December 2016


20th April 1928 – 21st December, 2016 

Albert Calland, known affectionately to countless pupils, family and friends simply as “Bert”, died at 6 a.m. on 21st December, 2016.   His son, Richard, alerted by reports of illness was at his side and other members of his family and his friends had been able to visit and take their leave of him.

He had only recently returned from a cruise to Helsinki and St.Petersburg, which he made in the company of one of his friends from his own schooldays.  In the last few years, ever the intrepid traveller, he had visited Macchu Picchu and fulfilled a lifetime ambition to sail through the Panama Canal, and shortly before that he had voyaged to the Arctic on a Hurtigruten cruise to see the Northern Lights.

Albert’s only son lives in Capetown and South Africa was frequently visited to see his grandchildren Jack (now 21) and India Jane, both of whom, together with their mother Gaye, were able to visit in the last weeks of his life.

Albert Calland was born on 20th April, 1928 and was educated at Kirkham Grammar School, Lancashire from 1938 until 1945.   He attended Birmingham University, graduating with a B.A. (Hons.) in Geography (with History and Geology subsidiary) and receiving his Certificate of Education from the University’s Institute of Education.  He was appointed to Hackney Downs School  from 1st September, 1952 after teaching experience in Norwich and in Chorley.

Albert will be remembered as a teacher of geography and producer of school plays.   His impact on Hackney Downs School (1952-1961), despite his comparatively short tenure, was almost without parallel.

To deal first with geography, he taught understanding of contour maps by asking his class to make a simple, layered, cardboard model using the intervals shown on a  map.   He patiently explained truncated spurs, Karst scenery, and “Basket of Eggs” topography, many of which he had seen when working, as a student in the late 1940s, in Yugoslavia helping to build a railway line near Split.  He revealed the secret of his ultra-fast drawing of detailed maps on the blackboard in front of a class – he had drawn the outline in pencil, invisible to the class, but he knew where to look, and all that was needed was a quick line with chalk to cover up his trick.

From an early age he had developed a keen interest in music.   Piano lessons were still the norm in his milieu, though I never heard him play.   Wagner and trips to Bayreuth were a passion; but classical music, by any composer could enthuse him.   At a late stage in rehearsals for the School Production of “Oedipus Rex” he introduced as “background” music, the 11th Symphony of Shostakovitch, then newly released on record.

He had been asked by the Headmaster,  Barkway Pye, to consider producing the School play as a consequence of his predecessor in that role having been promoted to Deputy Head.     He laid down one condition – that he be allowed to do so in the School Theatre, whereupon Pye produced one of his own – that there would be nothing to cause him to trip on his way in to Assembly.   There was to follow a series of plays “rarely equalled” in a School Production, according to the Head of English (John Kemp).   For the first time since its construction, the open stage of the the semi-circular theatre of the original Grocers’ School bore witness to innovatively produced works by Thornton Wilder, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw, Eliot and Brecht.   Dougkas Fry (then Art Master) who designed the sets, was to describe the “Calland Years” as the most exciting and eventful of his career, and surely Harry Warburton, the woodwork master, would have echoed these thoughts.

That Albert chose to leave HDS in 1961 was a huge loss.  The Theatre Club, as he and Brearley had developed it, was brought to an end. The great fire of 1963 which severely damaged the School and totally destroyed the landmark theatre.

Geography, art, music, theatre were the hallmarks of Albert – a true aesthete if ever there was one.   He also enjoyed great architecture, storing away nuggets for possible use at a later date.   To an extent this was realised when he moved to his final home in Downham Market where he designed a garden on Japanese lines, complete with a Japanese Arch, constructed by a local builder and painted bright red.   All this was to stand above white and grey marble and granite chippings, with planting in odd numbers of plants to each side,   Passers-by, having heard of the garden on the grapevine, knocked on his door to ask if they could have a viewing.

His father had been a policeman in the Liverpool Constabulary, one of whose duties had been to lead in the winner of the Grand National at Aintree, thus appearing centre stage.   But this was not Albert’s style.   He loved performance, he loved setting the scene – but he loved them most by retiring to his private world to enjoy the view.

He met his wife, Olwen, when she taught at Laura Place (John Howard) School, which explains, to some extent, the change from Dalston County girls in School Plays to the brown uniform of Laura Place.   She shared Albert’s joie de vivre, but with sufficient difference to ensure a happy partnership.   They both became School Inspectors in the London Borough of Barnet.   When Olwen died, 8 years ago, a light went out and some of his later compulsive travelling was to avoid the loneliness.   Each week he would tell of attending this or that art exhibition in London, an avant-garde film after lunch, and in the evening, a concert.   All to be followed the next day, by an opera and another exhibition.   We joked together about his having become a commuter.

Albert exhausted many people by his abundant energy.   But, lately, his enthusiasms hid the dark secret of illness, to which he finally succumbed at the age of 88.


Willie Watkins


The Clove Club