With deep regret BGS announces the passing of Old Bradfordian (OB) Mr John Harrington (Taught at BGS 1968-1997)
The following text is adapted from an article printed in ‘The Bradfordian’ on Mr Harrington’s retirement.
By P Kewley
John Harrington spent his childhood in Aberdare, South Wales, passing the 11+ in 1944 to the local grammar school. This did not presage the conventional route to university and teaching which was typical of so many of his generation.
The journey which finally ended at BGS was not preceded by the “twenty years in a monastery” myth which gave John great delight but which he did little to dispel. Nonetheless it was circuitous and unusual.
In September 1946 John went to Ratcliffe College – a Roman Catholic boarding school run by the Rosminians – and passed the School Certificate in 1949. He was one of the last to pass the Higher School Certificate in 1950 before it was superseded by the GCE A Level. He entered the Rosminian order in September of that year with two years in the novitiate in Sussex and then two years in the scholisticate in Rugby. While in Rugby he attended Rugby Technical College and was awarded a Major Scholarship to Downing College, Cambridge, in December 1953. He matriculated in 1954 and went on to gain a First in Natural Science Prelims (55), in Part 1 of the Tripos (56) and in Part 2 (Chemistry) of the Tripos (57).
The first part of John’s teaching career started with a return to Ratcliffe in 1957 where he taught Chemistry and Mathematics to S-level. He was Head of Chemistry from 1960 and during his six years at Ratcliffe also coached rugby and cricket including the 1st XI.
From 1963-4 he studied philosophy at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh, before going to Italy to San Giovanni in Porta Latina to study theology at the Lateran University. While there he also studied for the Diploma in Christian Archaeology and was principal cantor and choirmaster at the Basilica di San Giovanni in Rome.
On returning to the UK in 1967, it was hardly surprising that K D Robinson grasped the opportunity to appoint a person of such wide-ranging interests and intellect – first of all to teach Mathematics for two terms and then Chemistry when a post became available in September 1968. John became Head of Chemistry in 1974 on the retirement of Breeze-Bentley and has upheld that long traditional of academic excellence in Chemistry of which the northern grammar schools, and Bradford Grammar School in particular, is justifiably renowned.
John, of course, was more than a mere academic and his contribution to the life of the School and the wider community was extensive. His love of Cricket and Rugby was transmitted through the coaching of the junior teams. He continued his own cricketing career in the Bradford Central League and from 1975-95 was Secretary of the League – a position he carried out with typical efficiency, organisation and diplomacy which was recognised in his election as a Life Vice-President of the League.
Staff and pupils will remember his singing roles in school productions, in particular Poo-Bah in ‘The Mikado’ and the Sergeant in ‘Pirates of Penzance’ which were ideally suited to his deportment and whimsical humour. The role of the Constable in the 1985 production of ‘Jonathan Wild’, written and composed by two members of staff, was created for him. He organised the Visiting Speaker programme and the lunchtime entertainment of the guest was invariably guaranteed because John was such a fascinating conversationalist.
He was Secretary, then President, of the Common Room and was largely instrumental in the introduction of end-of-term parties. A knowledge of chemistry and his experience of life in a monastery ensured ample quantities of high quality home-made wine and beer.
More latterly in his time at BGS he was Treasurer of the Dramatic Society. The hospitality that he and his wife Helena provided has always been warm and easy and many colleagues will have fond memories of their kindness and generosity.
We thank John for his long and distinguished service to the School.
By Dr Anthony Masson
I remember the day I was called for interview art BGS, back in 1974. I met Mr Robinson, the retiring Headmaster, and we had a short chat. I cannot recall most of it but I think brown bread was mentioned at some stage. I was then introduced to John Harrington, and I remember commenting on how quiet the place seemed to be, not realising at that time that there were no classrooms within fifty yards of us. He took me up to the balcony of the Price Hall and we talked for quite a while. I very quickly decided that here was a man I could work with.
John then took me to Room 22 to meet Mr Bentley, the retiring head of department, whose position John was about to fill. We went in and Bentley was demonstrating at the front bench, enveloped in a reeking pale green cloud of chlorine gas. It didn’t seem to bother him or the boys, but perhaps they simply dared not cough. Bentley said: “I’ve done the phosphorus, there’s just the antimony and turpentine left” (or something like that), and John duly took over while Bentley gave me a brief vetting.
I soon discovered that, with all due respect to the man, Bentley’s regime did not exactly encourage initiative on the part of the assistant teachers. He had the whole syllabus written out in minute longhand, even to the extent of specifying questions and responses. John was different. When, at the end of my first year, I suggested rewriting the syllabus starting from the end of year one, he accepted the idea eagerly, and I got to work on it. He liked it, and over the next year or so we got the whole lot rewritten and it went well for many years (now of course much of it has given way to Earth Science, c’est la vie). At any rate, my initial impression had been correct – John and I did work well together.
I realised early on that John had an outstanding memory for detail, and an impressively extensive knowledge of organic chemistry, far greater than mine. However, we complemented each other well because I had an extensive knowledge of physical chemistry, and between the two of us we could cope with just about anything (at least until the advent of Earth Sciences). During our time as colleagues we put our heads together and co-operated in the writing of an A Level textbook. I always found it difficult to start from a clean sheet of paper, so we came to an agreement that he would write the first draft of a chapter, and then I would rewrite it in my own style (and with fewer Latin words), so that the whole manuscript would have a consistency about it. It never got published unfortunately, but it’s still a jolly good book. Things that stick in my mind about John are his professional attention to detail and his great precision with words. Rarely have I walked into the laboratory without seeing something Latin on the blackboard (now white of course), and in flowing handwriting, a feat few teachers achieve. I like words too, and as a crossword addict I amused myself many years ago by constructing anagrams of his name. I came up with at least a dozen, but the one John liked best was Rhino Grant, and he actually signed himself thus in the ‘Bradfordian’.
We worked together for 22 years, which is a big chunk of anybody’s life really. We occasionally had our ups and downs (who wouldn’t?), but I look back on most of it with good memories, and certainly John made a lasting impression on the department.
“John was more than a mere academic and his contribution to the life of the School and the wider community was extensive.”