Bryan Short: An Obituary

As previously reported, Bryan Short Headmaster of Borden Grammar School from 1968 to 1998 died on 19th May, aged 87. We have compiled an Obituary which is featured below. We also invited Old Bordenians to provide their own reminisces and some of these are woven into this obituary. All submissions from Old Bordenians will be published in a separate article as well.

Bryan Short

Born in August 1933 in Kettering, Bryan passed his 11+ and joined Kettering Grammar School in the late 1940s and went up to Wadham College, Oxford to study History in 1952. He did so with a State Scholarship. Those who knew him in his later years may (or may not) be surprised to hear that at Oxford he was very sporty; he was awarded colours in Football, Cricket and Athletics. Following Oxford, Bryan had two years in the Army on National Service. It is understood he held the rank of Sergeant, an unknown historical fact at Borden and may have provided some fodder for nicknames had it been known!

He then moved to Christ’s College Cambridge for his teaching degree and his family notes attendance at both ‘Oxbridge’ locations allowed him to always be on the side of the winner of the University Boat Race! His first spell as a trainee teacher was at Winchester College. It was here he met Jeannine, a French teaching assistant and was engaged 3 months later.

His teaching career began more earnestly with appointments as History Master at Hove Grammar School for five years then to Liverpool Collegiate School for just over four years.

His arrival at Borden in 1968 was as George Hardy’s successor. Given George Hardy had been Headmaster for 27 years (1941-1968), one may imagine that Bryan, at 34, was daunted by the role he was filling. But with both great support from George Hardy in what, in modern parlance, may be seen as a ‘handover’ he assumed the role with a confidence which was also evident when he was elected President of the OBA. The Maroon noted him to have been “Friendly, patient and genial”.

Bryan had married Jeannine in July 1959 and children followed: Jane in 1960, Richard in 1963 and Helen in 1965. It meant School House, the Headmaster’s house, had a large family once more within it!

One important aspect of Bryan’s life to note here is his deep faith. By the time of his appointment at Borden, Bryan was already a member of the House of Laity, part of the General Synod of the Church of England. It was a role he held for many years and many Old Bordenians will recall the reverence with which Bryan conducted the morning religious assemblies at School.

Bryan made early changes to the building to accommodate growing numbers and make the estate more useful for the modern age. A new laboratory, the New Hall (perhaps not as traditional as the Old Hall in design and adornment but a lot larger and multipurpose) and accommodation was all completed by 1973.

The 1970s also saw a lot of challenge to the Grammar School system and change to entry requirements, the move to 13+ intake completed in 1975. It is to be remembered that the School’s name was changed in 1973 to Borden School. As a Grammar School boy himself, once can imagine his views on the ‘political debate’ where the Grammar system become under scrutiny and challenge.

It could be said that in his first 10 years he had made his mark on the fabric and form of the School and led the celebrations in 1978 to mark the first 100 years of the School. Bryan was well placed to understand the importance of the centenary; he had produced a history of the School in 1976 when taking a sabbatical at St Peter’s College, Oxford.

The School continued to grow in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, most notably with the opening of the Hardy Building in 1979. Returning to the rightful name of Borden Grammar School in 1982 restored much pride to the School.

Bryan led the School through the 1980’s and 1990’s with a familiar hand that not only maintained the reputation of the School, but importantly fostered an environment where teachers were respected and the turnover of staff was never high. It was during this time that the School established the board detailing long-serving Teachers in the entrance foyer. Teachers liked teaching under Bryan. He maintained a level of discipline which supported Teachers and (in the words of one of his staff) ‘trusted them to do the job without undue interference’. Pupils, of course, often saw Bryan’s consistently high expectations on behaviour differently from the teachers. Use of the cane was outlawed in the late 1980s but a call to the Headmaster’s Officer would still be seen as dreaded sanction for those who mis-behaved, failed to meet uniform standards or (famously) had the wrong haircut.

The OBA was supported steadfastly by Bryan during his Headship. He took the role of President seriously, attending and contributing to the Annual General Meetings, often speaking at the Annual Reunion Dinner on behalf of the School and, of course contributing to the Maroon. Bryan contributed updates of recent leavers (latterly called ‘From the Headmaster’s Files’) and a ‘President’s Message’. Bryan took a close interest in the progress of Old Bordenians post leaving and many a titbit passed onto Bryan turned up in the Maroon. You can sense that Bryan did not just do this through routine, it was in part the pride he had in the cohorts of young men he had helped shape and push into the wide world.

Changes at School during the 1990s managed by Bryan included the construction of a further block of teaching accommodation in part driven by the increased numbers from a move back to 11+. Entry. This was appropriately named the Bryan Short Building and opened in 1998 by the Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Lord Kingsdown. 1998 was also the last year of Bryan’s headship. By this time Borden was listed as number 75 in the Sunday Times Top Secondary Schools (based on GCSE and A Level results). No mean feat for the man who arrived 30 years earlier to this small provincial Grammar School. Whilst it is not recorded what Bryan thought of league tables and Ofsted inspections, we may believe he always held true to the words he spoke at his first OBA Dinner as President back in 1968:

At this stage I cannot say what my style will be. However, I can promise to be deeply interested in the individual, and I shall not burden any of you with educational jargon and theory”.

Bryan retired in 1998 but remained living in Borden village. He attended Annual Reunion Dinners throughout his retirement years and remained in contact with many Old Bordenians. He was our President for 30 years and supported the Association through thick and thin. He oversaw the education of thousands of young people who have themselves gone on to make their own mark in the world.

In 1968, at his appointment as Headmaster and President of the OBA, a predecessor of this editor made a prescient statement about Bryan:

In Mr B.R Short we have a dedicated man devoted to the best interests of School and Association alike

On behalf of the OBA, we readily confirm this prediction to have been held true and acknowledge, with gratitude, the life and service of Bryan Short.