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Obituary – Tony Field (compiled by Bob Stone)

Obituary – Tony Field (compiled by Bob Stone) featured image

Obituary – Tony Field

Tony’s funeral was held on Tuesday 11th April at St Peter’s Church, Stonesby….just over the wall from where he had lived. Over 100 former staff and OLs joined the local community in over-filling the Church in a fitting tribute to him. The address was given by Bob Stone, who used many anecdotes that he had been supplied with from OLs, to read the following tribute.

Tribute at the funeral by Bob Stone:

I have the privilege of covering the Loughborough Grammar School connection, speaking for all the hundreds of Tony’s pupils, and for so many colleagues who became his friends. Tony’s career there lasted 33 years – or 32, if you don’t count the exchange year spent in Australia – which is far too long for any kind of detailed account in the short time I have; so what follows is an impression of the kind of figure he cut in the school, fed by the various tributes and anecdotes sent in by former pupils and others.

One such anecdote was of a social gathering many years ago, where a visiting Australian academic, who took great pride in his pedantry, wanted an opinion on some obscure aspect of English grammar. “You’re an English teacher, Tony. What do you think?” “No,” replied Tony, “I am not an English teacher, I am a schoolmaster.”

That remark is really the key to his LGS persona. That’s not to say, of course, that he didn’t teach English; he certainly did, and to great effect as various reminiscences bear witness. One former student, who came to love the subject and went on to do an English degree after being taught GCSE by Tony, remembers his “entertaining and original approach to teaching the subject, while never skimping on the detail or depth the text required”. Another recalls the “obvious delight” Tony took “in the blood and gore of Jacobean tragedies”, which “never failed to keep us smiling even on stiflingly hot summer afternoons.”

One example of his teaching flexibility was, one sunny spring day, to send the class out into the school grounds to find something small but interesting and then to write a poem or prose piece about it. I suspect that nowadays, if a teacher were to think of letting a class out into the wild during lesson time, he would be asked to give 3 months’ notice to the senior management and complete a ten-page risk-assessment. One can only speculate on the terse response which that would have provoked from Tony.

The Old Loughburian recalling that lesson describes it as “off-syllabus, but on-message for a school that prided itself” (as I’m sure it still does) “on developing young men that were more than the sum of their exam grades”. And that applies to Tony 100%. For one thing, consider the sheer range of his contributions to the school. At various times he was Head of Year for the first, second, fourth and fifth years – for the modern-minded among you, that’s years 7, 8, 10 and 11 (not sure where he went wrong with year 9).

Outside the academic sphere, he organized the school’s cross-country and athletics teams. So inspired was one pupil, who initially chose cross-country as a way of avoiding rugby, that, when he visited England last year, he, as he put it, found himself running back to town from the Outwoods, via Pignut Spinney, 45 years after he first ran that route with Tony. Another, for whom “Mr Field was without doubt the main reason I enjoyed school”, tells me that, while Tony used to run with the team on training runs, in school matches he would wait at the finishing line and his booming shouts of encouragement could be heard from two fields away. Occasionally the team needed to be transported to the Outwoods, and all 8 boys would pile into his Ford Anglia estate. Then, instead of the booming shouts, there would be a quiet “Keep your heads down, lads. There’s a policeman over there”!

He was also an officer in the Combined Cadet Force, an organization which – despite being avoided like the plague by those like me with bitter memories of our own experience at school – could have a huge influence (for the good) on students who might not always be fully aware of the benefits of academic lessons. In the words of one (who may or may not be in the latter category), “I consider Mr Field, along with Mr Beazley, to be one of the formative characters of my time in the CCF, and with it my passage from a rebellious and sullen teenager to self-reliance and responsible adulthood.”

And, as well as regular CCF camps, Tony took many trips of various age-groups to various parts of the British Isles and Europe, either to walk or to ski. All this activity – as those unfamiliar with schools may not realise – goes on in what otherwise might be termed a teacher’s ‘free time’, either after the end of the school day, or at the weekend, or in the school holidays. For Tony this was just part of the rôle of schoolmaster, part of the mission to develop young men that were, in that phrase, more than the sum of their exam grades.

I have not even mentioned the 10 years in which he and Pam – and it was truly a double-act – ran School House, the boarding house for the three top years in the school. They had two assistants, it is true, not to mention an interesting succession of matrons; but the job of boarding housemaster is a 24-hour job during term-time – and Tony still had to teach English, organize cross-country races and all the rest. But more of School House later.

Those are a few of the rôles that Tony played in the school’s life. But what about his overall impact? Well, he was an unmissable character around the school, loving what one describes as ‘the theatre of school life’. His very appearance is etched on people’s memory, as the following snippets show: “the smartly dressed and moustachioed Mr Field, striding over the quad with his gown billowing, he looked terrifying”; or “strolling between lessons impeccably presented in CCF uniform”, “a smartly dressed man”, “shoes always gleaming” . . . “he seemed to be part of a bygone era in his deportment and moustached splendour”. (The moustache seems to have made quite an impression.)

He could be heard as well: he is remembered by one boarder for the “very loud voice that could be heard across the whole of School House” – the same booming voice that one colleague says he often heard either telling off some quivering oik in the Reading Room for a grammatical error, or resonating through School House with some choice expression, usually containing the word “Jim”.

But that is a very partial picture. He may have been something of a disciplinarian, holding on to the rather old-fashioned view that, if pupils were to understand what you were telling them, it was better if they were listening at the time; one boy, being late to class on his first day in the school, made the mistake of talking back to his English teacher, and didn’t dare speak again in English lessons for the rest of term. But beneath that surface, Tony had the most wonderful, mischievous sense of humour. This has been described variously as “dry, perceptive wit” and “engaging waspishness”; “a stern but twinkly-eyed figure”.

The examples I have been given of his humour are not all appropriate for a place of worship, but I’ll risk this one, which illustrates Tony’s great (and enviable) gift of combining strong discipline with wit in such a way as to pre-empt resentment. The boarders in School House were allowed to stay up later on Saturdays to watch football on television, but one evening they were glued to a rather dubious film when Tony silently entered and – to quote an ear-witness – “we jumped when his voice rang out: ‘You can turn THAT off and all get to bed. You are supposed to be watching Match of the Day, not Crotch of the Week!’ ”

One feature of Tony’s sense of humour was that, above all, he was incapable of taking himself too seriously. Nor, despite his observance of the forms and his conscientious professionalism, did he regard the traditions and rules of education with reverent solemnity; in fact he was one of the most irreverent people I’ve known.

What he did take seriously was the well-being of the pupils – not so much the superficial stuff, such as academic marks or strict compliance with rules, but their development as people. Colleagues could tell this from the way he talked about those who were, or had been, in his house or form; he talked of them with real affection and interest, taking people as they come, not expecting each one to fit the mould of perfect pupil. He found their foibles and follies – in retrospect if not necessarily at the moment of commission – amusing, entertaining, even endearing.

As well as having a down-to-earth sense of perspective, he was straightforwardly kind and warm-hearted. I was particularly moved by the words of one old pupil from the last few years of Tony’s career, who describes himself as someone that struggled at the best of times with the whole LGS set-up: no anecdote here, just the remark that he remembers Tony, both a gentleman and a disciplinarian, for his kindness, always smiling and being personally polite, and human, towards him.

Tony never forgot that he had once been a pupil at school, and a boarding pupil too. In fact there was still something of the mischievous boarder about him, which he couldn’t help sympathizing with in others and occasionally indulging in himself – as I remember only too well from an incident one dark night during Tony’s time as boss of School House, when I was on boarding duty in my upstairs room in Red House, a boarding house for younger pupils. Below my window a group of miscreants, presumably from School House, began to call out and chant comments in silly voices, clearly directed at me. I thought, “I can’t let this go; who knows where it will end?” So I strode manfully downstairs, threw open the front door of Red House, where I could just see the silhouettes of the miscreants lurking in the bushes, drew myself up to my full height and bellowed: “What the devil do you think you’re playing at?” The miscreants emerged, chortling, into the light, only to reveal themselves as . . . Tony Field and two of his boarding assistants.

That brings me on to his contribution as a colleague, where, notwithstanding, Tony was magnificent. Always fully supportive, completely honest, never any personal agenda, not an iota of interest in appearing trendy, or manipulating his way to the top of some perceived professional tree. And no one could ever accuse him of being in thrall to political correctness. It was an age where schools were becoming addicted to the 3 B’s – bumf, bureaucracy and . . . well, the third one begins with ‘bull’, and Tony could detect that from 200 paces.

In the staff common room – and I quote Bill Dyson here – you knew all was well with the world when Tony was leaning against the radiator directly in front of ‘Today’s Important Notices’, usually along with his partner in crime Dave Evans. They could be heard murmuring on sundry school matters: “appalling . . . simply a disgrace . . . it shouldn’t be allowed . . . appalling.”

My best memories of Tony and Pam during the Loughborough years were Saturday evenings in School House. The family lived in the same house as the boarders, and there was no rigid boundary between boarders and family, as other schools might have insisted on; the boarders were thus able to enjoy the atmosphere of a family, and the two young boys, Rob and Jim, lived surrounded by older boarders. That the two survived as well as they have – given some of the boarders, not to mention one or two assistant staff and matrons – is something of a miracle.

Anyway, on Saturday evenings all the unmarried boarding staff, including of course the matron – about 6 of us – ate with Tony and Pam in their dining-room, with occasional marauding visits from Rob and Jim. As Bill describes the scene, they “would prepare a magnificent, traditional roast supper for the boarding staff. Tony was the classic, quintessential Tony as he was seen magnificently and theatrically carving the bird or the cow or the sheep, before the salivating younger colleagues. The wine flowed, then perhaps a glass or two of port. Conversation often then alighted on that hot and ever fascinating topic: the matrons I have known. Staff then went back on duty.”

And the friendships made in those gatherings have endured through the 35 years since Tony and Pam left School House, which includes nearly 18 years of retirement. Tony and Pam continued to be welcoming hosts, both in Burton Street and here in Stonesby; and there have been regular holidays with them in England and abroad, especially in recent years.

Passing over the occasion in Florence where Tony compromised the security of an entire apartment block by breaking and leaving half his key in the door lock, their presence on these holidays ensured that the whole atmosphere was relaxed, warm-hearted, witty, and enhanced by at least one perfect roast meal per holiday – the very best sort of friends to treasure.

I’ll conclude with the words of one of our number. “Kind, strong, funny, warm-hearted and broad-shouldered Tony. You knew all was well with the world by his very presence in it.”