Hoots from the Archive - "6ft 2in of benign gentleness": An early profile of Geoffrey Parker

Posted by Rachel Kneale on 06 Jun 2024

Geoffrey Parker MEN

In 1985, a new High Master arrived at MGS. The Manchester Evening News sent a reporter to interview Geoffrey Parker in May 1985, in advance of his start in September:

"Geoffrey Parker's most vivid memory of boyhood is of the day he had jam instead of marmalade for breakfast.

His family's modest home had been bombed in 1940 in the one serious air raid on Leicester, where the man who is to be the new High Master of Manchester Grammar School grew up. Father, too old for war service, was out fire-watching after a day's work in a factory and the family were at home when the bomb dropped.

They fled to a shelter for the rest of the night, but Mr. Parker recalls vividly how his mother took him and his brothers back to their battered home and cooked a full breakfast.

'We had jam instead of marmalade because the marmalade was broken.' he explains. 'I can remember my mother apologising.'

Home and family were clearly important to Mr. Parker, a working-class boy who won a grammar school scholarship just before the 1944 Education Act really opened them up to many more 11-year-olds like him. His father had spent long years in the navy before taking the job in the Leicester factory.

'He loathed his job,' Mr. Parker explained, 'and he was determined his lads should not do the same thing.

'In Leicester, you had to get into that school, because there was nothing else. There's an independent school now.'

He sang in the church choir - 'the family were always rather churchy' - sailed, camped and played Rugby.

Obviously grateful for the opportunities life has given him, he, in return, gives unstintingly of time and effort to a job he chose after first seeking, and then deciding against, a career in the Civil Service.

And in him, the governors of MGS have chosen a thoroughly professional schoolmaster's schoolmaster of the independent schools variety, and thoroughly pleasant with it.

We met in his oak-panelled study at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wakefield, formerly direct grant and now, like MGS, fully independent.

There is little that is radical about him - six feet two inches of benign gentleness, wearing a grey pin-striped suit with thoroughly buttoned-up waistcoat. A thoroughly buttoned-up man, but for the touvh of flamboyance suggested by a mauve handkerchief hanging from his top pocket.

At MGS he is more likely to consolidate the changes made by David Maland, the present High Master, rather than extend them. Under Mr. Maland, the boys have had their noses lifted from their books a little to enable them to pick a few flowers by the wayside.

When Mr. Parker takes over in September next year, there will, I suspect, to be a period of consolidation.

At school, young Geoffrey liked history and English Literature, but the best English teacher left and anyway the history master took him sailing. So it was to read history that he went to Cambridge, followed by National Service in the Royal Artillery, in which he progressed from the ranks to Acting Captain.

Then came marriage, and an idyllic year at Oxford on a relatively undemanding one year teacher training course, before he took his first teaching post at a direct grant school in Bedford.

Mr. Parker still sails, still studies history, though he doesn't regard himself as a scholar, still goes to church - Wakefield Cathedral actually - and is blissfully happy with his wife, Ruth, after 27 years of marriage.

'Thoroughly approve of the institution' he said.

In Manchester, Mrs. Parker will be free of the responsibility she now bears for 41 boarders and both she and her husband look forward to sharing in the city's cultural life.

One of their two daughters studied the history of art under Professor Dodwell at Manchester University, and they developed a strong taste for the Royal Exchange Theatre during that period.

Mr. Parker is not a man that suffers from a seven-year itch. He has spent the better part of 30 years in only three schools and could well have eight at MGS. He taught history, English and current affairs at the first, and was head of history at a Kent boarding school before moving to Wakefield.

When he was looking for a move after 10 years at Queen Elizabeth, he had no strong feelings about whether he wanted a day grammar or a public school. He certainly sees great advantages in terms of what can be offered to boys who are seven-day boarders. But he is delighted to have landed MGS, which is undoubtedly the top day school.

Until five years ago, the Parkers' love of sailing found expression sometimes in a borrowed boat but more usually in their common-or-garden car top Mirror dinghy. Now, they have a 10-ton, six-berth sloop which is usually berthed at Troon on the Clyde and in school holidays takes them to the Hebrides.

'That's a real escape from school,' said Mr. Parker - a self-taught sailor and evening class qualified navigator.

'Conditions can be interesting there. The weather varies between the sublime and the ridiculous. When the weather is calm and fine, it is beautiful - with mountains rising out of the sea and nobody there but the wildlife, particularly birds, but also seals, sharks, and even killer whales.'

Mr. Parker's view of education is that students - he always uses the word boys - need to pack in as much as they can in the time available.

Not just examination subjects but music, painting, sculpture, sport and 'their spiritual development'.

He is strongly aware of the gulf between himself and headmaster colleagues struggling to provide all these things in maintained schools.

'We have our pressures, of course,' he said. 'But their's are much greater, with government spending, falling rolls, and curriculum and examination changes. Here, nobody does CSEs. They all do O-levels and they all pass them.'"


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