Sunday, 20 November 2011

A Californian lawyer has sent me a photo of Frank Miles!

The  photograph above was taken by David Lewis, a pupil of Frank Miles in the year below me. David, recently married,  had returned to England from California with his wife for a visit, and they met Frank during the trip (the lady with her back to the camera is Mrs Lewis - I really hope Frank wasn't talking about "hidden velleities").

For those of you who don't know who or what the hell I'm on about, Frank Miles was an exceptionally charismatic English teacher who had an enormous and, I suspect, wholly beneficial effect on generations of boys who studied English at King's College School, Wimbledon. I wrote about him in a post last year.

I haven't got much to add to what I said then - except that I've just realised that Frank was one of the few teachers who never had a nickname: he was just "Frank" (although never, of course, to his face!). Partly, I suspect, that was because here was possibly the first teacher who, matter-of-factly, expected us to perform at an intellectual level many of us had never suspected we could reach. When you're engaged in the pedagogical equivalent of a Vulcan mind meld with a fiercely intelligent mentor seemingly determined to make you wake and see the richness of the world through the prism of literature, calling him "Squiffy" or "Stinko" or whatever would have seemed inappropriate.

Scandalously, Frank is hardly mentioned on the internet, so I was delighted to find this homage to the Great Man by theatre director, David Luscombe, penned earlier this year:
“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.”
To this day, when I'm enjoying a dodgy novel or a second-rate poem, I imagine Frank shaking his head sadly andn thinking "Oh God, why did I bother?" - but that only adds a guilty thrill to the experience. Thanks to Frank, I know it's rubbish really - and, more importantly,  why it's rubbish.

In case I give the impression we all took Frank far too seriously, I remember decorating a house in Worthing with another of Frank's products just after leaving school. In the great tradition of all British workmen of that era, we'd knocked off for a bit and were enjoying a beer while watching children's television - Torchy the Battery Boy, to be exact - when my companion exclaimed "Good God! It's Frank!" See if you can spot who he meant in this clip. I almost wet myself.

Many thanks to David Lewis for sending me the photograph, and for allowing me to post it. (By the way, if anyone needs any legal work done in the Sunshine State, you can find David's website here.)


  1. I can't quite see the Torchy likeness.For one thing, he doesn't constantly swipe his nose with a handkerchief but I'll persevere with the series. These days, a single bearded man who admitted " I wish I had a boy of my own...I know, I'll make myself a ToyBoy" might find himself on a register rather than starring in a puppet-based TV childrens programme.

    It's a great photo of Frank and there can't be many. He was of a generation that didn't go in for that sort of thing. I wonder what he would have made of his first request to be a Facebook Friend.

  2. Stuff it up Baggley23 November 2011 at 21:28

    Are you sure he isn't saying "Isn't it about time you had a haircut, Sharman?"

  3. I've just heard the terribly sad news that Frank died last week, aged 92. He taught me at the end of the 70s/beginning of the 80s. An unforgettable teacher and person.

    1. Great man. The day after he'd been almost blown up by the IRA was an extraordinary experience