Scores of old Etonians, including former prime minister David Cameron, gathered at Christie’s auction house in London last night (12th June) for the launch of The Enigma of Kidson: Portrait of an Eton Schoolmaster by Jamie Blackett.
Featuring contributions from Cameron, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Nat Rothschild and Dominic West, among others, The Enigma of Kidson is the biography of "inspirational and controversial" history master, Michael Kidson, who taught a generation of pupils at Eton for 40 years.
In a speech to guests, Cameron discussed his memories of Kidson and his time at Eton while praising Blackett for writing the book.
“I’d like to pay huge tribute to Jamie [Blackett], I’m discovering just how difficult it is to write a book so I have enormous regard for anyone that can do it", Cameron said. "When you read this book you will find it is absolutely brilliant. It's not just full of funny anecdotes and stories but it has a real point to it; it gets right behind the life of this man."
He added: "The reason we are here is that we loved this man Michael Kidson. He taught most of us history, and we really did love him. We loved him, I think because he loved us… and he absolutely loved the subject that he taught. When he spoke, you felt like you were in the room with those historical figures. He also loved all the people that he taught. He could be ferocious and incredibly rude. We all had the thick-end of his tongue. He actually said to me when I got an A in my History A Level that it was one of the great unexplained events of history.
"My [Conservative] party’s often fond of bringing back things - let's bring back hanging or bring back grammar schools or bring back matron - but one thing I think it would be good to bring back is what Kidson represented, which was judgment and discretion and independence of thought - not doing it by the book but using your judgment and discretion in how you teach and how you help form people’s minds. So many people in this room tonight who owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for what he did for them. He opened my eyes to history and politics and made me love the subject and I’ve read about it ever since. But for many others he did even more and that’s why we’re here. We love him, we love what he represented, we love what he did for us and we love the fact that here was a man of judgment, discretion, independence who did so much for our school and for all of us."
In a seperate speech, author Blackett thanked all the contributors to the book: “This has come as a very great shock to me. I’ve been writing about many of you as recalcitrant teenagers, indolent boys, thickheads, philistines and dolts and now here you all are looking very scary and sophisticated. Even Cameron has miraculously been transformed into a vaguely responsible adult.
“All books are team efforts but this one really more than most. Thanks to all of you who have contributed to the book. I feel like a bit of a fraud cause I’ve only written about a third of it but it’s been absolutely wonderful. Sitting in my office for the last year has been like listening to a continuous loop of that excellent radio programme 'Simon Mayo’s Drive Time Confessions' on Radio 2. Thank you very much for all your stories."
Quiller publisher Andrew Johnston also announced a special edition of the book which will be sold at £200 and available from the Quiller website.