The Old Boys’ Network

A Headmaster's Diaries 1970-1986

by John Rae

  • Published: 02 Apr 2009
  • Price: £17.99
  • Format: Hardback
  • Extent: 352p
  • ISBN: 978-1-906021-63-4
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…A housemaster reports that a 15 year-old has brought a bottle of valium tablets to the house and given another boy three on a ‘close your eyes and open your mouth’ basis. I do not have time to deal with this as I must attend a press conference at which the annual statistics for independent schools are published… Back to Westminster to see the parents of the valium boy. The father is another of those barristers who addresses me as a jury, inviting me to consider this point and that, but we get nowhere. Harold Wilson comes to dinner and to talk afterwards to some 40 boys and girls in our drawing room. At half past ten and with a brandy and cigar, he is still telling them how Malenkov ordered the murder of Beria, the head of the Soviet Secret Police.

Westminster School is one of England’s oldest institutions, its origins dating back to Henry VIII. In the last century, it became a part of the British establishment, inextricably linked to the government, the church and the ruling elite.

John Rae, charismatic, strategic and unafraid to speak his mind, was headmaster of the school from 1970-1986 and kept a diary for 14 of those 16 years. This period – one in which girls became full members of the school, British nationality and Christian faith were ruled no longer to be a prerequisite for a place there, and, with the institution growing in both size and academic standing – was not without its controversies. Rae, instinctively anti-establishment, none the less used his position to his own, and his pupils’, advantage. His diaries, chronicling everything from dinners with prime ministers, to drugs and sex scandals, and more than a smattering of extraordinary and demanding pupils and parents, make for an often shocking and unputdownable read.

The Old Boys’ Network captures the spirit of the times, and of a man at the very heart of things – with humour, passion and a refreshing honesty.

“‘Westminster’s boys and girls were no angels,’ as John Rae puts it, ‘but they were always good company.’ As we follow his campaign to turn a single-sex establishment with a reputation for arrogance, slackness and drug-taking into the best school in the country, the same holds true of the author.” – The Telegraph

“These diaries reveal beneath the serious public persona of John Rae a schoolmaster who got a lot of fun from the antics and the wit of his boys… an enjoyable read.” – The Spectator

“Rae’s revelations have the fascination to be found in an insider’s account of the workings of an ancient and peculiar institution.” – Sunday Times

“A remarkable expose of the dirty dealings that have given public school pupils an unfair advantage in winning Oxbridge places is mischievously offered from the grave” – Oxford Times

“John Rae rejoiced in being an outside, a maverick and a source of irritation – but he was devoted to Westminster and he served it well” The Economist

About John Rae

John Malcolm Rae was born 20th March 1931 and married Daphne Simpson in 1955, having six children. He was educated at Cambridge University (MA) and the Department of War Studies, King's College, London (Ph.D), and later became headmaster at Westminster School between 1970-86. He is author of The Custard Boys (1960). He has also written books on education, including the best-selling Letters from School (1987) and five books for children. He died in December 2006.