Dr. A. R. Simpson
In July 1965 the 'Harrow Observer', paying a retirement tribute to Dr. Simpson, published an article with him as the subject under the title of its series, 'Personality'. There is irony in the thought that the local newspaper should discover only in 1965 that Dr. Simpson was a 'personality', when Harrow County discovered it as early as 1946, when he became its Head Master.
The impact of his presence was immediate and continuous, more vividly to be remembered than the details of his previous career, published in the School Magazine of December 1946, which exemplified his manysidedness by his degrees (M.A., Edinburgh, with Honours in Classics; B.A. London, with First Class Honours in Classics and the award of the Arthur Platt Research Scholarship, Ph. D. London, for research into Greek education), his prowess in sport (fourteen cricket caps for Scotland as a wicket-keeper of world class), and his long experience in schools (The Bell-Baxter School, Galashiels Academy, the Harris Academy in Dundee, and Arbroath High School, at the last of which he had been Rector from 1939 until 1946). The list of his previous schools, remote in name and in place, may have tempted those with a sense of history and geography to wonder what effect a Scotsman would have on a school hitherto shaped by an Englishman and then a Welshman.
When the awareness of his past had faded, there was still awareness of a man of character, with prodigious powers of thought and of speech, who seemed almost by accident to have chosen the platform rather than the pulpit; not that his powers were confined to the platform, for as an after-dinenr speaker, he could invent, almost from nowhere, an apposite and humorous theme, and surround it with ingenious and witty improvisations.....
The consistency of his character and of his principles was early recorded in items of news and pronouncements which foreshadow much of the future. In 1965 many thoughts will be provoked by the following items: (i) School Magazine, December 1946: 'the Head Master has announced that he may from time to time inspect boys entering Assembly, and has referred to the untidiness of boys' hair', (ii) School Magazine, December 1949: 'the response to this terms fiat that school uniform be again obligatory has been most gratifying: we thank parents and boys for their co-operation, often at much sacrifice in this very important matter of dress and in its implicit deepening of our sense of corporate unity'....
...The philosophical bent of his mind was shown when he told Parents in 1950, 'the paradox of democratic education is that its essence is the authoritarian element...'...
...He never hesitated to warn boys of dangerous trends which he discerned in modern life, e.g. on Speech Day, 1948, when he told them that 'the present tendency to replace sound learning by free, self-chosen interest, work by ease, modesty by forwardness, and earnestness by frivolity, is clearly the downward path to individual and national ruin.
...The changes which he made internally to the School...may be summed up in two phases, the first clearly defined by the publication of the Golden Jubilee Year Book in 1961, a landmark in the history of the School as in the story of his Headship. He himself sums up the period 1946 - 1961 as one of development of work and service, with the roll soaring ever higher because of the famous trio of the 'bulge' of the birthrate in 1947, the 'swing' towards specialised study of the sciences, still steadily rising, and the general 'trend' in any case for more pupils everywhere to stay longer and longer at school, with the steady growth of the Scholarship Sixth; with the introduction of engineering, Spanish, Greek and other subjects into the curriculum; with the expansion of Modern subjects and the rapid increase of school clubs and societies, with the strengthening of the Scout group, founded in 1911; with the foundation and immense progress of the CCF (both due to his unflagging interest, enthusiasm and support); with the staunch co-operation of the Parents' Union and the Old Gaytonians, and with the foundation of the Harrow Collegiate for Boys.
The second phase, much shorter but equally intense, ends, all too untimely, with 1965, and here, as in 1961 and always, he repeats his gratitude to 'a truly splendid staff of masters, with the highest conceivable sense of pure vocation'.... he finds a proper pride in the clear advancement of Harrow county to top academic rank among those who seek places in Oxford and Cambridge Universities, shown by its last year's total of eight Awards (five Open scholarships and three Exhibitions) and promising even better results for the end of this year.
To the end of his last day in office he was still looking to the future.... He knew that he was leaving behind problems which he would have loved to tackle, the change of Education Authority from Middlesex to Harrow and the shadow of Comprehensive education falling again as in 1946...
In leaving Harrow County as (his favourite description) 'a great school', he must now be awarded by all the title of 'a great Head Master'.
Click for 1950s Cartoon
Dr. Simpson's Caning Book - 1950s
1958-63 - Life under the Doctor by Peter Ward
Click for 1975 Obituary
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