The "Old School Tie"; Patrick Birdsall 1944-1951
“The Old School Tie”
Patrick Birdsall (1944-51)
I would like to include a brief personal memory of my own which shows how a chance meeting with a Malsis contact once helped to enhance my own career: one of my brother Timothy’s cartoons, which I don’t still have but remember well, showed two identical couples strolling towards each other, arm in arm. Each chap was sporting an Old Etonian tie, but there was an anxious embarrassed expression on their identical faces, while each wife was whispering into her husband’s ear, “Don’t worry Darling…perhaps he didn’t go there either!”
But this true story is about the Old Malsis Tie.
After a couple of years as a young teacher of English at a British army boarding school in Germany, I returned to my home town of Eastbourne in Sussex to work in a State College of Further Education, where I decided to introduce a full-cost programme of English Language for Overseas Students, to prepare them for vocational and academic courses leading to a British university education.
At first I encountered opposition from local language schools (unfair competition from a state-run institution ?! ) and even some senior critics from within our own college, but I plodded on with a small staff of EFL teachers and within a year we had brought in enough from course fees to finance a marketing mission to the annual British Education Exhibition in Hong Kong.
Early on the first day my colleague and I were setting up our stand when we learned that the exhibition would be officially opened by the Director-General of the British Council, Sir Richard Francis.
Richard and I had not met since Malsis days when he was a sixth-form friend of my elder brother James, while I was still a young hooligan (nothing much has changed except I’m a bit older now.)
After the opening ceremony when the VIPs came round to visit each stand, I stepped forward boldly to introduce myself (see attached photo capturing the moment!) Later that afternoon Richard managed to escape briefly from his entourage. we met secretly at the downstairs bar for a swift G&T (or 2). When I explained my development plans to create a new International Student Centre at the college in Eastbourne, he showed great interest and asked “How can I help you, Patrick?” After some hasty collaboration he agreed to come down from London to Eastbourne to do an official opening for us .
A few weeks later that happened (see the report below which appeared in the Sussex press – senior state college staff and local language schools were invited, but my wife Pauline and I were the only ones to notice that Sir Richard Francis had sported his old Malsis tie for the occasion!)
After that PR coup we encountered no further opposition. We became the first state college on the south coast to have EFL programmes inspected and validated by the British Council and within a short time were receiving enquiries from BC offices across the world. When I moved on from my department several years later, our average intake of full-fee-paying EFL students had grown to an average of 200 enrolments each year, including full-time, part-time and evening courses, Easter holiday programmes and a busy summer school through July and August.
Richard Francis is sadly no longer with us, but I’m sure he would be pleased to know that ‘Britain’s Greatest Export’, as he described EFL in his speech to governors and staff at my FE college that morning, would become increasingly important as English continued to be adopted as the lingua franca of the world, including countries of Eastern Europe which – at the time we met – was just beginning to dismantle their Iron Curtain.
As far as my own career has been concerned, Bernard Gadney would be delighted to know that the chance meeting of two Malsis old boys in faraway Hong Kong has, over the years, led to a significant number of young students from many parts of the world arriving here to improve their language skills before proceeding to academic and vocational courses in preparation for university in the UK.