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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please prove you are human *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.