Magazine article The Spectator

'The Enigma of Kidson: The Portrait of an Eton Schoolmaster', by Jamie Blackett, with a Foreword by Sir Matthew Pinsent - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Enigma of Kidson: The Portrait of an Eton Schoolmaster', by Jamie Blackett, with a Foreword by Sir Matthew Pinsent - Review

Article excerpt

The Enigma of Kidson is a quintessentially Etonian book: narcissistic, complacent, a bit silly and ultimately beguiling.

It is the story of Michael George MacDonald Kidson (MGMK, as he was known), who taught history at Eton from 1965 to 1994 and was an influential tutor to hundreds of boys, often the wayward and the damaged.

Jamie Blackett, who was taught by him there, has collected Kidsoniana from former pupils, colleagues, friends and acquaintances. What emerges is a portrait of a colourful maverick who bullied and consoled generations of schoolboys into success and happiness.

Blackett conjures up a cheerful world where robust and affectionate Springers (Kidson's Dougal, Boody, Bertie, Charlie, Jed and Faddy) and Etonians (who, from a certain point of view, now seem to run the country) lollop around, getting into scrapes and having fun. MGMK's pupils include the former prime minister David Cameron, the current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, at least one Catholic priest, at least three Olympic medallists, umpteen politicians, uncounted peers, racehorse trainers, actors, bankers, writers, lawyers and businessmen, as well as a clutch of convicted criminals (one pupil went straight from school to borstal and later became Chief of Police in the Dominican Republic).

At Kidson's funeral, Nat Rothschild described his miserable first two years at Eton. Then he met Kidson, and life changed. 'I looked forward to his lessons, his humour, his rages. The way he taught us lightened up my day.' The sensation that he illuminated, even redeemed, teenagers permeates Blackett's book. 'He made us feel we could walk on water,' Tom Goff remembers.

The Enigma is full of stories of Kidson's theatricality. His insults were legendary, but his pupils seem to have understood the histrionics and loved him for them. Many recall him hurling half a croquet ball or a board-rubber at them ('Kidson, Michael: choice of missiles' is an index entry). According to Blackett, boys knew instinctively that he was on their side and that he would do what he could to support them against the forces of the adult world. Father Alexander Sherbrooke, who runs a parish in Soho, learnt from Kidson that if someone asks for help 'you must leave no stone unturned to help them'. …

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