|23 Jan 2023|
|Written by Robin Knight|
Robin Brodhurst (1952-2023), who taught History at Pangbourne College from 1990-2012, died in his sleep in mid-January 2023 aged 70. It is likely that a Memorial Service at the Falklands Islands Memorial Chapel will take place in due course.
Robin was born in Winchester, the son of a well-known Winchester College schoolmaster Arthur ("Podge") Brodhurst who also played first-class cricket as an amateur for Gloucestershire. “Podge,” in turn, was the son-in-law of H. S. Altham, another first-class cricketer and also a leading figure for decades in the MCC and the administration of cricket. Robin played cricket throughout his life, albeit with less success than his father or grandfather, but with just as much enjoyment. Educated at Marlborough College from 1965-70, he went to RMA Sandhurst from Marlborough in 1971 and was commissioned into the Royal Green Jackets in 1973.
After serving six years in the Army, Robin decided, like his father, to become a schoolmaster. He read History at Goldsmith’ College, London University and completed a post-graduate certificate of education (PGCE) at Selwyn College, Cambridge. Beginning a 30-year career teaching history in 1981, his first job was at Berkhamstead School before moving to Ampleforth College in 1985.
In 1990, with ten years’ teaching experience under his belt, Robin responded to an eye-catching advertisement in the educational press for “old-fashioned schoolmasters with young legs” placed by the College headmaster, Anthony Hudson, who was seeking more diverse men and women with wide contacts to rejuvenate the staff. Within a couple of years, he was promoted to Head of History, a role he held for the next twenty years.
In parallel he began writing books beginning, in 2000, with publication of Churchill’s Anchor, his well-received biography of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound. Numerous other publications and a couple of books followed, including most recently one in 2020 titled The Altham-Bradman Letters. An inveterate joiner of clubs, associations and societies, Robin was also Hon. Secretary of the Navy Records Society, a Council member and Chairman of the Publications Committee of the Society for Nautical Research, a founder member of the Army Records Society, a former committee member of the International Churchill Society and a member of the British Commission for Military History.
Gerry Pike, a colleague throughout Robin’s time at the College, adds this appreciation:
“Robin was prominent among a clutch of strategic appointments made in 1990 by Anthony Hudson of “Renaissance men, with an interest in books, bats or boats”. He was appointed as an experienced schoolmaster aged 38. He would come to be an important, colourful and familiar character at the College where he stayed for the rest of his teaching career.
Robin and Pangbourne proved to be a good fit and he duly threw himself into many aspects of College life with energy and palpable commitment. He was himself something of a late developer academically. However, his passion for reading, and his enthusiasm for his subject, gave Robin a natural rapport with students who lacked confidence; at Pangbourne he quickly developed a reputation for being approachable, kind and supportive. A ready identification with the underdog, and a genuine concern for the wellbeing of the individual, never left him.
In the classroom Robin made his mark swiftly and soon assumed the leadership of the History Department of whose exam success he was rightly proud. Robin’s teaching style mirrored his outgoing, forthright character. It was uncompromisingly traditional, grounded in a compelling, erudite delivery of narrative history, liberally spiced with entertaining and sometimes politically incorrect anecdotes. Lessons were animatedly didactic. Attentive students learned a lot, including how to deflect Robin into cricketing stories. A confirmed bibliophile, Robin’s welcoming classroom was also his study, lined with books from floor to ceiling.
Besides teaching across the board, Robin was also Assistant Housemaster of Hesperus, a conscientious academic tutor and a coach on the sports fields. He proved a jobbing rugby coach and later referee but cricket was his real passion. In this he followed a distinguished family lineage. Armed with a complete set of Wisden which he could quote verbatim, his knowledge of the game was compendious. During the Summer Term, after he stepped down from coaching, his favoured spot was still on Big Side, dispensing stentorian encouragement and familiar jokes to the boys.
Robin also practised his history, developing a passion for military history that found its outlet in his role as Hon. Secretary of the Naval Records Society. He liked nothing more than sharing his expertise with students and fellow scholars on field trips to battlefield sites in Northern France. Even during term time, Robin read voraciously, was a regular reviewer of books and the author of a well-received biography of Admiral Sir Dudley Pound.
As a natural extension of his professional life rather than an escape from it, Robin was intensely gregarious. He had a wide social network, hosted many dinner parties and was an indefatigable letter-writer harking back to an earlier age of gentleman school mastering. His connections were many (Field Marshall Lord Bramall was his godfather) and there were times when he seemed like a walking copy of “Who’s Who”. He kept abreast of affairs by habitually reading and filing the Times Obituaries, often firing off stern letters to the Editor.
Ever amenable, for many years he was the welcoming face of Pangbourne, greeting people to the chapel, engaging parents and would-be parents in conversation and hosting visiting staff. Eventually he also became archivist at the Falklands Islands Memorial Chapel, a role he fulfilled to his death.
As a colleague Robin was sui generis, a one-off. Full of contradictions, he could be moody and maddening, notably at the start of term and early in the morning. At his best he was charming and considerate. Often truculent when confronted by change, he warmly embraced coeducation but was disconcerted by the new mantras of performance management, value added and critical thinking. For him professionalism and teaching were primarily instinctive.
A confirmed bachelor into his forties, Robin surprised us all when he fell for and married the then Junior School Housemother, Pea, with whom he proceeded to spend many happy years entertaining generously at the characterful Old Mill in Stanford Dingley. In their time together, Pea and her loving family brought a new stability and affection to Robin’s life, mellowing his peppery character. Even his longstanding ambition to be a Housemaster was finally gratified when he stepped into the breach at Harbinger for one term.
Robin’s students were genuinely fond of him and he was prone to cultivating a coterie of favourites whom he amiably indulged. Typically, he stayed in touch with many of them and when OPs of his vintage return to the College, they invariably ask about him. His long career was characterised by some enduring qualities: a ready and warm engagement with students, a traditional outlook, a robust and sometimes critical loyalty, alongside a commitment to lifelong learning.
Robin grew to love Pangbourne and to find his niche here, becoming a kindly mentor for many students in a period of major development and redefinition. Typically, after retiring from teaching in 2012, he spent his last years working as Archivist to the Falklands Islands Memorial Chapel, an important role to which his meticulous record keeping was well suited.
He will be much missed.”
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