Sir Anthony Seldon (HS 1967-72), has become the new President of the Old Tonbridgian Society. Please read below a message from Sir Anthony regarding this new position.
WELCOME FROM THE OTS PRESIDENT
I was bowled over, and honoured, to be asked to become President of the Old Tonbridgian Society this summer. I have enjoyed spells of similar length at Tonbridge as pupil and teacher, and the School has always been close to my heart and powerfully shaped my thinking in my career and life.
I was at Tonbridge from 1967 to 1972, the end of the McCrum era and the start of the very different Ogilvie years. These were tumultuous times in schools as in the country and world at large, encapsulated in the iconic film If…, about whose Tonbridge connection Charles Barr writes so brilliantly in a later article in the OT Magazine. My own contribution was to lead a much less bold protest against the CCF and the Vietnam War, succeeding in bringing the latter to an end if not the former. Unsurprisingly such challenges to authority brought down the wrath of Michael McCrum, a titanic figure in Tonbridge history, who, for all his genius and foresight, did not entirely understand what was happening in wider society. He made the School see the film of Lord of the Flies to show us I assume what happened when authority abdicated. With the perspective of history, I see the modern Tonbridge as still very much Michael McCrum’s school in terms of the trajectory on which he set it, the aspirations he encouraged, the academic rigour he brought and the many outstanding appointments to the staff he made. I was very fond of Robert Ogilvie, an outstanding academic and kindly man, who took me out to play golf at Knole as a way of channelling some of my rebellious spirit. There were so many other important influences on me including Robert Austin, my housemaster; Mike Bushby, who rescued me from oblivion by making me 1st XI scorer; the history teachers Geoffrey Parker and Colin Reid, who both went on to headmasterships; and the newly appointed Jonathan Smith, whose first novel Wilfred and Eileen followed the Great War story of my maternal grandparents.
It was Jonathan Smith who persuaded me back to Tonbridge in 1989 initially as Head of Seminar, which later morphed into running the history and politics departments. In these more pressured days, it is instructive to recall how ambitious and enlightened a programme Jonathan’s Seminar was – eight periods per week in the Lower Sixth and six in the Upper Sixth. I was able to stimulate discussion of world issues by inviting down speakers of the calibre of Richard Rogers, Dirk Bogarde, Geoffrey Howe, Leonard Cheshire and Vera Lynn. I have so many happy memories of my four years back at Tonbridge as teacher, encouraged in what I was trying to do by the kindly vision of both Christopher Everett and Martin Hammond. Happiness too with Joanna and a growing family and so many talented colleagues. I remember the history trips we started to take to the trenches in 1990, a long-running theme in my life, but often a disaster of organisation including the memorable one when the coach broke down and then backed into the hotel in which we were staying. Starting the Parents’ Arts Society too, with the strong support of Martin and Jane Hammond, who kindly hosted so many speakers and events, and which became such a uniquely Tonbridge triumph under the genius of David Tennant.
I look forward to engaging with the OTS and the School in my year of office. The Tonbridge I joined had only 500 boys and the growth to nearly 800 has been a feature of the stronger independent schools, Wellington in my time going from 690 to 1120 pupils, and Brighton from 450 to 710. The political and affordability challenges facing schools are considerable, but our communities are now so much more diverse and more engaged with the world outside and the causes which inspire the young, while we have all learned how much care, community and compassion are at the heart of any great school, as Tonbridge certainly is. I would like to bring OTs of every generation together in shared adventure and companionship, including reprising, with David Walsh, a trenches trip to explore what the Great War meant to the School. As Tonbridge approaches its 475th anniversary in 2028, I would also like to help it engage with its history. It will be a busy year, not least because I have taken up the challenge of restoring equanimity to Epsom College after the tragic events of earlier in the year. One of the initiatives I have taken there this term was to send some of my staff to Tonbridge to learn about how things are done there under James Priory’s inspiring leadership. So, I have much for which to thank Tonbridge in my life and look forward to repaying some of that debt this year.
Sir Anthony Seldon (HS 67-72)