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NAME: James (Jas) Cowen  James & Ayleen Cowen James Cowen galleryThen & Now

DATE: 19 July 2012

CONNECTION WITH QE: Pupil 1956-1963

Few references are made to my dear old Latin master at QEs who steered me on to success at A-Level, albeit with a mere grade B.  That was Mr JW Finnett.  He was remarkably good at teaching us the set books etc. One other point in my eyes to commend him was the support for trips for groups to go to London for West End shows, especially Light Opera in English at Sadlers Wells such as the Marriage of Figaro and the Barber of Seville.  These were special treats for a boy whose family never went to theatre otherwise.  Another factor was that on almost alternative lessons we talked of current affairs or the forthcoming Herts Debating Competition debates for whom at the time the usual debaters were Brian Pettit and Ian Cullen.  He would not be diverted every lesson but would firmly say "Now for this week's Cicero Letters ..."

I understood from talking with John (BOP) Wakelin at a meeting after I had left school that he had died not long afterwards and at quite a young age.  Bop said that he was the one other master with whom he had a real rapport.


NAME: Mike Cottrell  Richard Dilley & Mike Cottrell

DATE: 26 July 2012


Mr Finnett is certainly an infrequently mentioned master compared with some of the other extroverted characters that were around 50 to 60 years ago.  I cannot recall ever being taught by him and only have a vague recollection of him from my time at QE.  James is correct in thinking that he died at a young age, in fact he was just 43 years old.  His death on 9th March 1971 was listed in The London Gazette of 2nd April 1971.  Interestingly his Personal Representatives were listed as Kenneth Wesley Carter and Donald William Fairbairn.


NAME: Nigel Wood  Nigel Wood

DATE: 26 July 2012


That's an impressive find, Mike!  I'm shocked that he was so young.  I knew that he died of melanoma.  I remember him sitting on the platform at assembly, often giving a good impression of being asleep.  I think he closed his eyes to concentrate, especially when music was being played. I suspect he took his rôle as educator quite seriously, and did his best to make his students civilised human beings (possibly in the best traditions of public schools - he was himself a product of Chigwell School).  James Cowen's post certainly supports this view.  As I said on another thread, I found him a very clear teacher, steering us through an interminable list of 'ut' clauses as well as the dreaded gerunds and gerundives.  Word derivations lightened some lessons and made it all worthwhile for me.  A real gent.


NAME: Alan Vincent  Alan Vincent

DATE: 27 July 2012


Some of the characters mentioned in this and other threads brought back some memories.  JW Finnett and 'Jerry' Reid were both kindly men though sometimes JWF struggled to evidence it in the context of the QE of his times.  'Jerry' Reid, I think nicknamed thus through his passing resemblance - in manner perhaps more than appearance - made the mistake of starting with excessive leniency.  In the manner of suppressed teenage boys, we crucified him.  To his great credit, he recovered the lost ground and became a rather good teacher, as I recall.  John Lockwood was also mentioned.  He was officer in charge of an army barracks near Dortmund that some of us visited as part of an exchange visit, arranged by Klu Woodlnd in about 1958.  An impressive man indeed: I think one of several outstanding athletes in a team that I believe won the Public Schools Cup just before the FWW: that team may also have included our PE master, Eric Shearly, a steeplechaser like his near namesake (and an international).


NAME: James (Jas) Cowen  James & Ayleen Cowen James Cowen galleryThen & Now

DATE: 04 August 2012


Thanks for all the replies 1-3 in this thread, Messrs Cottrell, Wood and Vincent.  I welcome the information, though late of course now to offer any condolences to anyone, if there was any family to console.  It clarifies once and for all the surname as being Finnett not Finnette.  Was there also any newspaper Obit anyone might dig out?


NAME: Nick Dean  Nick Dean Nick Dean gallery

DATE: 14 November 2012


I was in John Finnett's sixth form Latin set the year he died and attended his funeral. A kind man and a great loss. He affected a slightly lofty, intellectual air, but was very popular and (rather like Colin Carter) appreciated because of his patently civilised approach and ability to relate on an adult level. Endless witty and quirky asides: the delight with which he drew attention to the "most helpful vocabulary" in Kennedy's Primer - strix, a screech owl; uter, a leathern (sic) bottle - and poking fun at the standard text book, such as one sentence for translation deploying the vocative case, "Come into the garden Maud" ("and here Gould and Whitely depart on some salacious fantasy of their own"). During the Summer of Love, when A Whiter Shade of Pale was riding high, a boy was struggling with the genitive plural of haec (harum) and Finnett asked rather airily if he had similar problems with procul.


NAME: Stephen Giles  Stephen Giles

DATE: 20 November 2012

CONNECTION WITH QE: inmate 1957-64

John Finett's "kindness" was certainly not visible during my time at QE, in fact he was openly nasty and condescending to boys from Borehamwood as I remember. However, his reference to procul and Whiter Shade of Pale clearly revealed his lighter side. Incidently, my wife and I met the current organist in Procol Harum last year at our polo club where he was playing for the excellent Kenny Jones's band, which also features 2 ex-members of Bad Company.


NAME: James (Jas) Cowen  James & Ayleen Cowen James Cowen galleryThen & Now

DATE: 26 November 2012


Talking of Procul Harum, Stephen, reminds me of my younger days and listening to 60s pop music. I remember Whiter Shade of Pale. I even remember going to see the film the Young Ones with Cliff Richard and the Shadows and enjoying it tremendously as well as seeing the Beatles Concerts on TV. I did not go and see them live with all those screaming girls however. All happy days past but now one of the subjects I should not like questions on if I was ever on a TV quiz programme like Eggheads is pop music of any time after the sixties. I might be OK on Carnaby Street fashions as I did an audit there on Universal Commissions in the sixties.

But like you I digress. As regards your remarks about JWF and Borehamwood, I always found him kindly disposed towards me in Latin classes and elsewhere and I was a Borehamwood boy. Are you sure there wasn't a twinkle in his eye whilst disparaging our old home town?

One of the theatre visits that JWF arranged I remember with great nostalgia and enjoyment was the visit to Drury Lane to see My Fair Lady. My wife who was at Nottingham School for Girls at the same time also went with a party to see it. I have had a love of musicals ever since and indeed in recent years went to see it again at Southampton's Mayflower Theatre. I have also appeared in musicals such as The Boyfriend and pantomimes etc with Ludgershall's Castle Players along with my children. Amateur Dramatics are quite big down here as elsewhere.


NAME: Nick Dean  Nick Dean Nick Dean gallery

DATE: 28 November 2012


People's memories are, of course, what they are. For what it's worth, I do remember Finnett poking fun at Barnet boys who hung around the town on Saturday night and even what they might be getting up to. I don't think anyone took this too seriously. However, I didn't know him till the late '60s and he may have mellowed by then (and, of course, Borehamwood had become quite a fashionable place, what with all those TV series that some of still like to watch in our idle moments!)


NAME: James (Jas) Cowen  James & Ayleen Cowen James Cowen galleryThen & Now

DATE: 01 December 2012


It is rather satisfying to me to read still more postings about the old masters I knew and enjoyed for all their quirky ways or not i.e about Tiger Timpson, Bernie Pinnock and JWF. Will there ever come a time when tales are exhausted? Maybe so, maybe not, but should that happen we can enjoy looking at the postings so far. Are there masters or mistresses today or recently of character of whom we can enjoy similar tales? But I digress. It was interesting to hear Barnet boys could be castigated as well as Borehamwood ones [see reply 8]. Actually some Borehamwood boys of my era were real achievers. Alan Calverd and Michael Coleman on the Natural Sciences side went up to Cambridge the year before and the same year as me respectively. HE(Joe) Johnstone went to Cambridge to study Law as well as excelling in the rugby 1st XV. RW Newton and AM Norman also excelled at rugger and HG Griffiths and R Hungate at both fives and cricket.

There were rather a lot of us Borehamwood boys coming in on the old 107 or 306 bus. Many came up from Sumerswood school but other primary schools were well represented.  Stephen Giles was also from BW as you know and we are rather lone contributors from the old place. However given the large number of visitors only recorded by the cookies maybe there is an unrecorded audience of old BW boys perhaps scattered throughout the country or even abroad. To these I would like to say the 107 still runs but only as far as New Barnet (the old 306 terminus - a bus no longer with us). The old Red Lion pub in BW, where we used to call out to film and TV stars such as Sid James is now a smart looking MacDonalds but the Crown and Wellington are still going strong. Both the C of E church and the Baptist church are as of yore but the poor old graveyard is rather overgrown. For Barnet then and now that will need a later instalment.

10th REPLY

NAME: Nick Dean  Nick Dean Nick Dean gallery

DATE: 29 January 2013


Prompted by others' references to it, I glanced at the QE page on Wikipedia and saw mention of John Lewis who taught Latin for a while in 1971 and later became headmaster of Eton. He was a New Zealander who filled in after the death of John Finnett. He seemed young, fit, and tough in every respect; I assumed he was just down from university, but in fact must have been getting on for 30. During one of my interviews at Oxford, one of his countrymen asked if I knew "a fella called Lewis", to which, rather gushingly, but truthfully, I replied that he was about the best teacher (I probably said "master"!) I had ever had. Sometime after I left I learnt from an impeccable common room source that, although Lewis had taken up a permanent post at Eton, he might well have stayed at QE had it not been for indiscipline in the lower forms. This in turn raised concerns about attracting/retaining high quality staff in the early comprehensive years. As headmaster at Eton some time later, his profile was heightened by the presence of Princes William and Harry. (Whether he is responsible for Boris Johnson's love of the classics, I am unsure).

11th REPLY

NAME: Milo Finnett

DATE: 05 February 2013

CONNECTION WITH QE: JW Finnett's grandson

How lucky I am to find this website! I am trying to find out more information about my grandfather because I have recently delved into my family history and realised I know very little about him (unfortunately my father who could have told me more about JW Finnett passed away when I was 12 years old and it was something we didn't really speak about). Is there anybody who could tell me more about what they remember about JW Finnett? I would be very grateful!

12th REPLY

NAME: James (Jas) Cowen  James & Ayleen Cowen James Cowen galleryThen & Now

DATE: 08 February 2013


Well, Milo, I started putting entries on the site about my dear former Latin master, John Finnett, some months ago. The way to see what entries have been made is to click on the staff list, where Vic has listed all the thread entries for the master concerned. Clicking on each of these will take you to the relevant thread and what has been written about JWF. I will not repeat what has been written so far except to say that after 50 years I still remember his place in my life with affection. Sorry to hear your own father died when you were young. My own father survived until I was 21 but my dear mother died when I was 7. It is difficult to get family info when family members are reluctant to talk. I did not know my dad was married before until at his funeral. It is a good job my Auntie Ella was a good talker (it was difficult to stop her) else I would know almost nothing of my family past history. Those on Who do you think you are seem likewise in the dark.

Note from Vic: once you have located the thread from the staff list you can use your browser's own search facility ('edit', then 'find') to locate each instance on the page. This is particularly useful for multi-page threads (those with more than 20 replies).

13th REPLY

NAME: Nick Dean  Nick Dean Nick Dean gallery

DATE: 10 February 2013


Milo - as Jas implies, you will find quite a bit about your grandfather on this site. You will see that views do differ, but he was certainly highly regarded by me and a number of my contemporaries. Far fewer in my year would have pursued classical studies as long as we did had he not been around and his early death was a real blow. He had a strong commitment to 'learning' in the broadest and best sense of that word and seemed to have little time for some of the petty and pompous attitudes struck by some of his colleagues. In fact, he had quite an irreverent, even mildly subversive, streak. I remember that in our 4th form - c.1968 when we were beginning to embrace the counter-culture of the time - somebody did a 'favourite (best?) master' poll and JF came top very comfortably. He never seemed to have any problems with discipline: if people got noisy or boisterous, he would simply wave his arm like a cricket umpire signalling a boundary and say, "settle down" - and people did. His lessons were among the few I actually looked forward to because they were interesting - and usually very amusing as well. Forgive my asking, but JF did have a son at the school when I was there - he would have been in about the 4th form when I left in '71. Was he your father?

14th REPLY

NAME: Nick Dean  Nick Dean Nick Dean gallery

DATE: 14 February 2013


Just remembered two other things about JWF: (1) He hardly ever set homework. We used to think this was great, but discovered eventually that he assumed we were diligently using the time to brush up on vocab, conjugations, etc. Occasionally he would spring what he called "jumbo inquiries" (ie tests) designed to estabish the extent of our diligence. (2) He generally addressed people as "Brother Dean" (or Smith, or whatever). I wasn't sure if this was to engender a sense of fraternity or because he didn't like mere surnames, or what. The sitcom Oh Brother! (a vehicle for Derek Nimmo following All Gas and Gaiters) was around at the time and might have been the inspiration. Does anyone know if this chummy practice was long-standing?

15th REPLY

NAME: James (Jas) Cowen  James & Ayleen Cowen James Cowen galleryThen & Now

DATE: 25 February 2013


I do not recall the "brother" name-calling by JWF before I left in 1963. I believe he used to use christian names, a rarity in the days of usually being addressed by surnames even often by other boys. He did not set homework formally in his classes in our day but used to say we will do whatever it was in the next period. However if a school debate was coming up we used to divert him with the subject of the debate coming up or if not with some other news subject. This could not be done for 2 periods in a row, however. He would start off immediately on coming in: "Now for the next Cicero Letter" or "Now what do you think Virgil meant in the new passage? " Happy days and I can still recall some of it now.

16th REPLY

NAME: Milo Finnett

DATE: 21 April 2013

CONNECTION WITH QE: Grandson of JW Finnett

Dear Nick and James, Many thanks for your responses - I found them very interesting and insightful. I am sorry about taking so long to reply to you. I have had a couple of busy terms studying at Durham University. I'm currently in my second year studying philosophy. I recently met up with John's adopted son for the first time where he shared a couple of photos of John with me. I thought you might like to see them as well, especially if you have forgotten his face after all this time and would like to match the image with the memories. Yes David Finnett is my father! Can you remember him at all? I also have photos of David as a young man. Unfortunately David suffered a massive stroke in 2005 and passed away leaving four children. David changed his surname to Laker after his own father passed away, meaning us children were born with the Laker surname. I have recently gone back to Finnett, carrying on John's surname. Nick, you wrote that you attended my grandfather's funeral. Can you remember what it was like?

17th REPLY

NAME: Nick Dean  Nick Dean Nick Dean gallery

DATE: 23 April 2013


Milo - I'm glad you found our various reminiscences of interest. I didn't know your father as such, but could put a name to the face.  I recall that he was comparatively short (at age 14 or 15) and was sometimes accompanied by a rectangular musical instrument case (a clarinet perhaps?). Your grandfather was also musical:  sang with the school choir and often played the piano in morning assembly.

JWF's funeral was at a crematorium in the Finchley area.  I fear I have no particular memories of it, although, surprisingly, at 18, it was the first funeral I attended. It was a fairly standard occasion: I can't recall if there was an address or some other family commemoration. A number of JWF's colleagues were present, as were a good contingent of senior boys. At QE the uniform was school tie or black tie; so most of us had the latter readily available. I do remember that a boy who had just passed his driving test gave 3 or 4 of us a lift in his Triumph Herald and negotiated Whetstone High Road in a manner that would have done him credit at Brands Hatch! All good wishes for your continuing studies - and thanks again for establishing this link.

18th REPLY

NAME: James (Jas) Cowen  James & Ayleen Cowen James Cowen galleryThen & Now

DATE: 09 May 2013


Thanks to you for replying to the site and sending the photos, Milo. The wedding photo reminds me of those of mine own back in 1971. I was as slim then. My wife's grandma down from Chesterfield said that I was like a tram ticket with the printing off. Unfortunately I'm not so slim now. It is a battle to keep off the fat and to combat bad chlorestorel. Best wishes on your studies at uni and I hope you may come on the site again on some topic or other.

19th REPLY

NAME: Nick Dean  Nick Dean Nick Dean gallery

DATE: 27 January 2014


Before being distracted by such things as trains and sealing wax (see esp W1), I was going to recall an occasion in the late '60s when, a little uncharacteristically, TBE took a tough line with people who turned up late for lunch. He excluded several boys from the refectory, informing them that they would have no lunch that day (not sure if he anticipated their getting a refund). One miscreant in our form duly went home to East Barnet, from where, later in the day, he returned with his father. He arrived in the middle of a Latin lesson, informing John Finnett of what had happened and adding that he and his father had just seen the Headmaster to sort out a few things. JWF made little attempt to suppress his amusement, enquiring, in that rather lofty manner of his, "sort things out, or sort the headmaster out?"

20th REPLY

NAME: Steve Lucas  Steve Lucas

DATE: 28 January 2014

CONNECTION WITH QE: Pupil 1964-71 (Leiceester)

J.W.Finnett sat, on an irregular basis, as the head of the table where boys, such as myself, sat if they bought sandwiches to school for lunch. On one such occasion my mother had, unusually, provided me with a filled bread roll/baguette that was pretty close to a foot long. As I was just starting to tackle this rather hefty thing,JWF looked up and said to me, "I suggest, Lucas, that you cut it in halves in order to look a little less like a caveman".  I still remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday!! He was a very nice fellow and I also recall he advised puplis as to which College to apply for at Oxon/Cantab....
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