Graham Barnes

Graham Barnes

Graham Barnes (BGS 1937-44), who died on 9 October 2016, aged ninety, was a stalwart supporter of both Borden Grammar School and Old Bordenian Association for more than 70 years.  The funeral was held on Wednesday 26 October at 12:40pm at Charing Crematorium and afterwards at the Mercure Maidstone Great Danes Hotel.

Born in Sheerness, Graham received his early education at the Broadway School, where he began his lifelong friendship with Ken Sears (d. 2014) and entered Borden Grammar School in 1937. His studies were interrupted two years later by the outbreak of the War, and he was one of those pupils evacuated to Pengam in South Wales with Messrs. Highton, Higson and Snelling.

When the threat of enemy bombing had subsided, Graham returned with his fellow evacuees to Borden and, in his final year, served as School Captain. With hostilities not yet over, Graham was then called up for service in the Royal Signals. His two years in uniform took him to India, where he witnessed first-hand the turmoil that accompanied the end of the British Raj. He would also recall how his fellow soldiers, many of whom would have left school aged fourteen, if not earlier, were so impressed by his grammar school education that they nicknamed him “teacher”! 

When finally demobbed in 1946, Graham won a scholarship to read Modern History at Lincoln College, Oxford. He had applied there on the advice of Ken Sears, who had matriculated at the same college the previous year and was also reading for a degree in Modern History. Living in digs in Summertown, Graham completed a shortened degree, cramming three years of work into two. Many years later, when describing his undergraduate days to me, a Lincoln Historian of more recent vintage, he wistfully observed that two years really wasn't enough for him to take full advantage of all that Oxford had to offer.

Reaching the end of his degree, Graham realised that he would soon need to earn a living and so took himself to Oxford’s Appointments Committee. They pointed him toward an advertising vacancy, something he had never considered before, but the Committee’s suggestion proved to be an inspired one: Graham got the job and then embarked upon a highly-successful career in advertising, ultimately rising to become a partner in a major firm in London. Along the way, he married Brenda, his wife of more than sixty years, and their family – including the recent addition of a great-grandchild – was the source of constant pride.

What with his military service, undergraduate studies, demanding career and a growing family, it would, perhaps, have been all too easy for Graham to move on and forget about Borden Grammar School. But thankfully for everyone associated with the School, this never came to pass. He sat for many years on the committee of the Old Bordenian Association, serving for a time as vice-president and then as the final editor of The Maroon.  He also served as a school governor and, on one occasion, was asked by the headmaster of the day to share his experiences of wartime evacuation with a Y9 History class. Unbeknown to Graham, one of the pupils sat in front of him that day was me! We were all, I think, a little nervous - all we had been told beforehand was that an 'important man' was coming into our lesson and that we would be best advised to call him 'sir' - but Graham cheerfully answered our questions and, much to our amazement, showed us some of his old exercise books. 

But it was through Graham's unswerving support of my research on Borden's military casualties that I came to know him best. As the names of more and more previously-unknown Old Boy casualties came to light, his sense of satisfaction was obvious: his own name, he realised, could all too easily have been among those listed on our war memorials - indeed, he knew several Old Boys who had lost their lives in the last war - and he was determined that these men, so long forgotten, should now be honoured by the School and Association. He contributed generously toward the cost of the new war memorials. He presided over the Association's annual Remembrance Service with effortless gravitas. Even during his final illness, he insisted on helping me to track down the relatives of some of our casualties. When the School's Roll of Honour is finally published, including the foreword he agreed to write, it will be as much a tribute to Graham's memory as it will be to our war dead. 

There is much more that could be said about Graham, not least his wicked sense of humour. Only a couple of years ago, he combined his ready wit with a knack for doggerel in A Biblical A to Z, a self-published poetic romp through twenty-six Biblical characters. I hope a copy makes its way into the Old Boy’s shelf of the School Library, if not the Theology section. And then there was his advice: 'try everything once', he told me, 'apart from incest and buggery' But while on a period of (literal) gardening leave, he encouraged me to consider a career in teaching and, a few years down the line, here I am teaching History in a school in London.

After seventy years of his unfailing support, it is hard to imagine a School and an Association without Graham. It is even harder to imagine that so many members of the current School community will be unaware of his immense contributions over the decades. A part of me hopes that something will be named after him, perhaps a school prize (not that he would ever have agreed to the idea, I’m sure he’d be difficult and say that we could go ahead and have the “Graham Barnes Memorial Vending Machine”). Or perhaps these few words could be read out at a morning assembly; anything, really, to ensure that his remarkable commitment to the School is not forgotten.

Graham Barnes 2 Despite the differences in our ages, I have lost a real friend and, like all those who knew him, will miss him greatly.


Marc Stewart (BGS 1997-2004)


Chris Laming has provided the following illustration of Graham’s wonderful sense of humour and way with words, from the 1997 edition of The Maroon:


Bonbon voyage by Graham Barnes (Borden Grammar School 1937 - 44)

Last spring, for the first time in many years, I abandoned my resolve not to take part in the European Hang-Gliding Championships. Well, they say a change is as good as a rest, don’t they? So this time, I decided not to take part in the Ardeche White Water Canoeing Championships.

I must say I enjoyed not doing this immensely - so much so that in future I have more or less made my mind up not to do canoeing rather than not to do hang-gliding. It’s less strenuous, spiritually more rewarding and you meet a much nicer class of person.

Anyway, on the way back, I called in at Montelimar. The hills to the west of town are blessed with a unique geological structure, which owes its origins to the Plasticene Age. When the earth’s crust was formed (during the Crustaceous Age, what else?), some of the molten material was absorbed by the crust and has stayed in malleable form ever since.

It is known the world over as “nougat”, after its discoverer, Jean-Paul Nougat. It was he, who, in 1745, first stumbled into a vast underground cavern and found this remarkable substance all around him. Imagine his wonderment when, in the flickering light of his disposable BIC cigarette lighter, he first gazed on huge stalactites of the stuff, miraculously sculpted by nature into the shape of Chartres Cathedral, the organ of the Albert Hall, General de Gaulle’s nose etc.

The real exploitation of nougat, however, didn’t begin until the nineteenth century, when the nougat-miners of Montelimar worked in appalling conditions.

For up to 12 hours at a time, they lay on their backs, hacking away at the unyielding seams of nougat - with caged canaries as their only companions to give warning of the deadly build-up of peanut gas. At the end of each shift, there were no pithead baths in which they could wash away the all-pervasive white or pink grime of the nougat-face.

Nowadays, of course, nougat is mostly mined by open-cast methods. Indeed, the hillsides over-looking the town are covered in ugly scars, but the French have never allowed environmental factors and sentimentality to interfere with commerce.

Otherwise they would have abolished Calais years ago.

And, make no mistake, nougat is big business. Montelimar isn’t so much dominated as completely suffused by nougat. Every shop sells it, every sign proclaims it, every inhabitant owes his livelihood to it.

Montelimar has been built for, by, with and on nougat; it is the Mecca for nougaholics from all over the world. Thousands of them flock there each year to indulge their cravings.

Alas, in line with the permissive trends of or society, it is now increasingly common to see nude nougat-eating - although those who practise it claim it is not exhibitionism but a practical necessity in view of the sticky, messy nature of the confection.

Of the permanent population of Montelimar, which numbers 29,000, many are engaged in vital ancillary operations. For instance, at least 10,000 of them are dentists; in any city these days, one cannot escape the tragic spectacle of urban decay, least of all in Montelimar.

Many of the remainder are sign-writers. They must be to account for a density of signage which would put Las Vegas to shame: “Drive in Nougat Parlour”, “Draught Nougat Sold Here”, “Pick Your Own Nougat”, “Free range, unsprayed Nougat”, “Take-away Nougat”, “Topless Nougat Bar”’ etc.

Whether in phosphorescent paint or neon they batter away at the senses.

Perhaps sign language has assumed more importance in Montelimar than in most communities. After all, it’s pretty difficult to talk when your mouth is crammed full of this stick-jaw material.

As you approach the outskirts of Montelimar on the way north, a garage sign advises “Your last chance to fill up with Nougat before Valence”.

You have to hand it to the locals: they could certainly teach the liquorice moguls of Pontefract a thing or two about marketing.

Graham Barnes

The Association have received a number of tributes to Graham. These are published below.

All that I can say is that any  words that I may use to describe my feelings about the loss of Graham pale into insignificance when compared with his mastery of the English language.  Peter Taylor

My own memories are of the several times I ran him over to Sittingbourne for either committee meetings or the Dinner. I could have listened to him all night. Recollections about schooldays, opinions on current affairs, an interest in anything and everything, the journey always passed so quickly which is a sure sign of being with a super conversationalist. He was just a fantastic bloke and one of, if not the, most significant contributor to the School and the Association that there has been. Mike Pack

Graham was one of the committee which planned the building of the hockey pitch and clubhouse. He was one of the of the most charming, amusing, intelligent persons I have had the pleasure of working with. There was always something to learn from Graham. He is a great loss. Alan Wilson

From the time I joined the committee in 1969 I felt I almost knew Graham even though I did not meet him until several years later when he himself joined the committee.  He was regularly mentioned at meetings as the Old Boy who generously arranged (and paid for) the plates that were necessary for the photos in the Maroon, and was obviously a keen supporter.  His contemporaries always spoke of him fondly. Once I met him I understood why.  His wisdom helped us solve many a problem and he had a great sense of humour.  His commitment to the Old Boys and to the school as the OBA governor was tremendous and he will be sadly missed.  Peter Lusted