Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Professor Robert Grant has written a spendid obituary of Frank Miles

On taking early retirement, he [Frank] continued teaching for a couple of years at a London crammer. One pupil was a capable but not brilliant girl whom he determined, against the odds, to get to Oxbridge. He succeeded, inevitably. Asked why he had gone to such trouble, he replied, ‘Because she was so lovely.’

That story manages to be both surprising and yet somehow typical of the greatest teacher of English literature of his generation. For new readers, Frank Miles was an English teacher at King's College School, Wimbledon, who changed the lives of countless pupils, including my own. Bob Grant, one of many Frank boys who went on to become a distinguished academic, has written what is both a tribute and the closest thing I've seen to a formal obituary of the great man (much of whose closely-guarded life - apart from the bare facts - remains a mystery: piecing the narrative together must have required some impressive detective work). The complete tribute, which contains many intriguing psychological insights, can be found on the "A Tribute to Frank Miles" Facebook page, here.

As one of those pupils who, having been offered a place to read English at Cambridge, subsequently switched to Philosophy (for reasons which, before I read Bob's tribute, were obscure to me - I wrote about it in my own pre-mortem tribute to Frank back in January, 2011, here). Apparently, making that particular switch in subjects was quite common for Milesians:
His classes were in effect strongly interactive seminars, so that his pupils were frequently disappointed by the neglect they subsequently encountered at university. Some, on going up, changed to philosophy, where the textual and logical scrutiny they had been trained in found its natural scope. A novice master asked Frank what he should teach the science sixth for their obligatory liberal studies period. ‘Give them Wittgenstein,’ he was told.
My thanks to Professor Grant, who has not only managed so effectively to illuminate Frank's life - but has also gone some way to helping me understand a seemingly inexplicable decision I once made, and which I've never regretted.

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