I felt like an era had ended when I heard about his death. I had been in the habit of googling his name on a semi-regular basis, so I knew it was our old Headmaster when I saw his death notice. I must say I am slightly surprised that a man I remember as rather corpulent and a smoker to boot managed to make it to age 90.
I will lay my cards on the table straight away to say he never liked me and it was warmly reciprocated. However I will do him the courtesy he denied to me and acknowledge that I hardly knew the man or his influences and have no great insights into his character. However I do wish I knew more about the man who had such an influence on my life.
What little I do know about him comes from our regular “Headmaster’s discussions”, two 40 minute lessons a week that were a regular part of the school curriculum, in which the great man would give us his thoughts on anything he saw fit. Topics included issues of the day, advice on being good citizens and allegorical stories on the comeuppance that would befall those who crossed him. Some of his advice such as responsible citizens should limit themselves to no more than two children were quite telling considering he himself had four. Wisely no one saw fit to seriously challenge him on this or any other of his views after all, as he often reminded us, he could change our lives with the stroke of a pen.
Over the years he did occasionally impart snippets of personal information but only rarely. However he never tired of telling us that he was a committed christian, a socialist and a passionate believer in democracy. All of which seemed unlikely in the extreme. When a pupil came to his notice for the wrong reasons there was no forgiveness, he always spoke of ordinary working class people in terms of faint contempt, his judgement on all matters was definitive and not to be challenged.
Once in morning assembly he criticised some of the girls for preferring to wear fashionably short raincoats rather than their frumpy school macs. They looked, he claimed, like “the better type of factory girl” – not the sort of comment one would expect from a socialist! On another occasion he claimed to have lived in the Brick Lane area of East London as a child and said that “fisticuffs” were a regular occurrence. Strange, as from what I can discover he was born in the much more genteel borough of Croydon.
My theory, no more than that, is that he came from an upper working class background, worked hard at school and won a place at Oxford. However I think all this left him seriously at odds with his roots and made him a misfit. Not an uncommon situation for working class lads back then.
One interesting piece of information I have unearthed is from the “London Gazette” dated 2 April 1946 a cadet named Ralph Lewis Franklin Sexton was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Armored Corps. There’s another a few years later announcing his promotion to First Lieutenant. This must surely be the future Headmaster of Francis Bacon School but why did he never mention it and how does it fit with his later life?
Presumably he continued his studies after leaving the army. He had spent around six years serving his country and must have been significantly older than his fellow students and with his background as a former regular army officer can have felt little affinity with a bunch of toffee-nosed Hooray Henrys. Who in turn probably looked down on him. I suspect his days at Oxford were not happy and cast an influence over the rest of his life. One thing is certain, for an Oxford graduate running Francis Bacon was serious underachievement in life.