Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Frank Miles, the charismatic teacher who made such a difference to so many lives, has died at the age of 92

A friend phoned me this morning to let me know that Frank was dead. He died in Cambridge, where he had apparently lived for many years, last week. The funeral arrangements are still being finalised. I'll post the details on this blog as soon as I have them, or you can email David McKitterick at direct.

I was one of many unpromising pupils who got into prestigious universities solely because we were fortunate enough to find ourselves being taught by Frank at King's College School, Wimbledon during his long tenure there as an English teacher. I say "an English teacher", but he was, of course, THE English teacher. And I say teaching English, but, of course, he also taught us how to behave in adult society, intellectual curiosity, a love of literature, how to read with fierce concentration, critical antennae aquiver - and how to drink copious quantities of red wine without falling over and making complete arses of ourselves.

Frank had that wonderful natural authority (at least I presume it was natural - I'm not sure how anyone could learn it) that allowed him to fraternise with his charges without the slightest hint of faux-mateyness or the least fear that we would ever forget that we were kids and he was the adult in the room. He managed that wonderful English trick of being unchummily friendly and distantly affectionate. I only began to understand just how much our fate mattered to him when he phoned me at home the day I received my A-level results, which didn't guarantee my place at university, but didn't actually prevent me from being accepted: he sounded just as relieved as I did over forty years later when my son phoned me to tell his A-level results.

Even if you didn't know Frank, most of us had that one special teacher at school who made all the difference. I suspect that Frank's true uniqueness lay in just how many of his pupils subsequently regarded him as the one special teacher in their lives.

I've written about Frank twice in the past, here and here.

(The impact he had on me can be gauged by the fact that I'm still worried whether he'd have approved of the word "finalised" in the first paragraph - probably not.)

I have no hesitation whatsover in placing Frank in the "Heroes" section of this blog. It is a great privilege to have known him. Thanks for everything, Frank. Rest in Peace.


  1. Just found this, re a production of The History Boys at Milton Keynes Theatre:

    School experiences of the company

    Christopher Luscombe (Director)
    “By coincidence, I did absolutely have a Hector figure when I attended King’s College School in Wimbledon. His name was Frank Miles and he was famous throughout the world of public schools. It was Frank who suggested that I try for Oxbridge and so, like the History Boys, I returned to King’s after A levels to prepare for the Oxbridge exam. I wanted to read English rather than history but otherwise I was in exactly the same position as the boys in the play. His lessons always felt like an event and you were privileged to have been part of it. I think what most inspires me about him to this day is what he called ‘close reading’: paying the most meticulous attention to the text. Once you’ve been taught that, you don’t lose it. When there is a lack of clarity in rehearsal, I often wonder what Frank would have said in order to cut through all the vagueness. In a way, I try to honour Frank’s ideals in my work - the primacy of the writer, the need for a detailed knowledge of the text and the responsibility to serve the playwright. I think I’m still trying to impress Frank today.”

  2. Frank Miles was also an inspirational games master.I can see him now standing on the touch line in dark suit,white shirt and red tie,chin in the palm of his hand giving the same "meticulous attention" to the U.14 he would a Shakespeare text.By so doing he gave to his young charges exactly what they wanted-to be taken seriously.

  3. Does Kevin Spacey look like Frank Miles?

    I saw Spacey doing Clarence Darrow the other night and he kept dusting his face with a hanky.

    It was possible to ignore the resemblance during the self-indulgent peroration about the death penalty which might have caused Frank to expostulate. But the hair, the eyes, the shape of the head, the hanky, ...

    (And no, I haven't seen the American House of Cards.)

    1. I've probably told this story before, but I remember watching TV with a mutual friend on a decorating job about a year out of school when "Torchy the Battery Boy" came on. When Torchy's friend, Mr. Bumbledrop, appeared on the screen, my companion said, "Crikey - it's Frank!" He was so right, I couldn't stop laughing.

      I will test your theory when I next watch House of Cards. You could well be right.