Peter Farquhar obituary

Other lives: English teacher who inspired a love of literature and poetry in his pupils

Few people taught by Peter Farquhar, as I was, would ever forget him. A powerful personality, who taught English for 34 years at Manchester grammar school and Stowe school in Buckinghamshire, Peter, who has died aged 69, gained unusual respect and affection from his students. Dozens became close friends for life.

Peter was born in Edinburgh, the son of a GP. He was educated at Latymer Upper school in London and Churchill College, Cambridge, where his English tutors included George Steiner.

Bird-like in appearance, and slight in stature, he was assumed initially by some pupils to be a pushover, but they only tried once. “He would be absolutely withering if you tried to be silly,” says a former colleague. Peter’s size was more than compensated for by his intelligence and tenacity. He once punched a man at a bus-stop, it is said, for being rude to an old lady.

“Peter was fragile, formal yet friendly, precise but not pedantic,” says another colleague. “He had an attractive warmth, mixed with intellectual rigour.” For many students he inspired a love of literature and poetry; he would spot pupils’ potential and gently push them to fulfil it. Despite his old fogey image, he had an acute understanding of the problems of modern adolescent boys. For some, he became almost like a second father.

Peter resisted the progressive elements in English teaching during the 1970s, and had hoped to become a headmaster. He was once told he was about to be appointed head of a south London school, but the governors then changed their minds.

After retiring from Stowe, he became a guest lecturer at the independent University of Buckingham. Peter also started writing novels, which he published and sold through Amazon. His first book, Between Boy and Man (2010), largely based on Stowe, concerns a school chaplain who struggles to reconcile his Christian faith with his gay impulses. His third book came out this August.

In 2014, he was astonished to see Toby Stephens in the film Believe, playing Dr Farquar, a traditionalist master in a northern independent school. It was directed by a former Manchester grammar school pupil, David Scheinmann, who admitted the character was partly based on Peter.

An evangelical Christian, Peter once considered entering the church, but his father said he didn’t “have the patience”. For 20 years he belonged to the ministry team at Stowe parish church, where he often preached.

He is survived by a brother, Ian.


Michael Crick

The GuardianTramp

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