George Kennth Embleton c.1975

George Kennth Embleton c.1975

written by Ed shortly after Mr Embleton’s death in 1992.

George Embleton (GKE) joined the Royal Latin School on the 6th September 1948. To become a Headmaster at the age of 34 was unusual in those days and was the reward for a distinguished academic career at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, followed by a very active war in the Navy. He had been ship-wrecked three times, once in the company of Lord Louis Mountbatten. ” We knew we’d be picked up quickly,” he never tired of telling,” They couldn’t afford to lose Lord Louis”.

George dedicated his whole subsequent life to the Royal Latin School. He saw it as his ship, and his duty was clear – to guide the ship to calm water through choppy seas such as County bureaucracy or the threat of becoming a Comprehensive establishment. George Embleton was an idiosyncratic Headmaster – he was a deep thinker and was his own man. He stood for what he knew was right through thick and thin, and possessed a profound contempt for those he regarded as “trimmers” or “creatures”. School was a series of battles with George on the bridge, and a lost battle never made him flinch for he saw far ahead. Whilst the victors were sleeping off victory, he’d be back at his desk through the watches of the night, typing furiously using few fingers, firing the first salvoes in the next part of the campaign. Many a pupil and member of staff found that George was a fine friend in their hour of need, and that his rugged, fighting qualities saved them from a worse fate.

When GKE arrived, the school was in Chandos Road, (these buildings are now  Grenville School)  and there were barely 150 pupils.  George could never be accused of running a tight ship, he was more interested in the big visions than the minutiae, and policy was made on the hoof and subject to flux.  He needed a chief mate, and he chose quickly and wisely.  Edna Robinson  became not only his School Secretary, but his wife, his filing cabinet and a great tower of strength. George’s eyes saw the glory, and Edna converted it into practice.

George Embleton realised that the school needed to expand and made sure that it got an option on the Brookfield Estate.   King, then Queen and Country meant everything to George Embleton, and one can see the pride and sense of fulfillment, in the pictures of him receiving the Queen Mother  when she opened the new buildings on 10th June 1963. Part of the new provision was a Boarding House for 40 boys and Reg Howard was appointed as its Housemaster, with George and Edna living in the adjoining, glorious Headmaster’s House. There followed  sixteen very happy years. Boarding makes a school site come alive twenty four hours a day. Nothing could be  have been better for George.  He needed little sleep, and company and the need to be on alert ( “on the qui vive,” as he would have phrased it) were all around.  George’s mother joined the throng as she became frail and was a source of excellent advice.  House Staff were in and out to watch the football on the colour TV (a real treat at that time) and to imbibe a glass or two of “Famous Grouse”. By day, the Boarding House was a centre of fine cooking, provided by the incomparable Mrs Ivy Pickering and her team. The spur to provide good roasts, twice weekly, had come from GKE’s experience of teaching in a Cheshire School. There, the Head did the carving, giving his housemasters beef so thin that it was transparent. George provided a ship’s bell to summon the boarders to meals and for musters. Good naval punishments of polishing brass kept the lads from straying too far out of line. Yes, it was an Ivory Tower, but it didn’t cater for a special elite. As a Prison Visitor at Grendon and a J.P. on the Buckingham Bench , George saw families in distress and he helped. His Boarding House was an adroit mixture of sound lads leavened by a few “rescue cases”.

Although the Boarding House was decorated in battleship grey, George Embleton himself was a colourful figure around whom legends grew, and most were rooted in truth. Many a member of staff will tell you that when they first saw George they thought he was the gardener. George loved nourishing tradition and spent countless hours turning a barren, muddy site into the present magnificent park. Former pupils will tell you stories of how , when a teacher was absent, ill, they were sent out with a basket to pick up stones to make the grounds safe for sport.  If the school had a little spare cash, he’d buy some “best Nottinghamshire loam”, or send for another fine tree specimen from Hillier’s aboretum.

The County Education Authority, it was said, saw the Latin School as a no-go area .  That was supposed to have started with one unwise advisor visiting an RLS teacher without the Head’s permission. His exit velocity nearly made him the first manned satellite.  Apocryphal, perhaps, but certainly, GKE longed for those early days when “the County” meant the Education Officer ( Mr. Cook) and his Secretary. We see the process coming full circle today. How George would have enjoyed things! For George , education meant teachers in front of classes. He made sure when the present buildings were designed that the School Offices were the size of shoe boxes. All available cash was pumped into classrooms.

Pupils noticed GKE’s love of learning, and his consuming interest in current affairs.  GKE knew his English literature and could quote large sections of Shakespeare or Charles Dickens verbatim. Many situations would evoke an apt quotation. One dessert became “Prunes and Prisms,”  pronounced with his lips in the rosebud shape advised by elocution teachers.  George was a politician manque.  He thought long and hard about international affairs. UDI and Rhodesia became an obsession. The answer for George was ,”The Bishop”. But, …Robert Mugabe came out ahead. Within seconds, George was back, with a 1001 reasons why Mugabe not only was the victor and why that had always been the only possible outcome. How much John Major would treasure a Minister capable of such utterly convincing volte -faces.

Sport was vital to George Embleton. In his youth he turned down the chance to become a first-division professional footballer. When he first came to Buckingham, he played for Buckingham Town. On the cricket field, he was a good, tight left-arm seam bowler, and a defensive batsman.  Indeed his cricketing prowess was such that he played against legendary figures such as Learie Constantine. Later on he practised his golf swing for many hours on end.  George loved coaching sport. He had great analytical powers, and those pupils who had the patience to stand and listen were served well. His Latin School produced its Oxford blues.

GKE left a school in 1979 with four times as many pupils as when he came, and in possession of as fine a site as any state school in the country. Apart from new premises for teaching, he had created two Boarding Houses, one for boys, the other for girls. It was in his house that the idea of an Independent University in Buckingham was first explored.    Unlike so many Heads, George never considered early retirement.  It was not a question of going on to the bitter end. School was life and life was sweet.   Like De Gaulle, he retired to his Colombey – les – Deux  – Eglises  at Stowe, and, no doubt, waited to be summoned to stop HMS RLS from sinking.  Sadly, the call never came, and prolonged illness prevented George from realising  how much his own inimitable contribution had meant to former pupils and staff. George Embleton changed the landscape of education in North Bucks. We shall never see his like again.


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