A fond goodbye to Highgate’s Mr Chips

Highgate school pays tribute to Theodore Mallinson

LONG after he retired as French master at Highgate School, Theodore Mallinson would stride into the building with a cheery “dear boy, how are you?” or “splendid tie!”.

Well into his 90s, he was a fundraiser and ambassador for the school, keeping thousands of contacts in touch with its news and goings on, writing encouraging notes to head master Adam Pettitt and columns in The Cholmeleian magazine.

He died in 2008 at the age of 99, and in a tribute to his life and work more than 50 Cholmeleians and former colleagues have contributed memories of a man who embodied the spirit of an institution.

A Schoolmaster in His Time, edited by former English teacher Roger Savage, current teacher Simon Appleton and Highgate society stalwart Michael Hammerson, includes an interview with Mallinson himself and a tribute from old Chomleleian Barry Norman: “Mally would bustle about the place like a benevolent uncle, bestowing a smile here and a pat on the head there…he had a genuine and utterly pure love of young people. They fascinated and I think amused him. He fervently wanted all those who came into his ken to make the best of themselves and had a deep belief in what public schools should do, to instill into their charges courtesy, good manners, respect and tolerance for others and a grateful realization that if you attend such a school you are greatly privileged….he was in his own modest way, rather a great man.”

Theodore was born in 1909, the son of John Mallinson, head master at Dulwich College Preparatory School. His father died shortly afterwards, leaving mother Rowena to bring up six children. They lived in Eastbourne until 1924 before moving to south London. Although short of money, she encouraged all her sons to win scholarships to good public schools and Mallinson attended Marlborough – where he befriended the future actor James Mason - before studying at Cambridge University. He started work as a school master at St Lawrence College in Ramsgate in 1931 and three years later married Ruth, a marriage that was to last for 46 years, most of which were spent in Langbourne Avenue, Highgate. Their daughter Priscilla was born in 1936 and in August 1939, Mallinson got a job at Highgate School, which had just been evacuated to Westward Ho! because of the war.

As one of few younger masters, Mallinson organized early morning PT, athletics and ‘standard’ sports, cycling, and outings on Exmoor, as well as joining the Home Guard. His wartime diary includes such priceless entries as: May 10, 1940, Invasion of Holland and Belgium. May 20, First really organized day of standard sports. September 16, 1940, with Arthur Preston White at Highgate. Frequent raids. Lunch at the Wrestlers. Raid warning pm. Grouse for dinner.”

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His call-up was deferred in 1942 by special request of the Head Master, and the school returned to Highgate in 1943, enduring months of V1 and V2 rocket raids including one which landed on the playing field.

Mallinson, who would enthusiastically lead cross-country runs across the heath and athletic expeditions further afield, became housemaster of Westgate in 1951, which he describes as “the best years of my school-mastering life”. According to him, the 60s brought “a good deal of drug-taking…and long hair,” and the passing of time saw a deterioration in masters’ dress standards and a fall off in schoolboy pranks like putting dye in the swimming pool or lowering a giant spider down from the rafters as the head master addressed the parents at speech day.

“Boys are much more civilized than they were 30 years ago, their attitude to work is better, more concentrated,” he said in a 1984 interview.

Former pupils and friends in the book reflect on a “humane, kind and interested,” man who once said: “The three greatest boons in life are friends, a garden and books.”

Anthea Ionides, a friend of Priscilla Mallinson, recalls she was nine when her father was killed in Normandy shortly after D Day. Of all the condolence letters that arrived at her home in the following weeks, just one was for her, and it was from Theodore Mallinson.

Highgate historian Sir Martin Gilbert writes of Mallinson’s “encouraging zeal”.

“When I ended up living at the bottom of Highgate Hill, meeting him on my morning walks was always a boost to the day ahead.”

And former Cholmeleian editor William Hall wrote of his former housemaster, mentor and friend: “If ever a school had its Mr Chips, TGM was it.”

Mallinson’s legacy lives on in the bursaries that bear his name that help pupils who otherwise couldn’t afford to enjoy a Highgate education.