David Guilford and Ann Shortland-Jones at the opening of the sixteenth court at Eton

DJS Guilford (1930 – 2011)

Gordon Stringer and Dale Vargas pay tribute to David Guilford, former Kinnaird Cup winner, who died earlier this year:

It is with great regret that we record the passing of David Guilford, a Vice President and former Honorary Secretary of the EFA, who has been one of the most distinguished names in the game in the postwar period and who was also a superb player.

As Captain of Fives at Harrow, he reached the final of the Public School Championships (with RW Smart) in 1950, achieved Half Blues at Cambridge three years running and also gained a Half Blue for Rugby Fives. He reached the pinnacle of his playing career in winning the Kinnaird Cup in 1959 and 1960 with fellow Harrovian and lifelong friend, Martin Shortland-Jones, and once again in 1963 with the Edwardian, Tony Hughes. The outstanding pair of the 1950s were the legendary May brothers, Peter, later England’s cricket captain, and John. It was greatly to their credit that David Guilford and the Etonian, Tom Hare, took them to five games when they were at their peak in a Jesters match against Cambridge; Guilford and Shortland-Jones were the only pair ever to win a game against the Mays in the Kinnaird, which they did in the final of 1953. At a less competitive level, David toured Nigeria with the EFA team in 1965; he was an excellent travelling companion and the perfect ambassador for the game.

A pedant – and proud of it – David was the ideal person to be Honorary Secretary of the EFA, a position he held from 1961 to 1968. He always maintained that, whatever the contents, all minutes and notices from his desk would be written in correct English. He could be sharp in his criticism of others who did not match up to his high standards and he included The Times and the BBC’s Today programme amongst those. Perpetrators of split infinitives and hanging participles could expect polite but firm admonishment. His nostalgic articles for the EFA Annual Report and the archives were always meticulously researched and his contributions to the obituary column were always masterly.

David also served for many years as the Eton Fives Representative for the Jesters and also as their South of England Representative.

David left Harrow as a Monitor and taught for one term at Belmont School, Hassocks, a private prep school run by a despotic headmaster. It was David’s first experience of teaching – and not without its traumas – but it did not deter him from later joining the profession. The following October, he went up to Cambridge to take up his Classics Exhibition at Christ’s College. Apart from his successes on the Fives court, he captained the College cricket and squash teams, played cricket for the Crusaders and developed a keen interest in contract bridge. He was elected to the Hawks Club and continued to play club cricket for several years, being a member of MCC, Butterflies, Harrow Wanderers and I Zingari.

After a further Dip Ed year at Cambridge in which he did his teaching practice at the Leys School, David was appointed to the staff at Highfield Prep School in Liphook, Hampshire, in 1954. After five years there, he moved to Eton, where he became a Housemaster and later Admissions Officer. In recognition of his and Martin Shortland-Jones’ many years service to Fives at Eton, one of the refurbished courts has been named in their honour.

For over 20 years, David was a Governor of Beaudesert Park Prep School in Gloucestershire; he was also a devoted liveryman of the Goldsmiths’ Company and was a Vice Patron of the Peter May Memorial Appeal.

An avid collector both of stamps and porcelain from Coalport, the family firm of an earlier generation, David was able to take advantage of his bachelor status and spread himself when in his House at Eton, Baldwin’s Bec: there was even a ‘stamp room’ – north facing of course! All letters from him had “Save all stamps!” written in his own hand on the back of the envelope. These were destined for charity, not his own collection.

To the young, David in his later years may have been a daunting figure – magisterial in every sense – but, although he was a stickler for correct behaviour, his warmth and kindness were thinly covered. Many of his older friends will have enjoyed his mock horror and exclamation of “What?” when confronted with what he perceived as yet another example of the crumbling of a much loved tradition. David was an old fashioned school master in the very best sense: intelligent, inspirational, loyal, kind, generous and civilised – and rarely lost for words when asked for an opinion. The world is a poorer place for his passing.

A Memorial Service will be held at Eton in October.

Mark Williams, a colleague at Eton writes:

David Guilford had a distinguished career at Eton teaching classics. He was the first Master-in Charge of Association Football, introducing the game to the school formally as a challenge to the Field Game. As a younger schoolmaster he also played and coached Fives and cricket, and was for some time Chairman of the Games Committee. A distinguished 15-year career as a Housemaster followed and he was much admired by his boys. After that, he became the Eton List Secretary (the 10th most important man in England quipped The Sunday Times), since he administered the Eton entry system.

What really mattered though was that he was a fine schoolmaster who mixed pedantry, good humour and scholarship in equal measure, and took a genuine interest in the welfare of his pupils. He loved to walk the line of the Fives courts criticising the dress and manners of the players, but he was the first to applaud good play and to spot a rising talent. He was affectionately known as the Duke of Coalport because of his fine collection of memorabilia of the Iron Bridge in Shropshire, and was much admired by his colleagues for his caustic wit and fine turn of phrase. “We can’t go on like this” and “Now it’s time for the Late Shift” (the last lesson of the day in Winter) are enshrined in Eton folklore and still used today in fond memory of him by those who knew him well. He was a generous host and always entertaining company at bridge, or at a boundary edge or outside a Fives court.

I visited him several times in his later years near Sherborne, where he had a cottage in the hills above the town. He had forged a quiet but contented life for himself and was well known in his village of Alweston. Stamps continued to fascinate him, and he took a keen interest in what was happening in Eton Fives and at Eton. The Times crossword was always completed by 10am, and he loved his soaps on the evening TV.

I will always remember the flat cap, the initial greeting which was always a gentle insult couched with humour: (“you’re not still employed at Eton are you?”), the sharp intellect, his love of games and especially Fives and cricket, his abhorrence of anything which threatened the Corinthian spirit, but most of all his generous humour…essentially a private person, he was unfailingly very good company and a genuine friend to those he let into his life.