The Eighties
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon 1981-1997


Denis Dyson remembered
by Tim Raistrick


Denis Dyson, mid 1970s Denis Dyson, mid 1970s


My first day at KES coincided with Mr Dyson's first day of retirement, but retirement was a word which meant little when applied to him.

As I slowly became acclimatised to my new surroundings, I became increasingly aware of him as a person forever present on the premises and invariably with one or more present or past members of the school in earnest conversation. He had taken over part of the scout hut as his office and this became the gathering point for many in the years to come, except when a notice in the window redirected people to the Treasure House restaurant or, more laterly, the Hathaway Tearooms.

It was only when I started to take part in school plays that I really got to know him, however, as he continued in his long-standing position as head of the stage and set construction crew. That the plays often had sets out-ranking the acting was a tribute to the number who helped him, attracted no doubt more by his company than the task in hand. They may also have enjoyed his sometimes scathing comments about some of the directors' ideas he had to follow - especially so when painting everything in sight black.

When I was given a cameo role in Peter Bullock's notable production of The Winslow Boy, I was directed to approach Mr Dyson who had agreed to lend one of his old overcoats for me to wear. This afforded me with my first visit to his home in the Loxley Road and the chance for a greater chat. Thereafter I got to know him far better and joined his wide circle of friends, which was marked by being included on his 600-strong Christmas card list. For a number of years Christmases included the treat of trying to crack the clever visual puzzle, his own photograph often of an object taken from an unexpected angle, which he had printed on them. What the cost of the printing and postage must have been each year! The process of addressing them all too was clearly a massive exercise and one was not surprised when sometimes the card did not arrive until a little after the 25th December.

It was through the Guild School Association and the opening of the Guildhall to the public in the 1980s that afforded me with my greatest contact with Mr Dyson since he offered such characteristic support and many hours of his precious time, frequently sitting in the entrance tunnel taking the money, despite often cold winds blowing down this access. Many old boys of the school popped in during this time and I got used to Mr Dyson initially having to explain to this visitor that his failing eyesight stopped him recognising the face silhouetted against the bright light behind it. Then, when the former pupil announced his name, Mr Dyson would invariably recall, with impressive and almost unnecessary detail, those who had been in the same form, the name of a brother, the father's occupation and so forth. Some of these old boys had left the school forty plus years before and so the feat of memory was incredible. More important, however, was the genuine interest that Mr Dyson expressed in what had happened to them since. This was further displayed by his huge correspondence with old boys and the comprehensive articles he would write for the school magazine including snippets of news about them.

I have heard many people liken Mr Dyson to Mr Chips, but this really does him a disservice. Although he shared a life-long devotion to a school, Mr Dyson was not the two-dimensional, sentimental figure that James Hilton describes in his famous book. Whilst generous and hospitable, Mr Dyson retained the skill of gently challenging the views of those he spoke to and in expressing his own views. His loyalty to KES was to the boys present and past and to the institution's values and traditions. He could nevertheless find frustration in some aspects of the school which he would describe with varying degrees of amusement.

Mr Dyson's decision to become a schoolmaster probably robbed the scientific world of one of its likely leading members, but the world of education so suited his love of company and his ability to inspire. From appointment as physics master to KES in 1926, expected to last a mere six weeks, through the fifty-year career that followed, to his death he was not a teacher merely imparting facts, but an educator who brought the best out of others. He was respected and loved by those who knew him in equally large measures, which is a rare attribute.

Tim Raistrick, 1997

Related article

Denis Dyson recalls his career at the school


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