Obituary - Arnold Dunham, 1946-2010

4th February 2011 at 00:00

Arnold Dunham was the man with the megaphone. For more than 20 years, the deputy head's magnified cries of "Run! Run!" could be heard echoing around his Cambridgeshire school.

But, even without the megaphone, his was a voice to contend with. Among his pupils, receiving one of Mr Dunham's thunderous tirades became a badge of primary school honour.

Arnold Dunham was born in May 1946, in Carlisle. Not long after, his family relocated to the Cambridgeshire fens. While at grammar school, he attended a dance held jointly with the local high school. He shared a dance with a teenage schoolgirl called Vivien Fuller; they remained an item and married in 1968.

After school, Mr Dunham enrolled at Culham teacher training college near Oxford. He had originally planned to work as a secondary languages teacher, but by the end of his course had decided instead to take up a job at Alderman Jacobs primary, in the fenland town of Whittlesey.

This decision had nothing at all to do with secondary school misbehaviour: Mr Dunham was a natural disciplinarian. On one occasion, he ordered an unruly schoolboy to stand in the stock cupboard as punishment. The end-of-day bell had already sounded when he remembered that the boy was still in there.

As his career progressed, he became renowned for his unwavering commitment to discipline. When Mr Dunham was in a fury, pupils knew that the best tactic was just to keep their heads down and murmur "Sorry, Mr Dunham" at appropriate intervals. But he did not hold grudges: not long after a top-volume tirade, he and the recipient could often be spotted cheerfully chatting to one another over the lunch table.

It was after he had moved to nearby Park Lane primary that someone came up with the bright idea of giving him a megaphone. He joined as deputy head in 1972 and remained there for more than three decades. At various points, he applied for headships, but the applications were always somewhat half-hearted: at Park Lane he had found his career home.

A natural sportsman - he ran half-marathons in his spare time - he volunteered to coach the football and athletics teams. It was a role that involved use of the school megaphone. Mr Dunham's calls of "Stick your chest out!" and "Run!" became as intrinsic a part of Park Lane life as the school bell. Eventually, he began to keep the megaphone in his own cupboard; after his death it was presented to his widow.

As a language specialist, he pioneered primary school French teaching. "You can have an ice-cream, as long as you order it in French," became well known as one of Mr Dunham's conditions during the annual school trip across the Channel.

As the years departed, so did his hair. It was, however, replaced with a succession of comb-over jokes at his own expense. He was the author and director of Park Lane's school plays, which inevitably featured staff caricatures. Among the more recognisable was the balding teacher with the megaphone.

In 1997 he decided to take early retirement. But he was not ready to leave Park Lane yet. So, when the caretaker also announced his retirement, Mr Dunham decided to step into the post: a decision met with barely suppressed giggles from staffroom colleagues. But he was utterly serious: the deputy head subsequently spent nine years as school caretaker.

And so, gradually, the sports-field imperatives stopped and the on-stage teacher with the megaphone was replaced by a character wearing headphones and a bum-bag full of tools. One of the more memorable moments involved a desperate attempt - broom in one hand, dustbin lid clutched, shield-like, in the other - to repel an oversized boar from the school fields.

He was an inveterate organiser: anything he did, he did with a committee post. It was not enough to coach primary school football: he also chaired the local primary school football association. As well as joining a local men's harmony chorus, he organised annual conventions for similar groups.

After a sponsored cycle ride from John O'Groats to Land's End, he joined a local cycling club. Even once bowel cancer had taken hold, he was still regularly spotted riding his bike around town.

Late last year, former pupils held a fundraising football match in his honour. Nursing staff insisted that Mr Dunham was not well enough to attend; after suffering through one of his trademark tellings-off they eventually gave in. He died not long afterwards.

Arnold Dunham is survived by his wife Vivien, his son Stephen, and grandson Jasper.

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