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

James Wesson

james-wessonIt is with great sadness that we report the sudden death of James Wesson, a Bluemantle of over 30 years standing.

James was introduced to the club by Bob Bairamian when teaching at Claremont School in 1982. A high quality batsman and equally effective off spin bowler, James had played 1st XI cricket for Repton, for whom he also played in the Cricketer Cup. Whilst at Claremont, James also qualified as an MCC player in 1984, the same year that he joined Rye Golf Club. He scored consistently highly for the Bluemantles, as well as for other clubs, such as Free Foresters, Band of Brothers, Yellowhammers, Scorpions and the Stragglers of Asia.

In East Sussex and Kent, James made close and lasting friendships through cricket and the Claremont connection, playing with his friends in the Common Room all over the countryside in those long and balmy Summers, travelling, in some peril, with Rex Roberts to many games, with Ant Lee, Bob, Rupert Bairamian, Ed Atkinson and Rupert “Paddy” Butler. Well known in many of the local hostelries as a result of post match refreshments, James would also entertain great local characters such as John Newbery and The Rev John Lambourne, with whom he would play golf on their regular trips to France with Ant.

On leaving Claremont, James was appointed Master in Charge of Cricket at Cheltenham College, where he enjoyed great success and popularity. From Cheltenham he moved to Radley College, where he became Housemaster of ‘A’ Social. His non-traditional style of pastoral care was hugely appreciated by his charges, creating a happy and laissez faire atmosphere that engendered loyalty and affection.

His real success whilst at Radley was in his time as Master in Charge of cricket. Losing one game in seven years, he forged a strong bond with the legendary Bert Robinson, and with Andy Wagner, the former MCC coach at Lord’s. It is no coincidence that under James, the first class game benefitted from the arrival of Andrew Strauss, Ben Hutton, Jamie Dalrymple and Robin Martin-Jenkins. Punctilious in his adherence to old fashioned standards of good manners and sportsmanship, James imbued a sense of pride in representing Radley, which was repaid by his team and appreciated by their parents.

When James left Radley to pursue his calling in the Church of England, the college was all the poorer. The transition from school master to priest may not have been an easy one, although it is well known that in one of the toughest parishes in the South of England, in Brighton, James was very highly valued, rising to the challenge as ever.

No Bluemantle Week went by without a day or two of “Wessona” holding court in the pavilion with his old friend, Bob. Stories of incidents past, glories re-lived, impersonations of old colleagues and voluble criticisms of fielding positions or bowling changes were de rigeur, becoming louder and louder as the wine consumption went up and up!

As a friend, player and committee member of many years standing, James will be sorely missed by all at the Nevill and in the wider world of cricket where he can claim to have nurtured a future England captain, as well as friendships with groundsmen, umpires and scorers.

A good man.


JRV ‘Dick’ Woods sadly died on the 28th October after a short illness.
He became a member of the Bluemantle’s in 1948 and played cricket with the likes of Maurice Williams, Peter Neild, Ian Fleming, Keith Linney, Hector Munro and Nigger Wright amongst others. Later on he played with Ted Rose and his brother Gerald , who became a member whilst still at school in 1951.
JRV Woods opened the batting for Kent Young Amateurs against Surrey at the Oval in September 1949. Colin Cowdrey batted at 3 for Kent and Micky Stewart at 3 for Surrey. He also opened the batting for The Army in 1952 at Fenners, DRW Silk (later Chairman of TCCB) and Robin Marlar were playing for Cambridge.
For a view of these and other miscellaneous matches of JRV Woods, see this link.