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David Whiting Obituary

David Whiting, who died on 26 September 2022 at the age of 75, was a member of the Modern Languages Department for 35 years and Head of Modern Languages for 30, until his retirement in 2005. A talented linguist with an ever-present sense of humour, he was held in high regard by pupils and colleagues alike. Teaching both French and German to A level and Oxbridge Entrance, he set high standards in the classroom, his pupils regularly achieving outstanding results at all levels of the school.

His tenure as Head of Modern Languages coincided with a time of major changes in language teaching nationally, and David was at the forefront of the transition from an essentially grammar-translation approach to the more eclectic and communicative methodology of language teaching that we have known over the past 50 years. His publication, with Roy Chapman, of the reading comprehension collection of Le français contemporain made a significant contribution to the learning of comprehension skills required for the new examinations. Within the Department, he oversaw the change from O levels to GCSE in the 1980s, significant changes in the requirements of A level exams, and a number of significant initiatives in non-specialist language learning, including the Foreign Languages at Work scheme. Perhaps his most lasting legacy is in the success of the Language Centre, the design of which in the early 1990s he oversaw, in conjunction with the Classics Department.

The importance of the spoken word was always a high priority for David. This manifested itself in the value he attached to foreign language exchanges. Two particularly long-standing links were major features of the annual life of the Department, namely the German exchange with Max-Planck-Gymnasium, Heidenheim, and the French exchange with Lycée Caousou, Toulouse.

David’s mischievous sense of humour was never far from a situation, even in the midst of attention to the finest of details for which he was well known. Notes from a meeting or as part of departmental management (assuming that his notorious handwriting had been deciphered) would often be peppered with asides that reinforced his instinct to find humour in even the most unlikely of situations. Jokes (often years old!) were freely deployed in French and German grammar work, and an invitation to summer drinks at his home in Manton (or the “Schloss”, as it was affectionately known) would most probably be phrased “Come and share a glass of wine – straws provided”.

Outside the Department, David’s love of the theatre was never dormant for long. Over the years he directed many of the College’s Penny Readings, always with a meticulous eye and with impressive results. On one occasion, spotting that the famous French playwright Eugene Ionesco was making a rare visit to England, David organised a theatre visit which included the chance to meet the great man. A keen footballer (many Marlburians did indeed believe that David had played for Aston Villa and had dazzled the crowd in the 1968 Cup Final), he coached teams in the Granham Casuals. If his own professional career in the beautiful game was a myth, it was no myth that he had coxed the Magdalene College VIII to success at Cambridge, and the impressive rudder on his wall at home bore witness to that success.

Over the years, another constant was the exemplary tutoring which David gave. His attachment was, for 35 years, entirely to Preshute, where he had been the RHT on his arrival. His dedication to the House was absolute and an integral part of his schoolmastering: at the end of each term he would always attend the final house assembly in order to sign off formally as a visiting tutor before the holidays started.

A traditionalist and an innovator, a meticulous teacher and Head of Department with a love of fresh ideas, a flag bearer for the power of exchanges in language learning and international understanding – and one of the first members of Common Room to discover the delights of owning a house in France – David was a central figure in Modern Languages teaching and learning at the College for seven generations of Marlburians. His legacy lives on in the flourishing range of languages in one of the largest departments of its kind in the country. To Hilary and their children Hattie (MM 1989-94) and Will (B1 1992-97) we extend our sincere condolences, and our appreciation of David’s outstanding contribution to the life of the College over so many years.


Andrew Brown (CR 1981-2020)