Obituary - Jeffrey Vent

3rd December 2010 at 00:00


Jeffrey Vent once announced that he wanted his ashes scattered on the playing fields of King Henry VIII School in Coventry. "But we'll be walking all over you," one of his pupils responded. "Oh, you've been doing that for years," Mr Vent said. The comment was typical of the man: self-effacing, studiedly informal and with an abiding commitment to his school.

Jeffrey Barry Vent was born in Blackburn in March 1925. Academically able, he was accepted to his local grammar school, Queen Elizabeth. An only child, he loved the instant sense of community that school provided. Throughout his life he kept in touch with his alma mater, attending old-boys dinners into his 80s.

He went on to study French and Spanish at Oriel College, Oxford, and after graduation stayed on in the city to train as a teacher.

The decision to go into teaching was an easy one for him. School had provided him with instant community and a sense of belonging. He valued the fellowship of the staffroom, but he also enjoyed the company of young people. School life suited him; school life was his life.

Nonetheless, his first post, in 1947, did not pan out. He was appointed languages teacher at Birkenhead School in the Wirral, but pupils were less motivated than he had hoped and he began to look for another position.

And so, in 1949, he applied for a post at King Henry VIII School. When he arrived for his interview, he was met by a scruffy-looking man in wellington boots, carrying two buckets of pig swill.

"What do you want?" the man growled at Mr Vent. "Not a very nice way to address an Oxford graduate in his best suit," Mr Vent thought to himself. Fifteen minutes later, the same man - minus pig swill - sat in the headmaster's chair, interviewing his somewhat chastened potential new teacher.

Despite the unpropitious start, it was here at the boys' grammar that Mr Vent found the academic challenge and staffroom fellowship he was looking for. He would remain on the school staff, in one capacity or another, for the next 61 years.

In an era of stuffy formality, he was deliberately unconventional. Where other teachers called boys by their surnames, he insisted on using first names only.

And his lessons were filled with his trademark self-deprecatory humour. He would tell a story about a boy who had deliberately asked to be in his French class. "He's not very good, but I'm used to him now," the boy reportedly said. Another story he related involved a boy announcing that he was going to be a teacher when he left school. "Have you no ambition?" his classmates responded.

Inevitably, some boys took advantage of his informality. But the majority grew to respect him: any reunion dinners he organised were inevitably well attended.

He was a keen cricketer, and played on the staff team. Later, he volunteered to coach the junior teams in cricket and - although he had never played it and knew nothing of its rules - rugby.

On arrival in Coventry, Mr Vent had initially rented a small bedsit. However, when he showed no signs of marrying, his parents moved to Coventry and the three bought a family home together.

He never did marry. Instead, school was his life: holidays were spent leading exchange trips to France or camping trips in Guernsey.

In 1975, King Henry became a co-educational independent school. This was a change that Mr Vent embraced with relish. It was noted that his springtime trips to Paris seemed to be disproportionately filled with female pupils.

One of these, Charlie Turner, became his "adopted granddaughter". She looked after Mr Vent in his old age, taking him out for regular dinners.

He retired from his full-time post in the mid-1980s, and gave up part-time work in 1990. But retirement was a mere formality: he continued to turn up at school almost every day, regardless. In 2000, he was awarded an MBE for services to education.

In later years, he sought out activities that would keep his mind sharp, offering extra lessons to struggling pupils. He also organised annual reunion dinners: he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of former staff and pupils, and would remember all their birthdays.

In fact, he was teaching pupils in school just 24 hours before he died, on 4 November. He was 85 years old.

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