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Classics teacher plays Lovejoy

IT sounds like a case for Lovejoy, the crime-busting antiques dealer beloved of millions of Sunday night TV viewers.

An ancient Greek vase has been stolen from one of the country's top public schools, and only some painstaking detective work by an expert in his field can get it back ...

This, however, was a real story, complete with happy ending and an unlikely star in the Ian McShane role - John Falconer, a classics teacher at Winchester College. The drama began in 1964, when the Athenian oil flask, dating to the middle of the 5th century BC, was among several items snatched from the public school.

Nothing was seen or heard of the item for 34 years until, in 1998, a picture of it was spotted on Oxford University's Beazley achive database, which records details of Greek vases.

The artefact, which portrays a young huntsman carrying two spears with a sun hat dangling down his back, figured in a 1965 American antiquities sale catalogue. Excited by the discovery, Mr Falconer got on the trail and found that the flask had been sold to a collector, who later bequeathed it to a museum in the United States.

After lengthy negotiations, the college was eventually able to persuade the museum to return it to Winchester. The vase, which is estimated to be worth around pound;10,000, was returned safely to its home of 37 years ago.

Dr Nick Tate, headmaster of Winchester, said he was delighted to have the vase back and planned to put it on public display.

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