Obituary: Martin Harrison (CR 1958 – 94)

I first met Martin at Berkhamsted School in 1958, where he had taken a one-year appointment, as physics teacher and games coach, on leaving the RAF. I was there in the Lent Term on ‘teaching practice’.  We quickly became good friends – and have remained so for 59 years. The Headmaster was Basil Garnons-Williams, a former housemaster of C1, also on the staff was Reggie Fair (B1), Master i/c Cricket.  Whether they saw the talent in Martin and recommended him to Marlborough, or advised him to apply, I know not, but he arrived at M.C. in 1958 and remained until his retirement in 1994.

Martin owed something to his mother for her judgement in selecting as her lodger, Anna, who attracted particular attention from Martin. They were soon married and had over fifty years of happiness, love and support for each other. Martin was above all a man of faith; so modest and unassuming was he, that you might not have noticed. It was this, that drove his life over so many decades and, above all, it was this that united him with his beloved Anna.

Martin quickly established himself as a thoughtful, innovative teacher of physics, and role model, always incredibly modest, and the most approachable of mentors; held in high esteem by students and colleague alike. He interested hi pupils with practical solutions. He memorably showed great enthusiasm designing, constructing and testing a solar panel in his laboratory that, not unsurprisingly, aroused great interest in both pupils and colleagues. To cap a distinguished career, he spread his ideas to a wider audience by co-authoring a book with other members of the physics department. As one would expect of him, he took great care to write as clearly as possible. Understated – sometimes, wrongly under-valued, but conscientious to a fault.

Always interested in new ideas and new methods, Martin soon became heavily involved in the new Design Technology Centre, in which he ran courses in Alternative Technology. His greatest contribution to Design Technology was, however, within the realms of electronics where his genuine expertise, patience and support saw so many pupils through their GCSE coursework assignments.  Electronics is a ‘dark art’ and when something goes wrong with a piece of applying logic and establishing exactly where  you can test it and whether it is working thus far. Martin could do this with commensurate skill, not simply by fixing a student’s errors but by talking them through their frustrations gently and patiently to a successful conclusion. This was a truly educational experience and so many owe him a huge debt of gratitude for the time and care he gave them.

Martin had been very successful at Whitgift (key member of the XV, Capt of Cricket, champion gymnast) and at Oxford on the games field and Fives Court.  He narrowly missed out on a Blue as a skilful scrum-half, with a wondrous reverse pass, and as a wicket keeper, but won a Half-Blue for Fives.  At Marlborough, his skills as a games coach were quickly recognised, among others, by Dennis Silk, who took him on to help coaching the XV.  The culmination of that combination being the production of that famed team of 1963. As Martin said at one of the well-attended reunion dinners, ‘it was the year, when the team arrived unbeaten at the last match, and by the final whistle, the Sherborne coach had already walked out and Marlborough ended the season unbeaten – and with not one try scored against them’. He added ‘you know what; winning is much more fun’. In his early days at Marlborough, Martin played regularly for Dorset and Wilts Rugby XV in the County Championship, whilst not playing in any other matches. Quite a feat!

Martin was a man of drop-dead, dead-pan humour; irretrievably modest, deceptively casual – but utterly on the ball; a master of the wicked one-liner and quite a joker!

A few examples:
Martin and Dennis were driving a group of pupils up to Twickenham, each in his own car. Martin stopped at a traffic light; Dennis came up behind – and deliberately nudged his rear bumper. Out jumped Martin, furious, ranting and raging at Dennis and the two proceeded to circle each other, fists raised. Meanwhile their student passengers were open mouthed with shock; the lights turned green and the traffic began to honk and hoot, although whether with applause or frustration was not clear!

‘I have been walking around my lab all day as a hunchback and no-one has noticed’

After his cricket team had fielded badly on a rough outfield ‘Get down behind the ball – you may lose a few teeth but you’ll have saved four runs.’

Martin would always help anyone, preferably if no-one else knew.  He audited my accounts for the Marlborough Theatre Club as a member, when he left the Club he continued and I gave him a book token. When I asked if he was happy to continue he replied ‘if you don’t give me anything’. Typical Martin!

A good example of his love of his follow human beings and his desire to help as much and as many as he could, is illustrated by his volunteering to be a Samaritan.  For many years he regularly manned his telephone overnight to listen to victims of domestic violence, or those contemplating suicide etc., and respond with a sympathetic, compassionate ear. If you ever needed a Good Samaritan – Martin was your man.

Martin rarely got things wrong, but when asked by Anna if he would like a Thanksgiving Service, he replied ‘no because nobody would come’. The large congregation in St. Mary’s proved he got that one spectacularly wrong.

Brian Williams (CR 1962-94)