(Best viewed with screen resolution set at 1024 x 768 pixels)
Philip Fletcher, OBE
Headmaster of the Prince of Wales School
(Freddy Yowell Studio, Nairobi)
Having renewed their contact through the Old Cambrian Society website after a gap of forty-five years, Brian
McIntosh and Christopher Collier-Wright (class of 1959) decided it was time for an old boys’ appreciation of Philip
Fletcher. Working from their respective homes in Pennsylvania and Bahrain, they began by combing the 1959 Impala magazine
for articles about Mr. Fletcher’s retirement. Then, thanks to the wonders of email, it was possible to pursue several
leads and gather fascinating details about the Headmaster’s early life and career from sources as far away as Australia.
Closer at hand, they found memories of the man known as PF, Pink Percy, Vluitjie, Flakey or Jake in the Alumni section of
the school website, and they received other contributions through correspondence with a number of Old Cambrians. It was,
so to speak, a ‘harambee’ effort with many hands pulling together.
Philip Fletcher, or PF as the staff knew him, was a decent, caring, and dedicated man whose fourteen
years of service as Headmaster epitomized the school’s motto, “To the Uttermost”. He set a lofty tone, and he led by
example. The public PF was decisive, driven, and intensely loyal to his boys; the private PF (to borrow a Churchillian
quip) was something of a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. One thing about PF was always clear, however, and
that was his vision: “I should think something was wrong,” he said in his 1959 Queen’s Day speech, “if all boys were
always happy; for school is a training for life, and life is full of rough patches through which one must live and help
others to live. But I do think it tremendously important that there should be an atmosphere of happiness, confidence,
trust, mutual liking and respect and that boys should consciously cherish this and do their best to maintain and increase
it. Like all the precious things of life, it can easily be lost.”
On behalf of that majority of Old Cambrians who were happy most of the time at school and who flourished
under PF’s leadership, this appreciation is dedicated with affection and respect to the memory of a great man.
Early Life and Career
Philip Fletcher was born on 3 March, 1903 in Hoylake-cum-West Kirby, Cheshire. His parents were William
Charles Fletcher and Kate Edith Penny. He attended Homefield Preparatory School in Sutton from 1913 to 1916, and the
Highgate School in London from 1916 to 1922.
In the 1959 Impala, the Vice-Principal ‘Fritz’ Goldsmith writes, “From his earliest years, ‘P.F.’ had lived
in an atmosphere pervaded by schools. His father, W. C. Fletcher, Second Wrangler at Cambridge in 1886 or thereabouts, was
the Headmaster of the Liverpool Institute from 1896 to 1904, and the first Chief Inspector of Secondary Schools from 1904
to 1926. A Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge and one-time President of the Mathematical Association, he is still
remembered as a brilliant teacher of Mathematics.
“His son, Philip, born in 1903, was at Highgate School from 1916 to 1922 and became its youngest Head of
House. After spurring a very small House to win most of the Inter-House Competitions, and monopolising the Mathematical
prizes, he finally became Head of the School.”
Responding to our inquiries about PF’s own school days, Theodore Mallinson of the Highgate School Foundation
Office wrote to us that PF “was indeed here from 1916-1922 and you certainly ought to have a special section on him in your
website. He was a great man. I knew him when I was a boy at Marlborough from 1922-1927. Sadly (at Highgate) we do not
have in our records any decent photographs of him; however, all is not lost: there was a whole school photograph in 1919
and he must be in that.”
During a visit to Highgate in the summer of 2005, Christopher Collier-Wright discovered that the
Highgate School photograph taken in 1919 was a yard wide, with five (or so) lines of boys. Seeking out the fifteen year
old Fletcher would have been a daunting task. Fortunately, his name was one of a few included on an accompanying list,
and Gordon Tweedale, Director of Art at Highgate, kindly photographed the image for us.
Philip Fletcher, 15, at Highgate School, London in 1919
Another discovery at Highgate was Philip Fletcher’s entry (below) in the Valete list published in the School journal, The
Cholmeleian, in December 1922 which testifies to his wide interests and abilities:
And finally, on the boards that line the walls of Highgate’s “Big School” hall where honours awarded to old boys are
listed, the following entry appears under University Scholarships: “P. Fletcher 1921 St John’s College Cambridge.”
Moving on to PF’s time at Cambridge, 1922-25, we found that another of our correspondents, Jonathan Harrison of the library of St John’s College, Cambridge was
able to turn up a splendid photograph showing PF as a member of the Eagles Club in 1925, which we copy below.
1925 group photo of The Eagles, a social and sporting club at St John’s College, Cambridge.
Philip Fletcher, aged 21, stands in the second row from the back, second from the left.
(Reproduced by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of St John's College, Cambridge.)
A second photo in the Eagles Club album held in the library of St John’s College shows Philip Fletcher and his fellow
members in evening attire. The club emblem seen on the jacket pockets, an eagle, is the symbol of St John the Evangelist.
Membership of the Eagles was (and is) restricted to those who displayed sporting prowess – in the case of Fletcher,
Philip Fletcher, standing second from right at the Eagles Club dinner in Cambridge in May 1925.
(Reproduced by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of St John's College, Cambridge.)
Revisiting for a moment the Fritz Goldsmith article in the 1959 Impala, we read that “In 1922 PF went as Philip Baylis Scholar
to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he rowed in the First May. Boat in the crew that won the Ladies' Plate. He was
placed in the First Class in Part I of the Mathematical Tripos in 1923, and in Part II in 1925. He then spent a year as
Jane Eliza Procter Visiting Fellow at the Graduate College, Princeton, in the U.S.A., during which time he was able to
indulge, in the Rockies, his passion for walking and mountaineering, as he did later in Europe, Australia and Tasmania.”
We contacted Matthew T. Reeder of Princeton University’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library with an inquiry
about PF’s year at the Graduate College. He responded by graciously offering a free photocopy of PF’s personal file. In
the file there is a letter from the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, A.C. Seward, to President Hibben of Princeton
stating, “I have nominated Mr. Fletcher to hold the 1925 Proctor Fellowship because in my opinion he is not only a keen and
able student, but a man of wide interests; and he is particularly interested in Adult Education.” The letter is dated May
From other correspondence and documents in the file, we learned that in September 1925 PF left his home at
47 Cromwell Avenue, Highgate, London and sailed for America on the SS Alaunia. At Princeton he was enrolled in a one-year
MA degree program, and he was paid a Fellowship stipend of $2,500 for the year. His courses included Hydrodynamics and
Elasticity, Electron Theory of Matter, Celestial Mechanics, Stellar Astronomy, Statistical Mechanics, Kinetic Theory of
Gases, and Quantum Theory. Not surprisingly, he did well: on February 23rd 1926 the Dean of the Graduate School reports
to Cambridge that “Mr. Fletcher is doing finely. His work is of first-rate character and his personal qualities are very
After graduation, and being anxious to see as much as possible before going home, PF traveled west to
California, north to Vancouver, and eastward across Canada before ending his journey in New York. From on board the SS
Minnedosa, he wrote the following note on August 26th 1926, thanking the Princeton Graduate Office for expediting his dealings with the
Canadian and U.S. Immigration authorities:
“Dear Mrs. Creasy,
I never thanked you for sending me the document certifying that I really had been at Princeton and was not a thug or a
blackmailer; it relieved my mind considerably to have it.
Well, at last I am bound away for home, after having had a glorious and exciting trip around the country;
10,000 miles of it in fact. Everyone I met was nice to me and helped me to see things that the common or garden type of
traveler would not be able to see; so the trip was a fitting finish to the wonderful time that you all gave me at
Princeton; never shall I forget this year. I hope that you will all be equally nice to my successor.
Upon returning from America, PF became an assistant master at Marlborough College. He was there from
1926 to 1934, but from 1931 to 1933 he took a break of seven terms to teach at Geelong Grammar School in
Australia. The Curator at Geelong, Michael Collins Persse, writes of PF that “He is part of a long series of
connections with Marlborough, whose present Master, Nick Sampson, was head here till last June.” (Geelong is an
internationally famous boarding school, the main campus of which is situated near Corio, across Port Philip Bay from
Melbourne. The school celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2005 with a visit from one of its old boys, HRH the Prince of
PF’s contributions to Geelong’s extra-curricular activities are recorded in successive issues of The
Corian, the school’s yearbook. As Assistant Scoutmaster, he drove a group of boys to camp and it was recorded that “on
the way those in Mr. Fletcher’s car had an exciting experience, for the car seemed determined to imitate a kangaroo by
bounding through the traffic.” In addition, his Cambridge-acquired rowing skills were not neglected for he coached “novice
rowers on the lagoon”, and had “a crew of boat sloggers if not stylists in the fourths.”
Another talent of which we at the Prince of Wales were unaware manifested itself at Geelong: “The annual
courses of musketry were completed before the term had finished, and owing to the keenness and efficiency of Mr. Fletcher,
we can safely say that more cadets know how to handle a rifle and obtain the best results than ever before in the history
of the school.”
A recruitment notice in The Corian of December 1945 illustrates PF’s lasting regard for Geelong. The
Headmaster of Geelong, J.R. Darling (1930-61), responding to an appeal from PF who had recently taken over at the Prince of
Wales, writes that “he is in urgent need of assistant masters and would like some Old Boys from this School. Details of
what sounds like a fascinating job can be obtained from me.” It would be interesting to know if anyone responded to that
PF returned to Marlborough College, but not for long. Thanks to Terry Rogers, the College
Archivist, we have the following excerpt from the speech given on Prize Day in July 1934 by the Master, George Turner:
"Mr. Fletcher’s appointment here was the last benefit done to the School by Dr. Norwood, my predecessor, and Fletcher was
the first newcomer here to help guide my own trembling hands upon the steering-wheel. It is hard to exaggerate our debt to
him for his untiring and devoted service during the past 8 years - for even when he was temporarily absent in Australia
the inspiration of his work was alive here, as it will be long after he has started his important new work as Second
Master at Cheltenham. We knew we could not keep him long, and though we hoped – as I believe Mr. Fletcher himself
hoped - that he would have time to settle down again at Marlborough, we knew that he was a man destined for bigger work;
and now we must look out for a time when the effect of his stimulating energy spreads beyond the spheres where we knew it
well, the classroom, the Camp, the Club, the rifle range, to that scene of sudden reversals of fortune, the cricket field."
(George Turner became Principal of Makerere College, Uganda, in the late 1930’s. Twenty years after
Mr. Fletcher’s resignation, the super-abundant energy and legendary efficiency of the ubiquitous "P.F." were still
affectionately remembered on a Guest Night in Marlborough College.)
In 1934 at the age of thirty-one, PF became Second Master and Head of Military and Engineering at
(He remained there until 1945, deputizing as Master (headmaster) on more than one occasion. But the top position could
never permanently be his since PF was a graduate in mathematics and Cheltonian tradition required that the permanent Master
of the College be a classicist. Not surprisingly therefore, PF would eventually seek a headmaster’s or principal’s
appointment elsewhere, in Great Britain or in one of the colonies or dominions.)
When we wrote to Cheltenham asking for information about PF’s eleven years at the College, we had a swift reply from Tim Pearce,
Secretary of the Cheltonian Society. Of PF he wrote, “He is actually not as well recognised here today as he should be
and you have prompted me to do something about that. I plan to do a bit of a feature on Philip Fletcher for the next
Cheltonian Society News, due out in the autumn.” In the meantime, Tim kindly provided the following cartoon and
valedictory notice. He also provided the portrait photograph of PF lighting his pipe that appears below.
Valedictory Notice from The Cheltonian, Autumn 1945
(Written at the time of PF’s departure for Kenya)
“P.F.! It would be impossible even in several pages to describe or
explain all that these initials have come to mean. Their owner came to us in 1934 to succeed the redoubtable John Mercer
as Head of Military, and his time corresponded with the most critical period through which the College has ever passed.
In times of falling numbers and financial duress, of war and evacuation, of profound reorganization of work and leisure
and feeding, Mr. Fletcher has borne the part of a principal and more than once has had to assume the helm until it is
difficult to imagine the College without him or to picture its life unimbued by his personality, energy and service.
P.F. and other members of the Staff at Cheltenham College
“He has served four Headmasters and done more than any other to initiate three of them. On Mr. Pite’s
tragic death in 1938 – when he had only been here three years himself – he had to take the lead during the interregnum of
that ominous summer term. He rose to the occasion – many who read these words will remember his speech at prize-giving
that year – without realizing for one moment how indispensable he was. That winter Mr. John Bell began his illness, and
once more Mr. Fletcher had to take the reins. The writer will never forget an occasion when Mr. Fletcher visited him to
seek his advice. He had been approached about an important Headmastership and thought it would be inconvenient if he left
Cheltenham. But he genuinely was not sure. It was a startling glimpse into the essential humility of the man.
Fortunately, the answer was clear: it was impossible to contemplate what would happen if P.F. left at that juncture.
And so a good appointment was lost for Cheltenham’s sake and with no suggestion of anything but that it was the most
natural action in the world. At this time in addition to his own work he was acting for the Headmaster in answering
letters, composing reports for Council, interviewing parents and fulfilling the multifarious duties at College House.
“And then came the crisis of the evacuation to Shrewsbury (1938-39, on orders from Whitehall) with Mr.
Bell still far from well. It has often been a matter of remark that at times of critical decision those who have been
expected to be the most levelheaded and reliable fail, and those from whom it would be least expected rise to the occasion
with surprising strength. Mr. Fletcher was neither of these. We expected his strength and it was there. He literally
carried the evacuation on his shoulders. Simultaneously it seemed – an illusion produced by that faithful old car of
his! - he was chief removal contractor and porter of 120 tons of furniture, sorting and packing, at this end, and
unloading at the other – while working out the endless details of timetable and dovetailing with Shrewsbury. At
Shrewsbury he was typically to be found in the most uncomfortable, bleak and desolate billet that he had allotted to
himself in that severe winter which none of us will forget. With equal energy he threw himself into the great return to
Cheltenham in 1940 with its study of central feeding plans and endless committees on all aspects of College life.
P.F., notoriously camera shy, at Cheltenham College, 1934-45
“To those who knew him least his outstanding powers seemed to be those of organization with an exceptional
mind for detail. Those who knew him more found out the spiritual basis of his approach to life and of his teaching – his
powers of sympathy and friendship and wise counsel. The Head of Military had no false dignity and always did all in his
power to lessen any gulf that tended to arise between the older and younger members of the staff. He went out of his way
to motor, walk and talk with newcomers to whom he introduced the joys of the Malvern Hills, Church Stretton, and our local
haunts. There is no need to mention his work in the allotments into which he put the same indefatigable energy which he
had long displayed on the towpath at Tewkesbury. It was the only activity the results of which could be weighed – 99½ tons of potatoes and vegetables in four years. Could more important things be placed on similar scales the total would be equally astonishing. And lastly of his great ability as a teacher some of his old pupils have already written in the letter from Oxford published in our last issue.
“Needless to say, his lightning course upset people at times. Nor was suffering fools gladly his strongest point –
though suffer them he did with infinite patience. Some of us got furious on occasion, yet once, after debating on
how “intolerable’ and “impossible” and “monstrous” some action of his had been, a man ended by saying “But I can’t help
loving the man all the same.” Perhaps that is the truest note on which to end. We all depended on P.F. and we all –
members of Council, staff, boys and old boys – loved him. Cheltenham College once more owes an immense debt to its head
(Old Cambrians who served on PF’s Tuesday afternoon work parties at the Prince of Wales School,
having read about the tons of potatoes, will now realize that their burden was light compared to that of their earlier
counterparts at Cheltenham.)
The Prince of Wales School
Main building and Quad in 1932, one year after completion of construction at Kabete
Photograph by H.K. “Pop” Binks of Nairobi. The Prince of Wales School was designed by
Sir Herbert Baker
PF left Cheltenham College in 1945 to become Headmaster at the Prince of Wales School in Kenya. We found
information about his interview and selection in File CO 1045/110 at the Public Records Office in Kew, London, entitled
Vacancy for Headmaster of the Prince of Wales School, Nairobi. If any undeserving candidate thought that during
the last months of the war he could slip into a congenial colonial headmastership, he was doomed to disappointment. The
evidence, sufficiently bulky to require tying up with ribbon, shows that the Colonial Office took this appointment most
seriously; indeed their Education Adviser C. Cox wrote “…we want to get a really first class man with boarding school
experience for the most important European school in British Colonial Africa.”
Applications were invited from local education authorities and public schools in Britain and from the
colonies and dominions including Southern Rhodesia and the Union of South Africa. About twenty strong candidates were
short-listed, of whom three attended a final selection board on 28 March 1945. It is noted that the successful candidate,
Philip Fletcher, had some other “irons in the fire”: he was in the running for the headmastership of Taunton School and of
Upper Canada College, he was also under consideration for the posts of principal of Makerere College, Kampala, and Director
of Education, Nigeria.
Barely legible penciled notes taken during the interview by one of the assessors hint at the Fletcher we knew
at the Prince of Wales:
Self depreciation. Good thinking before he answers on importance of PofW.
Impressive to look at after listening to - weight.
Self confidence over 4 headmasters - experienced & weighty.
Too tense for Kenya? Level headed.
Kept up with Americans or Australians?
Education rooted in religion.
Self-confessed lack of culture. Intellectual stiffness. Trite answers to political or cultural affairs, acute self
The final indication of the importance attributed to the post is given by the fact that the Outward Telegram
dated 11th April, 1945 announcing his appointment was addressed to Sir Philip Mitchell, Governor of Kenya, and signed by
the Secretary of State for the Colonies. (The telegram notes that Mr. Bernard Astley, headmaster of the Prince of Wales
School from 1937 to 1945, also interviewed the candidates and thought PF was the most suitable.)
Outward telegram announcing Fletcher’s appointment
(By permission of the National Archives of the UK, ref. CO1045/110)
Returning once again to the 1959 Impala and Vice-Principal ‘Fritz’ Goldsmith’s article, we read that, “Few
people in Kenya realised in 1945 how fortunate the Colony had been to attract a Headmaster of the quality of Mr. Fletcher.
No outstanding Second Master of a famous English Public School, except a bachelor with a previous taste of overseas service
and a strong sense of vocation, was likely to accept the Headship of an obscure colonial school on the Equator, at an
absurdly low salary.
From the 1945 Impala Magazine,
courtesy of the Impala Project and Martin Langley (Nicholson, 1956-61)
“The school to which he came in October 1945 had suffered severe difficulties and setbacks during the
war years, owing to the evacuation to Naivasha, followed by a fantastic growth of numbers and an acute shortage of staff.
During the first five post-war years, the task of working towards high standards in all departments of school life was not
an easy one. Most of the staff were new to Kenya, few had any previous boarding school experience and the turnover of staff
was bewildering: 21 men acted as Housemasters, for example, between 1946 and 1949. The Headmaster's relationship with his
staff was not made easier by the decisiveness, abruptness and avoidance of social intercourse which he practised, in
order to encompass, as he habitually did, the work of three or four ordinary men.
PF on Speech Day, 1954
(Photo supplied by David Stanley, Rhodes, 1949-54)
"No Headmaster could have thrown himself into his task with more selfless devotion. From 7.30 in the
morning, or earlier, till 11 p.m. or midnight or later, with breaks of four or five days each holidays to visit parents
up-country, he worked at the highest pressure to make the Prince of Wales School a happy and friendly school, teeming
with activity in work, games and societies, and one of the best organised in the Commonwealth.”
The high regard in which PF was held by his former colleagues at Marlborough, Cheltenham and elsewhere
greatly enhanced the standing of the Prince of Wales School. As a former pupil from the PF years has discovered, “While
I was at the school, I was under the vague impression that the PoW was a so-called 'Public School' in the English sense,
i.e. an independent school of some weight and reputation. As you probably know, the thing that qualifies an establishment
for membership is whether the existing Heads elect a newly appointed HM as a member of the so-called Head Masters
Conference (HMC). It was rare thing indeed for a Head appointed to an overseas school, and a government one at that,
to be elected. I decided to follow this up and the other day I received an e-mail from the administrative offices of
the HMC which said, ‘Our research has borne fruit. Mr. P. Fletcher was elected into membership on the 16th of May,1946.
He was, at the time, Head of the Prince of Wales School, Nairobi’. I think that is a further mark of the respect in
which he was held by his schoolmaster colleagues at the top of their profession, though perhaps it would have had little
impression on his pupils!” (Nigel J. Brown, Nicholson 1952-57, and Staff 1966-70.)
"In 1948,” as the Goldsmith tribute continues, “there came a crisis over the continued and alarming
increase in numbers, resulting in the Headmaster's dramatic interview with the then Governor, Sir Philip Mitchell, to
insist that a new school must be opened at once. This interview, which brought about the inception of the
Duke of York School (initially) within Government House itself, earned the following tribute from Sir Philip in
his King's Day speech on October 11,1948:
I had one of those painful interviews with Mr. Fletcher with which no doubt most of you are familiar; I had the
slight advantage that it was in my study and not in his, but the result was what you would have expected. It began
by my saying, 'You've got to take another hundred boys next January,’ to which he replied, ' You've got to build a
new school'. I said I couldn't build a new school by the middle of January, and we argued about it and the whole
question quite a bit. But, as I have said, the result was what you would expect, and we have, in fact, decided to
build the new school at once. In this episode between your Headmaster and myself you have an admirable example of
the disciplining of myself by himself. But, joking apart, the episode was in fact an admirable example of that
discipline which enables a man - which, indeed, compels a man - when he sees that a thing is wrong, to go straight
to the highest authority and say, ‘This is wrong and must not be done'. (December 1948 Impala Magazine extract.)
Queen’s Day 1958: PF at attention while Drum Major of the Band, Robin Dine, salutes Lady Mary Baring
(Photograph submitted by Cecil Johnston, Clive 1954-58)
“During Mr. Fletcher's Headmastership, the material appearance as well as the spirit of the school has been
transformed. Among the additions have been the Hawke-Grigg block, the "temporary" School Hall, which for so long served
also as a chapel, the magnificent Swimming Bath, the Squash Rackets court, the new Science Block, the Wood and Metal
Workshops, several new playing fields, including a second Hockey pitch, and finally the School Chapel. The wonderful
response by past and present parents and boys and by friends of the School to the Chapel Appeal, which enabled some
£18,000 to be raised in two years, is perhaps the greatest testimony to Mr. Fletcher's work here. In the Chapel for which
he laboured so tremendously a plaque could well be inscribed with his name and the famous words ‘Si monumentum requiris,
circumspice.’ (If you seek a memorial of him, look around you.)
From the Chapel Appeal Brochure, submitted by Jitze Couperus (Hawke, 1954-60)
The Queen’s Day Report, October 1959
In the second half of 1959, Mr. Fletcher became gravely ill. Fourteen years of Herculean effort had caught
up with him at last and he was burned out. He was only fifty-six, but his time was over. In Fritz Goldsmith’s words,
“PF’s immense industry had a continuous snowball effect on the volume of work which came to him. In striving to cope with
an increasingly heavy burden, he eventually undermined his health. When he went to hospital in October 1959, he was
dangerously ill. The delivery of his long and admirable Report on Queen's Day one week later, straight from his hospital
bed on a diet of a little rice and orangeade, was a remarkable feat and a great ordeal. His steady and surprisingly rapid
return to health was due to what was, for him, the most difficult process of self-discipline: the restriction of his hours
of work to reasonable bounds.”
Michael Saville, Editor of the 1959 Impala, in similar vein notes that “Mr. Fletcher, who had been in the
European Hospital for some weeks previously, was given special permission to be present as it would be his last Queen's
Day as Headmaster before his retirement. He returned to the Hospital immediately afterwards. Mr. Fletcher delivered his
Review of the year's events with his usual penetrating clarity and in a resonant voice: truly, everyone agreed, a tour de
PF began his speech by extending a cordial welcome to the Distinguished Visitors, parents and friends of
the School, and paid special tribute to Sir Evelyn and Lady Mary Baring who were leaving Kenya after seven years of
service. He then reviewed the prior year’s results in School and Higher School Certificates and took the opportunity to
address one of his enduring hot buttons: “What is quite appalling is the steadily increasing pressure from outside to
prepare boys for Higher Certificate who are completely incapable of profiting by the work, and whose presence in advanced
classes would be a real handicap to the abler boys for whom the classes are rightly designed."
With business matters duly disposed of, PF reflected on his years at the Prince of Wales. In his own
words: “At the end of this term, this great school will have completed the 29th year of its existence, and nearly 3,700
boys will have attended it for periods varying from a few days to 8 years. Over 3,000 boys have already left it, and are
to be found in all corners of the earth. In such a large number, there must inevitably be some tragic failures, some
drifters, some crooks; but I know there is an overwhelming proportion who are giving good service in a very wide range of
“I wonder if we all realise how incredibly lucky we are to live in this beautiful place? With all its
faults, inconveniences and inefficiencies, it remains so much more open and spacious than many other schools less fortunately
situated. I understand that there is a strong hope that money can at last be found to replace our temporary boarding blocks
and classrooms by something more substantial, and then we shall be nicer still.
“I wonder if we all realise what happiness and freedom can here be found? This was not always a happy
school; and of course at this or at any other time there are unhappy individuals in it; but for some years now I believe
it has been a school where the vast majority of boys have been happy for the greater part of their time. I should think
something was wrong if all boys were always happy; for school is a training for life, and life is full of rough patches
through which one must live and help others to live. But I do think it tremendously important that there should be an
atmosphere of happiness, confidence, trust, mutual liking and respect and that boys should consciously cherish this and
do their best to maintain and increase it. It has to be constantly worked for - and prayed for - by staff, by prefects,
by boys of all ages and sizes; like all the precious things of life, it can easily be lost. A very great part of this
happiness has been due to the devoted care of Housemasters, and I know that boys and parents share my deep-felt gratitude
to the splendid body of men who have held office as Housemasters.
"It has been my privilege to serve this school for the last 14 of its 29 years of life, and to have had
some responsibility for about 2,800 of all the boys who have attended it. They have been 14 years of great interest and
variety, sometimes pretty hard to live through, often wholly delightful; I would not have missed them for anything, I am
profoundly thankful to have been allowed them, and for all the kindness shown to me by the Education Department and
"I shall be sorry to say goodbye, when the time comes next year; but mixed with sorrow will be no regret
nor grievance, for the load has been becoming too heavy for me.
"It is high time, too, that the school had an entirely fresh and much younger mind brought to bear on it.
A great number of changes are needed, and are overdue; I am sure my successor (Mr. Oliver Wigmore) will make them, and that
parents and staff and boys will welcome them and help their introduction.”
In closing, Mr. Fletcher spoke of the broad challenges faced by his successor: “There are many bulls
whose horns I have not taken: partly through lack of courage, partly through failure to imagine what to do with the bulls
when taken. Here are three, out of many: the priority problem of creating the right curriculum for those who are not
academically minded; the right place of games and such-like in the curriculum as a whole; the need to delegate more to
other people and to keep fewer threads in one pair of hands. Anyone who knows the place well can make a list of a dozen
changes which in due course must be made; good luck to my successor, say I, and to all who serve under him."
1959: a frail PF, battling poor health, poses with School Prefects in his last year.
Prefects, standing from left: John Keaton, John Wyber, Ian Beatty, Peter Sprosson, and Neville Watson.
Seated, from left: Christopher Clark, Brian McIntosh (Head Boy), Andrew Davidson, and Barry Rowe.
Staff Comments in Appreciation of PF
(F.H. Goldsmith) “Some of us will remember PF for his brilliant teaching of Mathematics to forty-odd Fifth
formers in the Lecture Theatre; others for the enthusiasm he could inspire in a reluctant Tuesday afternoon working party.
Many will remember him best for his topical and challenging addresses in Chapel, painstakingly prepared and impressively
delivered. Hundreds of boys will gratefully recall evening interviews in his office, in which their shortcomings or their
future careers were helpfully discussed.
The Final Assembly
“Some three thousand boys have passed through Mr. Fletcher's hands in Kenya. His labours on behalf of
leavers have been stupendous, and in almost every post there comes a letter to him from a grateful Old Boy in some part of
the world. There is not one of us who has been in close contact with him who has not drawn inspiration from his supreme
efficiency, his understanding of boys, his private generosity, his deep religious conviction and his complete dedication
to his work. On King's Day in 1948 he said 'I look for the day when boys may leave here aflame with the love of God and
Man, seeking nothing for themselves save the opportunity of work to do and strength to do it.' None could have done more
by example and encouragement to achieve that high aim.”
(M.T. Saville) “During my six years as Editor, I have received help in boundless measure from the
Headmaster, who has taught a lesson, not always easy to learn, in that he always takes infinite pains to have every
detail correct down to the last inverted comma: nothing is slip-shod, nothing incorrect and nothing is too much trouble
for him. It was no use to think 'Oh, he won't notice', you soon learned that he would and did - and said so!
“Now it is the Headmaster's turn (to leave school). It is to him, at the end of this term, that our
thoughts turn, and we wish him "God speed, good health". A new decade of the century is almost upon us; Mr. Fletcher will
remember so many endings and so many beginnings. Let us hope this ending, now, will be a happy memory for him. For look!
the sunshine is striking on the beautiful stonework of the new Chapel walls; the breeze is sighing through the gum trees
behind the new Science block, and making ripples across the new swimming pool; the grass on the new playing fields is
drying rapidly. You can see the Aberdares again, today! Remember us, sir, in technicolour, as it were. We know you love
the beauty of Kenya; the loveliness of the setting of this School. And for what you have done, created, worked for,
achieved, with full hearts we say ‘Thank you’.”
M.T. Saville writes in the Impala, “Few boys will ever forget Final Assembly in the third term of 1959,
when B. G. McIntosh, the Head of School, made a presentation, on behalf of every boy, to the Headmaster. He spoke briefly,
but sincerely and most appreciatively, of Mr. Fletcher's long and devoted service to this community. The presentation was
a cheque, with which the Head¬master might buy something for his new home, and thereby recall, in his retirement, the
affection felt for him by the boys of this School. The clapping and cheering which greeted this, lasted for so many
minutes, that it was with difficulty, being so moved, that the Headmaster found words to reply. A call by the Head of
School for three cheers for the Headmaster brought a response that could be heard all over the compound.”
Appropriately, the last people Philip Fletcher spoke to on Kenya soil were a couple of his old boys, and
it happened quite by chance. Derek Caister (Clive, 1952-57) tells the story: “In 1960, Brian Stacey and I were working in the
East African Customs & Excise Department, attending a passenger ship at the Mombasa Kilindini docks, when we spotted
"Flakey" heading towards the ship. We greeted him at the gangplank, both of us in uniform, Stacey with a full beard and
myself with a moustache. After studying us for a few moments he said, "Caister - Clive House; Stacey - Nicholson!! We
had pre-sailing drinks onboard with him, and that was the last time we saw that truly amazing and dedicated man.”
Mr. Fletcher was on his way home to England to live with his sister at 20 Amberley Road, Rustington, in
Sussex. Once settled, he bought a leather-inlaid desk with the cheque he had received at the final school assembly, and
from it he wrote scores of letters to old boys over the next ten years, demonstrating his famous recall of names, dates,
houses, and talents.
Formal recognition of Philip Fletcher’s career in colonial education came when he was named an Officer of
the Order of the British Empire (OBE) on 11 June 1960. He went to Buckingham Palace to receive the award on 8 November
that same year. The citation, “Headmaster, Prince of Wales School, Nairobi, Kenya” seems pretty thin considering his
charismatic leadership and distinguished service; but maybe everybody knew that just the words “Prince of Wales School”
said it all.
After the UK branch of the Old Cambrian Society was established in 1961, PF became a frequent guest at
its annual dinners in London. Many old boys who were living and studying in Britain visited him at home in Rustington. For
his part, besides keeping touch with his extensive family of Old Cambrians, PF continued to teach part-time.
The final years were spent in a care home. Elizabeth Scoble-Hodgins, daughter of former Prince of Wales
Maths teacher, “Amoeba” Walker, tells us that “Mum and Dad kept in touch with PF in England. There was a period after his
sister died when he was in a very sorry state when Mum would bring his washing home and return it with new replacements.
They visited him regularly when he was admitted to the care home where he sadly died from Parkinson's disease in 1976.”
PF died on February 15th at the age of seventy-two. His funeral took place at Guildford Crematorium in Surrey on February
23rd 1976, and his ashes were buried in the Garden of Remembrance there.
An entry has now been inscribed in the Book of Remembrance held at Guildford Crematorium, on the page for 15th February.
It may also be viewed on line at
www.scribesltd.co.uk/guildford. The wording is as follows:
Died 15 February 1976, aged 72 years
Headmaster of the Prince of Wales School, Nairobi, Kenya 1945-1959
Remembered with Affection and Respect
The Webmaster and Secretary of the Old Cambrian Society (UK branch), Steve Le Feuvre (Clive 1970-75), together with the editors of this feature,
Brian McIntosh (Rhodes 1953-59) and Christopher Collier-Wright (Hawke 1954-59), gratefully acknowledge the kind
cooperation and valuable assistance provided by:
- Theodore Mallinson of the Foundation Office, Highgate School, and Gordon Tweedale, Director of Art, Highgate School 1973-2005
- The Master and Fellows of St. John’s College, Cambridge, and Jonathan
Harrison, College Librarian
- Mathew T. Reeder of the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University
- Michael Collins Persse, Curator, and Ann Drayton, Geelong Grammar
- Terry Rogers, Archivist of Marlborough College
- Tim Pearce, Secretary of the Cheltonian Society
- Paul Johnson, National Archives Image Library Manager, Kew, Surrey
- Lesley Watling, Ceremonial Secretariat, Cabinet Office, London
- Keith Hendry, Bereavement Services Manager, Guildford Borough
- Old Cambrian contributors living in many parts of the world
Old Cambrian Recollections
(In chronological order by final year of attendance)
Some of these recollections (usually the shorter ones) were taken straight from the alumni section of the Old
Cambrian Society’s website. Some were written specially for this feature, and one is from an Old Boy’s published book.
Additional memories or anecdotes about PF are invited from other Old Cambrians and they should be sent to the Webmaster.
Leonard Gill (Grigg, 1944-48), from his book, Rollicking Recollections, Trafford, 2003
My time at university was not entirely wasted. I returned to Kenya in 1950 at the age of nineteen, a humbled young man,
now more than ready and eager to get down to a job.
Dad had now more or less washed his hands of me. He suggested that I go to see the headmaster of my old
school, the PoW. 'Pink Percy' Fletcher had taken up the job of headmaster of the PoW after the end of WW11, and had
proved to be a dynamic, no-nonsense, professional with a record of having sorted out pretty tough schools in England and
Australia. His nickname came from his florid coloring, resulting from his healthy lifestyle.
I doubt that there was anybody on the planet more suitable for the job he had to do. As students, we
respected him from the moment that he set foot in his office, and we came to admire him as he boldly sorted out problems,
abolished unnecessary rules and restrictions that were difficult to enforce, and were frequently ignored. Pink Percy
inspired self-discipline leading to self-control. He had always regarded me with a jaundiced eye, and rightly suspected
that I was one of the more idle and aimless members of society. But I was sure that he would give me good advice to put
me on an appropriate path.
I approached him with some apprehension. I was going to have to admit to my abysmal failure at
university which would bear out all his opinions of me. I had made an appointment to see him, and he was awaiting my
arrival. He came out to greet me, ushered me into his office, and invited me to sit down. He sat opposite me and opened
with, ‘Hum! Gill. Hopeless at mathematics. What can I do for you?’
I explained my position and my painful failure at Trinity College Dublin. He must have sensed that I was
truly humbled. He seemed to feel that the school had failed me, and that he personally should be held responsible. We
argued this point for a few moments. He had come to the school only shortly before I left. It was hardly fair to hold
him responsible for the years during which I had developed into a feckless lout. We agreed to disagree on this point, and
turned to the question as to what path I should now follow.
He opined that I enter commerce, and should seek employment with a large enterprise which offered
proper training. I applied to an oil company and an import/export firm, and was accepted by the latter. Dalgety & Co. Ltd.
was an Australian firm with an office in the City of London which supervised the East African branches. I'm sure that Pink
Percy had a lot to do with the company accepting me, and I'm sure there was no better organization in which to start my
(If anyone is interested in learning more about Len Gill’s three published books, please contact the Webmaster.)
Paul Heim (Hawke/Scott, 1946-50)
Percy Fletcher was a formative influence on most of us. I remember him as a truly great and good man. He gave the
impression of some slight eccentricity, with his neighing laugh and untidy appearance, but he was a man who knew boys
through and through, and who could bring out the best in each of them. When he thought it was justified, he fought for
them too. What is more - even though he could not have come from a more typical public school background - he was open
minded, tolerant and far-sighted. He was a man of high principles, who made it his business to pass these on. If anyone
knew right from wrong, he did, and he did not hesitate to tell you about the distinction. If necessary, he was ready to
back it by physical punishment. He also tried to teach us to be well behaved in our daily lives. He discouraged profanity
and bad language. I well remember his talk to boys about to leave school, warning them against certain temptations of
which we knew little at the time. His advice to those who were tempted by persons of doubtful character was to raise
one’s hat and say “no thank you, madam”.
One remembers well his tall figure, sparse ginger hair, untidy appearance, commanding presence and
frightening insight. One also remembers his patent love for his school as a unique institution. I think we became
better men because of his influence in our lives.
David Betts (Rhodes, 1948-53)
Today the university system in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, has become a mass-production industry. Its admission
processes are mechanistic and effected via a computerised conveyor belt. Not so, in the middle of the last century, when
Fletcher was the Headmaster of the Prince of Wales School. Then it all depended on three things: the reputation of one’s
school, the commendation of its Headmaster and finally an adequate Cambridge Higher School Certificate.
Whenever Fletcher went on ‘home’ leave he spent his time and his money traveling to universities
throughout UK to greet and encourage his boys who had become undergraduates, and many of us had the pleasure of meeting
him on these visits. He also took the opportunity to seek out university registrars and admissions tutors and convince
them of the quality of the School’s preparation for university, and of the calibre of the boys he would be recommending to
I discovered this one day at School when I was summoned to see PF. What misdemeanor was I guilty of
this time? None it transpired. He invited me to sit and said that he wanted to discuss my future and suggested that I
had the attributes to consider a career in medicine. He went on to explain that for many years he had maintained a good
rapport with St Thomas’s, a prestigious teaching hospital of the University of London, had sent a succession of boys there
and that they had all been very successful. In 1953 Kester Brown was the only prospective medic in the Biology Sixth Form
and he was aiming to follow his father to St. Andrew’s in Scotland. PF was gently twisting my arm and sent me off to
consider his proposal.
I had visited London during a dreadful winter soon after the end of WW2. The cold, dank smog and
soot-grimed buildings, the austerity and ration-books was a big turn-off and the prospect of five years of it was too
unpleasant to contemplate. So I returned to say to PF ‘thank you but no thank you’. I would prefer to stick to
agriculture, remain in Kenya and go to the then Egerton College of Agriculture at Njoro. I was sure this response would
make him either crestfallen or angry. He was sympathetic and understanding but asked me to raise my sights a little and
consider going to a university in a rural part of England for a degree course in agriculture, and suggested Reading.
After discussing this with my parents I went back to PF to say that this is what I would like to do and to seek his help
in procuring a place for me. To encourage me further he suggested that to feed the hungry and clothe the naked
(nylon was a new expensive novelty and terylene had not been invented) was almost as worthy an occupation as healing the
Twenty years after that interview I was to join the academic staff at Reading and was able to read what
PF had written about me. He told the absolute truth and did not over-exaggerate one’s predicted CHSC results, but he knew
so much about each of us that he was able to write a very compelling account of whatever talents or strengths a boy might
(Further to David’s point about PF devoting his time to calling on old boys while on leave in
England, it seems that old boys were equally enthusiastic about trying to see PF. In his 1953 Queen’s Day speech, PF
recalls that on his recent leave one old boy “undertook a journey by three buses and one train, followed by a nine mile
walk, to spend a night at my hotel.”)
Ronald “Rag” Jones (Grigg/Rhodes, 1946-49)
"Rag" Jones has provided a piece of memorabilia, which testifies to Jake's concern for the progress of
his 'old boys':
Jake's reference to 'unduly awkward questions about Latin', had it been delivered to Ron in person, would no doubt
have been accompanied by the trademark, 'hee, hee, hee'.
Roger (Rastus) Bond (Hawke, 1948-53)
Headmaster, 'Vluitjie' Fletcher, also a strict disciplinarian, was a man who had the welfare of the school and its boys close to his heart. Shortly after leaving school, I was in Nakuru hospital after being involved in a car accident. There was a soft knock on the door and who should walk in but 'Vluitjie' just checking on the well being of one of his boys!
You ask whether I can shed any light on the origin of the nickname Vluitjie, or in proper Afrikaans,
Fluitjie. Not a lot I’m afraid, but you will remember that at school a mouth organ was called a 'flakey'. I knew that
this was an abbreviation of the Afrikaans for mouth organ but It wasn't till I came to South Africa that that I learned
how it was spelt in Afrikaans - (mond) fluitjie - pronounced flakey and literally 'a little mouth flute'. In my mind,
PF's nickname was firmly associated with flakey the mouth organ because during the time I was at POW an article appeared
in The Impala containing a cartoon depicting the names of some of the staff. There was a picture of a tortoise
for ‘Mkorbe' Atkinson, a fish for 'Samaki' Salmon, an insect for ‘Dudu’ Knight and a mouth organ for Flakey (Fluitjie).
At a Kenya Regiment lunch in South Africa in March 2005, I managed to track down the person who drew the cartoon. It was
Dennis Field who left school in 1946/7, but the cartoon was not published until December 1948. He confirmed that a mouth
organ was used to depict Fletcher but could not remember any reason why Fletcher was called Fluitjie other than Fluitjie
Fletcher sounded well. Interestingly, several people at the lunch thought that Fluitjie was spelt with a 'V'. Before
talking to Dennis, I had thought that the cartoon might have appeared in The Commentator, a student newsletter edited by a
boy with American roots called Maddox. He was considerably senior to me and was different to rest of us in that he wore a
Ron Bullock (Scott, 1948-53)
I suppose I should say something about Flakey, despite very mixed emotions. It was through Bertie and the choir that I
first came into closer contact with him. Until then I had seen him only as some remote and rather odd character who had a
reputation for not wanting to hear any but religious music and for having an antipathy toward females. I have no idea
whether there was any basis of truth for these stories. Certainly there was one occasion when, passing by, he told the
Scott prefects to turn off their gramophone. We also knew that we could rapidly drive him from the House dance by putting
up one of the girls to go and ask him for a dance. Given these facts, I have sometimes marvelled that his sense of duty,
which so conspicuously deserted him on the dance floor, nevertheless enabled him to deliver, just once to each class in
their school career, and for a full two hours, that excruciating annual sex-education lecture to which we went in such
high anticipation. This he did with a flush to his cheeks and a profusion of snuffles such as I witnessed on no other
occasion – which is saying something.
In the choir he was a perfect menace, everlastingly creeping up behind you and in the most menacing of
whispers, growling with his beery breath, “you’re flat!” or “you’re sharp!” God knows if we were, or whether he really
knew the difference, but it was very intimidating. On another occasion, Flakey stuck his nose into Scott prefects’ study
(or perhaps it was Munya who did this - Mr. Cobb, the Housemaster) and threw open the lockers. Had he been tipped off? In
any event, this exposed the still, which I think Peter Powles was operating, and the fermenting bananas and strawberries.
That caused quite a furor!
I had Flakey for only one term of math. I had been quite good at math up to that point, but alas,
calculus proved my undoing, despite his reputedly good teaching. The one thing I remember from this time, however, was
his rather intriguing approach to problems - “Wouldn’t it be nice if.....” he would say, musing along the blackboard with
his chalk. “Oh but it does!!”
But essentially Flakey was a totally remote being as far as I, at least, was concerned. I remember
only a certain fear, tempered by a certain respect. It was enough and I stayed clear as much as possible. This was not
always easy when you recall that among his more admirable attributes was his ability to recognize and name every boy
in the school within a very short time of their arrival.
And yet, and yet! In my more senior years I came to realize that he was quite approachable if I saw
cause to ask to see him. When I wanted to roam and take the pictures during speech day, which appear on the OC site,
Flakey was wholely supportive - I couldn’t have done it without his prior blessing. I only wish the photos had been
better - or, perhaps, had better withstood the ravages of time. I see that he also noticed Harry Brice’s camera. Not
much escaped him, as everyone has testified. He even rearranged the whole timetable to accommodate my wish to take Maths
with my Arts program on entering the fifth form. It is a pity that my subsequent performance did not justify the
dislocation that must have been caused.
Many remember his great interest in our various sporting activities. I believe it was he who extended
the schools’ sporting competitions to matches against Alliance High School, no doubt in close cooperation with that other
esteemed headmaster, Carey Francis. I well remember his admonitions in assembly before these matches took place regarding
behaviour and courtesy. Remember, I'm talking about the early '50s, with Mau Mau in full swing. Given the attitudes of
many parents at that time, this initiative was surely a brave act on Flakey's part, socially and politically, as well as
an act of leadership. Strangely, I don't remember any matches against Asian schools in my time - perhaps their hockey was
just too formidable!
He was indeed a remarkable man, although to me he remains something of an enigma. I asked to see him
before leaving to make a few comments. I remember observing that I thought it difficult for boys who reached the 6th
with no mark of distinction on their blazer to distinguish them from the meanest rabble! I have dared to assume that it
resulted in the little ‘VI’ which shortly appeared on blazer sleeves, a very sensitive response, I have always thought.
And after I returned from university, he took the initiative in calling me to ask if I would like him to recommend me for
some job or other at the YMCA, who had approached him for recommendations - not what I was looking for, but again, a
reaching out to one of his boys.
And lest you should think that I imagine he left no mark on me, I still carry the memory of one brief
exhortation he made to us in assembly: it should be the goal of every man, he said, to know something about everything
and everything about something. I rather took that to heart.
Peter S. Rodda (Hawke, 1952-54)
I remember 'Flakey' Fletcher giving me six cuts for shooting with a catty at ceramic insulators on some redundant
telegraph posts in the North valley. He was bird watching with binoculars. Thursday afternoons was his time for beating
boys: part of the punishment was having to wait, sometimes for days. He was deadly accurate with the cane, and often one
would see boys cooling their painful posteriors in the washbasins of the toilets just round the corner from his office.
Keith Aikin (Clive, 1954-58): Chairman, Old Cambrian Society (UK) since 1961
I joined the Prince of Wales School in January 1954 after two years at St. Clement Dane’s Grammar School in West London
where I had just been warned by my Headmaster about my lack of academic progress. My previous school turned me off: I was
badly behaved, found the teaching staff uninspiring, and had limited sporting opportunities. I had been disturbed by my
mother’s continuing ill-health and frequent hospitalization. Having been interviewed by Mr. Fletcher, I joined the Second
Year, being placed in Clive House, and started in Intermediate as a boarder.
I think it is true to say that my life was transformed from that moment on: I attribute that
transformation to PF who had created a school in Africa that reflected his vision of what education should be. Not only
had he appointed many outstanding teachers, but he had also provided leadership of the highest quality. He ensured that
there was a caring, pastoral structure in the school, that academic standards were very high, that discipline was firm and
fair, and that there were ample opportunities for pupils to enjoy extra-curricular activities. It was PF who sensitively
broke the news of my mother’s sudden death one Sunday morning during my first term, and it was he who gave me the rock on
which I was able to build my life. The ethos of the Prince of Wales School was so positive, and in my case it provided
the motivation to succeed at school and the inspiration for my future career as a schoolmaster. Philip Fletcher was my
When I decided to become a schoolmaster after leaving University College, London in 1963, I had PF and
many of the teachers he had brought to the Prince of Wales to thank and to emulate. PF believed in the importance of a
balanced all-round education, which he implemented at the Prince of Wales. This ideal was a major influence on me, both
in my five years at school and in my subsequent thirty-nine years of teaching - including twenty-six as Deputy Headmaster
at King’s Macclesfield.
PF was a tremendous friend, who maintained a keen interest in my future progress. I thought it a fitting
tribute to him when I and a number of other Old Cambrians who were studying in Britain in the early 1960s established a
UK Branch of the Old Cambrian Society which flourishes to this day. We were delighted to have him at our Annual Dinner,
and we were always made very welcome whenever we visited him in his retirement in Rustington. In common with thousands
of Old Cambrians, I owe PF a tremendous debt.
Christopher Collier-Wright (Hawke, 1954-59)
I owe my first encounter with PF to a sin of omission on my French teacher’s part. As form master of 1a, the teacher in
question should have supplied me with books the others already had when I made a late arrival in September 1954.
He didn't do so, and when it was time for afternoon prep in Junior House I didn't have the wherewithal for my devoirs.
Accordingly, I wandered down to the main building and stood under the clock tower, disconsolately looking at the notice
boards. PF chanced across me and was most kind - took me to his office, sat me down in one of his basket chairs (that
astonished me, one never sat in Hazard's study at Pembroke House) and wrote a note to the duty pre in Junior asking him
to help me borrow what I needed. And, next day, my form master duly presented me with my books.
In 1961, seven years after that first encounter, I visited PF in retirement at Rustington on Sea,
Sussex. Perhaps I should say semi-retirement, since he was still teaching some maths at Worthing Grammar School.
Rustington is a calm place of tree-lined roads and detached houses, very much on the Costa Geriatrica. Indeed, my Great
Aunt Jessie, by definition elderly, lived in the next street. Mr. Fletcher had set up home with his spinster sister, of
a similar age, who was serious but kindly, rather austere, and retired after long service - in short, the female
counterpart of her brother. A fine reminder for him of warmer days was a McLellan Sim painting of Mount Kenya; another
was a trickle of Old Cambrian visitors - Charles Howie and Peter Sprosson had been there the previous week.
Later on, I think in 1970, I had a round robin letter from PF, addressed to many OCs and written in a
care home. He remarked on the fact that four meals were squeezed between nine and six, and commented, in saucier vein
than one normally associated with him, on the curvaceous young staff.
That was the last I heard. Philip Fletcher died on February 15th 1976. It’s a pity I didn't seek him
out again, but I was overseas most of the time and preoccupied with a young family.
Dave Burn (Scott, 1955-59)
The following quote appeared in the East African Standard when Jake’s retirement was announced in 1959. It comes
from a speech he made a few years earlier, and it sums up his philosophy of what a schoolmaster’s job is all about:
“(It is) to help each boy develop to the full all the powers latent in him - powers of spirit, of mind and body;
to encourage in him self-discipline, sympathy, understanding, tolerance, reasonableness; to kindle, if it is possible,
interest in religion, art, music and good literature; to develop toughness of fibre, ability to stand up to hardship and
hard work, moral courage to stand up for the right – in a word, to help him to become a worthwhile citizen of the Kingdom
of Heaven and of the world.”
Brian McIntosh (Rhodes, 1953-59)
In his prime, Philip Fletcher was a big, well-built man with a commanding presence. His hair was sparse and gingery, his
complexion pink, and his attire rumpled. He was a confirmed bachelor and a loner who didn’t socialize with the staff or
anyone else, and he had no life outside of his position at school. He spoke with a pukkah accent, punctuating his words
with outbursts of gleeful laughter, and he walked at a near-run with a fluid, gliding motion that enabled him to swoop
down unexpectedly on whomever he wished to address. (Some described the Headmaster’s mirth as knowingly evil - the kind
that comes from one who has seen and done every schoolboy trick in the book.)
Mr. Fletcher was a nature lover, a bird watcher, and a mountain climber who once walked right across
Tasmania. This love of walking continued throughout his time at the Prince of Wales: up and down St. Austin’s Hill he
strode, and late at night he prowled the compound on foot, causing dismay among returning truants, midnight smokers, and,
during the holidays, teenage couples car-parked by the pool. To describe him as ubiquitous barely does justice to his
uncanny knack of popping up just when one was bending a rule – or simply contemplating doing so.
The Headmaster’s spirituality and religious faith were profound, as witnessed by his passionate drive to
raise funds for the School chapel, the rigorous devotional schedule he set at Easter 1959 in the new facility, and his
love of solemn hymns like Wesley’s, Jesu, Lover of my Soul. Ever concerned for moral fibre, he was known to stop a
boy in the hallway and, out of the blue, ask how he was doing in the fight against self-abuse.
While in private he was called Flakey or Jake for his idiosyncrasies, he always commanded high respect.
He could be alarmingly severe when angry or disappointed, and he was a stiff disciplinarian. At the same time, as these
Old Cambrian Recollections show, he had a sense of humour, and he could show great sensitivity and understanding. Mr.
Fletcher was never ‘popular’ the way a Bertie Lockhart, an Alan Potter, or a Teddy Boase was, but a majority of the lads
admired him and felt an affectionate appreciation for his flakey ways.
My own relationship with him over nineteen terms was positive. It began rather badly, however, when he
took me to task over an incident in class: a steamy (for 1953) Mickey Spillane novel was making the rounds and I was the
one who got caught with it. A year or so later, he told my parents that I wasn’t academically inclined, but I
surprised everyone by being a late bloomer and scoring well in School and Higher School Certificates before going on to
university in Scotland.
As a school prefect I came to know him a little better, and on one occasion I got a rare glimpse of his
bachelor quarters when he invited six or seven of us to tea. The décor was spartan, to say the least, but mounted on the
wall above his mantelpiece was an impressive set of varnished oars inscribed with the names of his fellow crew members.
Below them sat a display of silver cups, framed pictures, and other memorabilia of his rowing days at Cambridge.
Another vivid memory is that of the House dances in 1959 when our guests were girls from the Boma
(Kenya Girls High School). Protocol demanded that Mr. Fletcher entertain Miss Stott, his opposite number, for dinner,
and so he gallantly donned an ancient tuxedo by then several sizes too small. I saw him during the evening when he made
a late appearance at the Rhodes House dance. His cheery smile and slight buzz had me wondering if he’d taken a few
drams to fortify himself for an evening with the redoubtable Miss Stott.
When Mr. Fletcher spoke to sixth form leavers in 1959, he urged us to avoid debt and wicked women, and
he said we should learn how to cook. At the time, I thought the bit about cooking was silly; within a year or two of
leaving school I realized it was eminently sensible.
We Old Cambrians who knew him well are now in our sixties and seventies, and we feel a keen sense of
nostalgia for those ‘salad days’ when we were young and ‘green in judgment’. Can it be that the passing years have made
us even fonder of the man today than we were a half-century ago? One thing is for sure: we were indeed fortunate and
privileged to have attended the Prince of Wales School in the time of Philip Fletcher.
John Davis (Grigg, 1956-60)
I went through school recognising that Mr. Fletcher was special in many ways but it is not until later when you have been
though life's experiences that you realize just how special. I remember his farewell function and the rousing send off
and the way the sleeves of his slightly untucked shirt were always half rolled up. I also recall his sex talk to us young
rabble in the lecture room under the clock tower and walking up the quad afterwards saying to a colleague, 'but I still
don't know what to do!' The way he used to sing hymns always fascinated me - he seemed to be slightly out of phase with
the rest of us. Also I have a special memory of him teaching me maths in the 5th Form - which effectively sealed my
love of the subject and proved very useful in my subsequent civil engineering life at university and afterwards.
Rev. Harry J. Brice (Rhodes, 1955-60)
Four weeks after I arrived at school I had my first opportunity to meet with the Headmaster. My parents and the girls were
due to arrive by plane at Eastleigh, and I’d been given special permission to go and meet them. While I waited to be
picked up near the main school tower, Mr. Fletcher came over to me, called me by my name and went on to
comment about what I had been up to in my first few weeks, asking, “We have a new photographer do we, Harry?” I was one
of four hundred new students, and he knew me by name. I was not the new school photographer; I was just a first year
rabble with a brownie box camera around my neck. I was impressed. As the years went by, I came to know him as a great
man, who stood up for his students.
Jeremy Whitehead (Clive, 1958-62)
I can recall attending the first assembly of a new term and listening to the headmaster, Fletcher, lecturing us on
appalling behaviour on the school train to Uganda at the end of the previous term. He was unwise enough to describe one
particular event when a group of us had set upon a St Mary's boy and hung him out of the train window by his feet,
whereupon the whole school erupted in a great gale of laughter bringing the lecture to an end as he (Mr. Fletcher)
was unable to prevent himself joining in the laughter.
Additional Old Cambrian Memories and Comments
(In chronological order by final year of attendance)
Webmaster’s note: the following recollections and comments were submitted (or found in the alumni section) after
the Fletcher appreciation first appeared on the Society’s website. Additional contributions are invited from Old
Cambrians, including former Staff members and their families.
Alumni Biography extract from Raymond Birch (Hawke/Grigg 1942-46)
Discipline was harsh at the School and could not possibly survive today. I don't think it did me any harm though and I had
no reservations about sending my own children to boarding school albeit not the PoW. I realize now that Percy Fletcher
was an inspired Headmaster and I attribute to him much of what I achieved in adulthood.
Robert Stocker (Hawke/Nicholson, 1943-46)
When Burbley (Bernard Astley) retired, Bush was Headmaster for one term, and then 'Flakey' Fletcher took over. The older
boys found Flakey was not strict enough, being used to Burbley. Flaky was only Head for one term before I left. He wanted
to talk to my mother about my future. He said, “I do not know what to suggest for Robert, I can just see him on a cattle
ranch throwing steers on the ground and branding them”. My mother was not amused. Flakey had been teaching in Australia.
(The closest Robert came to fulfilling PF's vision for him was when he joined the East African Tanning Company in
Eldoret in 1947. 'Robert Stocker's Memoirs' in the OC Alumni section are well worth a read.)
Alumni Biography Extract from Rob Ryan (Hawke, 1945-50)
Fletcher was a bit of a change from 'Bushbaby' (Forest) who had held the fort during the war years. Cambridge rowing blue
and a way with the cane that was impressive, he towered above us and had an evil knowing grin that told you that he could
see right through you and read all of your inner secrets. He was a bloody good Head.
W.N. Stephen, (Rhodes 1946-51)
Foremost in my memories of those years was the enormous respect I developed for our Headmaster, P. Fletcher, a respect that
grew in later years when I learnt of the generous assistance he gave to promising school leavers. I also have a vivid
memory of walking down from Rhodes to the classrooms on crisp clear mornings and seeing the peaks of Mount Kenya almost
close enough to reach out and touch.
Ron Bullock (Scott, 1948-53)
Brian and Christopher - I'm sure you are well pleased with the piece - you
did a great job. So much about Flakey that I never knew. I think I mentioned that my brother in law had been a teacher at
Cheltenham in the 70s. Strangely, he was a Cambridge man, ran the CCF and coached rowing; but he was languages,
Derek Woolfall (Scott, 1948-53)
I just happened to browse the web (having tired of working) at the office,
and saw the tribute to PF. It is great, and I wish my memory was better! Also noted that Ron Bullock said he didn't
see any sports with the Asian schools. I
seem to recall that the PoW played hockey (field) against the Asians, and we
also had 'triangular' athletic meets, where the African scored twice as many
points as us, and we scored twice as many as the Asians!. About the only
item I recall is that I once got caned by PF for not locking my bike in the
rack on the North side of the main building (I was a day boy at the time). Good job to all contributors.
Alumni Biography extract from Anthony Sheridan (Clive 1949-54)
Among my memories of school is one of Flakey standing outside his office, tie askew, shirt collar curled up at the points,
smoking his pipe and staring intently at me [and all others] that passed at the end of morning school. He always made me
feel guilty, usually for good reason.
Ellis Hughes (Nicholson, 1952-55)
I enjoyed very much the article on Flakey; he used to scare the hell out of
me at times although I only got one beating from him. And I know he was
instrumental in getting me into the Camborne School of Mines, UK. (In his vivid alumni page entry on the website, Ellis
offers the following additional comment.) In the article, there is mention of PF’s fast walk. With the black cape or
whatever it is called he looked like the avenging angel come to visit. I never, not ever, saw anyone try to put one over
him or even argue; frightening chap really until one knew him better, and by then usually too late.
Colin Dyack (Grigg, 1949-55)
The only staff name that could strike terror was "Flakey" – especially when he was on your trail. When it all ended in
his study, he had a big smile and said, "I'm going to beat you. Heh, heh, heh!" It wasn't too bad and I always got a
handshake and his usual saying of 'Well stood, Dyack". That meant I didn't flinch or cry. Empire stuff!
Ewart Walker (Nicholson, 1951-55)
On the question of PF's name, while I have vague memories that it was Philip, as far as I can remember boys in my day called him either Percy or Vleikie. Vleikie, or Vluitjie as it is noted in other PF notes (see Roger Bond above), meant a mouthorgan in Afrikaans, and I believe it arose from his somewhat inane grin revealing a row of imperfect teeth that looked like a mouthorgan.
Also, in notes elsewhere where his slightly evil laugh is said to have been a "heh, heh, heh", to me it was always "hee, hee hee." Sorry to be pedantic!
I think we were all pretty terrified of Vleikie and I well remember Saturday mornings when the whole school gathered in the main quad and then marched down to the new assembly hall via the steps in the main entrance . Vleikie would stand there and pick out two (or was it four) unfortunate lads to read a lesson the next week in assembly. We all hoped against hope we wouldn't be picked and tried not to look in Vleikie's direction as we went down those steps. **
Vleikie's lack of clothes sense is of course well documented, and I well remember being unlucky enough to sit in the front row of the lecture theatre and see at close quarters the egg stains on his tie .
But he was a great man for all of that, not least as demonstrated by the fact that when the ship that was carrying him to a well earned retirement in 1960 stopped in Dar es Salaam, Vleikie went out of his way to visit my father and see how his old pupils, we two Walker boys, were getting on.
** Brian McIntosh (Rhodes, 1953-59) writes, "I agree completely with Ewart about the terror of having to read the lesson. When it was your turn to stand up there on the stage, without a lectern, in front of five hundred or more sniggering critics, the audience could tell you were weak-kneed with nervousness because the ends of your khaki shorts would quiver."
Peter Dodd (Nicholson, 1950-56)
I remember Flakey (I thought it was because of his skin, which flaked) one time when Assembly was very rowdy and really
out of control (can't remember why); none of the staff present had any effect. I was at the back in the choir. Flakey
came in the back entrance and simply walked down the middle aisle and as he went, row by row in turn became quiet until
he arrived at the front and all was quiet. Very impressive display of control by fear, I think. Just wish I could have
Roy Ashworth (Rhodes, 1953-58)
Thanks for bringing to my attention this tribute to Fletcher. It is very touching, but he remains an enigma, doesn’t he? It has had me dredging up many memories. Perhaps I can shed a bit more light.
Like many others, I now realise, I felt that I had a unique personal relationship with Vleike. I have four encounters (apart from the many everyday ones) to offer.
The first was before I arrived at PoW. My brother, Rob, four years older than me, was an outstanding athlete and ball-player (he almost certainly still holds several school records, at various ages). Aged about 16, he was playing in a school 1st XV match against an adult team (Army, I think) when he suffered amnesia. No-one knows why – no-one saw him receive any blow that might have caused it. Rob was brought home to our house where I spent several hours trying to restrain his erratic, comic behaviour. Fletcher arrived to visit the invalid and I was left with him while my mother attended to Rob. I did not know who he was, so was not intimidated, and we had quite a chat. After I had explained what had been going on, he peered at me through his ridiculous little glasses and went “Heh, heh, heh!”
Which reminds me of the thing in your recollection that I cannot picture: Fletcher’s “gleeful laughter”. (Roy is referring to Brian McIntosh’s contribution, above.) It does not describe his laugh adequately. He had a very discomfiting laugh, more of a “Heh, heh, heh”. Not so much “knowingly evil” as someone described it, but definitely slightly sinister. This idea may just be a legacy of when I was up for some misdemeanour, but I seem to remember it from each encounter, whether he was about to cane me or praise me! Also, what is missing in everyone’s description is his physicality, his very powerful forearms, biceps and shoulders, undoubtedly from rowing.
Fletcher could be menacing, too, as I discovered in my second significant encounter with him. Sent to see him over some misdemeanour, I can recall him reprimanding me and then throwing open a desk drawer (which, for some reason, I knew normally contained his cane) and pointing into he said: “It’s empty this time: it won’t be next time!” In a similar vein, I remember he thrashed three boys for bullying. He stood up in Assembly, announced the fact and explained why. He then told us he had given them “Eight of the best” with his polo stick, and added, ferociously: “If they say it did not hurt, they are lying!”
A third and more “heavy” experience with Fletcher was when I abandoned confirmation classes. For weeks I was hounded by Capon, various missionary classmates, seconded creeps from the prefecture, Burton (my Housemaster, whose heart was not in it); and finally, after some six to eight weeks of escalating pressure, by Vleike himself. First, he called my father who tackled me over a weekend exeat. After asking what the problem was, my father allowed me to make my own decision. (That’s a memory to cherish!) Finally, all else failing, I was summoned to face Fletcher.
Full of trepidation I faced him in his office. After allowing me to explain myself, followed by some discussion, he eventually urged me to go through the motions – attend the confirmation ceremony, now just a week or so away – as I could later ignore it, if I still felt that way. After a very long silence, tortured with apprehension, I dared to whisper, “Sir, are you asking me …. to stand in front of the Bishop …. and lie about my beliefs?” I seemed to stand under his gaze for ages. “Let’s leave it, then. Off you go, Ashworth.” It was the end of all the harassment, and I was never confirmed.
Finally, although I had many other encounters with Fletcher – you alluded to my being discovered at
the swimming pool with my then girl-friend, Heather Walker, and to the years of Working Parties – the most illuminating,
undoubtedly, was when I punched someone, while a prefect! This occurred during a truly awful house soccer match that was
being so badly refereed, by an ineffectual, bungling player/prefect, I’ll dub him PP, that I had to step in to help restore
some order. My initial success was undermined by our goalie, I shall call him Garibaldi, who lay on the ground and refused
to resume play, and challenged me to make him get up or “eff” off. He was a stocky, heavy, muscular character, with small
round glasses (not unlike Fletcher’s!) Seething, I went over to him and hauled him to his feet. He muttered some
imprecation so I slugged him! His glasses flew off and he fell back down! Next thing he was wailing about blood. My blow
had broken his glasses and caused a small nick by his eye.
Greatly exaggerating his injuries (which later did not harm my reputation!), wailing “I’m going to tell the Headmaster.” he waddled off at high speed towards the main school.
I knew I had blown it - badly - and after some hesitation told PP he’d better carry on without me, and stalked off after Garibaldi. We had been playing on a pitch down beyond the swimming pool. I followed Garibaldi across the road through the line of trees onto the main athletics field in front of the main school. When I looked back I saw the game had been abandoned. PP with the remaining nineteen players trailed me at a distance.
Looking ahead, I saw, to my dismay, Fletcher, stained grey flannel pants held up with an old tie, shirt sleeves rolled up very high, dressed the way he always was after normal school hours, striding down the steps from the car park in front of the main school, heading towards us. (There are plenty photos of him in ill-fitting suits that testify to his disregard of dress, and I am sure that he influenced my own disregard of dress!)
My “victim” reached Fletcher ahead of me. I could see him gesticulating and babbling away. By now seriously glum, angry (at him, me and everyone else), still hyped, I stood off saying nothing. I can still remember feeling flushed and rigid with tension. When Garibaldi had finished, Fletcher gravely took his arm and came over to me.
“Ashworth?” As briefly as possible, I explained how the game had become chaotic, how I had tried to restore order and how Garibaldi had challenged me. I ended defensively, “So I hit him.”
Expecting the worst, I was dumbfounded when Fletcher, after gazing at me a few moments, put his head down and went “Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh!”
He linked arms with both of us, and started strolling back towards the main school.
“When I was at school,” he told us, “I was Head of School. One day I had a problem with a boy who refused to do what he was told. I lost my temper and more or less kicked him down some stairs. Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh!”
Young Vleike bashing another boy! We were being slowly towed across the immaculate lawns (where I had, by then, spent five years of Tuesdays – and not a few Saturdays - on all fours with Vleike, weeding). Fletcher was now in reminiscent mode, head down, strolling along, arms linked with ours. After a few more reflective “Heh, heh, heh!’s,” he paused and, turning to Garibaldi, gave him a rueful smile and said “I know how difficult it can be when people disobey you.” Garibaldi nodded and looked crestfallen.
There followed several more “Heh, heh, heh!’s” then he squeezed my arm, put his face very close to mine and said, “Turned out he was the son of the Shah of Persia, or something! Heh, heh, heh! …. Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh!”
I was too stunned and relieved to laugh.
“I learned not to lose my temper.” By now we were at the steps leading up to the tarmac apron. He stopped us, peered at me very earnestly and said “You must learn from this, Ashworth.” I could only gulp and nod.
Turning to Garibaldi, he said, “And you should learn not ignore prefects when they tell you to do something you know is right.”
Finally, to both of us, “Now shake hands…… good, now off you go.” He turned and resumed his original direction. Garibaldi and I stood speechless, watched by twenty expectant faces, before we turned and trudged off to our houses.
I’ll never understand why I did not become head of school!
The Mystery of the Persian Prince
(a Postscript by Roy Ashworth)
When I described the circumstances that led PF to tell me how, as Head of School, he had kicked another pupil
down some stairs; and how it had “turned out he was the son of the Shah of Persia”, I had no idea as to the real identity
of the boy he attacked. Moreover, I had not considered he might literally have meant “the son of the Shah of Persia”.
Imagine my astonishment when I was told, in the summer of 2005, that Christopher Collier-Wright (one of the
authors of the original feature, above) had identified the boy in question!
And he undoubtedly was a Persian Prince! Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh!
Incredibly, Christopher has not only named him, Reza Merza, but found a photograph of him (left) in the same
Highgate School Photo of 1919 in which Fletcher appears, listed in the photograph's caption with a footnote: "connected to
Persian Royal Family”! I am told that his Valete entry in Highgate’s magazine, the Cholmeleian, indicates a school career
“far less distinguished than that of PF, his Head of School”.
Inordinately chuffed that a long-buried memory, teased out by Christopher and Brian’s original research, had
been so elegantly confirmed, I set out to trawl the web to see if I could learn more about our prince.
Reading Persian genealogies – as others will confirm – is no picnic: these blokes never had less than
half-a-dozen wives. Also, they kept them very busy. Lastly, they liked to play around with the same names and, just to
confuse poor colonial boys, not only changed their names but also changed the spelling of their names: Reza Merza appears,
variously, as Merza Reza, Reza Mirza, Riza Merza, etc.; Qajars can be spelt Kadjars .....
At first cut, Reza Merza seems likely to be related to the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, born in
1919. Not so fast .....
The late Shah was the first son of Reza Shah Pahlavi (also known as Mohammad Reza Khan and earlier known as
Reza Khan Mirpanj – see what I mean?), the first of the Pahlavi dynasty. Reza Shah Pahlavi (Dad) only took over in 1926. He
was a soldier who rose through the ranks and was not related to any previous dynasty. While he had other offspring, the
only one born in the right time frame was a daughter born in 1903 by his second wife, Taj Mah, whom he divorced within a
year. In any case, any earlier son would have been his heir. (All of the above can be found on the web: enter almost any of
these names in Google and you will get thousands of references.)
Reza and Merza, it seems, are very common names (harking back to earlier Persian heroes). I think that our
prince was royal, but from a previous dynasty – not necessarily even Qajar (the dynasty deposed by the Pahlavis). I think
it is also probable that his name was slightly anglicized: e.g., dropping “Mohammed” from before or after these names.
If I am right, the chances are high that our lad, educated in England, was already exiled. If, on the other
hand, he was a Qajar, he would very likely have exiled himself after Ahmad Shah (last of the Qajars, described as “pleasure
loving, effete, and incompetent …” q.v.) was deposed in the 1919 coup that later led to Mohammad Reza Khan, the first
Pahlevi, being elected Shah in 1926. In either case, it is highly likely that his offspring are alive & well in UK.
I had hoped that, before submitting this article, I would be able to report that I have found out what
happened to Reza Merza, the man. It would bring closure, as they say. I have dug up several Reza Merza’s in the UK and
one in Denmark and have tried to contact them. To date, I have drawn a blank.
If you know anyone who speaks Persian, or if any of you enjoys this kind of research, please feel free to
With many thanks to Christopher Collier-Wright and Brian McIntosh.
Michael Wolff (Hawke 1954-9)
This website feature prompts me to tell a true tale which is in no way intended to detract from the wonderful eulogy for
its subject, Phillip Fletcher, OBE.
Michael Wisdom (Hawke 1954-57) and his friend Martin Konstant (now alive and well in South Africa)
were known as the "Bushmen" at the Prince of Wales. In the mid-1950s they were caught in the off-bounds valley below the
Hawke/Grigg dining room where the old railway line used to run. They had with them an air gun which they managed to hide
before the Housemaster George Outram caught them and reported them to Fletcher.
For this seemingly minor transgression they each received 24 strokes of the cane which Fletcher
came to administer at Hawke House on three consecutive nights. I maintain that this punishment stands as a record to this
day and was considered to be fairly extreme even by the standards set in Tom Brown's Schooldays. Those of us who hid and
listened to this beating can vouch for the fact that neither Bushman flinched one iota.
Bushman, Michael Wisdom adds the following personal note: “The punishment certainly did not fit
the crime, but the list of our ‘misguided errors’ accumulating in PF`s little black book weighed heavily against us,
necessitating the use of the polo stick by installments.”
Dave Burn (Scott, 1955-59)
Congratulations Brian and Christopher, you did a great job on "Flakey". Steve as well for all the hard work he puts in to
the OC web site.
Brod Purdy, (Rhodes, 1958-61)
Here are four memories of Philip Fletcher.
First, Rick Watson and I one day were in the old Scout hut (the one on the playing fields opposite the main building) when
PF wandered in. Nothing wrong? Well, I was in the loft having a crafty 'Crown Bird' cigarette whilst checking on the
state of our pombe (home-made beer)! I was so surprised I dropped the lighted cigarette end onto the floor whilst PF was
directly below me. For some reason it did not reach ground level. At the same time Rick was convincing PF that he, Rick,
was the only one in the hut! He succeeded...but then we realized that PF would have seen the tell-tale wisps of blue smoke
emanating from the roof of the hut!
Second, the rule of having to collect a signature from PF should one be so foolish as to wish to borrow
a 'pushie' to visit one's 'sister' at the Boma on a Sunday afternoon - having already proved that one had a sister over
there! (Funny, my sister always knew when I'd been to the Boma, even though she never saw me there.)
Third, PF's remarkable memory for names. When first at POW, I lived in Embu, site of the famed 'Izaac
Walton' restaurant where we as a family sometimes went for a special treat. One visit we were joined by PF (father being
head of science at the local secondary school) to my embarrassment. But not so much as a couple of youngish fisherman who
were desperately trying to make themselves invisible to no avail. PF saw them, wandered over, and addressed them both by
their names, years and Houses! Impressive stuff.
And finally, on my first day at POW as a very new former English Public Schoolboy I found I had been put
in Rhodes House, then known for its Afrikaaner bias...and hence not great lovers of the English as I discovered when I
stuck a picture of Winston Churchill on my study wall. Because my family had arrived from Northern Rhodesia, that was the
end of any discussion: Rhodes it was, and PF would brook no changes. Equally, I expected to go into Form 3A, having always
been in the A-stream at all previous schools, but now I ended up in 3B. Once again, PF would not agree to a change.
Some years later I had occasion to stay on at the beginning of the holidays with Humphrey Skett when his mother, as School
Secretary, admitted it was she who had assigned me to 3B since 3A was already full.
Martin Langley, (Nicholson, 1956-61)
I thoroughly enjoyed this feature on Jake Fletcher. Kudos to Christopher Collier-Wright and Brian McIntosh for their
effort and for filling a serious void on the website. Jake was a truly dedicated and wonderful headmaster who commanded
much respect and affection from the majority of boys at the school.
I have a piece of memorabilia of Jake to share with OC's. In those days, at the end of each year, on the
last night of term, each dining room put on a bean feast for everybody with cake, trifle, etc. It was Jake's custom to
visit the three dining rooms in turn to share in the festivities and to celebrate with the boys the end of another school
year. He would usually rock up with his pink face grinning from ear to ear, and walk around the dining room randomly
distributing friendly words to the happy and cheerful lot present. In his last year as headmaster in 1959, he did not
make the tour of the dining rooms. The attached scan of an undated and now yellowing piece of government issue memo
paper was found by me in the Nich House prefects’ common room the day after school ended in December 1959. It was a note
from Jake somewhat formally declining the invitation to attend the end of year party. As a Uganda boy I always had an
extra night at school in order to catch the train to Kampala the next day. On that night, with the school deserted and
ghostly, a bloke could wander around at will with very few prefects (unless they were from Uganda) or masters around to
challenge him. I had wandered into the pre's common room, found this memo discarded on the floor, and decided to keep it
as a souvenir.
(Many Old Cambrians, seeing PF’s calligraphy again after so many years, will no doubt have flashbacks to
his handwritten comments on their reports.)
I suspect that the main reason for PF not attending the parties that year was a result of a mood brought
on by his retirement and the emotions he must have been feeling after such a long, happy and eventful tenure as headmaster.
There was also a scandal afoot at the end of his reign that I understand affected him deeply. In late 1959 some dayboys
from the POW (and other schools) got up to mischief. Among other things they mugged a taxi driver in Nairobi and stole
money. The Nairobi magistrate, in sentencing them to a caning in early January 1960, made some comments that reflected
badly on the headmasters of the concerned schools to the effect that if some headmasters had been stronger the events
might not have occurred. Jake apparently took the criticism to heart, and I believe he was quite depressed over the
perceived ill repute brought on the school. I remember the sombre mood that pervaded the school because of it. Jake
deserved better for sure.
I too went to visit Jake in Rustington in 1962, with fellow OC Rod Thompson (Rhodes) and Jake served us
tea from a silver tea service. It was a wonderful visit, Jake being warm and relaxed, and my only regret is I did not have
a camera to record the occasion. It was like a pilgrimage for me as I was so much in awe of him! (I never kept in touch
with Rod Thompson, but I heard in 2004 from his sister who happened upon the OC website, and she reported that Rod had
sadly passed away in 1982 aged only 40 yrs, of a brain aneurism.)
Danny Rose, (Nicholson, 1959-64)
At morning assembly, "Jake" Fletcher, the legendary headmaster, then nearing retirement, clad in his
black gown, made a speech to the boys. He had received a complaint from an African small-holder growing maize next to
the school boundary. Two boys had been smoking "out of bounds" in his field the previous day, and had damaged some of
his crop. "Jake" requested that the culprits report to his office that morning. He said that they would be beaten for
the offences of breaking out and smoking (six of the best with a cane), and that their parents would be required to pay
compensation for the damaged mealies. He said that he knew the calibre of boys of the school, and expected the culprits
to report to him, despite the promised punishment.
Next day, he announced that he had been proud that the boys had
reported as expected, had taken their punishment like men, and had acted honourably. Times change. I told this story
to my teenage sons, both pupils at public school in England some years later. They looked at each other, burst out
laughing, and said "bloody fools!" O tempora! O mores!
Elizabeth Scoble-Hodgins, daughter of Staff Member, Mr. L.V. “Amoeba” Walker, and pupil at the Kenya Girls High School,
When asked if I would write a few lines about PF from a staff daughter's perspective, I immediately
remembered the nerves I had before meeting him for the first time when I was seven. Our family had to live with him at
first as there was no staff house available, and so my sister and I had been lectured on our behaviour. In fact,
however, PF did all he could to make us at home in his bachelor pad and as we spent a Christmas there, we girls were
bought encyclopedias as presents and a Christmas Tree was erected, much to the house boy's amazement.
A later memory is of PF and Dad spending hours in our dining room sorting out the school timetable. During
one session he helped Dad put out a grass fire which we kids had started trying to cook mealies and which was threatening
to destroy Junior House. I clearly remember his red face on that occasion.
PF also rescued me from the top of one of the wooden watch towers built during the Mau Mau. He promised not
to tell my parents if I promised not to climb it again; and he kept his promise.
Working late into the night during the holidays he caught my sister Heather and friends at the swimming pool.
This time he did tell my father, but only to comment on how difficult it must be to bring up two daughters at a boys school!
I can think of many other incidents which show how soft he was under the harder exterior.
Mum and Dad kept in touch with PF in England and there was a period after his sister died and he was in a
very sorry state when Mum would bring his washing home and return it with new replacements. They visited him regularly
when he was admitted to a care home where he sadly died from Parkinson's disease in 1976.
This obituary was published in The Cheltonian in 1976. The dates refer to his period of service at Cheltenham College.
PHILIP FLETCHER, O.B.E. 1934-1945
In announcing the appointment of a new Head of the Military side, the Headmaster in his Speech Day address in 1934
referred to P.F. as “a beacon and landmark to many of us”. These words were prophetic in a far wider sense than he
intended them to be. The Headmaster was, of course, referring to the head of flaming red hair with which many of us had
become familiar during combined operations Field Days with Marlborough, as well as on other occasions when the two schools
met. Beacons have saved many a shipwreck and it is not difficult to imagine how near to disaster the College might have
come in the troubled waters of the 1930's without the light of P.F's presence among us.
After a highly successful career at Highgate and St. John’s, Cambridge, where he collected a first in both parts of the
Maths Tripos, he spent a year at Princeton University U.S.A. as a traveling scholar before joining the staff at
Marlborough. He came to Cheltenham during years of recession and political uncertainty. Furthermore, as the war drew
nearer, the College suffered a severe blow in the untimely death of its Headmaster, A.G. Pite, and P,F. found himself
in charge until the appointment of John Bell. The new Headmaster’s health was none too good when he arrived, and
deteriorated further with the declaration of war and the worry of the move to Shrewsbury. The burden of this upheaval
fell largely on P.F.’s shoulders, and it was his tireless energy, good humour and patience which sustained us in those
difficult days. It was not till the summer of 1940 when a stable regime had once more been established that he was
able to return to his normal routine as Head of the Military and Engineering sides. Needless to say the routine of
those days entailed a great many extra jobs.
Among them he took on the organization and running of the College garden which kept us supplied with vegetables during
the war, and at the Summer Farming Camps his drive and never-failing good humour were the mainstay of their success.
In a letter from Oxford in the summer number of the 1945 Cheltonian, there is a moving tribute to P.F. from one of his
former pupils and one cannot do better than to repeat this passage. ‘Everyone who met him was at once aware of P.F.'s
sincerity, ferocious energy and reserve of power. He went straight to the point and then on to the next. To his pupils he
was more than a teacher: he was an unforgettable example of the way to tackle problems, of staying power and sheer guts.’
If this isolated passage suggests an an almost superhuman efficiency, it is because it omits other references to the
kindness, understanding and unwavering self control which inspired a deep affection and respect among those who were
taught by him.
It was no surprise to us that he was offered an important Headmastership in Kenya after the war. We were sad to lose
him but few men have left the College with such a record of devoted service. The Prince of Wales School was the perfect
environment for him, and that splendid academy thrived under his remarkable leadership.
One who served under him can testify to the affection in which he was held, to his kindness and understanding, and to a
devotion which was in every way complete. Not only did he give all his enormous energy during term time, but he spent
his vacation on safari all over East Africa visiting parents, boys and old boys. He richly deserved the honour he
received on completing his task. Back in England, he continued to teach full time for several years, until overcome by
a long and frustrating illness which he bore with abundant cheerfulness.
P.F. was indeed one of the great schoolmasters of our time.
L.I.D. (L. I. Davidson)