name-calling that those ‘of a dusky hue’, as Alan put it, had to endure in a provincial town at a time when non-white faces were not at all common. This must have been particularly unpleasant for a man of Alan’s background and sensibilities.
Another thing I understood from living in India was that Alan’s assaults upon our eleven year old cheeks were not in fact acts of aggression but rather of affection. In India grown-ups commonly pinch the cheeks of children or give them a gentle slap while admonishing them for some minor misdemeanour, or indeed for none at all. And the children grin back at them.
And yet, as I recall, Alan was always rather serious about it. He was fearsome of aspect (as he would have put it), and, often, it hurt.
In fact, he was conflicted. We were his pupils and therefore dear to him. But we were also an ignorant and rather ordinary bunch of boys, from very middle or working class backgrounds.
And above all, we were unwashed.
Alan’s fastidious wiping of his hands after every contact was not merely a performance. It was also a comment upon and a criticism of our personal washing habits. No doubt small boys everywhere are among the least fragrant members of society. However, Alan was also possessed of a particularly sensitive nose. In India his pupils would have routinely bathed every morning. In England in the 1960’s, before the general arrival of domestic showers, a bath once a week was more the norm. Of course we were also obliged to take showers at school after PE and Games, but it was amazing how quickly boys could rush in and out of the shower room, and then climb back into clothes which had probably already been worn for the best part of a week.
At some point in 1967 or ’68 Alan fell ill and was away from work for a term or more. When he returned we were all shocked to see that his formerly coal black hair had turned quite white. Unfortunately his health was never of the best in his later years, especially after he retired in 1975.
Shortly before he retired Price’s became a sixth form college and there were not only boys about but also girls. This gave rise to new opportunities for Alan to express himself in his characteristic and inimitable style. Tony Johnson, then Head of English, tells the following tale :
“A phrase that passed into the folk memory of staff at Price’s
College was his. Rounding a corner on his way to the staff room, he
reported to us that he had just seen two students in “amorous
juxtaposition”. Even to this day you have only to mention that
phrase to bring laughter to old colleagues who have met for lunch.”
It was my brother Ivor – also a pupil of Alan’s – who first began to visit Alan at home, and then I joined him. This was when we first met Tessa. By this time Alan had clearly forgotten, or chose to ignore, my achievements in his Latin class. His conversation was always riddled with sage – I assume – remarks, quotes, and aphorisms in Latin. Sometimes he would translate, but often-times he would not. Fortunately there was more than enough of the same in English to give me some chance of joining in the conversation.
Later on my wife and I visited, usually for afternoon tea, sometimes with our children. Alan and Tessa would also come to tea with us. I remember an occasion we visited when both Alan and Tessa were, by then, less nimble than they had once been. My wife, in very Indian fashion, soon took over the serving of the food and tea and Alan and Tessa were obliged to be waited upon, as befitted their age and status. Alan was flustered and embarrassed at being looked after in such a way in his own house, but at the same time I felt he was also moved by the touch of his old home and culture.
Alan passed away at the very end of December 1989. His memorial service was conducted by another of his former Price’s pupils, Peter Hancock. We continued to have Tessa round for tea until she passed away in 2013. In any case Alan is still often mentioned and in our minds. It was a very special experience – in a variety of ways – to have had Alan as a teacher. Although I understood, if not quite nothing, only a limited amount of what he might have taught me, it was a gift to have known him.
(Price’s 1966 – 73)
Revised Version (so to speak) Feb. 2014
The original posting of this Appreciation can be found on the web site of the Society of Old Priceans at : http://www.societyofoldpriceans.co.uk/Alan_Glynne-Howell.htm