OBITUARY: John Bateson - inspiring teacher of modern languages and a fine musician

Written by Christopher Joseph on .

John Bateson


John Bateson died suddenly on Tuesday,  May 16.  He was a long-time Modern Languages teacher at Marlborough College - from 1973 to 1997 - and thereafter a familiar figure in the town and supporter of many of its activities.


At the College he was an inspiring teacher of German and the first Head of that subject. One of his remarkable achievements was the organisation of Advanced Level exchanges in which pupils were allocated to individual schools throughout Germany - staying for a whole term so that they had total immersion in the language and culture.  


This work involved John in much travelling, but brought contacts that enabled him to teach in two German schools at Salem and Birklehof.  


Under John’s direction the weekly Marlborough College News Sheet developed from a rather straightforward, factual chronicle into a publication which engaged with many current topical news.  Often controversial and hard hitting it provided early journalistic experience that was a foundation for some students at the College who now write for national newspapers.


John’s chief extracurricular activities though were musical.  He possessed a fine alto voice and was a most accomplished keyboard player.  These skills he used to the full, whether it was founding the May Day Madrigals, accompanying young pupils or directing the College Chamber Choir.  He also played a sporting role, refereeing football and coaching tennis.


John had to take very early retirement, on medical grounds. But this did not prevent him from playing a very active part in many activities in the town.  At St John’s School he was instrumental in setting up the Year 10 interviews that precede work experience and he also gave much help to the Learning Support programme for students at Swindon College, who were in work placements.  


At the Marlborough Tourist Information Centre he was one of a trio, who had between them over a century of experience in the town.  They used their experience to give wonderful service to the many enquirers visiting the town and it allowed John to use his language skills - often to tourists’ surprise.


Their B & B booking service was unrivalled and sadly discontinued when the Wiltshire Council closed the Tourist Information Centre.  


Beyond the town John gave notable service to the Appeals Panel of the Swindon Education Authority. Even when his sight deteriorated John spent many hours mastering the documents that this work necessitated.  Although he did not travel in recent years he maintained contact through an internet advisory service via Bulgaria.  He also kept in touch with many of his ex-pupils one of whom wrote: “I have hundreds of pages of correspondence - a wonderful chronicle of both our lives”.  


John’s sudden, and untimely, death means a huge loss to his many friends from the College, the town and to ex-pupils far and wide.  


John was a familiar figure cycling in to the town to do his shopping from his home in Elcot Lane and greeting friends with a wave as he passed. He was single and had no relatives. At his direction there is to be a private cremation.