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David Alban (1927-2019)

David Alban (1927-2019) – Former Member of Staff (1952-1976), Lupton Housemaster (1967-1976) and Honorary OS

Lesley Alban and family would like to inform the OS community that former member of staff, parent and Honorary OS, David Alban, sadly passed away at home on Wednesday 18th September, aged 92. His funeral will be held at St Andrew’s Church, Sedbergh, at 12:00 noon on Monday 30th September.

Those who knew David and may wish to attend and are most warmly welcome. A commemoration service with refreshments will take place shortly afterwards in the School Library. If you plan on attending the service, please can you RSVP to Ben Collins at bpc@sedberghschool.org to assist with catering numbers. Messages to the family may be sent to tomalban@ymail.com. More information will be posted soon.

 

David Alban Sedbergh School Timeline:

Dec 1952 –Form master of the new General Sixth.

Dec 1953 – House Tutor for Hart House (mentioned in The Jay) and took over the coaching of the junior fives team: ‘Everyone in the team has benefited considerably from his experience and skill; and at his suggestion, a junior fives singles ladder was begun to encourage boys in the junior part of the House to play more.’ Still supporting the team in 1970.

Jul 1953 – Tennis coach; ‘who, by a sound knowledge of the game and by dint of many hours of patient coaching, has imparted to many members of the School a new spirit of keenness and the will to improve’. He continued to assist with the tennis coaching until at least 1960.

Jul 1954 – Helped Hart House win the Drill Cup from Winder House; ‘He had been under the notorious S.M. Brittain during the war and reproduced the Brittain technique for us so successfully that he had us looking more efficient than ever before’; he taught ‘the ranks a little smartness’.

Dec 1954 – During a Mock Election for the Debating Society, Mr Alban stood as the Communist candidate and won with 88 votes!

Jul 1957 – He produced the Speech Day production, ‘The Trial Scene from Saint Joan’ by G.B. Shaw: ‘the producer deserves our thanks and our congratulations on an ambitious but successful undertaking’.

Dec 1959 – Married in Bradford Cathedral to Miss Lesley Gibson.

Dec 1960 – General Sixth became Lower VI Economics, providing a ‘general’ education for boys not going to university to enter on careers such as the army, accountancy, law, business. Mr Alban continued as master.

Dec 1960 – Congratulate the birth of Mr and Mrs Alban’s daughter, Alice.

Jul 1960 – Produced an Operetta for the Speech Day concert and ‘who, by his ceaseless efforts, really got the best out of the musicians and actors’.

Jul 1962 – Congratulate the birth of Mr and Mrs Alban’s son, Simon.

May 1964 – Congratulate the birth of Mr and Mrs Alban’s son, Thomas.

Jul 1966 – Congratulate the birth of Mr and Mrs Alban’s son, Mark.

Summer 1967 until 1976 – Housemaster of Lupton House.

Jul 1967 – Congratulate the birth of Mr and Mrs Alban’s son, Michael.

Autumn 1968 – Listed as Arts VI master.

1968 – Delivered a paper on ‘fashions’ at the Forum Society.

Summer 1969 onwards – Editor of The Luptonian.

Winter 1969 – Intention to start instructing newcomers to Lupton House on fly-fishing.

1969 – Saved the Debating Society ‘from an untimely death’, and instigated ‘one new development when he chaired an informal “training” debate, designed to sharpen the abilities of those interested’. Alban continued to be involved with the Debating Society: in 1972, for example, he was one of two speakers for the debate ‘The British, the British, the British are best, we do not care, tuppence for all the rest’. ‘This proved to be a very humorous conclusion to the term’s debating. The motion was defeated by three votes.’

1969 – Acted the character “The Echo” in the G&S Trial by Jury, with his daughter Alice as a mini bridesmaid. He continued to be involved in many productions, either as a character, producer or a member of the make-up team! In the 1971 production of ‘A Man for All Seasons’ by Robert Bolt, Alban played the main character, Sir Thomas More. ‘In this part Mr D. Alban was excellent. One was made to experience the full complexity of More, his incisive intelligence, his conscience finely honed, his great compassion. It was perhaps this essential kindliness that remains the most lasting impression of a character whose variety showed Mr. Alban’s acting range to be considerable.’ Alban continued to produce plays; in July 1973 he was ill during rehearsals but the production of the play ‘suffered no delay’. Other house productions David oversaw included: ‘Inherit the Wind‘, ‘Twelfth Night‘, ‘My Three Angels‘, ‘The Sky is Overcast‘ (a one actor), and an act of ‘Saint Joan‘ again with a Lupton cast.

Winter 1970 – ‘Mrs Alban kindly offered to give dancing lessons during Housemaster’s time this term. Much to her surprise she discovered a wealth of talent mostly from the Senior part of the house, and now “table tennis” gives way to dancing once a week.’

Winter 1970 – ‘Mr and Mrs Alban gave two parties in the Common Room which appeared to be enjoyed by all, including the boys who could hardly fail to join in with all the noise that was made.’

Spring 1971 – Mrs Alban offered cooking lessons and these were ‘eagerly taken up by about sixteen Senior boys, anxious to learn the secrets of domestic science’.

Summer 1971 – Start of the new Inter-House Tennis competition, which is being played for the Alban Cup. Lupton House, appropriately, won the cup.

1976 – Mr Alban taught two unison songs, ‘Go Down Moses’ a negro spiritual and ‘Down Below’, a humourous cockney song, for the House Music Competitions.

1976 – ‘Credit must go to Mr. Alban for teaching us our accents and producing the play. However, his high standard of teaching has had one bad effect; Chris reads in public in a French accent!’

1977 – Resigned because of ill health.

1977 – ‘Compare’ for formal dance. Mrs Alban taught ballroom dance lessons in the run up to the event.

1992 – Assisted with coaching of School House Rugby.

1997 – Mr and Mrs Alban acted as visiting judges for a Public Speaking competition.

2000 – Art and Design retrospective records that David Alban taught Pottery.

2007 – After a lapse of ten years the Alban Tennis Cup (Interhouse competition) was revived.

See below for David’s leaving article which was published in the 1977 Sedberghian:


Please see the following eulogy below from his son, Mike Alban (P 80-85)

DBA In Memoriam

My dear old Dad wanted no fuss and no tribute, or so he said. Sorry Dad, but I’m pretty sure that you didn’t entirely mean it and besides, now that we can get a word in edgeways (it was sometimes a challenge interrupting the steady flow of poetry and quotations) I feel the need to fill my boots.  Yours has been a long and wonderful life, for which we are deeply grateful.  You’ve been a marvellous father to us, and friend to many, and all gathered today will have particular memories of you as teacher, potter, gardener, colleague, golfer and the rest.

Dad came to Sedbergh in 1952, of which more a bit later, but first a little about his early life. Born May 1927, third child of Mary and Basil, he a vicar, in Birmingham at that stage, though of course they moved often.  His brother Bill was 5 years older, Gwyneth a further two. I’ve always felt that growing up in a vicarage, the door forever open to those in distress, had an immeasurable impact on how Dad was.

His sister took delight in taking charge of his early education, so that when at primary school, aged about 5, the class was asked if they knew what a poem was- Dad merrily set off with:

‘By the shore of Gitche Gumee,

By the shining big sea water,

At the doorway of his wigwam,

In the pleasant summer morning,

Hiawatha stood and waited…..’

They managed to stop him several minutes later, but my point is that poetry came early to Dad, and his love of it was coupled with an extraordinary and almost immediate memory for vast tracts of the stuff. He really was a poetry Jukebox.

 

His father Basil was clearly a much loved community figure, and a grateful parishioner, whom Basil had seen through a bereavement, offered to fund the young David through Prep School (there was no money around to do this themselves). And so he found himself that September at Seascale Preparatory School on the Cumberland Coast, a place chosen because his agreeable Hyslop cousins were there. His nickname at Seascale was ‘Puggy’. Why Puggy Dad? Well, it was short for Pugilist, a puncher.  What had happened was that his mild-mannered father, who had boxed for Durham University with some distinction, had schooled Dad, who was on the small side, in the rudiments of punching technique, so he could deal with bullies. This kindly vicar father put particular emphasis on the jab to the nose, since it tended to yield the most spectacularly bloody results. Ever a keen student, early in his Seascale experience Dad put theory into practice when Parminter Major, I think it was he, was lording it brutishly over a boy in his class. Blood everywhere. Matron summoned. Dad sent to Soapy Burnett, the headmaster, who he says listened to the story carefully, said fair enough, but discouraged him from making a habit of it. We should perhaps remember that this was the 1930’s, Auden’s Low Dishonest Decade. Possibly going through Soapy’s head, as it does mine now 84 years on, was the thought that a crisp decisive early strike against bullies and tyrants might have saved the world a whole lot of trouble.

 

Dad loved his time at Seascale (motto Lauri sunt Laures, ‘the seagulls are our household gods’) and still talked of it in detail in later life. He wrote a series of short stories about the characters there who remained colourful to him. He learnt to fish in Calder beck, the stream that runs through what is now Sellafield, and once watched a bird of prey swoop and take an adder in the heather. Even then ‘he was a man who noticed such things’ – Thomas Hardy, for those taking notes.

War came: the better, younger teachers went off to fight and the school subsisted. Dad was in put charge of poultry and delighted in managing the school’s flock of Buff Orpington’s which provided all the eggs those growing lads needed. He was a natural athlete and games player. There was golf on that beautiful Links course, football, cricket and regular sea bathing. Now Dad, I’m sure he won’t mind my saying, could be a shade boastful. A favourite story of his was about an away match at Earnseat, a neighbouring school, which Seascale attended expecting to play football while the hosts had planned hockey, which Seascale did not play. You can imagine the rest…they were given sticks and were 5-0 down at half time, but Dad and his mates were beginning to get the hang of it. Of course they reeled them in by the end and won 7-5.

 

He won a scholarship to Denstone College, Staffordshire, but never talked much about his time there which coincided with the last 5 years of the war which cast a long shadow over his growing up. It’s perhaps worth saying, in our vexatious current times, that he was immensely proud of being part of a country that had stood up to fascism.

He was Head Boy at Denstone for his last year there, won a scholarship to Jesus Cambridge, and took up his place in 1946.  His brother Bill had been away at the war for 6 years (unimaginable sibling separation by today’s standards) and came back wanting to study but with no university place or finance to support it. Dad approached the master of Jesus with the proposal that Bill join him to read English and that they share his scholarship money and his rooms. And so it came to pass. They both told me about one game they had; quite silly really. Far too easy to be able to place a whole line of Shakespeare in the cannon, so they used to test one another on bits of lines, 5 words, 4 words, three even. Much more challenging.

Funnily enough Dad talked more about National Service, which was he sandwiched between the 1st and 2nd years of his degree, than he did about Cambridge – or anywhere except Seascale. I think he relished the challenge of learning to be a leader of men of highly mixed experience, some hardened veterans of the European campaign, some like him fresh out of school who had just missed the war, and lads from northern mill and mining communities whose respect had to be earned.  He’d won a blue throwing the Javelin for Cambridge and was immediately first thrower for the army. At one meeting the crowd had surrounded the landing area and he had to point out to the senior officer in charge that many of them were standing well within his range. Nonsense, he was told, get on with it. So he did, shrugging his shoulders he set about competing and recalled with amusement the sight of a large crowd parting like the waters of the Red Sea as his Javelin arced towards them. In the event they needn’t have worried. The missile landed a safe distance beyond the chastened observers. Once again – I think he won.

 

The other sporting story which always made us laugh was about tennis, another game at which he effortlessly excelled. He played doubles with the battalion’s commanding officer, who insisted on calling him John. They were successful, Dad carrying the commander, I suspect, who wasn’t much good, and the commander was grateful. One evening driving back from a match Dad decided to deal with the name issue.

‘Sir, I’ve got something I’d like you to know, sir”.

“What is it John?”

“My name is not John, it’s Dave.”

“Is that so? Thank you very much for telling me that, John.”

 

After the army and Cambridge, oh and a year at The Sorbonne (another scholarship) reading Art History, Dad, of course now a proficient linguist, joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It was an odd sort of decision, the dry bureaucracy of junior officership in the civil service, but perhaps an important one in showing himself precisely the sort of thing he ought not to be doing. A year in, he returned to the career’s service at Cambridge, learned that three schools were looking for junior staff, and applied. Gresham’s was one of them, Sedbergh of course another, I forget the third. Two polite invitations for interview came from the southern schools, but from Sedbergh a telegram:  ALBAN; CATCHING OVERNIGHT TRAIN. SEE YOU AT MY CLUB 77 PALL MALL 9AM. BRUCE LOCHKHART.

And that was that. A week into his time here BL took him aside to see how he was settling in. Got anything on this afternoon? he asked Dad, As it happened he hadn’t (I’m sure BL knew this). Do you fish? He did. So they spent the afternoon up on lovely Lillymere fishing for trout. While there BL asked him gently about his plans longer term. Oh, Dad said, I expect a couple of years at Sedbergh and then I’ll move on. Dad said BL raised an eyebrow and said, OK, well, we’ll see.

And so began a golden period that many of you will remember in more detail than I. When the Old Sedberghian Club announced Dad’s passing I had a stack of emails within the day – the majority from people remembering him as their teacher in the 1960s. A typical offering from Ian Mackellar:

‘Dear Tom, I was saddened to learn of your father’s death, though glad to hear that he had reached a good age. He was without question my favourite master during my years at Sedbergh (62-66), and I remember him with great fondness for his practical wisdom. I also recall that, during my first term in Class 4A, he gave us an example of a limerick, which ran thus: – and remember the weird punishment at Sedbergh was / Lordy probably still is – drawing maps…

There once was a boy in 4A

Who said to the master, “I say;

You shouldn’t give maps

To us decent chaps

After all, you’re the servant – we pay!”

 

House Tutor in Hart House first, then Housemaster of Lupton. Head of English. At that time there was a rich seam of academic staff at the school and Oxbridge awards flowed steadily from the history, modern languages and English departments in particular. Gairdner, Hammer, Bill Long, Thornely and others. But he also delighted in teaching the sixth form class of those not destined for University but going into the army or commerce or similar. Everyone should have the chance to learn about history and literature, was his attitude, and he would make it memorable and engaging. He also began to learn pottery from his great friend Sandy Inglis in the art department.

He met and married Mum, the daughter of a west Yorkshire GP and then manager of catering at Hart House. They started having children and found (as with many Sedbergh families of the time) that they were really quite good at it. Alice, Simon, Tommy, Michael and I arrived in an almost orderly sequence. Family life in the Terrace East, now a boarding house I think, was followed by the slightly tight housemaster’s quarters of Lupton. Life was full. He ran school tennis, produced innumerable plays, acted in others – ‘A Man For All Seasons’ was one well-remembered role, refereed and umpired, was a governor at nearby Cressbrook School, taught a full timetable. In winter there was skating on Lillymere (Dad said he was the guinea pig sent out to check the ice was sufficiently thick), and in spring and summer, fishing for sea trout on the Lune. And threaded through all this was the devoted attention he paid to maximising the chances of every child under his care. Away from school he was busy too. He ran pottery classes for the town which were always oversubscribed, and directed plays for Sedbergh Young Farmers. He rejoiced in it all, but in the end he was unable to ration himself and it wore him out.

A short digression on Dad’s teaching. As I have indicated he was really a teacher ‘malgre lui’ – I know what that means because Dad told me; A teacher in spite of himself. He hated, and it’s not a word one uses lightly with Dad – but I think it explains what drove him as a teacher – he hated to see people unnecessarily disadvantaged. If he could pass on an insight, provide knowledge, encourage and nurture, that’s what he felt impelled to do. It didn’t matter who you were.

 

I worked this out on the Rugby field aged 12. Back in those days I played for a school team that had grown accustomed to losing – badly. One day, entirely unexpectedly, we found ourselves winning a match, by miles, and Dad was there to watch. I could hear him on the touch line roaring his support: “Come on Greens, get stuck in, tackle low” and so on, which was fine, except I was wearing Blue. Family loyalties be blown, he was supporting the underdog.

He became unwell in the second half of the 1970’s, a victim of exhaustion, overwork, medical mismanagement in all truth, and perhaps also the loss of the holidays as a time of recuperation as his growing family made increasing demands on what had been his recovery time. He suffered what would now I hope quickly be identified as a psychotic depression, and was in and out of hospitals for a couple of years. These were difficult times through which mum’s fortitude shone through. It was she who kept the show on the road.

Sedbergh School, undoubtedly in a difficult corner, let him go. But his students, their parents and friends on the staff, never did. In an act of quite astonishing kindness which always strikes me as the sharpest indicator of the loyalty and gratitude his efforts as a teacher roused in those who experienced them, former pupils and parents put together a fund which quickly raised a sum sufficient to ensure the education of Dad’s children was uninterrupted. Fortunately he and Mum had made some modest but shrewd property investments and had the Old Vicarage to move to when he had to leave Lupton House.

Dad’s greatest achievement, and that of which I am proudest, was the rebuilding of his broken life that followed, how he managed his final 42 years, its second half if you like, after Lupton and the School. He missed the classroom very much, of course he did, the theatre of it as much as anything was a big loss for this sometimes flamboyant performer, but a steady stream of pupils started arriving at the Old Vicarage with a range of pressing educational needs and he relished helping them. He had a near eureka moment when he first found out about dyslexia and began to understand a phenomenon that had puzzled him as a teacher: those children who were bright and contributive in classroom, but hopeless on paper, and often labelled, worst of all, as lazy or disruptive. He worked with Beve Hornsby, a national doyenne of dyslexia understanding and teaching, and he contributed a forward to one of her books. He was also able to focus on and develop his pottery.

He was a founder member of first Barbon then Sedbergh Golf Clubs and loved his weekly rounds there with members. There was Scottish Dancing with Mum down at Barbon. He gardened, he made pots, he made jewellery out of Dent’s crinoidal limestone, and he taught and he taught, working often long into the evening after a day in the pottery.

You will all have your own memories of him. He was liberal with cuttings from the garden and forever providing Little Gem Lettuces or tubs of cherry tomatoes to friends and family. Flowers in the church, have often been, and are today, from his garden, and while he still potted there was a steady flow of lamps and vases and jugs which no doubt populate many of the shelves of those in front of me today.

 

The family grew up and away. Dad had no formal science background, which intensified his baffled delight that two sons, Simon and Michael, read engineering with distinction at his old Cambridge college. Alice, the oldest of us, followed him into teaching, and to his enormous satisfaction, went a step further into school headship. Tom joined the BBC. Grandchildren (11 at the last count) appeared and all loved to stay at The Old Vicarage, eat Mum’s fabulous food and sit around the table hearing extracts from Dad’s massive back catalogue of stories, or jokes, or quotations from Shakespeare or Wodehouse or Wordsworth or Hopkins or whoever. A routine interruption to meals was him scurrying off to his study to find a book that he was astonished one hadn’t read. He loved to play whist with his children, and their partners, and grandchildren and couldn’t disguise his incredulity at one’s inability to count tricks or work out where every card was.

And as kids, if we were very good, he’d recite monologues by Stanley Holloway – or as he liked to correct people, by Marriot Edgar.

“I’ll tell you an old fashioned story

that Grandfather used to relate…

He knew acres of the stuff. There are several Wodehouse short stories that he pretty much knew by heart. He loved to laugh.

On his 80th birthday the committee at Seascale Golf Club, that fine Links course from his childhood and our summer holidays, gave extraordinary permission for a five ball, Dad’s last game, with all his sons. He had a buggy, which of course was cheating, but he was leading at the turn, and he came a worthy second. Even with an artificial hip, and cataracts.

So that’s how it was. That’s largely how he filled his somewhat more than three scores years and ten. You don’t really need me to tell you that he was a kind and generous man, who looked for and found the good in people which was sometimes not obvious even to them. He was uncompromising. Quite demanding and hard at times. He knew that what people wanted to hear was often not the same as what they needed to hear, and he had the courage to say so. And he recognised a critical and unfashionable thing, that there are no short cuts, that things worth knowing and doing require effort and dedication, and that empowering people to come to terms with that was central. And he wanted everyone to expect a lot of themselves..

Having said all that, we’re acutely and shamefully aware that this rather too long and wordy essay would barely register an 11/25 on that fastidious scoring system of his which some of you might remember  But I have broad shoulders, Dad.

 

A theme of my adult life has been coming across people whom Dad taught. The conversation usually goes something like this, after introductions, ‘Alban’s a slightly unusual name, Are you related to David Alban of Sedbergh. And frequently they would say things that made one bubble with pride. Once in my former life in journalism, I was in the ITV Newsroom watching the news at Ten go out and chatting with the script writer. Did you say Alban? Are you David’s son? You look a bit like him. Well, tell him when you see him next that he was my inspiration and the reason that I do this for a living. And even in death it happened almost at once. The morning after he went, I had to speak to the Coroner’s Office since Dad hadn’t seen his GP within the statutory 14 days and so on. I got a message back shortly after from the assistant Coroner sending his condolences. He too had been taught by Dad.

Finally, (thank heavens you say) a few thanks. To Mum first, who loved and looked after him for more than 60 years, through thick and thin. And when I say looked after – he never did get much beyond boiling an egg! To Helen at PPC and her team who in the last couple of years came in for an hour or so daily to help him start his day.  He was fond of them and grateful for their caring attention, as are we. Latterly he insisted on doing the PE exercises he’d learnt at Seascale to maintain his strength. The girls used to join in!  They were also effectively a final captive audience.

 

And Dad, really finally, thank you too, for all your many gifts to us all, for your generous life. The evening before you died, Mum rang for some advice about something or other, and then I told her to pass on to you that I had just been reading Auden’s ‘Night Mail‘ to my daughter at bedtime. This she did and I could hear you in the back ground setting off: ‘This is the night mail crossing the border, bringing the cheque and the postal order, letters for the rich, letters for the poor’ – that voice still strong.

Fitting final words perhaps. We didn’t know, but had half expected for some time, that your night train crossing the border was getting closer. For a couple of years our standard goodbye has been, ‘Sorry Dad, I’ve got to dash. I have promises to keep.’  And you of course would come back with ‘And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.’ Well, that final sleep has come. You have no promises left to keep. You kept them all, and more, and now you join the ancestors whom you were so fond of toasting. We love you and salute you.

Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

M T Alban 25.9.19