Mr King by Patrick Grant

1st January 2016 at 00:00
The fashion designer rarely got away with his mischief-making at school, but now he understands why his housemaster set such high standards

The teacher who left most of an impression on me was my housemaster at Barnard Castle School in County Durham, who was called Kenneth King. I was a fairly wilful young man, and what Mr King did more than anything was instil in me a sense of decency and a certain amount of morality. He brought home the idea that being a good person, being well-mannered and considerate, is an important part of growing up and being a successful man.

Mr King had been at the school for a long time. He collected furniture by a man called Robert Thompson, who used to carve little mice into his pieces. Mr King had terrific taste. He was tall, slim and extremely stylish; he wore beautifully cut tweed suits and was always very neatly turned out. His tie was immaculately tied, his hair was very smart. He was an elegant guy and had an air of calm authority – he never looked ruffled. He was very softly spoken. You knew when he was angry, but he was never a shouter.

I was 13 when I met him and he was my housemaster until I left school at 18. The other kids in the other houses thought their housemasters were great because they were less authoritarian and let the kids get away with all sorts. Mr King was quite strict and required standards of behaviour from us that were pretty elevated. He made sure everything was done properly. We wouldn’t get away with mucking about during prep, or being outside the dormitory when we weren’t supposed to be. He instilled in us that rules were there for good reason.

His nickname was “Crapper” because, if you did something bad, his great trick was that he made you sit outside his office for a really long time, just crapping yourself, frankly. Even though you knew what was coming, you couldn’t help but feel awful while waiting. The punishment is never as bad as the anticipation of that punishment, and Mr King understood that.

I got in trouble a lot. Half my life was spent sitting outside his office in my pyjamas and dressing gown. They were minor infractions, mostly – just small, petty stuff – but I’m sure it was infuriating to somebody like him. And I don’t think I got any better.

As a 13-year-old boy, you don’t think very much about standards of decency and that sort of stuff. But, in hindsight, it’s all in there, deeply ingrained over those years. A sense of being a decent moral person and trying to do good by other people was something that stuck.

Mr King believed we should all participate to the absolute maximum of our ability. In other houses, people got to skip cross-country running and swimming standards, but in our house everybody did it. He turned out a group of boys who understood the value of hard work, who understood that life is not easy.

I enjoyed school. I was lazy academically, but I enjoyed it all. I did sport, I did art, I got sports colours and an arts tie; I did plays and was on the public speaking team and in the chamber choir. My A-level results were pretty bad, but my GCSEs were pretty good. I was strong in sciences, although I had completely lost interest in academia by the time I left school. I was fortunate that I got enough Ucas points to get into a good university.

I didn’t see much of Mr King after I finished school and he died a couple of years ago. I would like to think that he would have been proud of the way I eventually turned out. Despite my fairly mischievous behaviour, he saw I had the potential to make something of myself eventually.

Patrick Grant was speaking to Julia Belgutay. His fashion label, E Tautz, has just launched its new website:

Measuring up

Patrick Grant

Born 1 May 1972

Education South Morningside Primary, Edinburgh; Edinburgh Academy; Barnard Castle School; universities of Leeds, Orléans and Oxford

Career Fashion designer and judge on the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee

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