Sadly, Alan Jacobs – “Jake” to most of his friends and many of his pupils – died on 9th March, aged 89. He was one of a now-diminishing band of Old Boys whose formative years at Borden were spent under the headship of W.A.C. Claydon.
Although he was a year ahead of me, he was one of my closest school friends, especially when we became 'evacooees' in Wales, and later in the Sixth Form when he was Head Boy in 1942-43. Not just at School, but outside School hours. I have vivid memories of long walks with him on Sunday afternoons, when we covered the sort of distances that would nowadays qualify for charity sponsorship : Sheerness to Warden Point, or even to Leysdown (although we did cheat sometimes and come back by bus). I spent many hours, too, watching him tackle difficult Chopin études on the upright piano in his front room, turning the pages when he nodded.
Jake was an accomplished pianist – and, later, organist. At School, he was asked by two Sixth Form giants – Denis Parham and John Spice (violinist and cellist respectively) – to join them in playing trios, despite his youthfulness and technical limitations ; he said “they were very kind and tolerant!”. When teaching at Nottingham, he played the piano for the Nottingham Hospitals Choir.
On leaving School, he did his national service in the R.E.M.E. We exchanged letters sporadically when he was in Egypt and I was in the Signals in India, but we caught up with each other again at Oxford, where we overlapped for a year or thereabouts. Jake was at New College reading English, while I was at Lincoln, and his love of English literature, which he developed under Cliff Beer at Borden, was already both apparent and infectious. He persuaded me to go with him to lectures by Lord David Cecil (one of his tutors) on the Elizabethan Poets, and they convinced me that I, too, should have read English, and not History – but by then, it was too late to change!
After he took his degree, we saw less of each other – mostly meeting at the Annual Reunion Dinner – because much of his teaching career was spent in Nottinghamshire. He began at Ilkeston Grammar School, but in 1956 moved to Mundella Grammar School, Nottingham, where he was Head of English. He stayed there until 1979 when the School was earmarked to become a Comprehensive, and spent the last five years before retirement teaching at Forest Fields Sixth Form College.
Jake was a Grammar School boy through and through. He was a product of one himself, of course, but he passionately championed and believed in them. And at Mundella, he was at his happiest because he was able to combine his love of music with his love of literature. He helped to produce the operas for which the School was famous, and accompanied pupils to Trinity School of Music. Above all, he was a very gifted English teacher, and clearly succeeded in passing on his own enthusiasm for the subject to his pupils. He still corresponded with some of them 35 years after they left School! Two Mundellans paid moving tributes to him at his funeral, describing how he had not merely touched but shaped their lives. One of them concluded with a Hamlet quotation : “He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again”. That was Shakespeare's quaint way of saying “They don't make 'em like Jake any more”.