Gavin Brown (1947-1951)

Died on 7th March 2020, aged 85

It is with great sadness that we have to announce the passing of Gavin Brown on 7th March after a short illness aged 85.

For older OMTs reading this, Gavin and his identical twin brother Patrick (1947-1952) were the sons of Gavin ‘Gubbins’ Brown (Staff 1923-1963), Head of Modern Languages. For younger OMTs, Gavin was the father of Gavin Brown (1974-1979) and Andrew Brown (1977-1981). For even younger OMTs, Gavin was the grandfather of Gavin Brown (2009-2014) and Michael Brown (2009-2016).

Gavin was born in Pinner on 24th April 1934 some 20 minutes before Patrick, thereby inheriting the Christian name of Gavin – an old Scottish tradition and the cause of much confusion to this day.

Gavin and Patrick spent a happy early childhood in Pinner before moving to Fort William on the West Coast of Scotland during the War. Gavin Snr. was appointed Head of Security for several SOE training camps where agents were trained before being dropped into occupied Europe. It was there that the boys spent most of their time in the great outdoors including time on the White Sands of Morar where they fished for sea trout and collected freshwater pearls from the mussels found in the local rivers.

In 1942, the family returned to ‘Hunterlees’, an MTS staff house on Sandy Lodge Lane. The boys attended St Martin’s School where they teamed up with several future OMTs including Colin and Ian Turnbull to form the Bramble Wood Rangers – the self-styled terrors of Northwood and Moor Park.

Gavin and Patrick arrived at Merchant Taylors’ in 1947 and spent most of their time playing sport and avoiding the rigours of academic life. Gavin eventually represented the School at rugby, cricket and athletics. He became an accomplished middle-distance runner and was particularly proud of his School high-jump record.

After four years at MTS, his father and the Head Master agreed that Gavin would perhaps be better-off making his way in the world rather than continuing with further academic study. By chance, M François Fleury, one of the School’s French masters, had a father who worked for International Paints in Le Havre. So, at the age of 17, Gavin set sail for France and spent 6 happy months there, working for the company and playing rugby for Le Havre Athletic Club in the French second division, as well as the occasional ‘fête’ game against First Class opposition including Le Racing Club de Paris.

At the age of 18, Gavin returned to Rickmansworth and while in a recruiting office enquiring about joining the Navy for National Service, he was asked to step through a side door, which meant he had ‘volunteered’ to join the Corps of Royal Marines.

After 17 weeks’ basic training at Lympstone Barracks in Devon, Gavin was selected for officer training at Eaton Hall in Cheshire. 2nd Lieutenant Brown was subsequently assigned to Eastney Barracks in Plymouth on ‘Rugby Duties’. There he played for US Portsmouth against all of the First-Class sides in the South of England. However, he never played for the Navy, as at just over 12 stone, he was considered too light. At about this time, Gavin played in finals of the Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham, the last OMT side to make it that far in the competition.

While at Eastney, Gavin volunteered for the Special Boat Service (SBS), the Navy’s version of the SAS. His training included parachuting into water, attacking ships with limpet mines while swimming with re-breather equipment rather than standard scuba gear to eliminate bubbles. He also learned unarmed combat including how to ‘disable’ the enemy while underwater. Gavin spent several months on exercise in Northern Norway where his team were charged with attacking NATO airfields to test their defences. It was here that he described being launched from a submarine equipped with a collapsible canoe that had to be assembled on the surface before being paddled ashore at night.

In 1954, Gavin was demobbed, and returned to Rickmansworth where he joined a local firm manufacturing a new wonder product known as Glass Reinforced Plastic or GRP.

Two years later, Gavin met Margaret (known to everyone as Tim), then a nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital. After a series of parties and a trip to the Café de Paris to see Liberace, they became engaged and subsequently married in 1957. Married life began in one of the cottages behind Durrants. Other residents at the time included Mike Christie, Colin Cole, Dick Lewis and of course Don Hodson.

Gavin (right) and Patrick Brown flanking Maurice Benham, the School groundsman for many years.  When the boys were very young, their nanny used to push them in their pram across the school playing fields. Maurice used to chat her up and she ended up becoming Mrs Benham!

During this period, Gavin’s rugby career with the OMTs resumed. Gavin loved playing rugby and had a stellar rugby career. He made 403 appearances for the 1st XV and scored 83 tries, quite remarkable for a forward, and makes him 7th on the all-time list going back to 1882. He represented Hertfordshire 43 times and was captain in 1955 and 1956 – the team at the time had a number of internationals. Gavin also played for and captained Combined London Old Boys. In 1957 Gavin was selected to play for Southern Counties against the touring Australians, his greatest sporting moment. All this achieved despite weighing less than 12 stone.

After moving to Chipperfield in 1959, Sally arrived followed by Gavin two years later. Sally’s arrival was difficult and resulted in Gavin having to miss an important Cup game to attend the hospital, almost unheard of in those days! Andrew arrived after another two years after the family had moved to Hedgerley and then Farnham Common.

By the mid-1960s, Gavin had set up his own GRP manufacturing company in Slough where the company’s proximity to Pinewood Studios led to some interesting work on feature films including Grand Prix and latterly, the second Star Wars movie – Return of the Jedi. Other high-profile projects included the development of a new automated manufacturing process that was used to make large GRP panels for a 4-acre roof to the New Covent Garden flower market at Nine Elms in London – the largest structure of its type in Europe at the time.

Later on, Armfibre (as the company became known) began to specialise in corrosion-resistant products for the water treatment industry. The company also developed an odour control system that took Gavin to many parts of the world including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Egypt and Taiwan.

The family moved to Hill Farm House in 1974, a rather run-down former farmhouse set in six acres of overgrown gardens and woodland located outside the village of Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire. Hill Farm became a great source of interest for Gavin who, along with Tim and the children, turned the wilderness into a wonderful setting full of fruit trees, rhododendrons and azaleas. On a good day and by using his full range of 8 lawn mowers, Gavin reckoned he could cut the grass in a little over 8 hours. Hill Farm became the ideal setting for entertaining and parties. On one occasion, the garden played host to a school fundraising barbeque for over 200 guests.

Gavin continued to play rugby for OMTs until he was over 50 and achieved the rare feat of playing with both his sons, Gavin and Andrew, but sadly not all together in the same match. At this time, the senior players would play down the club to keep enjoying the game but also to develop younger players. He played together with Andrew for all of the 1981-82 season in Charlie Sharp’s C XV and took great delight in telling everyone how he always got to the breakdown first.

On retirement from 1st XV rugby, Gavin became more involved in OMT matters, firstly as the Chairman of the OMT Society, Chairman of Durrants Club and President of the OMT Society in 2004. His involvement spanned some turbulent years for the Society, culminating in the decision to leave Durrants and set up a new base at the School.

In 1996 Gavin was asked to be a Governor of Merchant Taylors’. Gavin saw this as a great honour and described the appointment as something his father would not have believed possible. Serving for nearly 13 years, he brought sound business sense to the role and became a trusted and valuable member of the team. He was particularly proud of his involvement in the appointment of three Headmasters, namely David Skipper, John Gabitass and Steven Wright, all of whom he counted as friends. Gavin was involved in several School and OMT initiatives including the formation of the Merchant Taylors’ Friends, the School parents’ support groups and the Wallaby Foundation initiated by Tony Webster (1949-52) that provide recent leavers with the opportunity to travel to and work in Australia.

At this time Gavin was invited to join the Livery of the Merchant Taylors’ Company where he enjoyed many social events and he would, I am sure, have been more involved with the Company had he not been so committed elsewhere!

After rugby, Gavin had a short unsuccessful flirtation with Marathon running but it was golf that replaced rugby as his main sporting hobby. He became a member at Moor Park where his mother, Nancy, had been Ladies’ Captain and played regularly as part of the Rabbits with many of his OMT friends.

Travel was another of Gavin’s great passions. Having travelled widely during his business career, Gavin embarked on even more trips in retirement. Trips with Tim included two complete circumnavigations of the Globe, visits to South America, Oman and the canals of Europe. Two highlights that they particularly enjoyed were a trip to Chile, The Falklands and Antarctica and a second trip along the coast of Norway to Murmansk above the Arctic Circle where he relived his National Service days with the Royal Marines.

Family holidays were based around North Cornwall, especially Padstow and Trevone where a group of OMTs and their families met up for the season. The Pages, Pelhams, Campbells, Turnbulls, Arnolds and Kings all spent days on the beach surfing and snorkelling followed by barbeques and parties in various back gardens.

Wine became a passion at that time, firstly in the form of various home-made varieties (Hawthorn Blossom ‘76 was particularly successful). However, this was eventually replaced by a large wooden barrel of carefully selected red wine imported into the country and bottled by a gang of children in Karl Arnold’s garage under limited supervision. The parents were apparently engaged in quality control sampling of the product elsewhere. OMT Tom Lant had a friend who was, by chance, a wine importer who organised a series of trips for a group of OMT friends around the Chateaux and vineyards of France where they were all treated like VIPs as they were being accompanied by a potential buyer.

In latter years, Gavin and Tim moved to Potten End near Berkhamsted and almost immediately became involved in village events including running the Village Hall and being Chairman of the Potten End Open Day celebrations. This led to a rather rash decision to open his garden to the public as part of the event. This involved an enormous amount of work to achieve a Chelsea level manicured garden that was of talk of village for years to come.

At this time, Gavin rekindled his links with Royal Marines and became involved with the Windsor branch of the Royal Marine and SBS Associations. Gavin and Tim attended many happy occasions in the Officers’ Mess at the Guards Club in Windsor.

Gavin enjoyed the arrival of his five grandchildren and spent many happy hours with Tim getting to know some sports and activities that he was less familiar with. Alice and Abigail were keen netball players and Abigail’s exploits in the world of rowing meant many trips to rowing regattas around the country. Sophie led them into the world of dance which Gavin was quite sure was a result of him passing on his natural ability to the younger generation – ‘be still my dancing feet!’ was his often-heard refrain. Gavin and Michael followed in their grandfather’s footsteps and played rugby, cricket and hockey for the School which their grandparents were happy to watch – weather permitting. Michael introduced Gavin and Tim to the curious world of Association Football - a relatively new addition to Merchant Taylors’. Despite professing to be a Fulham supporter, Gavin never quite bought into The Beautiful Game.

It is fair to say that very few people have contributed so much to the OMT Society and wider family of the Sports sections and the School itself. While his time at the School was unremarkable, it was the defining period of Gavin’s life. The majority of his close friendships began at the School and continued unbroken until his death. Gavin and Tim were ever-present at OMT events all around the world. Most importantly, he was not content to just take part, his greatest desire was for the Society to survive and flourish so that others could enjoy the friendships and camaraderie that had enriched the majority of his adult life.

Tim and Gavin Brown in Austria, on one of their many trips abroad

Gavin was able to cut through the inertia and resistance which old and established organisations can exhibit. Experience gained in the Marines and his business life, coupled with tremendous drive, enthusiasm and great charm, allowed Gavin to push through changes and improvements that would have otherwise remained on the drawing board.

He was a great role model for many people who knew him and a great supporter of any cause that he thought had merit. He will be very sadly missed by his family, friends and OMTs everywhere. To paraphrase the Royal Marine slogan – “Once an OMT, always an OMT!”

Gavin Brown (1974-1979)


Tribute to Gavin Brown from Nick Foley (1944-1949)

Others have written about the person, his career and his life in general, with humour and warmth but something has yet to be said about the role of Gavin Brown as leader of the OMT Society. Here is how it happened.

It was late 1982. The committee of the OMT Football Club, formed in 1882 and one of the oldest rugby clubs in the country, was preparing for the celebration of its centenary. Earlier in that year, in February, in anticipation of the event, Fred Huskisson, the outstanding rugby international and former chairman of both Football Club and OMT Society, had been appointed as President of the Society.

The Football Club decided to celebrate the centenary with a formal dinner in March 1983. Gavin Brown, chairman of the Football Club, appointed a team to organise the forthcoming events. Realising rather belatedly that, by then, Fred would have completed his year as president in February, Gavin approached the Society committee to extend the presidential year to permit Fred to preside at the Dinner. It was an unheard-of request. The next president had already been approached. It was embarrassing and awkward but, ultimately, the persuasive power of Gavin was sufficient to win the day. Ever since that time, the annual appointment of president, approved by members of the Society in February, has not been taken up until later in the year.

The dinner was held at the Whitbread brewery. Needless to say, it was a resounding success with an attendance of over 700 including many distinguished rugby guests, but the Society committee would not forget the persistence of Gavin. Here was someone who gets things done.

The committee meantime had been cooperating with the School to weld together the separate sports supporters’ groups at the School under an umbrella organisation to be called the Friends of Merchant Taylors’ School. A chairman was needed for the Friends and so it came about that Gavin was offered and accepted that role, performing with tact and much distinction. It was no surprise that a few years later, when the Society needed a new chairman of its committee, it should turn to Gavin Brown. Gavin was duly appointed in 1991. From this time forward, the Society owes a considerable further debt to Gavin.

The club ground at Durrants was a fine sporting facility but also a potentially valuable development site. Soon after his appointment, Gavin was consulted on this issue by the trustees of the 1914-18 War Memorial Trust which owned the property. Nothing further happened until a year or two later. It had become known that the local development plan was about to be reviewed. If the land was scheduled for development and sold by the trustees, the Society and its sporting clubs would have to move.

The matter was highly confidential but a new venue had to be identified. A small group, reporting to Gavin, was brought into being to investigate alternative sporting sites. Extensive work was undertaken by the group with some twelve options examined. The ultimate recommendation was to approach the School with a view to acquiring an area little used by the School adjoining Tolpits House, in Tolpits Lane, the so-called water meadows, beyond the School cricket pavilion.

In 1997, the trustees informed the Society that they had received separate legal advice to consult with the School as to whether the School might have an interest in the sale proceeds of Durrants, a highly sensitive matter. Whatever the outcome, if a move resulted, there would also be the problem of winding down affairs at Durrants. Gavin appointed a new group to consult with the School governors and took the responsibility for the club house upon his own shoulders, accepting the role of director and chairman of Durrants Club Limited which operated the facilities.

Under yet another hat, Gavin had been serving as a governor of the School for many years. The extensive contribution of Gavin to the School has been dealt with elsewhere. The combination was a useful link in the special circumstances but, with the possibility of conflict, it needed great care. Gavin was much respected by both School and Society and handled the situation with his customary discretion.

By 2000, Gavin was ready to hand over his duties to someone else but it had been a critical period. For his skill of delegation, his steadiness in crisis and for his careful overall control, Gavin deserves the utmost credit.

Gavin timed his retirement well. As members know, the complex arrangements for the move took many years to unfold. Eventually a site at the School was accepted and the Society moved to the new War Memorial Club House and playing fields at the School in 2011. Meantime an amicable agreement was reached with the School concerning its special interest.

The role of Gavin, as chairman of the Society, had come to an end. He was rewarded with appointment as an honorary life member of the Society, and later as its President. It was fitting tribute to a man who had done so much for Club, Society and School, during a critical period.

Nick Foley (1944-1949)


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