Geoffrey Bolt (1923-2000)

Geoffrey Bolt as Master-in-Charge of Fives at Aldenham and latterly, Cranleigh, will be remembered as an outstanding coach. He brought out the maximum talent in his players to put Aldenham on the map by winning the Public Schools Competition five times between 1954 and 1961. He was also a member of the EFA Committee and a Jester, and a generous donation has been left for the benefit of both bodies.

In particular, Geoffrey was one of life's great characters - his wit and repartee was almost non-stop. He was always entertaining and indeed inspirational as the additional following tributes illustrate.

Gordon Stringer

Funeral Address (in part) by Andrew Corran for the Funeral of Geoffrey Bolt

I first met Geoffrey when Gay and I returned from Australia in January 1968, at which time I accepted a teaching post at Cranleigh School. Appropriately, I met him in the Common Room bar; familiar ground for him. Oddly, for he did not make friends lightly (maybe in deference to the French justice system which regards people as guilty until proved innocent) we quickly got to know each other.

Born in 1923 in Croydon, he was educated at Whitgift School and Oriel College, Oxford, where he read Chemistry.

His fine mind and first-rate education led him naturally into teaching, where he was a gift to the more intelligent pupils. Never a strict disciplinarian, he was more likely to buy a drink for a miscreant illegally found in a pub than to invoke the school rules... He enjoyed being with small groups of potential scientists, who appreciated his knowledge of his subject and his ability to express chemical ideas and processes with minimum words and maximum clarity. He lacked the patience to waste time with bored and restive classes ('I fear I must now go and educate the young') but could be easily sidetracked into sharing his knowledge of oenology, literature or racing, to the delight of the enlightened. Indeed, there is a story, which Geoffrey admitted had some basis of truth, of a young man, Brown, say, who bet another, Jones, 10 pounds that, during Mr Bolt's double chemistry lesson, Brown could stand up, walk over to the window, open it, climb out, stroll to the adjacent golf course, remove the flag on a green, wave it to the class and return by the same route without incurring Mr Bolt's displeasure. The bet was accepted and Brown performed the manoeuvres as outlined. Jones, astonished, handed Brown two fivers after class and departed. Brown returned to the classroom, approached Geoffrey, and said:'Here you are, Sir, your fiver'. Later, Geoffrey summoned Jones and returned his fiver with the words: 'Let that be a lesson to you: never bet if you don't know the odds'. On education generally, however Geoffrey adopted Lady Bracknell's view: an idiosyncratic approach for a career schoolmaster...

Geoffrey loved France and Italy, both for the warmth of their people and for the food and wine available so deliciously and cheaply there. Perhaps it was because he was so keen on these that he acquired a reputation as a gourmet. He greatly preferred to enjoy the culinary offerings of others than to do any serious cooking himself. 'I never eat lunch' he used to insist, piling high his plate and accepting another full glass.'I have the appetite of a sparrow' was another frequent assertion until someone pointed out that a sparrow eats ten times its own weight in food every day.

Although he enjoyed many sports, Geoffrey's chief loves were Eton Fives and Tennis, never prefaced by the word 'real', as in his opinion it didn't need to be. He ran the Eton Fives at both Aldenham and Cranleigh, and was regarded as a quite outstanding coach; indeed, his Aldenham team won the Public Schools Tournament five times: an achievement which speaks volumes for his abilities and enthusiasm. In the last few days we have heard many tributes to his coaching and to his elegant hospitality before and after matches, and also to the dry wit and efficiency with which he promoted the cause of his favourite game. He was one of a benevolent mafia governing the EFA, and despite failing out with them over a triviality, resigning in a huff and thus, typically, losing out even more than they did, he would be delighted to see so many members, such as Michael Hetheringon and David Guilford here today. He was no mean player at Lawn Tennis and Rackets either, and he enormously enjoyed his membership of the Jesters, whom he frequently entertained at Cranleigh.

One of his main reasons for choosing Wisborough Green for his retirement was its proximity to Petworth, where he much enjoyed playing Tennis, or 'Realers' as he sometimes allowed it to be called. It was also a great pleasure for him to introduce and encourage new players to the game. Happily, he remained a respected member of the Club at Petworth until the end of his life. His other reason for choosing Wisborough was its closeness to his favourite pub. Sadly, his old friend Ted, its landlord, died all too soon. Geoffrey was forced to withdraw his custom from the modernised hostelry with its loud wah-wah music and trendy customers.

In addition to his participation in active games, he particularly enjoyed the sedentary pastimes, such as Mah Jong, Piquet, Backgammon, philately, The Times crossword and Scrabble, all of which exercised his considerable intellect without causing him to do more than move a languid arm. He played them with immense skill and some very powerful curses when things did not go his way. It was after listening to one of these battles that our daughter, Hens, aged eleven, decided to compile a list of forbidden words used by POG during the course of a Tidal visit. She logged some seventy-seven swear words ranging from those even Bob wouldn't sanction in church to umlauts, stench, pox, and ending with four stink hounds and two bleeding wasps. Geoffrey always maintained that it was grossly unfair of her to count his substitutes as swear words when he was trying so hard to conform; at the same time he was enormously amused by her calm authority. She recognised, as did all our children, that the use of a German word as a swear word was a reference to his dislike of all things Germanic, including wine, unless, of course, there were no other available. His trilingual Scrabble battle with Gay lasted for thirty years and ended about level. The highlight of all these years of deadly warfare was Geoffrey's single score of 203 with the last play of a game which enabled him to overtake Gay's supposedly safe lead of over 100. The word, across two triples, was 'canonize'. For all of us who knew and loved him, we doubt that it was prophetic...

William Goodman writes in Aldenhamiana:

Mike Payne at Cranleigh wrote and told me that Geoffrey Bolt had died recently. I was not at Beevor's, and did not take chemistry, so it was as an outsider that I first observed Geoffrey and saw him as an inspiring figure, unconventional, sanguine, forthright. I was fascinated by his accounts of summer visits to Monte Carlo in his shabby old taxi cab, where he used applied mathematics at the casino and at least managed to break even, even when living in style. (England in the '50s was no place for an Epicure.) I might not have heard about this had it not been for Peter Harrington and Michael Heckford egging him on.

Years later Geoffrey did not disguise his bitter feelings at the circumstances of Peter Harrington's tragic death, also at the fact that the School's bean-counters had chosen to sell off the Stanley Spencer paintings.

I visited him on various occasions and was treated to his excellent cooking. In December 1999 he described a recent tour he had made of retirement homes in Dorset. He was characteristically scornful of almost all of them, since a good table was essential, and a decent cellar of his own choice. He found a place that looked promising, but did not live long enough to confirm this.

Considering Beevor's food uninspired and wasteful he dreamed of the possibility of providing really imaginatively-inspired food at the same cost. He hinted that he had come close to persuading the administration to adopt his plan, which would have made school food a culinary adventure. What happened to the plan, I have no idea.

At some point Michael Heathford was going to paint a picture using pigments that Geoffrey had compounded. The only colour was cobalt blue.

His passion for games probably reached its peak after he took up Royal Tennis. It is possible to imagine him, the warrior, reaching his deserved place in paradise, and

Team Elysium meets Valhalla
On the Royal tennis court.
Geoffrey Bolt with cunning valour
Introduced them to the sport.

At the end of term, when schedules are disrupted, and classes end up with the wrong master - always something to look forward to - Geoffrey read us Saki and Stephen Leacock.

Geoffrey Bolt, remembered with fondness and admiration.

Marcus Blake writes in Aldenhemiana:

In the last Aldenhamiana William Goldman wrote a very accurate and amusing obituary of the late Geoffrey Bolt, which, I am sure, will have touched many an Old Aldenhamian who knew Geoffrey.

In his last year, aged seventy-six, I took him to the All England Club at Wimbledon, where four of the 1956 school tennis side played on the indoor courts and entertained him to lunch. He was in excellent form and complained about everything using his usual chemical phraeseology.

As was mentioned, he had great culinary skills and nothing pleased him more than to entertain in the flat above the cricket pavilion at Cranleigh School. Geoffrey cooked with the minimum of utensils, expected guests to keep their plates and cutlery, and drink copious amounts of excellent wine between courses, In his last year, aged seventy-six, I took him to the All England Club at Wimbledon, where four of the 1956 school tennis side played on the indoor courts and entertained him to lunch. He was in excellent form and complained about everything using his usual chemical phraseoIogy.

His funeral in West Lulworth was a triumph of organisation by Andrew Corran, past housemaster at Cranleigh, and his wife, Gay. After a moving service and requiem read in Latin by his great friend, Laverock Newman, he was buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, West Lulworth. A wake at possibly the most beautiful house on the Dorset coast, high on the cliffs at Lulworth, was attended by many friends from the world of Eton Fives and the two schools to which he gave his teaching life.He will be fondly remembered by many.

Postscript: The Strawson Memorial (Geoffrey Bolt Salver) - James Woodcock reports: "A Salver has been engraved with both the Fleur de Lys and Jesters emblems with a line suggesting they are in opposition and inscribed in memory to Geoffrey in Latin with the years of his life."