Dick Birch obituary

Other lives: Deputy headteacher and a senior examiner in A-level history for the Oxford board

My father, Dick Birch, who has died aged 95, was a history teacher who rose to deputy headteacher, and a senior examiner in A-level history for the Oxford board. As RC Birch (his full name was Reginald Charles), he wrote a number of history textbooks, including The Shaping of the Welfare State (1974) and 1776: The American Challenge (1976), timed to coincide with the bicentenary of American independence.

Born and brought up in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, to Charles, a chauffeur, and Adeline (nee Andrews), a dressmaker, he was educated at Watford grammar school. Following two years in the RAF at the end of the second world war he studied history at Wadham College, Oxford.

He met our mother, Joan Mather, on a plane to Egypt in 1950 when both of them were on their way to teach for the British Council in Port Said, and they married the following year. On their return Dick taught in schools in Bath, Hanley and Cleethorpes before becoming senior history master at Shebbear college in Devon in 1963.

He was soon promoted to second master (deputy headteacher) and remained at Shebbear until his retirement in 1984, delayed for a year so he could “see in” the new head, Russell Buley, who wrote of him: “Dick was held in high regard by the staff for his sensitive leadership as second master. Among generations of pupils, … [all] had good reason to be grateful to him for his scholarship and meticulous endeavour on their behalf.”

He once nearly achieved the greatest satisfaction for A-level teachers: to see every student in his class achieve a grade A, only to be let down by his eldest son, who could only manage a B.

A longstanding but not uncritical reader of the Guardian, he won its Saturday crossword competition four times – with his four children the chief beneficiaries as recipients of Collins English dictionaries.

His children’s memories of long summer holidays in Shebbear involve him tweezering sticky shapes around a board in a never-ending attempt at producing the perfect school timetable. He loved his garden and was particularly proud of his sweet peas; he delighted in quirky and mildly scabrous humour – and had an enviable facility in the creation of scurrilous limericks.

Retirement took him and Joan to Gidleigh, on the edge of Dartmoor, and gave him more time to devote to his garden and books.

He is survived by Joan, his four children, Jonathan, Isobel, Hilary and me, and eight grandchildren.

David Birch

The GuardianTramp

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