Mr. Kenneth Waller - Latin, Greek and Russian Master, 1957-85
Sadly, Ken Waller died on January 6, 2012. Tributes and
memories will be posted here as they come in.
Email them to Jeff maynard - email@example.com. Also, check the Guestbook for more memories. Here are contributions from Paul Danon, Henry Wyatt, David Taylor, Michael Schwartz and Don Farrow.
From Paul Danon:
Was at Mr Kenneth Waller's funeral in Golders Green with John Ling today. It was conducted by a secular minister. The organist played 'dies sind die heiligen zehn Gebot' and 'an Wasserfluessen Babylon'. 'Contrapunctus XIV' (unfinished) from 'die Kunst der Fuge' was played from disk. Henry Wyatt, pupil, spoke and Mr Ian Low of the Organ Club gave a factual and warm tribute. Catherine Marshall, niece, read from one of Ken's novels. We learned that Ken was a keen naturist.
At the committal, the minister used this prayer of Newman's: "O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest, and peace at the last." On his coffin was a gown and at least one academic hood.
At the event were Mr and Mrs Tyrwhitt, Mrs Chase, Andrew Carruthers, Martin Tomsett, and Nigel "Man for all Seasons" Rogers (totally unchanged). On show were Ken's various degree-certificates, including the FRCO and the AKC (which you allegedly got just for attending early-morning lectures). Also, his map of the territory where the William books were set, and his soft-toy cat.
My thanks to Steve Wilson, nephew.
Henry Wyatt spoke at Ken Waller's funeral:
I would like to honour this extraordinary man who touched my life so decisively over forty years ago as I am sure he did to many of you here today. He taught me Latin and Greek at the Harrow County School for Boys and later Russian when I was in the sixth form. I was a member of his very first Russian class, after his sabbatical. Of course, we all got A grades in both the oral and written examinations. Indeed, my strongest memory of those classes was his insistence that we get the accent right; after that the grammar would follow. Mind you, Ken being Ken, the grammar had to be very right too!
I suppose that in many ways Mr. Waller personified all that was best at the school. The cornerstone was intellectual rigour leading to an appreciation of literature, music and all things cultural and scientific. Our recent discussions at his home and over the internet took in the science programmes of Brian Cox and Paul Nurse, the art of David Hockney and Tracey Emin, and the definition of the term 'gob-smacked'. The latter lasted several hours and involved consultation of dictionaries in Old English, Welsh and Irish.
Of course, he was a talented musician and there are those here today better able to bear testimony to this than I. He was recently delighted to learn that a past pupil was honoured for services to music in the New Year's Honours List.
He was for me the embodiment of 'Magister Ludi' - the Master of the Game- the protagonist of the novel by Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game. The novel, for which Hesse was awarded the Nobel Prize, deals with a world focused on the pursuit of the intellectual fusion between science and the arts. The Glass Bead Game has a structure based on the mathematical basis of the fugues of Johann Sebastian Bach.
In conversations with him, he would refer repeatedly to the achievements of so many past pupils. His recollection of each individual was crystal clear and his pride in those achievements manifest. It is a mark of the affection and regard in which he was held that so many of us stayed in contact with him. For myself, it was a joy to be in his company; the time flew by.
He was pleased to attend the concert and events to celebrate the school's centenary and was touched by the tributes paid to him at those events by those who were blessed by his teaching. Indeed, the sum of his life's work is in that teaching and in the faces of so many former pupils whom I see before me today.
In conclusion, may I therefore be permitted the indulgence of saying,
Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.
Henry Wyatt. Monday 23rd January 2012
Thoughts and Memories of Ken Waller
by David Taylor
It is difficult to quantify the influence exercised by people encountered during one’s formative years – some are instantly forgettable, others raise emotions that are unhelpful, a few have such a lasting effect that it is not unreasonable to call them life-changing. On Friday 6th January, I learned of the death of Ken Waller, someone I had not seen, or even spoken to, since 1966, though we had had sporadic email correspondence over the last ten years or so. How can it be that the death of someone after a gap of 45 years can elicit such a sense of loss and emptiness that Ken’s death has? What was it that he was able to do that few others have done?
Ken began teaching at Harrow County the same year that I began as a form 1A pupil with Bernard Marchant. We didn’t really have much contact until 1959, when I had a year’s loss of concentration and reached the bottom of the league table, and entered Ken’s class of 3B. From form-master to Latin teacher, then a year of Attic Greek in year 4, nothing remarkable to observe, no reason to mourn the passing of one of the most influential persons I ever met. Our paths really only converged as a result of the school’s music activities, and my decision to take organ lessons from Arthur Haley on the Rothwell organ, now sadly dismantled and no longer part of the activities of Gayton High School. From that point, we had a wonderful musical relationship that resonates down the intervening decades, so that even now I find myself thinking of how Ken might have played an organ piece, how he would have directed a choral work, what he might have thought of a performance of a great piece of music.
Already an active church organist, I was like any other young musician in the same position, and wanted to explore and discover other instruments (organs are all different, and no two are ever exactly alike). Ken was then organist and choir master at St John’s, Wembley, and one of the first discoveries he introduced me to was a performance by the church’s choir of Haydn’s ‘The Creation’ with Arthur Haley playing the organ. This was quickly followed by a hands-on session at the console, and then my contributions to school concerts, including Coleridge-Taylor’s ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’, Bach’s ‘Magnificat’ and Britten’s ‘St Nicholas’, page-turning for Ken for a Harrow performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’, and Bach’s ‘Mass in B minor’ at Ealing Parish Church. It’s said that everyone remembers where they were when President John Kennedy was assassinated, and I’m no exception – Ken and I were travelling back from this performance when the news came through on a friend’s car radio.
A memorable musical and social day out was a trip to Guildford cathedral, in the summer of 1965, to hear another performance of Bach’s ‘Mass in B minor’. The deal was straightforward – Ken didn’t drive, but I did, so in return for getting us both to Guildford in my mother’s car, he would buy lunch. Ken had heard about a newly opened establishment in Bramley, called ‘The Hollyhocks’ (still there, though it’s now a wine bar and bistro) and we dined on avocado vinaigrette, beef stroganoff and crèpes Suzette. By chance, I happened to be in Guildford on business many years later, and decided to repeat the experience in the evening. By one of those strange flukes, the restaurant was due to close at the end of that very week, but lunch with Ken was repeated just in time.
Ken visited Cambridge during my first year at King’s College, probably to get access to the chapel organ, which we explored in detail, then he took me to another new find – a restaurant in the city that had received good reviews. The speciality on the menu was pike balls, a culinary delicacy never seen before or since. That was the last time I saw Ken, and our last contact, until the internet and email became commonplace. I even missed Ken’s visit to Cirencester, to play the organ at which I had spent a few years, for Harry Mees’ and Pat’s wedding. In later correspondence, he proudly claimed to be one of the oldest candidates (if not THE oldest candidate) to present himself for examination for Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists (FRCO) which he won at the age of 70. Sadly, Ken found his skills declining soon afterwards, and he said that he was seriously considering giving up playing the organ, because he could no longer guarantee the accuracy he expected of himself.
He also began to find that his mobility was waning, and he was unable to attend Harry Mees’ funeral near Guildford recently, though it seems that it never occurred to him to ask an Old Gaytonian for a lift. Our last contact was in the middle of 2011, following the BBC Radio4 programme ‘Top of the form’ where he featured in a reminiscence of HCS by Michael Portillo. His voice sounded much the same as I remember - a bit slower perhaps – but still fully in command of his mother tongue. I wasn’t to know back in the 1960s, but Ken laid the foundations in my mind for precision (or pedantry) in the use of English, a fascination with comparative linguistics, and established the principles of SPES (a pun on the Latin word for ‘hope’ but standing for the Society for the Preservation of the English Subjunctive – may it ever flourish). He even saw fit to tread in the foot-prints of G.B. Shaw and invented a phonetic version of English, which he presented in one lesson that must have been a one-off, standing in for someone away on sick-leave. He transcribed a current newspaper article that dealt with Mr Marples and reckless driving, which dates the time to the mid-1960s. As if he didn’t have enough to occupy his mind with Latin and Greek.
Ken’s outstanding quality as a teacher was his ability to communicate at the level appropriate for each student, and to find the best in any situation. Ken didn’t lose his temper very often, but I saw it happen once or twice, and you didn’t want to be in the firing line when it happened. If I assume that my experience was not unique, then there must be hundreds of Old Gaytonians who feel a personal relationship with Ken, at all sorts of levels, and in so many different ways. Other contributors have noted Ken’s persistence in wearing academic dress, which is an indicator that they were pupils after the retirement of Dr Simpson, for whom the wearing of academic dress was de rigueur every day. What was less well-known was that Ken acted as ‘dresser’ to his teaching colleagues on Speech Day, sorting out their degree hoods, ensuring they were worn the correct way round, with the coloured bits on the inside, and that he was probably the only member of the teaching staff who owned (and wore) an academic square (properly so-called, otherwise known as a mortar board). The fact that he continued to wear his London University BA gown after others had ‘modernised’ is symptomatic of Ken’s view of the world. Some things just didn’t justify change – his gown was his ‘badge of office’ and that was the way it should be.
The loss of Ken Waller leaves a hole that is genuinely difficult to fill – his abilities and interests were so wide-ranging and consuming (he had a copy of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ in Latin) and his influence so generous and engaging. He will be sorely missed.
HCS 1957 - 1965
Kenneth Waller appreciation
by Michael Schwartz
Five years ago a group of Old Gaytonians met in London to honour the 50th anniversary of Kenneth Waller joining Harrow County School for Boys. The praises for him rang forth – whether for Kenneth’s abilities in classics, Russian, linguistics or classical music.
Kenneth Waller initially joined Harrow County as a classics teacher. For the late 1950s this was not something exceptional. What made him special – and why his pupils had every reason to thank him - was the enthusiasm and inspiration that Kenneth breathed into classical texts by Lucretius, Lucian, Catullus and Xenophon among others.
One of the English teachers, Gerry Lafferty, described the Classics department as the “best bloody department in the whole school.” Add Bernard Marchant and Ubi Lane to Kenneth and you can see why.
Indeed, it was Ubi Lane who said that his department was lucky to have such an expert in linguistics as Kenneth. A blackboard in a lesson with Kenneth Waller was often adorned with those stars that linguists use to indicate hypothetical word-forms; pupils were transported around the Indo-European family of languages via Proto-Indo-European, Sanskrit, Old Church Slavonic and so many others.
In 1965-1966 Kenneth went behind the Iron Curtain to study Russian. It goes without saying that he came back a master of this beautiful language.
Kenneth’s enthusiasm for Russian went well beyond teaching O Level pupils. He founded the Slav Society – helped by the multitude of Polish boys at Harrow County and their parents. One message in assembly announcing a Slav Society event had to explain that the society had no political bias despite its reputation. Actually, it was tempting to think there was a bias. Text-books were purchased from that literary Kremlin, Soviet-run Collett’s bookshop, while a journey on a train with Kenneth Waller, a Russian furry hat and a copy of Pravda was embroidered by a young couple digging each other’s elbows in amusement.
And then there was Carmina Burana. No discovery of this work via the Old Spice advert for Kenneth. In a Latin class in 1969, he asked a pupil to go the library and find the translation for a Latin word he had found. Somehow he had heard of this opus by Carl Orff and had had the stroke of genius to produce it before it became a “cult” institution.
The Bartered Bride followed shortly after.
Next, there was the so-called re-organisation of education in Harrow – a euphemism for wanton destruction. Kenneth Waller made no attempt to conceal his contempt for it. He approached one local government figure in the Borough and told him that the Borough could not change education within the budget it had set and that the councilor/alderman knew perfectly well that the change would not work. There was some sniveling response that if it cost too much they might have to think again.
At the meeting in London in 2007 Ken gave his own account of the events that led to the end of Harrow County. He “looked on with a mixture of horror and dismay” as the re-organisers did their work.
Kenneth Waller could, like Bernard Marchant, have settled into an academic role within a university department. Harrow County became the beneficiary.
For his consistent wearing of gowns Kenneth was nicknamed Batman – but then with all that he achieved, with the range of subjects he taught and the way in which he enriched so many lives Kenneth Waller had every right to wear that gown.
by Don Farrow
Ken was without question one of the distinctive, nay legendary figures that characterized my experience of Harrow County. I was in awe of him. As a first year going up into the second year he represented an expanded level of learning and certainly a more passionate and intellectual approach to the study of languages or the Classics than I had yet experienced. I had had UBI Lane for Latin in my first year and you could be excused for thinking that-God Bless him!-moss grew behind UBI’s ears. UBI loved Latin but his heart was really at Lords Cricket ground or with his wife and his rose garden in North Harrow.
Unfortunately Ken Waller and I got off to a bad start. I wanted to learn German. I did not want to learn Ancient Greek. I had a cousin who lived in Bochum and the opportunity of learning Deutsches Leben offered seductive visions of writing Liebesbrief to my cousin’s daughter’s fraulein friends. It was hard to imagine Ancient Greek offering any such romantic possibilities…Regretfully I never took to Ancient Greek despite Ken’s creative efforts to inject fun and drama into the proceedings: I remember him gown flying acting out dialogues from our new fangled text book.
One memory that sticks with me most vividly from this whole interlude was a trip Ken helped organize to some remote rural corner of the Home Counties to a public school (not the American kind) where a play was being staged in its entirety in Greek. I seem to remember that the play was a comedy, a satire, it might even have been Aristophanes The Birds. But even if it had been a tragedy the response from the Gaytonian contingent that I was part of would have been one of extreme hilarity. When it came to the dialogue we were considerably out of our depths linguistically speaking, not much beyond the level of “Kaire O, Didaskalon” ( forgive me if that’s an incorrect vocative ending and poor transliteration). It was all one long flow of the incomprehensible. However the visual aspect of the piece did grab our attention. There was one rather obese fellow in the cast who appeared to be naked except for a diaphanous body suit. None of us had ever witnessed such a phenomenon before. It suggested a decadence way beyond the realms of Kenton or Wealdstone. One wit in the class, it may have been Mark Phillips, coined the expression “Fat Gut Fairy” to describe this scantily clad thespian and the expression together with some other outrageous epithets provided infinite amusement for many of us as we tittered our way home to Gayton Road in the back of the rented coach. (Now if you are inclined to frown at such a degradation of a great language and ancient culture please remember I’m describing the antics of 13/14 year olds who would collapse into a paroxysm of hysterical laughter at the slightest hint of a double entendre or at the bizarrest of stimuli. (Neil Runceiman, Mark Phillips, Pete Thomas myself and others would weep at the mere sight of Alan “Fluff” Freeman advertising Brentford Nylons on the television. To this day I have no idea why).
As many of us know Ken was a great linguist who had a huge appetite for learning: Russian, Polish, Chinese…. We can thank him for creating the marvelous Slav Society. I’ll never forget the Christmas time parties they held in collaboration with the Girls School, the music, including Jacek Strauch singing leider and-much to my surprise- Marek Piecora wielding a piano accordion. And the food and my introduction to the delicious bigos: that Polish medley of meats.
Ken was a highly accomplished musician. He had been a student at Cambridge and may I think have been an organ scholar. (Correct me on that one!). I don’t remember him involved with Gilbert and Sullivan but I do remember the ambitious musical projects that he played a primary role in initiating: Carmina Burana and the Bartered Bride. Perhaps I romanticize but the sets and the staging seemed to stretch beyond the bounds of what Harrow County had managed before. Not being a musician I ended up as a dancer and singer in I think one or both together with my buddy Mark Phillips (again). It was the early 70s and we both had long hair. As we lounged in the back stage washrooms, enjoying the attentions of some members of the girls school applying face paint to our physiognomies, Ken, passing by, remarked that though he had never approved of long hair on men the combination of flowing locks and eye make up on me and Mark was a surprisingly winning combination.
When I was in the Lower Sixth I collaborated with my brother and some others to create an after school club in which teachers talked about topics that meant a lot to them but didn’t come within the realms of the school curriculum. Dave Burt spoke about Evelyn Waugh, Jock Lafferty: James Joyce (I think) and Ken spoke about Gustav Mahler. His great passion. He played passages from the symphonies and lectured incisively on his hero. On the surface their lives could not have been more different. Mahler at the blazing centre of culturally and artistically rich fin de siècle Viennese society, his love affair and subsequent marriage to the glamorous Alma, their family, his devastation at her affair with Walter Gropius, his premature death. Worlds apart from Ken a bachelor living for many years with his parents in an obscure corner of North London. But whenever I hear Mahler I think of Ken. The intellect, the highly strung passion-I remember how Ken broke down in class when his mother had just died or how devastated he felt after he was mugged in the neighborhood he had known as home since he was a child. I’m amused but embarrassed to remember me and my peers on that trip to see the Greek play. I sometimes wondered why Ken hadn’t chosen to teach in a high powered private school like the one we visited, where his boundless talents might have been even more valued and appreciated. It was our good fortune that he chose to be part of Harrow County. Despite ourselves we were elevated and enriched by the power, intellect and passion that he brought to his work.
return to main staff page