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News > Pangbournian Stories > A Tribute to Robin Brodhurst

A Tribute to Robin Brodhurst

Robin Brodhurst
Robin Brodhurst

ROBIN BRODHURST (1952-2023)

Robin Brodhurst, who taught History at Pangbourne College from 1990-2012, died in his sleep in
mid-January 2023 aged 70. Educated at Marlborough College from 1965-70, he went to RMA
Sandhurst in 1971 and was commissioned into the Royal Green Jackets in 1973. After serving six
years in the Army, he decided to become a schoolmaster, reading History at Goldsmith’ College,
London University before completing a post-graduate certificate of education 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’ experience under his belt, he
responded to an advertisement in the educational press for “old-fashioned schoolmasters with young
legs” placed by the Pangbourne College Headmaster, Anthony Hudson, who was seeking to diversify
and rejuvenate the staff. Within a couple of years, Robin was promoted to Head of History, a role he
held for the next 20 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. 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.

Below is a tribute given by the former Second Master Gerry Pike to a crowded  Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel at Robins' memorial service on March 28th 2023.

Many assume that Robin was born to the role of schoolmaster, following in the footsteps of his
distinguished father. The truth is he came to his vocation somewhat late, discovering his appetite for
study and learning when taking his degree as a mature student; when he arrived at Pangbourne in the
early Nineties he brought some worldly experience as well as fizz.

What are those vital qualities which make some teachers good and others great? Three essential
qualities spring to mind and Robin was blessed with all three in excelsis. The first surely is a genuine
love of one’s academic subject so that one has something worthwhile to share. The second is the
ability to share this passion skilfully so that students become genuinely engaged. Thirdly, there is
care for the individuals taught – the pastoral concern without which study risks becoming
impersonal.

Robin’s life-long passion for history was palpable. Ferociously well-read and abreast of the latest
scholarship, invariably he had several serious academic works on the go even during a frenetic term.
He expected everyone else to do the same. He had his pet topics, usually military ones, and his
heroes, unsurprisingly led by Winston Churchill. But whatever period he taught, his preparation was
meticulous. His notes, complete with often risqué jokes, cues and anecdotes penned in the margins,
became the stuff of legend among students who would tease him sometimes by hiding them. He was,
too, a notable book reviewer and could often be found poring over the Times Literary Supplement,
drafting admonitory letters to the Editor.

Secondly, his teaching style mirrored his outgoing, forthright character. His approach was
unashamedly traditional, predominantly narrative and empirical. A secure knowledge of the strategic
facts mattered. His skill as a raconteur allowed him to channel his compendious knowledge to evoke
events and characters in a vivid manner. Lessons were usually memorable and never dull. His
enthusiasm extended well beyond the classroom as he loved sharing his expertise in leading
battlefield tours with parents, fellow scholars and students in the holidays.

Thirdly, Robin was overwhelmingly supportive and kind towards individual students. He readily
empathised with those who were struggling emotionally or academically, having come through the
fires himself.

Beyond exemplifying these three cardinal virtues, there was something more which gave Robin his
singular capacity to connect with students. It was this. Robin had personality in spades. The moment
a new student entered his classroom he or she would feel it. Every good school needs a variety of
teaching types and role models; no-one projected singularity more than Robin.

Despite his assured manner, Robin could lack self-confidence and was full of contradictions: with
colleagues, one moment moody and maddening, notably at the start of term, the next contrite and
charming. Instinctively suspicious of change, he embraced coeducation warmly but was disconcerted
by the new mantras of performance management and value added. For him professionalism and
effective teaching remained primarily instinctive.

Marriage arrived late and mellowed his peppery character. Pea and her loving family brought with
them a new stability, animation and affection to Robin’s life. Even Robin’s original ambition to be a
Housemaster was finally gratified when, for a term, he and Pea stepped into the breach in Harbinger.
Robin also had a rare gift for engaging anyone in conversation and for navigating notables with
aplomb. This stood him in good stead when he became Chief Usher of the Falklands Memorial
Chapel, including helping to finesse two visits by the late Queen. Typically, he spent his latter years
working as Archivist to the Chapel, fulfilling an important role to which his assiduous record
keeping was well suited.

As a schoolmaster and personality Robin was sui generis. He was not without his demons but, as
Sophia Loren once put it, “If you have never cried, your eyes cannot be beautiful.” Quintessentially a
man of letters, Robin will be long remembered here as a great public character, an inspirational,
personable and distinctive teacher who over many years of dedicated service carved out  a unique niche in this school that he so came to love.

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