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Recounting the rise and fall – and rise again – of Classics at QE

Old Elizabethan Professor P J Rhodes, a leading ancient historian, highlights a QE connection in a new academic tribute to one of the world’s foremost experts on Greek art.

Peter John Rhodes (OE 1951–1959), who is usually cited as P J Rhodes, has penned a chapter entitled Buildings and History in a festschrift published this spring, Greek Art in Motion: Studies in honour of Sir John Boardman on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

In the chapter, Professor Rhodes, who is Honorary Professor and Emeritus Professor of Ancient History at the University of Durham, mentions that one of Sir John’s contemporaries at Chigwell School was J W Finnett. John Finnett went on to become a popular Classics master at QE, teaching Professor Rhodes when he was in the Sixth Form.

“In my 14th year of retirement, I remain reasonably compos et mentis et corporis,” says Professor Rhodes. “I am still academically active — reading, writing, participating in conferences, still doing a little teaching and higher-degree examining; an academically focused tour of Iran in 2000 gave me a taste for travelling to exotic places (all too often visiting them shortly before trouble strikes — but my reputation hasn’t yet led to my being denied entry to any country).”

He has also been inspired recently to look further into the history of Classics teaching at QE. In an article for the Old Elizabethans Association’s magazine, the Elizabethan, he charts the fluctuating fortunes of Latin and Greek at the School across the centuries, as well as recording his own memories of his teachers in these subjects.

He was at QE during the last of E H Jenkins’ three decades as Headmaster and was in the last year of two-form entry (60 boys) before the post-war expansion. The senior Latin master in that era was Percival Timson, who had been at the school since 1935. John Finnett joined QE in 1951, aged 23.

“Timson and Finnett were of different generations and different styles, but they made an effective pair,” Professor Rhodes recalls in the Elizabethan article. “Timson hated music: on one of the few occasions when he unbent, he explained that at Oxford he had done little work in his first year so needed to do a lot before taking Mods in his second, and at that stage found any sounds that might distract him intolerable. Finnett was keen on music, but regarded Mozart as the greatest composer of all time and everybody more recent as inferior to him.”

A particular inspiration was “rumbustious” Rex M Wingfield, who was his first-form master and first Latin teacher: “…I think he bears much of the responsibility for my having become a Classicist.”

Another Classics teacher was Lynton E Whiteley, from Cambridge. “…On arrival in 1953 he projected a fierce image, and though I think he mellowed I was always somewhat afraid of him.”
Professor Rhodes is the eldest of three brothers, of whom the youngest, John Andrew, also went to QE and later became a modern historian at Wadham College, Oxford (to which Prof Rhodes went as an undergraduate).

“At School I was in Underne House (under John Pearce); I was successful in the classroom but not on the games field (honour was eventually satisfied when I acted as scorer for cricket teams: the Second XI for two years and then the First XI for three); I was involved in music (as a pianist), in the Elizabethan Union and with the school’s printing press.”

He took Latin, Greek, Ancient History and History A-levels at QE. “I sailed through A Level and S Level, but it then took me two years in the Seventh Form to catch up with the kind of competitors who had started Latin at seven and Greek at nine and had spent their school time on little else.” [S Level, involving extra papers, was for those applying for state scholarships for university, before the later introduction of a universal grant system.]Perseverance, and my parents’ patience, were rewarded, and I did in the end in 1959 achieve the Holy Grail of an Oxford Scholarship in Classics.”

At Oxford, he was a prize-winning undergraduate at Wadham. “As it happens, Finnett later went to Wadham too…as a visiting Schoolmaster Fellow. Sadly, in 1971 he died of cancer, aged only 43.”

Professor Rhodes was awarded a double first-class degree from Oxford. “I continued as a [cricket] scorer in my first year but not thereafter, did not pursue a career in the Union Society, but was involved in music (singing tenor, and, in the absence of better players, acting as a not very good organist).”

He went to Durham as a young lecturer in Classics in 1965 and rose to become, firstly, a senior lecturer, and then, in 1983, Professor of Ancient History there. He retired in 2005 and still lives in Durham.

During his career, he has published extensively on the Classical Greek world; his works span the decades, from The Athenian Boule, published in 1972, to a forthcoming edition of Herodotus, Histories, V.

He has held a number of visiting fellowships; Wolfson College, Oxford (1984), University of New England, Australia (1988), Corpus Christi College, Oxford (1993), and All Souls College, Oxford (1998). He served as President of the Classical Association from 2014 to 2015. In 1987, he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy and in 2005 was made a Foreign Member of the Royal Danish Academy.

“In Durham I continued with choral singing for many years, and again in the occasional absence of better players, as a not very good organist, and for a few years I was involved with a printing press; I have also been an active member (including two stints as secretary) of the Senior Common Room of University College.”

In the mid-2000s, soon after his retirement, the then-Headmaster, Dr John Marincowitz, told him on a visit to the School that he hoped to reintroduce Latin soon. Professor Rhodes has been heartened to learn not only that this was subsequently done – it is now a curriculum subject – but that Greek is today also available as an extra-curricular subject.

It is with regret that the Association announces the death of Ron Middleton who passed on 5 March 2019.

Funeral details have been circulated by email.

It is with regret that the Association announces the death of Maurice Glassman who passed on 15 January 2019.

It is with regret that the Association announces the death of Mike Back who passed in early 2019.

It is with regret that the Association announces the death of Roy Hatton who passed on 18 December 2018.

The Christmas Draw of the Old Elizabethans’ 200 Club was made on 17 December 2018.  The following were prize-winners:

C M Allen            £200

J A Hobson         £150

A Johnson           £100

J M Holloway      £75

A P McKay           £50

M L Bay                £25

If you wish to join the 200 Club, which costs £12 a year and supports the Memorial Playing Fields and the School, contact Martyn Bradish at mb@bradish.co.uk .

In brief: Old Elizabethans’ news

Service and sacrifice informed the special remembrance assembly held at the School to mark the centenary of the Armistice in 1918.

All boys from Years 7–10, together with staff and many senior pupils, took part in the ceremony, which featured music, poetry and a procession by the Combined Cadet Force.

In an address to the assembly, Old Elizabethan and Governor Ken Cooper (1942-50), a former officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, charted the course of the war, making clear the scale of the conflict and its great cost. He explained how the emergence of trench warfare on the Western Front led to combat that lasted for months and years yet resulted in minimal or no territorial gains for either side.

The Headmaster read aloud the names of the 48 Old Elizabethans killed during World War I, whilst the names of the 65 who died in World War II were projected on to a screen. The two-minute silence at 11 o’clock was heralded by six of QE’s senior trumpeters sounding the Last Post.

At the end of the assembly, the CCF contingent marched with the commemorative wreath to the War Memorial located in the Crush Hall, where it was placed.

Separately, Year 12 historians had a special tour of the Imperial War Museum’s World War I centenary exhibition, courtesy of alumnus Dr Ian Kikuchi. Ian (OE 1997-2004) curated the exhibition and answered questions both about the war and about the logistics of curating major exhibitions.


Alumni continue to support QE by giving careers talks. This term’s included a lunchtime lecture by Samir Manek (OE 2001–2008), a litigator working at the heart of the UK’s financial regulatory system as an Associate (Solicitor) with the Financial Conduct Authority. He urged on QE’s aspiring lawyers the importance of a genuine passion for the Law.

Two younger lawyers, Suraj Sangani (OE 2005-2012) and Izzet Hassan (also 2005-2012), gave boys in Years 11-13 insights into how to pursue a career in Law, with both stressing the importance of preparation and persistence. Izzet, who is a Future Trainee Solicitor at London-based multinational firm, Slaughter and May, graduated with an LLB in Law from the University of Warwick before completing an MPhil in Criminology at Cambridge. Suraj followed an alternative route, reading History at Warwick before being recruited by Hogan Lovells, which has joint headquarters in London and Washington, where he is a Trainee Solicitor.

And Civil Service economist Andrei Sandu (OE 2007-2014) told senior boys that he was already advising a Government Minister at a European summit, just a few short months after starting his job. Andrei joined the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as part of the economists’ group of the Civil Service Fast Stream in August last year. In the autumn of 2017, he was called upon to attend a Council of Ministers summit in Brussels, where he advised Lord Henley, of BEIS, throughout the session.


Piers Martin was part of a relay team that successfully swam the English Channel in rough conditions and raised more than £6,000 for Autism East Midlands. Yet, even though the team were eminently suited to the challenge – Piers (OE 1987–1994) is a high-performance sport and business consultant and a former national-level swimming champion, while two of his fellow team-members are water polo coaches – the swim almost didn’t happen. Because of worsening weather, the authorising organisation, the Channel Swimming and Piloting Association (CSPA) had called off the swim, only to give the team an eleventh-hour reprieve after they had already left Dover and were heading home.

George the Poet (George Mpanga, OE 2002–2009) has raised his already-high profile still further by appearing on TV screens in both the public and private spheres. A keen advocate of social justice, George investigated how and why the capital’s poor residents are losing out as council homes disappear for an Inside Out London current affairs programme on BBC1. He also starred in a new commercial for O2 reflecting on the wonder of Planet Earth and the transitory nature of human life.

Akshay Ruparelia’s fast-expanding online estate agency, Doorsteps.co.uk, launched a second crowdfunding round during the autumn – and smashed its £400,000 target within seconds of the offer going live. Akshay (OE 2009–2016) made national headlines last year after the first fundraising, with the young entrepreneur’s age attracting journalists’ admiration.

Fronting the latest fundraising drive, he explained that the money raised, which eventually came to nearly £900,000, will pay for more staff and additional investment in technology as the company grows.

Performance coach Kam Taj (Kamran Tajbaksh, OE 2004–2011) has published a new book offering students his own innovative and detailed holistic approach to achieving success as a student.

Entitled The Ultimate Guide to Exam Success, the book is the latest in a series published through UniAdmissions, an education consultancy which helps students applying to Oxbridge and medical schools.

The first four chapters of the 182-page paperback are on: time-management, study tools & techniques; mind-management and on-the-day performance. “Unlike any other book on exams, the final four chapters are on optimising our lifestyle so we can stay physically and mentally healthy throughout our studies,” Kam adds.

Announcing its publication, Kam told his Facebook followers: “In many ways, I wrote this book for my younger self – it’s everything I wished I knew as a student and teenager.”

Alumni dinner kindles friendships old and new

The 123rd Old Elizabethans Association Annual Dinner brought together old boys of all eras for an evening offering both formality and fun.

The evening featured the customary speeches and time-honoured toasts, but there was also opportunity aplenty for alumni to chat with old classmates and strike up new friendships in a relaxed and convivial environment.

As is usual at the dinner, there was a particularly strong turnout from the ‘ten-year leavers’ – those who started in Year 7 in 2002 and will therefore mark ten years since they left the School in summer 2009 at the end of this academic year.

Guest speaker Alan Ingham (OE 1987–1994) entertained his fellow alumni with his recollections of School life during an era of great international uncertainty, recounting the confident prediction of one teacher that the Berlin Wall would not fall in his lifetime – just months before it did.

Alan, a senior software developer with electronic trading company Nex Group, attended with his fiancée, Ana Maria Soler Castells, whom he was marrying on the following day. He had, therefore, been very busy in the run-up to the dinner, he said, but added that the resilience one learns as a QE boy had stood him in good stead as he strove to cope with these competing demands!

Reflecting on the evening afterwards, Headmaster Neil Enright said: “There was a lovely atmosphere at this dinner – a reflection, I am sure, of the increasing connections being made by our alumni both with each other and with the School.

“We are always keen to welcome alumni here and I know many OEs value the opportunity to visit, to see what has changed and often to check out who among their old teachers are still here. Many also take time during such visits to reflect on what they have gained in life by being a pupil at QE, and it is this appreciation which is driving so many to volunteer to help current boys and give something back.”

In his speech on the evening itself, the Headmaster began by welcoming all the guests: “Tonight is an opportunity for reflection, reconnection and celebration.”

Mr Enright reserved a special welcome the ten-year leavers, the class of 2002-2009 (or 2002-2007 for those who did A-levels elsewhere). They were, he said, a “fun, friendly and very successful cohort”, noting that they had started at QE on Monday 2nd September 2002, thus coinciding with his own arrival as a young teacher.

Those from this group who attended the dinner included Commonwealth Games triple-jump finalist Nathan Fox and George ‘the Poet’ Mpanga, the high-profile spoken-word artist who spoke in front of the Queen on Commonwealth Day and who performed a specially commissioned poem as part of the international TV coverage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding.

The Headmaster outlined a number of “big themes” which are currently being considered as part of the School’s long-term development. One of them is “keeping in touch” – which includes drawing on the experience and insight of OEs to assist current boys, many of whom are the first in their families to apply to top universities or to try to enter the most competitive professions.

The formal proceedings included toasts to Queen Elizabeth II and to “the pious memory of Queen Elizabeth I” (by tradition, honoured in silence). School Captain Aashish proposed the toast to the association, with the response given by the association’s Chairman, Martyn Bradish (OE 1962–1969). This was followed by the toast to the School proposed by guest speaker Alan Ingham, with the Headmaster giving the response.

Association President Ken Cooper (OE 1942–1950) presented the School Captain with the Eric Shearly Memorial Prize for Outstanding Commitment. The citation noted Aashish’s “modest and quiet commitment to the life of the School.” It continued: “His talents and involvements are many and diverse; he has been a success at each stage of his academic career, attaining the top grade in every subject that he studied at GCSE and A-level, whilst also acting as form captain, colt prefect, and participating in rugby in each year group on his journey through the School. And he is an exceptional musician too!”

Aashish hopes to study Neuroscience at university and has already prepared for this by undertaking work experience in local hospitals and by examining neurological ways of treating depression in his Extended Project Qualification dissertation.

The guests enjoyed a smoked salmon rillette with pickled beetroot and pea shoots and a main course of roast belly of pork with roasted new potatoes, followed by Eton Mess for dessert, topped off with coffee and mints.

It is with regret that the Association announces the death of Jim Winchester who passed on 18 June 2018.

It is with regret that the Association announces the death of Tim (Torj) Herbert who passed on 25 June 2018.