Eric Anderson was born in Edinburgh in 1936. His family were kilt makers.
His real name is William Eric Kinloch Anderson. Despite this he was always known by his middle name ”Eric.” He is the only subject of this book to still be a going concern.
Anderson attended George Watson’s College. This is one of Edinburgh’s leading schools. He was raised as a member of the Church of Scotland. He then attended the University of St Andrew’s. This is one of North Britain’s four old universities. The others being Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. He read English and graduated with a first class Master of Arts. Note that the four old Scottish universities award Masters’ degrees as undergraduate degrees because all their undergraduate degrees take four years. In contrast English universities usually teach an undergraduate degree in three years (depending on the subject) and the graduates are awarded a Bachelor’s degree. Mr Anderson then enrolled at Balliol College, Oxford. Balliol was founded in 1264 by a Scots nobleman John Balliol. (The founder was the father of a King of Scots who was confusingly also named John Balliol). Balliol retained close links with Scotland. It was known to be the most formidably intellectual of all Oxford colleges. It had gained this daunting reputation in the mid 19th century when a Balliol had a Master named Benjamin Jowett.
The Norrington Table is a table of academic results of Oxford colleges. The Norrington Table derives its name form the don who invented it. It is like a football league table. A college moves up and down from year to year according to the proportion of First Class degrees, 2:1, 2:2s and Thirds it gains. Balliol has consistently been at or near the top.
Balliol was not only seen as the most outstanding college in academic terms. It was known for its left wing atmosphere. It attracted plenty of undergraduates form Commonwealth countries. Many of these young men were full of radical and anti-imperialist nostra. Anderson seems to have remained aloof from these opinions.
At Balliol Eric Anderson studied for a Master of Letters (M.Litt). His thesis was on the novel of Sir Walter Scott. Scott was an early 19th century poet and prose author. Scott wrote many illustrious historical fictions such as Ivanhoe. He is known for some poems such as Lochinver. Sir Walter Scott helped to organise George IV’s visit to Scotland. He also invented the kilt. Scott is one of the UK’s most popular novelists. He was a romantic right winger. Anderson is suspected of being of the same cast of mind as his literary idol. Scott’s Toryism and neo-feudalism were deeply unfashionable in Balliol around 1960. Scott is commemorated by an enormous monument in the middle of Edinburgh. Balliol always remained close to his heart. In future years when interviewing candidates for teaching posts he would greet them with ”Floreat domulus de Balliolo” (May the little house of Balliol flourish) if the candidate was a Balliol man or woman.
Mr Anderson, as he then was, went into teaching. He accepted a post at Gordonstoun School which is the most northerly public school in the United Kingdom. This is a very new and audacious foundation. It was only set up in 1933. It has enormous grounds and is deep in the countryside. Gordonstoun was founded by a German Jewish refugee named Dr Kurt Hahn. Dr Hahn was deeply influenced by Platonic philosophy. He believed in a holistic education. This was to include sports, camping and community service as well as academic subjects. This school had been attended by Prince Philip of Greece in the 1930s. He was the man who married Elizabeth II. Gordonstoun was laudable in seeking to throw of the snobbery of more established schools. It also did a lot for Germano-British education after the Second World War. Gordonstoun was a copy of Salem which was a school Kurt Hahn had founded in Germany in 1920. Gordonstounians were encouraged to spend a year at Salem. Pupils from Salem were exhorted to spent a year at Gordonstoun. Many people took the chance. Anderson became the housemaster of Prince Charles. This was a weighty responsibility for a relatively young teacher. Whilst at Gordonstoun Anderson married Poppy Mason. They have a daughter and a son.
Later on Anderson moved to Fettes College in Edinburgh. This is one of Scotland’s most splendid schools. There he was housemaster to a budding young actor by the name of Tony Blair. Blair was self-possessed and argumentative. There was no doubting his academic promise or his casuistry.. Blair made a name for himself playing of the the lead roles in R C Sheriff’s play about the First World War Journey’s End.
Anderson was appointed Headmaster of Abingdon at the very early age of 34. He was an enormous success. He then became headmaster of Shrewsbury. This is one of the Clarendon Nine. In the 1870s Parliament commissioned Lord Clarendon to write a report into the nine leading schools in the kingdom. The Clarendon Nine are still considered the most reputable schools of all.
Anderson acquitted himself well. He was then appointed to the highest office in schooling. He was made Head Master of Eton. Notice that Eton spells this as two separate words: Head Master. Every other school has it as a compound word: headmaster. In 1980 he took over Eton. Eric Anderson was in some respects a daring choice. He had not attended one of the outstanding schools. Nor had he been to Varsity as an undergraduate but only as a post-graduate. He was not an Anglican but a member of the Church of Scotland. Some boys were wont to look down on him. Nevertheless he had handled great responsibility with much aplomb. One of the pupils there was an undersized boy named David Cameron. The most humorous public speaker was a King’s Scholar named Boris Johnson. Anderson had to deal with the growing threat of drug abuse at the time. He was compelled to expel a few boys.
Eric Anderson was awarded an honorary doctorate. He became known as Dr Anderson. Some found this objectionable as only those with a substantive doctorate should use the appellation.
Dr Anderson had no sectarian prejudices. He brought in the first Roman Catholic chaplain to the school since 1558. He appointed a Jesuit named Peter Knott. Father Knott was unusual in that he had served a full military career before taking holy orders. Catholics comprised over 10% of the school.
Eton has a unique system of naming year groups. Boys usually start at Eton aged 13. This is called Year 9 by most British schools. Eton calls this F Block. Next year boys move up to E Block and then D Block, C Block and the final year of school is B Block. Dr Anderson made it his business to teach and English lesson to every class in F Block. He also judged declamation contests. He was a very genuine person. He seemed gauche when addressing large gatherings. He allowed two documentaries about Eton to be made. The better known was was Eton Class of 1991. This was filmed in 1990 which was the 550th anniversary of the school’s foundation.
Anderson retired from Eton in 1994. The very fact he lasted so long stands testament to his terrific success. He had already arranged a berth for himself. He became Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford. Every Oxford college has a head of house. The title of the head of house differs from college to college. Some call it master, some rector, some president and so on. Christ Church calls it dean. This is misleading because in other colleges the dean is the person in charge of discipline.
Some people at Lincoln resented Anderson. He invited old friends to stay all the time. They complained that he used the college as a hotel for his cronies. After six years he retired from that post. The position of Provost of Eton had become vacant. The Provost is the head of the board of governors at Eton. The governors are called Fellows of Eton. The Provost is the supreme authority at Eton. He and the Fellows choose the Head Master. They also have the ability to dismiss the Head Master. They do not involve themselves in the quotidian running of the school. Very major policy decisions are referred to them for approval. There is one Fellow nominated by Oxford University and one by Cambridge University.
Dr Anderson was seen as one of the great and the good. He was made a Knight of the Order of the Thistle. This relates to Scotland. Since he is a knight and not a baronet this title will die with him. He has published a book on his hero Sir Walter Scott. Anderson has been heaped with other honours and sits on various boards.