Obituary - Brian Bollen 1926-2011

10th June 2011 at 01:00

Brian Bollen was renowned for his meticulousness. Whether in his insistence on punctuality in the classroom, or his desire for saucepans with correctly fitting lids at home, the woodwork teacher aimed as near to perfection as possible.

Above all, however, his perfectionist's approach to life came out in an unwavering fairness, honesty and desire to provide the best for his pupils.

Brian Bollen was born near Chippenham, Wiltshire, in February 1926. As a boy, he loved constructing models from Meccano; by early adulthood this had broadened into a passion for carpentry.

In 1943, he trained as a woodwork teacher at Loughborough College. Two years later, he was appointed to Corsham Council School in Wiltshire.

Though he was strict, he was also happy to laugh with his pupils. It was a mark of respect that, in an era when boys' nicknames for their schoolmasters could be far from flattering, Mr Bollen was known simply as "Bertie".

He believed there was an art to woodwork. Above all, he wanted his pupils to be able to design their own woodwork projects: woodwork should be the product of the heart and soul, he thought, rather than just the hands.

In 1949, Mr Bollen attended a dance organised by the local branch of the NUT. During one number, the women were requested to ask the men to dance. Kathleen Drake, a young primary teacher, looked around and, taking pity on the round-faced, bespectacled man sitting on his own, invited him on to the dancefloor.

She was subsequently won over by the woodwork teacher's sincerity and honesty: he was immediately open about his background, his job, his interests.

A year later, they married; two years after that, their first daughter, Sheila, was born. Sheila was followed by a boy, Stephen, and two more girls, Rachel and Caroline.

In 1956, Mr Bollen joined the staff of Chippenham Boys' High School. Once again, pupils quickly developed respect for his firmness. When a boy was late, Mr Bollen would give him a piece of wood and tell him to bring it back to the next lesson. Persistent latecomers, therefore, would eventually find themselves carrying around a heavy bag full of wood.

But he also cared for his pupils. In later years, he set up and ran the school's Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. He did not particularly enjoy the outdoor aspects of the scheme himself, but saw unequivocal benefit in such activities for the boys. His own enjoyment was irrelevant.

Above all, he was renowned for his meticulousness. One pupil recalled several lessons spent learning to take apart and sharpen a wood-plane, before reassembling it carefully. The boys anticipated many weeks of happy planing afterwards.

Instead, Mr Bollen allowed them a handful of passes with the tool, before moving on to a different topic. For him, what was important was the detail, the ability to get it right. The boys needed to know the correct way to sharpen a wood-plane; he was less concerned with allowing them to blunt it.

This attention to detail was similarly apparent at home. When buying saucepans, he would line up different models and examine how well their lids fitted. And, when tiling the household bathroom, he carefully positioned each tile in a perfectly straight line. The ceiling, however, was not in a perfectly straight line; Mr Bollen was so nonplussed by this that he could not complete the job until the ceiling had been suitably altered.

He had his own workshop at home, where he made dolls' houses, stilts and a toy fort for his children. His own work was invariably simple: practical, clean lines, rather than fussy detail.

The style of carpentry was, in fact, a metaphor for the man. He was simple in his tastes and pleasures: he loved gardening and could recite the Latin names for most plants and shrubs. He was also a committed churchgoer, and was ordained at his family church in 1978.

When Chippenham high offered him early retirement two years later, he used it as an opportunity to devote more time to the church. A natural listener, he spent much of his time visiting parishioners in crisis, many of whom later became friends. And his meticulousness was once again noted: when Mr Bollen said he would be somewhere at a certain time, he could be counted on to be there.

On 8 April, he was taken into hospital for an operation; he died a few hours afterwards. He was 85 years old.

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