Philip Johnston

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Philip Frederick Johnston
M.A., B.Litt.

Philip Johnston at the Old Bostonian Assocaition Annual Dinner 2011
Nicknames Holy Joe, HJ, Bent Head
Born 1936 (age 84–85)
Education Manchester Grammar School (1946-54); Christ's College, Cambridge (MA 1959); St Peter's College, Oxford (BLitt 1964)
Roles Headmaster
Years at BGS 1970-78
Subjects History, Religious Education, English
Predecessor William John Ricketts
Successor Arthur Neville Shrimpton
Spouse Cynthia Margaret Johnston

Philip Frederick Johnston was appointed headmaster of Boston Grammar School on 1st January 1970.

Before BGS

Johnston was a pupil of Manchester Grammar School (1946-54). He spent two years' national service in the RAF, being released with the rank of pilot office, before going up to Christ's, Cambridge. There he read history (under Sir Jack Plumb) and theology (under Robert Runcie, later archbishop of Canterbury) before graduation. He then transferred to St Peter's, Oxford, where he obtained a bachelor of letters degree for his research in church history, and then completed his post-graduate certificate in education. In 1960 he was selected to play lacrosse for Oxford, thus gaining his half-blue against his former university. He was an assistant master at Magdalen College School, Oxford (1961-2), and on the staff of Wolverhampton Grammar School before appointment in 1965 as head of the history department at Barnard Castle School, County Durham.


Johnston, aged 33 on his appointment as headmaster, was the youngest of the six finalists, chosen from 87 applicants.


Paul Mould Centennial Anthology

Philip Frederick Johnston MA, BLitt was educated at Manchester Grammar School from 1946 to 1954. He then spent two years' National Service in the RAF as a Pilot Officer, before being admitted to Christ's College, where he read history under Sir Jack Plumb and theology under Robert Runcie. After graduation, he transferred to St Peter's College, where he obtained a Bachelor of Letters degree for his research in church history. In 1960 he was selected to play lacrosse for Oxford, gaining his half-blue against his former university. He was an assistant master at Magdalene College School from 1961 to 1962, he taught at Wolverhampton Grammar School from 1962 to 1965 and was head of the history department at Barnard Castle School, Co. Durham from 1965, until he came to Boston Grammar School as headmaster in 1970.

Exchange visits, each lasting a school year, between a BGS master and an American teacher began in September, 1971, when TJ Lamb changed posts with TS Fisher of Pennsylvania High School. In 1976 there were two visiting teachers on the staff; Bernard Barbaroux from France and Ted Hipwell from Canada and, as Mr Johnston said: "it gave an added dimension and international flavour to the school."

He encouraged the school's tri-service contingent of the Combined Cadet Force and held the rank of squadron leader in the movement. In 1974 he was awarded the Cadet Forces Medal and he was an honorary member of the officers' mess at Wikipedia:RAF Coningsby.

He was an active worker for Holy Trinity Church, a lay reader and a member of the General Synod of the Church of England. He also served on the national council of the Historical Association and led BGS boys through Middle East bazaars and sacred sites and on county council-sponsored Mediterranean cruises as well as on visits to Service units in Germany.

The Speech Day in 1974 was held in two sessions, one in the afternoon for the second and third year forms, the other in the evening for the remainder of the school. This solved the seating difficulty but required a double attendance for the guest speaker, Canon Paine[1], and staff. Two years after this, however, a written suggestion by twenty-eight members of the staff that the venue should be changed to the Centenary Methodist Church was agreed. Philip Johnston was given permission to resign his appointment early in order to take charge of Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School at Blackburn in 1977 on the death of the previous headmaster.

PF Johnston Bostonian 1976

The Headmaster writes...

1976 was the year of the Drought, the Minibus and the revival of school drama in a delightful and colourful renaissance. It was also the year in which world-travel and international exchange seized the staff-room again, with Mr Borrett hardly home from Canada when Mr Bell and Mr Constable were laying plans to follow suit!

Mr CR McGaughey came to us from Trinity College, Cambridge where he read English, to replace Mr John Phelan who left to teach at his wife's old school, the Sir John Leman Comprehensive School at Beccles in Suffolk. We missed Mr Phelan's quiet contribution to the English department, and - in particular - his work in the Library and his sterling, behind-the-scenes, administration in the rowing world: our rowing has now lost four coaches, and it must be hoped that we can shortly find someone to help in this most useful addition to our extra curricular activities. We also said goodbye to two hard-working part-time members of staff, Mrs Irene Crosby, and the Reverend Mark Spurrell (who had served town and gown for over a decade) and Mr Brian Slater, who - after a brief stay here - returned to Oxford to write a doctoral thesis upon the teaching of chemistry.

New Vicar

Charter Day was held 2 October when the new Vicar of the Parish Church, Canon Trevor Collins, undertook his first public engagement in the town, as our special preacher. Formerly the Diocesan Director of Education, he brings a rare knowledge of contemporary life and education to our midst, and he will be a most useful member of our Governing Body. The excitements of the very successful Yugoslavian Summer trip were hardly recaptured when the Head Master, helped by his wife, led a party of boys on another 'Uganda' school-ship cruise, to Greece, Egypt, the Holy Land, and eventually to Italy. Although the midnight coach-trip to Gatwick airport was something of a traveller's nightmare, the rest of the adventure was more peaceful and very memorable, and many boys returned home with more than bags of 'blessed Bethlehem earth', rich recollections of civilisations long since gone, and of The Man who turned the world upside down. (Canon Collins had been the Anglican chaplain on the 1971 cruise, which had been this school's first such journey).

Strong Smell

A strong smell of painting persisted throughout the Autumn term, inter mingled with the sounds of building the new gymnasium, and it was not long before Speech Day and Prize-Giving was again upon us with Mr B Miller, Master of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, presenting the prizes. His appearance was accompanied by quite remarkable Oxbridge results with W J Kuhn winning an Open Scholarship in English to St. Peter's College, Oxford - a most distinguished performance - together with places awarded to no fewer than six other boys, Allen to Christ's, Cambridge (History), Brunning - Fitzwilliam (Natural Sciences), Howard - St. Edmund Hall, Oxford (Jurisprudence), King - St. Peter's College, Oxford (Natural Sciences) and Willows - New College, Oxford - to read mathematics. These happy results demonstrate just how well boys can do, when they are prepared to work with an able staff to achieve the highest possible goals.

The Spring term was marked by the formal launching of the BGS Parents' Association's first formal meeting when an amazingly large crowd of parents braved the rigours of ice-box hall to discuss the plans for re-organisation of the school. Despite skilful chairing by Canon Collins, it was quite clear that few, if any, parents were prepared to think about comprehensivization as a stated fact of life, prepared only to discuss whether it should have ever been initiated in the first place. In this they were obviously thinking along the same lines as the County Council, who subsequently postponed public meetings in Boston, to debate the same matter.

The Head Master returned from Cambridge in a gloomy frame of mind at the end of March having listened to Mr Mulley, then Minister of Education, speaking to the Headmasters' Association, his chief theme being that reorganisation always took the form of listening to local views, and following local initiatives: I found this hard to swallow, as did my fellow Heads!

May saw a very successful and enjoyable production of "The Court of The Royal Astrologer" by Mr. Constable, revealing some young dramatic talent not seen before, and this was the first occasion in which we saw the use of the new hall and stage curtains, green and old gold, for which the Parents' Association and the Foundation Governors had raised over £1,000, nearly half the total cost. The informal Inspection of the CCF by Brigadier Burgess, Director of Army Recruiting, an enjoyable school concert and exam-briefing soon took us into the 'O' and 'A'-level papers and the Mediterranean conditions which were to persist throughout the summer, making even the school pool a place of warmth but also a relief at the end of yet another torrid day.

And so the year ended, with rumours of re-organisation delayed, a full-time girl joining the school in September (our first such) and the amazing events of the next term, when a horse bit a member of the staff... but more of this anon...

Philip Johnston Associates’ News March 2002

An Election

The Director often forgot that we were a Voluntary School, especially when we are discussing the implications of circular 10/76 (which, if implemented, would have destroyed our selective entry) but the then angry young man in me did not forget that it was the governors, not the LEA, who were responsible for letting the premises. So even I was surprised to find that the County Council automatically assumed that it would be perfectly in order for the General Election count to be held in my school hall, without much reference to the school. Life moved slowly under Holland County Council (from 1974, Lincolnshire) and it was something of a shock to see lights blazing away at midnight in my school, with the Clerk to the County Council puffing away on his curly pipe, in his role as the Returning Officer.

I thought that I would join in the fun, so received my second shock of the evening when my way was barred by a burly member of the Lincolnshire constabulary, who said that I was unable to enter the hall because of my lack of an affidavit, signed by a local magistrate. This was news to me, so I effected a strategic withdrawal, to ponder the matter!

However, living on the premises was not without its advantages, so I strode home, across the playing fields, to collect that large bunch of keys always associated with a motley array of ancient and modern buildings; the superb library of Boston Grammar School dates back to 1567, being the old schoolroom.

With jangling keys, I then effected an entrance through the back of the school, entered my study and put on my gown — not my usual form of garb at 01:30hrs! Manfully striding down the corridor towards the aforesaid school hall, I dutifully presented myself to the same policeman, who quickly saluted me, and proceeded to hold open the door for me…!

And so I saw my first proclamation by a Returning Officer, of the election of (Sir) Richard Body, Member of Parliament for Holland with Boston duly elected…


See Also