Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Clive Aslet has given Frank Miles a splendid send-off in the Daily Mail

On Monday of last week some 46 of us assembled at the Cambridge City Council Crematorium to say goodbye to Frank Miles, the man who taught us English at King's College School, Wimbledon. I've written about Frank several times on this blog (probably to the bewilderment of those who weren't lucky enough to be taught by him). I wrote my first post about Frank in January 2011 (here), because I was appalled to discover there was almost nothing about him on the internet. Now, Clive Aslet, Editor at Large for Country Life, who was in the year below me, has written an excellent, touching piece for the Daily Mail, which can be read here.

One of the people I met at the country pub reception/wake following the cremation was a chap who had been in Frank's third ever scholarship set in 1955 (pupils used to stay on for a term after A-levels to take a special Oxbridge entrance exam). Stupidly, I didn't catch the scholar's name. He told me that he had been responsible for producing one of the volumes of an edition of the complete poems of Wordsworth (he described it as his life's work) published in the Noughties, and had dedicated it to Frank. Having spent weeks tracking the Great Man down to his council flat in Cambridge (Frank had apparently given away everything he owned), he turned up one day unannounced (Frank had given up answering the telephone). Frank apologised for not inviting him in, claiming that he was waiting for the plumber to show up, accepted the book, and later wrote a thank-you letter. So that makes one scholarly 1000-page work and a scrappy little horror novel (mine) dedicated to Frank - I presume there were others.

For those of you who enjoy a mystery, Frank's erstwhile sister-in-law told me that she'd been buying a ticket at Liverpool Street Station that morning to travel to the funeral, when the twenty-something ticket clerk (who was, she thought, Ethiopian or Somali) asked her if she was a teacher. "No," she said, surprised. "Why would you think I was?" She was holding a copy of the article the KCS headmaster Frank Shaw had written to mark Frank's retirement. The clerk nodded at it and said, "You know Frank Miles." She asked whether he'd been taught by Frank, but he shook his head, and then, frustratingly, she was edged aside by the next customer and had to go and catch her train.

The more cynical among you might infer something seedy behind this exchange - but during a 30-year career there wasn't even a rumour of a hint of a scintilla of a suggestion that Frank had any unsuitable predilections whatsoever, and, believe me, we were good at spotting dodgy teachers.

So this intensely private man, to whom so many of us owe so much, went to his grave trailing clouds of mystery - I suspect he would have enjoyed that.

I shall cherish Frank's description of me, recently recounted by an old friend and fellow-pupil: "Grønmark, sitting at the back of the class like some morose fur-trapper." Spot on! As was his description of my oldest chum: "Earthy, like a character out of D.H. Lawrence." I sometimes wonder whether Frank, who loved Kinglsey Amis's Lucky Jim, shouldn't have spent his life writing comic novels rather than helping generations of South London boys punch well above their intellectual weight. But I'm so glad he didn't.

In case I haven't mentioned it, there's now a Facebook page, A Tribute to Frank Miles, available here.

No comments:

Post a Comment