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Tribute to Tony Trott

13 April 2017

Tony Trott, KES Head of English, regular KEHS teacher and husband of KEHS's Mrs Trott, has died at the age of 90. Below is a tribute by his colleague and friend, Tom Hosty.

 

" Tony Trott, who died on the 17th February in his 91st year, taught English at KES from 1950 to 1987, and was the school’s Head of English from 1952 until his retirement. Old Edwardians lucky enough to have benefited from Tony’s teaching will have plenty of stories about him. Here is one of mine.

We were studying Auden for “O” Level Literature: “Lay your sleeping head, my love…” it was. One of the class had unearthed the fact that Auden was gay, and noticed that the poem contains no gendered pronouns. For Fourth Year boys in 1970, this was pretty explosive stuff. “Are we studying a homosexual love poem, sir?” came the question, and we waited for Tony to cope with the hot potato he had just been tossed. He thought about it, and after a moment delivered judgement: “Well, this is how it is. Some chaps fall in love with girls; and some chaps fall in love with other chaps. (pauses, blinks, smiles gently) And that’s really all there is to say about it.” The lesson moved on: I still think that, of all the things I recall teachers saying to roomfuls of boys during my time at KES, this was the wisest, the most humane and the most useful.

Tony was a good English teacher of the Old School. He knew his literature and his language inside-out, and in lessons he would talk articulately, amusingly and with evident enthusiasm about them. He was keen that the Department should teach recently-published work as well as acknowledged classics, to make the point that Literature, like History, had not come to an end. He marked written work with respect, sensitivity and optimism, looking not just for the mistakes but for the writer who just might be curled up in each unpromising chrysalis. He wrote good advice on most pieces of work: encouraging, shrewd, often bracing, never patronising. He treated his pupils as writers: some of us very bad ones, but engaged in the same raiding of the inarticulate which lay behind his own poetry, and not to be talked down to. Jonathan Coe and Jim Grant have both spoken up for Tony as providing them with crucial inspiration for their careers as writers, and I’m sure that they are not alone.

And like all KES teachers who end up fondly remembered, he was active outside the classroom, umpiring cricket in a uniquely sceptical and hard-to-impress style for one thing. More Old Edwardians are likely to remember his extraordinary career as a director of somewhere north of two dozen School Plays, including (in Murder in the Cathedral) what I believe was the first production in which KEHS girls were invited to take part. Some of his choices were ambitious to a degree scarcely credible these days (Jonson “Humours” plays, anyone?), but Trott productions were cherished by cast members for his ability not only to elucidate the most demanding texts but to make the whole process great fun.

Yet much of the above, mutatis mutandis, could be said of quite a few of those members of the KES Common Room who have stayed long enough and put down deep enough roots to become part of the unfolding legend of the school. What makes Tony stand out, even in exalted company, is the man himself. He was his own best lesson: or, to put it another way, we loved him, respected him and will miss him because of his character and his values. He was a wonderful model for young minds: acute yet modest and always interested in what we had to say; humane and kind without concealing a robust contempt for humbug and intellectual dishonesty; he was often jovial, but he would not let you get away with sloppy thinking or disingenuous expression, because clarity and authenticity were too important to let go of.

Tony was, typically, forgiving and encouraging: yet his final Chronicle report on the Shakespeare Society, published in the 1987 edition, reads (in full) “As a result of the invertebrate apathy of the sixth form, absolutely nothing took place this year.” The man who acted the part of The Player in a Staff Production of Rosencrantz And Guildernstern Are Dead with a beady-eyed loucheness that was both hilarious and frightening also ended his history of the school with a warning that “commitment to the worth of what is immaterial and unquantifiable…as essential to fully human living” will be the final test of the value of King Edward’s in the years ahead. Yes, it was fun to be taught by Tony, and his pupils learned a lot, and he was hardly ever frightening: but he left us in no doubt that success in English was not just a matter of a few exam grades, but was intimately linked to success as a human being. And that was worth making an effort for."

TFPH