Tuesday 23 October 2012

Brian Gowen's Memorial Service, Cranleigh School

Brian Gowen, 1935 - 2012
Saturday 22 September 2012: Well Mr Gowen, or "Brog" as we called him (Housemaster of East House when I attended Cranleigh School, 1973-78), certainly took us all by surprise by kicking the bucket before his time. I didn't expect, when I saw him at Andrew Roberts' talk in London a few years ago, that it would be the very last time.

What a popular man he was! There must have been two hundred people at his memorial service including former Headmaster, Marc Van Hasselt. I found the memorial service in the chapel very moving, the school choir was amazing and I learned a lot about the man who played a major role in my life for 5 years (from age 13 to 18). Mr Gowen was a Biology teacher and Biology was my favourite subject, so I used to enjoy picking his brains for more information about whatever made me curious both in and out of class. In fact I used to regularly get into trouble in class for asking too many questions (as my school reports prove).

Far from the service being a somber affair, the tributes by Dick Moore, Julia Barnes and Will Fawcett were really funny! They even made reference to a "biology practical video" he once caught some boys watching, and to the dew drop that seemed to always be on the end of Mr Gowen's nose! Surprisingly, no one mentioned his inability to pronounce the "TH" sound or the letter "R"- two things never missing from our schoolday impersonations of him!

From Will Fawcett's tribute, I also learned about something very interesting which happened in 1979, the year after I left, when Monty Python's "Life of Brian" (funnily enough) was released. Mr Gowen was a committed Christian and that movie was widely considered to be blasphemous, so he banned anyone in East House (or maybe even the whole school!) from watching it. Since I am such a big Python fan, it's a jolly good thing I left in 1978, because his ban might very well have created some friction between us if I had still been there!

At the canapé reception that followed the memorial service, it was wonderful to see Mrs Gowen (Rowena) again, and to properly meet Brian and Rowena's now grown up children, Hamish and Alison for the first time.

My one big regret of the day... I forgot to wear my old school East House tie! Let's face it, there aren't many occasions in life where you would want to wear your old school tie. In fact this occasion might have been the only one, but it didn't occur to me until I arrived and saw other Old Cranleighans wearing theirs! Mr Gowen presented me with mine, because I did well at target shooting in some inter-house competition (of all things!). Oh well, here's the tie I never wore:
My East House tie, awarded to me by Mr Gowen in approx 1977
I was so glad I went along and it was so good to see many familiar faces - both teachers and pupils. Sadly, I was the only Old Cranleighan there from my year! And by the way, if you're thinking that you've never heard of a "John Wood", it's because I changed my name from John Berney after I left Cranleigh.

Here are the photos I took on the day. If there are any faces you recognise that I have not mentioned in the captions, or if I have put the wrong names to faces or if I have spelled any names wrongly, please let me know:

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing. Brian Gowen was instrumental in shaping me into a scientist which led me to studying Biochemistry at Oxford. I well remember the proverbial 'dew' but had no idea he was a committed Christian (as I subsequently became too, though I was an atheist in school days). I also remember him as a Lt. in the CCF along with Capt. Wyeth (we never saw much of them) though he turned up on field days with the eccentric Major Lowry lobbing thunderflashes in our direction to keep us on our toes. Brian Gowan was undoubtedly my favourite teacher so I was none too happy when I got promoted to the higher biology class across the corridor under Major West whose nose I once accidentally bit (that's a story in itself).

I too was in East but missed his housemastership.

I am sorry only to have learned of his death and memorial service now. In the event his wife or family should glance at this blog I would wish her to know the immense respect I had for her late husband and how he played his part in shaping me.

Thank you for the write-up.

CCM Warren (East)