Times Obituary

Dandyish headmaster and avid classicist who augured a student’s success in the entrails of a rabbit


During Bob Bairamian’s tenure as headmaster, Holmewood House, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, became one of the most highly rated prep schools in England, vying academically with the Dragon School in Oxford, but never outdone for swagger.

Success bred success and the whole show was superbly choreographed by Bairamian with a flamboyance both natural and carefully managed. The handshake was vigorous, the talk was knowing and the laugh was enormous. From the top pocket of his well-cut pinstripe suit flowed a dandyish red polka dot silk handkerchief, and from his pen bold lines of red ink.

The effect on young boys was spellbinding (the first word they had to be sure to be able to spell was Bairamian), and his leadership made the staff instinctively loyal; but his real audience was the customers — paying parents and the headmasters of public schools, where he cut deals for his charges.

His headmaster’s review for 1972 began: “I well remember a Chevalier de Tastevin saying to me in 1959 that he thought that the particular vintage might be the wine of the century”, and went on to discuss the crop of boys who at 13 had matured and won 28 scholarships, “a national postwar record”.

Here, as the awestruck parents of seven and eight-year-old applicants could see, was a man who understood the good things in life, had friends in the right places and could offer a chance to share in the spoils. The numbers spoke for themselves.

Bairamian was a man of the world in another sense. The second part of his review was a reflection on “our African adventure”, a trip with his wife to Nigeria and Ghana to drum up business. As well as lectures in 20 schools, there was an audience with “the Asantehene, King of all the Ashantis, in the Palace of Kumasi, surrounded by the autographed mementoes of every crowned head in Europe.”

Bairamian understood that the world believed that English public schools offered the best possible education. And because the best are oversubscribed, the rich will pay for the access that a good prep school provides.

Bairamian sought to enrol members of African high society, whose contributions enabled him to offer bursaries to bright children whose parents might not otherwise afford the fees. The subsidised scholars gave Bairamian leverage with the public schools looking for eventual Oxbridge entrants.

A lover of cricket and above all squash and hockey, Bairamian marked out each individual pupil with erudite nicknames. Every achievement earned a word of praise and, with a whole-school assembly every morning, there was such a profusion of cups, medals, ties, prefectorial grades and prizes to award that each boy had a chance to be proud of something. “The headmaster is a classic”, one inspector’s report concluded. Bairamian made Latin memorable by using it around the school, whether describing the weather as “Jupiter Pluvius” or a new facility as “Cloaca Maxima”.

The son of Sir Vahe Bairamian, a high court judge in colonial West Africa, Robert Bairamian was born in Nicosia, Cyprus, in 1935. After Dover College, where he won the Astor Award for all-round achievement, he then read classics at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, twice playing cricket for the university. His claims about National Service were not exactly accurate.

Before going up to Cambridge he had already done six months’ teaching at Holmewood, which was founded in 1945 as a new use for a Decimus Burton country house. After Cambridge Bairamian returned to the school and just two years later, when the first headmaster died unexpectedly, the mantle was passed to “Bob”. He was 24. In the 1960s one or two small prep schools in Kent and Sussex closed every year, which gave Holmewood the opportunity to grow. During that decade pupil numbers more than doubled from less than 150 and by the time Bairamian left in 1974 more than 400 were enrolled.

Good food, fine wines and glamorous women are all expensive and potentially troublesome pursuits. Bairamian enjoyed all three and he did not entirely avoid trouble. He would have scoffed at his scholars for failing, as he occasionally did, to distinguish meum from tuum when it came to wives.

Bairamian was serially married and had eight sons. With Jane Crawford, he had Rupert and Justin, who is the director of BBC Creative; with Jill Hume-Kendal, he had Simon, Julian and Rupert; with Shelagh Kittermaster, he had Philip, Johnny and Nigel. He married Ros Daunt in 1986 and they were together until her death in 2013.

After retiring from Holmewood he worked at Aberdour, near Banstead, Surrey, occasionally claiming to be headmaster. He did become a head once more in 1982 at Claremont, near Battle, East Sussex. This small prep school had fallen on hard times, and Bairamian’s charisma helped it to flourish again. The scholarship tally rose healthily until, in the early 1990s, the supply of foreign students dried up and the financial promises could not be met.

Bairamian’s death triggered some strange recollections from his students. One recalled that while driving him to Sherborne for his exams, Bairamian stopped the car, inspected the entrails of a dead rabbit, looked up excitedly and said: “The omens are good!”

Bob Bairamian, headmaster, was born on March 18, 1935. He died on September 7, 2018, aged 83

Service of Thanksgiving

SERVICE OF THANKSGIVING FOR ROBERT BAIRAMIAN AT ST JOHN THE BAPTIST CHURCH, PENSHURST, ON FRIDAY 28TH SEPTEMBER 2018

Hundreds of former pupils, staff and friends bade farewell to Bob Bairamian, the well known former Headmaster of Holmewood House and Kent sportsman.

Four former Presidents of Kent County Cricket Club, Nick Heroys, David Kemp, Carl Openshaw and Charlie Rowe, who taught at Holmewood, as was Committee member, Jeremy Cowdrey. Also present were Nigel Wheeler, former High Sheriff of Kent representing the Scorpions CC and Lord Faulks QC, representing the Bluemantle Patron’s XI.

The chief of the Band of Brothers, Tony Monteuiss, was in attendance as were many members of Bluemantle’s Cricket Club and representatives of the following cricket clubs ; Old Amplefordians, Los Bolas Dorados, The Grannies, The Invalids, The Yellowhammers, The Moose, Falconhurst, Limpsfield and Waldron.

A message of condolence to Rupert and Justin and their families from the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo, an Old Holmewoodian, was read out during the service in which he explained that it was only the UN summit that prevented him from attending !

The service was conducted with considerable warmth and humanity by the Reverend Tom Holme. The congregation heard that despite Bob’s highly competitive nature, he always made learning in the classroom and participation in sport great fun and he inspired his thousand of charges to maximise their potential and enjoy their schooling. He also oversaw a truly multi cultural school with boys coming from all over the world to Holmewood. There were many stories about Bluemantle Cricket Week, all involving Bob’s passion for a high standard of cricket and insistence that there should be revelry before, during and after the game with his wife Ros providing memorable lunches.

During the service, a fire broke out at the Leicester Arms across the road from the church where the reception was due to be held, which meant that an alternative venue had to be found at the last minute. Quick thinking, of which Bob would have been proud, by Bluemantle treasurer Nick Ogden, sandwiched between two fire engines and the licensee, ensured that we diverted to the co-owned George & Dragon where many a glass was raised in Bob’s direction.

Bob’s son Rupert said “ The family were thrilled that so many of Bob’s former pupils and friends came to the service and the three tributes, from my brother Justin, Paddy Butler, and well known Australian film maker, Haydn Keenan, an Old Holmewoodian, were superb and captured Bob’s personality brilliantly.

The Holmewood House choir closed the service in a fitting finale to a memorable life

Telegraph Obituary

The following is taken verbatim from The Telegraph dated 13th October. The author is not mentioned in The Telegraph Online, otherwise we would add due credit. We will withdraw this article if asked, but hope we won’t…

Robert Bairamian, who has died aged 83, was a prep-school headmaster and classics teacher whose pupils included the BBC’s Jeremy Vine, the current President of Ghana and Shane MacGowan, lead singer of the Celtic punk band Pogues.

In a teaching career lasting more than 60 years, Bairamian spread a love of Greek and Latin across prep schools in Kent, Surrey and north London. He taught with such a mixture of intellect, kindness and rascally wit that his pupils remembered him with deep fondness for the rest of their lives.

When not teaching boys the finer points of the gerundive, he encouraged them to put drawing pins on each other’s chairs. Driving a series of Audi and Mercedes cars, and immaculately dressed – with a silk handkerchief poking out of his breast pocket and a hint of Tabac aftershave – he brought a touch of glamour to the world of the post-war prep school.

He became headmaster at Holmewood House prep school, near Tunbridge Wells, at only 24. From the beginning, he encouraged admissions from across the world, particularly Nigeria and Ghana.

At his funeral, a message was read out from the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, recalling Bairamian as his teacher in the 1950s: “A young Cambridge undergraduate, swarthy, handsome, charismatic, gregarious, a Cambridge hockey Blue, then part-time member of the staff, who loved sports and encouraged us to shed any feeling of inferiority, if any, both on the games field and in the classroom.”

Bairamian was gifted at bringing out the best in all pupils – whether in academic studies, sport, drama or music. For example, when Shane MacGowan attended Holmewood in the late 1960s, Bairamian was immediately struck by his talents.

“He was very unusual indeed,” Bairamian recalled, “one of the most unusual personalities I’ve ever, ever met. I thought he would end up in the drama scene. At Westminster School [where MacGowan went on to], they asked whether I’d written his English paper. They said they’d never seen anything like this before.”

Throughout his career, dozens of Bairamian’s pupils won scholarships to public schools. In the late 1960s he drove boys to their exams at Ampleforth in his dazzling white Mercedes. He liked to shout “Achtung Polizei!” at police cars and got his sons to translate pub signs into Latin when he was driving.

At Ampleforth, he stayed with the Benedictine monks while the boys – supported and encouraged by his presence – duly won their scholarships. The following year, when he drove up more boys for the scholarship exam, he took the previous year’s scholars out to dinner at a pub on the Yorkshire Moors, introducing them to the finest steak and Château d’Yquem.

Throughout his lessons, he peppered his conversation with the Latin he loved. To Haydn Keenan (now a film director in Australia) at Holmewood, he said, on hearing his exam results: “Well, Keenan, you passed – mirabile dictu!”

As a classics master in the early 1980s at North Bridge House School, by Regent’s Park in north London, he taught the tricky ablative absolute by referring to himself as Bobo duce – “With Bob as our leader”.

He was known as Bob to friends, while the BBC’s Jeremy Vine, when he was at Aberdour School, Surrey, in the 1970s, nicknamed him “Cresta Bear” after the polar bear on Cresta fizzy drink bottles. Bairamian called Vine “In vino veritas”.

After one North Bridge House pupil won a scholarship to Westminster, Bairamian promptly whisked the boy’s parents off to a slap-up dinner at a grand restaurant with his friend, the broadcaster Sandy Gall. Bairamian paid for the dinner with the proceeds of a large bet he had wagered on the boy getting a scholarship. The identity of the punter who took the bet remains a mystery.

Robert Bairamian was born on March 18 1935 in Cyprus, where he spent his first 10 years. His father was Sir Vahe Bairamian, Chief Justice of Sierra Leone, a Judge of Appeal in Nigeria and editor of the Nigerian Law Reports. As Bob used to say, he was the “first and only Armenian to be knighted”. His mother was Eileen Elsie Connelly, headmistress of the English School in Nicosia, Cyprus.

At Dover College in Kent, Bairamian was head prefect, captain of cricket, hockey and squash and editor of The Dovorian. At St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, he read Classics and played cricket and hockey for the university.

In 1957, he became assistant headmaster at Holmewood House, before becoming headmaster in 1959. In 1975 he moved to Aberdour School, Surrey, then to North Bridge House in London, and then to Claremont School, East Sussex, in 1982, before his final post at St Christopher’s, Hove. He retired in 2001 but continued to tutor in classics until his death.

Bob Bairamian was married four times. His fourth wife Ros Daunt, whom he married in 1986, died in 2013; he is survived by two sons, Rupert and Justin, from his first marriage to Jane Crawford, and seven stepsons.

Robert Bairamian, born March 18 1935, died September 7 2018

Father Tribute by Justin Bairamian

Father Tribute


I’m speaking today on behalf of Bob’s family. For those who don’t know me I’m Justin, Bob’s younger son.

Rupert my older brother is also here, having flown with his family all the way from Australia.

And of course it’s wonderful for us to have so many of you here, from far and wide, from every part of Bob’s life. Thank you so much for coming.

I know most of you are here to pay tribute to Bob the Headmaster or Bob the cricketer. Or Bob the host of the most amazing parties. Haydn and Paddy will I’m sure capture those aspects of his life brilliantly.

And I’ve spent all my life bumping into those he’s taught & inspired. And since his death we’ve been bombarded with amazing tributes and wonderful stories of his enthusiasm, his generosity and his sense of fun.

I’d like to read a couple:

The first from Jeremy Vine who my father taught at Aberdour:“Your dad, my headmaster, Bob Bairamian was such a huge character he was nicknamed “Cresta Bear” by us kids. He was such a brilliant teacher we didn’t think of him as a teacher at all. He seemed to come to our classes just to have fun.”

And the second from Sandy Helm, a colleague of Bob’s at Holmewood. What he termed a Bobism. A young boy asked him: “But Sir why so we have to do Latin? To which he replied: “Because it is very difficult”.

I’m sure many more will be told today.

But I’m going to try and capture what it felt like to have Bob as a father, a stepfather and a grandfather. Family Bob if you like.

It’s fair to say that Bob didn’t leave much behind for us. Much that’s material anyway. Nothing conventional like a will.

But what is left is a box of memorabilia: Bluemantle scoring books, a boast book from his days at Claremont, quite a few unpaid bills, lots of photographs and oddly a CV.

And in many ways that’s perfect. Snapshots of a life well lived that tell their own story. The story of a life lived very much for the moment.

And the photos start in Cyprus in 1936. The wonderful picture on the inside of the order of service.

Bob with his parents. Vahe and Eileen.

This from his CV.

Father: Sir Vahe Bairamian. Chief Justice Sierra Leone, Judge of Appeal Nigeria, Editor of the Nigerian Law Reports. And then in brackets: First & only Armenian to be Knighted.

Mother: Eileen Elsie Connelly. Headmistress English School, Nicosia.

An only son. A possibly – and maybe thankfully – unique mix of Armenian and Irish blood.

And the first 10 years of his life were in the sunshine and warmth of Cyprus surrounded by his extended family.

And, as the picture shows, already the centre of attention. Already squeezing fun out of every moment. Even in a dress…

And then aged 10 he was packed off to England. Which must have been quite a shock. But he soon adapted, in fact thrived.

Ending up at Dover College where he was Head Prefect, Captain of cricket, hockey & squash and Editor of ‘The Dovorian’.

And this era is captured by the photo on the front of the Order of Service. Bob aged 18 in his sporting prime, bedecked in every signal of success he could lay his hands on.

And when we turned the photo over we found these words he’d written on the back: “Squash Outer House Competition. Beat C Charlie 9-4, 9-3, 9-5 in the final.”

Always competitive. Always wanting to win. With a healthy dose of arrogance.

From there he went to St Catharine’s College Cambridge where he read Classics of course – and played cricket & hockey for the University.

In 1957 on graduation he became Assistant Headmaster at Holmewood House.

And then in 1959 at the age of 24, triggered by the tragic death of John Collings, he became Headmaster. Haydn will pick up that part of the story a bit later.

But it was also the year he married Jane, daughter of Tom Crawford a Kent farmer and cricketer who had recently been captain of the Kent 2nd 11.

For 10 years Bob & Jane were Headmaster and Headmaster’s Wife – creating not only success at Holmewood but also 2 children – Rupert, first – when I think the whole school was given a day off – and then me – when I’m not sure it was.

(I guess that’s the fate of a second son.)

Sadly as the 60s ended so did Bob & Jane’s marriage.

As we all know other marriages followed.

Firstly to Jill Hume-Kendall – whose 3 boys, Simon Julian & Rupert were boys at Holmewood. It’s lovely to see Simon here today.

Photos of their wedding survive in the box – both the epitome of early 70s glamour.

And of course they lived up the road from here at Princestile.

Then to Shelagh Kittermaster – whose 3 boys, Philip, Johnny and Nigel were also at Holmewood. And it’s great too that Philip & Johnny are with us.

Shelagh moved with him to Aberdour School in 1975, then to Northbridge House in London and then to Claremont School in East Sussex in 1982.

My memories of my father in those years are in intense episodes all in bright technicolour, like the trips we made to see Vahe – the Old Judge as he always called him – and Eileen in Sandgate.

By then of course we’d become Rupertus Maximus and Justinius Maximus.

Driving at high speed in various Mercedes or Audis, the strong scent of cologne, wearing beautifully cut suits with extravagantly bright silk lining.

Screaming “Achtung Polizei” at passing police cars and instructing us to translate pub signs into Latin.

Stopping ahead of lunch for a Worthington White Shield. Poured carefully to avoid the sediment. And drunk swiftly. PAUSE

The marriage to Shelagh sadly foundered but in 1986 he married Ros Daunt whose son Seton was a pupil at Claremont.

To be honest, by then I was more than a little disillusioned by all the coming and going of wives. As I’m sure was Rupert.

But Ros never gave up with us or with Bob and slowly but surely she created the closest we or Bob came to a conventional family life.

At the same time Rupert & I gained a wonderful mother figure in Ros and a soulmate & brother in Seton.

I was chatting to Seton the other day about Bob’s impact on us during that time. And Seton captured it perfectly.

He said the things he’d learnt from Bob that he’s trying to take forward in his life and pass on to his children weren’t the parties or the showmanship.

They were his quieter qualities: his tolerance, his ability to engage anyone from any background, any culture – whether it was a taxi driver or, more often, a restaurateur.

And maybe most importantly his belief that everyone has a talent. Something I know those of you taught by Bob also felt strongly.

For Seton it wasn’t playing cricket or – I think he’d acknowledge – academic success, it was music – playing guitar, writing, producing.

And Bob supported him all the way. As he supported & championed Rupert & me in whatever we chose to do whether it was advertising or the wine trade. (Even though one was definitely closer to his heart than the other.)

During this time, he also became a Grandfather 7 times. Photos of all 7 take pride of place in the box of memorabilia.

And his grandchildren all have great memories of Grandpa.

In their words:

Funny Grandpa. Hilarious Grandpa. Mischievous Grandpa. Grandpa always with a glass of wine in hand, asking “What news?” and “How’s school?”.

And with an eye-wateringly crushing handshake.

It’s fair to say he was as unconventional a Grandfather as he was in everything. Not for him the conventional family moments like birthdays or Christmas.

But come results day they’d invariably get that 8am call. With cries of “Superb”, and “You must be very proud”.

Or in Rupert & James’s case, letters and even occasionally cheques to celebrate their cricketing achievements. PAUSE

First at Claremont, then in Hove while Bob was teaching at St Christopher’s and afterwards, Bob & Ros were together for 27 years.

I remember fondly as I’m sure many of you do many fabulous times at Fairlight End, Ros’s mother Zan’s home in Pett Level, and then at Fairlawns.

Places where it always seemed to be sunny and the atmosphere full of warmth and laughter. Amazing food on the table – courtesy of Ros, and endless libations poured – courtesy of Bob of course. Happy times.

So all the more of a loss when in 2013 Ros too suddenly and too soon died. A loss for all of us, especially of course for Anth her sister and for Seton.

But a real loss for Bob too. And I think it’s fair to say it’s a loss he never quite got over.

The final years were spent at Conifer Lodge – or Cone-ifer Lodge, as he liked to call it. Looked after and tolerated and maybe even ultimately slightly adored by Jo and her team – some of whom are here today.

Thank you to them and also to other friends who stayed close through thick and thin. Including Sonia Rouve who’d first met Bob in those Dover years and who came back into his life and has been a huge support both to him and me.

And Tom Simpson, who played such a central role in those Holmewood years.

And who, he was reminding me the other day, first met Bob at Cambridge through John Riley – another very close friend who sadly died recently who was best man at two, maybe 3 of Bob’s weddings.

They weren’t the easiest years – when he died Sonia and I decided the one word that described him best was Infuriating.

But there were always flashes of the old Bob.

You can see it in the last photo, the one on the inside back cover, and you can hear it in a letter he wrote to his granddaughter Daisy on her graduation just a couple of years ago.

The words of a man who revelled in success of any type. Inspiring Grandpa.

Darling Daisy,
Quite the best news since you were born into our family. Very, very well done GIRL – no, woman now! Justin & I will see that you are well rewarded pro tem (Latin) and we shall see you next month.
I cannot begin to tell you what great joy you have brought us all. Absolutely fabulous and the old judge would have been so very proud of your 1st – quite like old times!
O tempora O mores,
Superb,
GrandPAPA

Bob, Father, Grandpa, occasionally GrandPAPA: always the centre of attention, squeezing fun out of every moment, always competitive, but always tolerant, without judgment, supportive, funny, hilarious, the life & soul of the party, mischievous, infuriating, inspiring, a complete one off.

Or as he might have put it: “Il n’y aucune”

Paddy Butler’s Address

The following was written and read by Paddy Butler at the Service of Thanksgiving for Bob Bairamian on Friday 28th September:

BOB

In the early 1990’s, as an escapee from league cricket, I found myself drawn to a merry band, who assembled every year for a festival of cricket, on the Nevill in Tunbridge Wells, known as Bluemantle Week, under the superintendence of “The Headmaster”, Bob Bairamian.

To the uninitiated, Bluemantle Week may have resembled a raucous bacchanalia, but that interpretation would be to overlook 2 critical conditions under which it took place, both of which were dear to Bob’s heart: firstly, the cricket had to be competitive; and, secondly, there must be good fellowship.

By the time I started playing, Bob had limited influence over the former, but exercised considerable direction over the latter.

I never had the privilege of playing with Bob, but those of his exploits that were capable of corroboration were legendary: as a merciless hooker of the ball; and a devilish bowler; who tried to complete each over within a minute, never allowing the batsmen to settle.

After Bob stopped playing, and no matter what insanity was taking place beyond the boundary rope, he demanded that what occurred inside it must be of the highest competitive standard. This was essential to show respect: to our Bluemantling forebears; to the glory of the Nevill; to the groundsmen; to the umpires; to the scorers; and, above all, to our worthy opponents.

With his headmasterly bearing, Bob was less impressed by talent than by the effort you could muster and, thereby, extracted excellence out of his cricketers, who, like me, were of decidedly modest ability, and so populated clubs with generation after generation of enthusiastic players.

But Bob often found the names parents had given to his protegés unfit for purpose. So he would rechristen people according to their attributes, perhaps relating to their name, or occupation. Mark Church was obviously “The Vicar” – and I became “M’ learned friend”. Whereas John Shepherd of Kent, Barbados and the West Indies was elevated to the ancient heraldic title of: “The Blackmantle”. In one match I played alongside a “Watermelon” and “the Blond Baboon”.  

And so Bluemantle Week would kick off with the match against our Patron’s XI and various totems that had to be observed.

There would be a ceremonial toss of the coin, irrespective of which way it fell, out in the middle, the Patron’s captain, the elegant Nigel Wilkinson, would signal to his team that they were fielding.

Upon this signal Bob would summon a crew, comprising 3 or 4 lower order batsmen, including the novice hairy quick, “to collect the glasses”.

Collecting the glasses” was a poorly veiled euphemism for a trip to The Bull Inn on the Frant Road, where its gentle landlord, Edward, opened up early, and, inexplicably, felt under a civic obligation to accept Bob’s cheques long after commercial judgment suggested this was unwise.

Edward often started sentences with the line: “Robert, I was meaning to have a word about that cheque, you see……” before an imperious wave of the Armenian Ambassador’s arm would silence him as Bob commanded: “Eduardo, M’ learned friend’s glass needs charging”.

Bob would use the occasion of “collecting the glasses” to administer his first “bobbing” of the week. This involved taking the novice hairy quick to one side; filling him with ale; electing him a member of the Bluemantle’s Cricket Club by an ad hoc committee of one; following which Bob extracted a joining fee; an upfront annual subscription; and, further relieved the youth of several months’ allowance by selling him the entire catalogue of Bluemantling accessories, comprising long and sleeveless sweaters, shirts, caps and ties. Bob could always do a deal for cash.

At that time the Club had a batch of ties that bore a label on which someone…… and today is not the day to name names……. upon which someone had taken a biro and carefully crossed out the words: “100% polyester”.

As long as the Bluemantle batting line-up held off the opposition, which was judged by whether Rupertus had made a panicked phone call from the Ground, then Bob was safe until 12.30, at which time he would return with the newly elected member, staggering under the impact of 3 pints of Spitfire and the weight of his new wardrobe.

If the script had not been followed, and the Bluemantles found themselves in the field, then Bob could be seen leaving the ground having borrowed members of the opposition “to collect the glasses”, who would return an hour later, staggering under the impact of 3 pints of Spitfire, and, as newly elected members of the Bluemantle’s Cricket Club, fully accessorised, but somewhat conflicted when sporting their not-polyester ties.

Bob’s faith in his batsmen was well placed and he could usually rely upon any of the likes of Fyffie, The Vicar, Wyatt Earp, Lee (SPG or Anto-Panto), Wesson (Ed or James), both Huttons, either West, Brodhust, Brocklehursts (T, or D) – Yorke, a brace of Holes, Ruperts Bairamian or Harris, Edi, Al Denham, Hancock, Openshaw, Brigadoon Dobbie, the Wheeler-Dealer, Galloway, the Blond Baboon, the drummer from MacFly, a fresh-faced A. Strauss (on one occasion a very fresh-faced D. Cameron) all capable of putting runs on the board, so that Bob could then concentrate on the important matter of his guests.

By this time, Bob’s latest wife, Roz, or “The Badgerina”, along with Anna, who were responsible for feeding the 5,000, had already suffered at least one crisis in the kitchen preparing the “specialité de la  maison”: hot chicken in tarragon sauce.

Wonky pilot light, few pots, broken pans ….. no tarragon – their anxiety would have to be soothed away with chilled rosé. It is fair to say that Bob never dealt with these crises very well, or at least never to Roz’ satisfaction – probably because he wasn’t at the Ground.

And so these moments would light a long fuse of exasperation that would lead to an explosion of marital fury witnessed by everyone, except Bob, who would be watching the cricket from the safety of any unlocked car.

By 1 o’clock the guests would be assembling. Former players, friends of the Bluemantles, blokes Bob had met in a pub, would all come for lunch, based on a long-forgotten invitation issued by Bob, in which he had no concept of numbers.

Within the class of former players was a battery of stalwart supporters made up of retired Brigadiers, who would complain about the traffic in Crowborough, before settling down to watch the cricket with a cup of instant coffee and listen to Brigadier Wah read out The Times’ obituaries.

“Brigadier Wah” was the name given by Bob to Brigadier Wilson because, at the end of each sentence, he made a very peculiar noise: “I say Roz, that chicken stew was jolly delicious, WAAAAGHHHH!”.

Brigadier Wah’s reading of the obituaries was a parlour game played by the Brigadiers in which they would award each other a score of between 1 and 5 depending upon their level of intimacy with the deceased’s wife.

On one such occasion Brigadier Sherman, unsurprisingly renamed by Bob as “The Tank”, looked down in pained embarrassment and confessed: “Oh dear, I fear I am entitled to claim all 5 points.” thereby, reducing Bob to a puddle of giggles from which he could not be reconstituted.

It was customary for Bob to extend his lunch invitation to the Mayors of Tunbridge Wells, confident that, for reputational reasons, they knew better than to accept. However, on one occasion, the Mayoral Limousine pulled up unannounced and outstepped the newly elected Mayoress, in full regalia.

Lesser men might have panicked, but not Bob, who greeted her at the top of the pavilion steps with a gracious bow and offered her olives that had been hand-picked and brined the previous day on his estate in Armenia and flown by private jet to The Nevill in honour of her visit.

Our Lady Mayoress was so blinded with enchantment that she never thought to query why Bob would transfer such delicacies into Tesco’s packaging. She then proceeded to be well and truly bobbed, wobbling down the steps a couple of hours later, scarcely coherent, and wondering what Bob meant when he posed his infamous catchphrase: “but are you getting enough?”.   

In an especially chaotic moment in Bluemantle folk-lore, our Dear Leader from the College of Arms, the Bluemantle Pursuivant, made a memorable appearance. Previous Heralds had wisely ignored that one of the perks of the job was having patronage of their very own cricket club and had stayed away when Bob’s invitation landed.

However, one Patron’s match saw the arrival of a pasty-faced academic, wearing horn-rimmed spectacles and threadbare tweeds, who had clearly not researched his cricket club, or, more importantly, Bob!

As Bob plied him with more and more wine, Bluemantle’s natural reserve gave way to increasing levels of affection, climaxing with a declaration that his heart was full of “joy and rapture” at making everyone’s, indeed anyone’s, acquaintance.

By mid-afternoon our elected President, the owlish Herbert Hunter, so alarmed by the Bluemantle’s increasing disinhibition, decided that he should be driven to the station before he had to be stretchered there, volunteering his octogenarian wife as chauffeuse, whereupon Bluemantle looked Mrs. Hunter up and down and disgraced himself: “Well, she is not a very glamourous ride!”.

Every day after lunch, as Brigadiers snoozed, Bob would hold court on the raked seating outside the pavilion. This often started with Bob noticing that we had forgotten to fly the Club’s standard. Heated debate would then follow as to who had custody last. Invariably, the flag was found in the boot of Bob‘s car where, through overexcitement at the onset of Bluemantle Week, he had forgotten he had left it.

Once hoisted Bob would wax-lyrical about the generous donation of the flag by one Maurice Williams. However, no-one, except Bob, had any recollection of a Maurice Williams. In order to emphasise Maurice’s contribution, Bob regaled us with his feats of derring-do in the Bluemantle’s name, citing his heroic innings in the gloaming at Four Elms on a Bank Holiday Monday to win us victory with a ball to spare.

As doubts were expressed, our resident archivist, Rex, would be summoned from the scorebox to confirm Bob‘s account. However, in spite of extraordinary loyalty towards Bob, that survived even after Bob fired Rex as a Maths teacher for incompetence (and then made him our scorer), Rex wouldn’t confirm that Maurice Williams even existed, or that we ever played Four Elms on a Monday.

So Bob would settle the argument with a flourish by pointing to the flag and declare that the initials “MW” were embroidered into its hem. We would all look up dutifully…….yet initials saw wee none.

Then the thorny issue arrived of when to declare the Bluemantle’s innings closed. Whatever the Captain was considering, Bob would hold the contrary opinion – in his view we were constantly at risk of having 25 runs too few, or of batting 25 minutes too long. Of course, Bob was generally right, of which he took great pleasure in reminding the Captain after the close of play, during drinks in the bar, over dinner, throughout the following day and in occasional phone calls at the dead of night.

Once it came the Bluemantles’ time in the field Bob, yearning company, would hold court with the opposition in the same seat and gales of laughter wafted over the outfield.

After tea the Brigadiers would consult a dog-eared Ordnance Survey map to plan an orderly retreat avoiding the traffic lights at Crowborough, while washing-up details were requisitioned to give Roz and Anna whatever assistance their saintly souls required.

By now Bob had peaked and would take himself off to the back of the Bluemantle Stand where he would doze, waking only at the clattering of the ball hitting the roof.

Once revived Bob provided coaching tips from his vantage point at deepest Long-Off, mostly to the Umpires, and would declare the outcome of appeals before the poor oppressed official had even considered his verdict. “Of course that’s plum!”. I estimate that around 18% of all Bluemantle wickets were acquired by Bob’s timely kidology. The perfect 12th man.

With the last 20 overs called and the opposition sniffing victory, Ted Rose would be introduced into the attack, twirling away arthritically, we always knew that the sheer absence of velocity behind the ball with scarcely enough puff to disturb the bails, was likely to make batsmen lose their brains and meekly surrender their wickets, much to Bob’s merriment, until the spoils were ours. As each batsman trudged back to the dressing-room, Bob offered a single, consoling, word: “Idiot!”

When play was over we mingled cheerfully with our opposition, all of whom spoke warmly about their day’s cricket, the lunch they had enjoyed, the wines they had drunk, and the incredible stories they had heard about the life of a Senior Armenian Diplomat in exile, before they went on their way, promising to return next year, which they invariably did.

Bob always took the time to talk to his players about their performance, ever the school-master, he was keen to point out the good, the bad, and the ugly, but always gave praise and spoke encouragingly about what mightier feats were yet to come.

After 9 hours the Bar at The Nevill no longer inspired Bob, and so he would persuade us all into Tunbridge Wells to restaurants where he was clearly well-known and generally welcome. Bob started by ordering himself a bowl of soup and a handful of spoons. When it arrived he would take a mouthful and exclaim: “That really is very good – have some.” And would pass around the bowl, insistently, until everyone had partaken in his salty stirrup cup.

It was on one such occasion that I began to appreciate Bob’s methodology. For in that place, at that time, quite deliberately, Bob had made everyone around that table feel special about themselves and the company they were keeping. He had inspired us to play our best cricket, encouraged us to play even better, and taught us the essential value of comradeship.

As we left the restaurant weary players would scatter to various billets around town, to gird our loins for more of the same the next day, and the day after, until the week was done, convening the next morning and waiting for a sign that it was now time “to collect the glasses”.

I hope this daft rambling may have stirred some memories for anyone who was privileged to play cricket for, or against, Bob and his mighty Bluemantles.

I can safely say that this passage of my life produced some of the happiest moments at a cricket match that I can recall, but many that I can’t.

So I should like to close by saying something that you may not have heard too often during Bob’s lifetime:

“Bob, I remain forever in your debt!”.

 

Paddy Butler

East Malling

28 September 2018

 

 

A film by Haydn Keenan

‘Bob Bairamian – The Holmewood Years’ is a film tribute created by Australian filmmaker Haydn Keenan who attended Holmewood House school from 1959 – 1964. The finished production has been edited from footage currently being assembled for a full length television documentary about the extraordinary environment Bob oversaw during his years as Headmaster of the school.

For more information and to support this quality film contact:
Executive Producer Charles Burt : chasburt2@gmail.com


Responses to the video


And to the many personal reflections you’ve harvested on Bob himself I would add just these two:
  • In the summer of my penultimate and final years at HH (‘67 & ‘68) Bob drove me (and Rory Fane-Hervey in ‘67, Mike Pritchard in ’68) the length of the country in his magnificent white Merc so we could take the scholarship exams for Ampleforth while he stayed as a guest of the Benedictine monks (whose hospitality he rated very highly). Can you imagine how special we felt? How supported and encouraged? But that wasn’t all, the following two summers he drove up further scholarship candidates (Hugh Scott was one, I recall) and on one of the evenings he took us previous scholars out for a gourmet meal at the most reputable pub, many miles away on the Yorkshire moors. I met rump steak for the first time (he sent mine back because he regarded it as too small) and Chateau D’Yquem with desert…a wine now the preserve of billionaires, I suspect. I can’t begin to account for the long term impact on me of such acts of largesse and respect for us as future adults.
  • His handwriting on end-of-term reports. Every other master wrote neatly and to be read. Bob wrote in the same voice with which he took over the main passage or the gym at assembly time – with absolute freedom, confidence and authority – the same heady cocktail he mixed for every generation of us boys who passed through his care. Talk about making a difference in the world!

I think Francis mentioned my best memories of Bob, Morning Assembly. Striding down the hall, immaculately dressed as always, with just a hint of Tabac aftershave. And he would make his announcements, more scholastic achievements, sporting success, some more cricket bats for the Addo’s (what did they do with them all?)

And that, I think is a good part of what he did for the school. He made us all part of the team, part of the success. You didn’t have to be out on the playing field, or sitting the exam, when one part of Holmewood succeeded, we all succeeded. We didn’t have any losers at Holmewood, we were all winners.

ROBERT BAIRAMIAN MA (Cantab)

It is with considerable sadness that we report the death of one of the most colourful characters in the history of club cricket, Robert Bairamian, the former Head master of Holmewood House, Aberdour and Claremont. He was 83.

Bob, as he was universally known, the self-appointed Armenian Ambassador and Hon. Commander-in-Chief of the Armenian Cavalry, was an ever-present in Kent and Sussex cricket for over 60 years, representing a variety of clubs including Bluemantle’s, Band of Brothers, Stragglers of Asia, Invalids, MCC and Kent 2nd XI. He was a highly competitive allrounder, scoring thousands of runs and playing two first class games whilst at Cambridge. His erstwhile father in law, Tom Crawford, also played for Kent with distinction, later becoming club President, and it was he who made Bob’s sons, Rupert and Justin, life members on the day they were born.

Following schooling at Dover College and Cambridge, packed off by his father, Sir Vahé Bairamian, the Lord Chief Justice of Sierra Leone, Bob’s career as a headmaster was never dull, inspiring many thousands of children from all over the world, building lasting friendships with them and reveling in their successes. His enthusiasm matched theirs, and his boundless energy imbued a loyalty that is remembered by his charges and staff alike.

Bluemantle week became more than a cricket festival under Bob’s inimitable leadership. Full blown lunch parties, evening drinks, pre-match visits to various local pubs and the inevitable response to the question of lunch…..”the woman is cooking pig” and then “are you getting enough?” made the week an unmissable fixture in both the sports and social diaries. His nicknames for his players, often shouted from the top row of pavilion, were highly imaginative; Toby Poesrcott-Edgerton became The Power Driven Hedgecutter; The Cloke twins, Cloak and Dagger. The list goes on and on.

Over the years many restaurants and hostelries were tried, some with more success than others. True to character, Bob would befriend the more like-minded restaurateurs, most of whom were delighted to see him and his band of merry men clad in whites, as they knew they were in for a good night with the till ringing and an increase in decibels that betrayed the usually sedate surroundings for the other 51 weeks of the year. A favourite was The Giggling Squid, which, of course, became known as the Bluemantle Thai. There would very rarely be an evening where Bob would not insist on high jinks somewhere, often driven by trusty friends such as the late James Wesson or Rex Roberts (rarely out of second gear). Many an Old Amplefordian, Moose or Straggler felt the effects of a night out with Bob, but no one had more stamina or enthusiasm for the next day’s game than he.

A fuller obituary will appear in time, but in recording the death of one of life’s real characters, Bluemtantle’s CC bids farewell to its Imperator, the unique Headmaster, Bob.

The service of thanksgiving is at St John the Baptist, Penshurst on Friday 28th September at 2 pm.