David Baker – PeA 47-55
Submitted by Richard McGregor (MaB 48-57)
David Baker was born in New Cross in south-east London in July 1936. He, and his non-identical twin brother Paul, were evacuated from London (as many children were) in 1940 to Hertfordshire, where they remained for nearly five years with just occasional visits from their parents. David told me that his father was a driver in the Army based near Dover and he could sometimes get up to see his sons by borrowing an army vehicle.
In 1947 David won an LCC scholarship to Christ’s Hospital where he boarded for eight years. At CH he excelled academically, and he was a very good athlete and rugby player. In fact, at the age of fifteen he won the Public Schools Under 16 110 yards hurdles event at the White City! He was invited to further coaching by a top UK athletics coach, although David freely admitted that he had no hurdling technique but was just very fast between the hurdles and did not mind what he knocked over in between! So it was almost a case of “Next”! David also held the school track record for the 100 yards, jointly with two others. David was in the school rugby 1st XV for three years captaining the team in his last year. He won a Major Scholarship to Magdalene College, Oxford to read Classics, but first he needed to do his National Service.
David spent most of his National Service with the Army in Germany. He put his time to good use by learning to speak German and learning to drive a tank, which some thought showed up in his driving technique! Despite his experience in the CCF at school, David had no interest in seeking to obtain a Commission as an officer. His focus was on having as easy time as possible, getting what time off he could to play sport and, just occasionally, making his superiors seem foolish! One story he told me related to when he and a colleague were in charge of the Bar at the Officers’ Mess. At the end of the month they had to take stock and try to reconcile it with the purchases and sales over the period. David said that, if they had too much stock they would “drink it”, and if they had too little stock they would “charge it to Mess Guests”. One day a General paid a visit and congratulated them on the accuracy of their record keeping, which amused David!
In 1957 David went up to Oxford University to read Classics. There were two separate Degree courses called Mods and Greats, one concentrating on the ancient languages of Latin and Greek, and the other more related to the philosophies of the time. David got a First Class Degree in both, hence emerging after four years with what is known as a Double First. In his first summer there I visited Oxford to look up Michael Hewitt, who was David’s contemporary and my old house captain, and it was then that I met David for the first time to speak to, having just known him by sight and reputation at school. Paul was also up for the weekend and the four of us took out a punt from Magdalene College and poled up stream to the Trout Inn, a well-known watering hole, where we had lunch before poling back. David would come down to London to play for the Old Blues when he could so we kept in touch then as I was already playing regularly for them.
After graduating David joined the chemical giant, ICI, and spent a year at their plant at Billingham in Durham. It was in late 1962 that David returned to the family home in Camberwell when he was transferred to ICI’s head office in Millbank. Some of us later speculated that after 5 years evacuation, 8 years boarding school, 2 years in the Army, 4 years at Oxford and 1 year at Billingham, his mother could have been forgiven for saying “Well, who are you then?”
Over the next six years I got to know him very well through our mutual involvement with the OBRFC. On the rugby field David was what was then known as a wing forward and he used his great speed to cover right across the pitch and tackle anyone who had got away. There were many escapades off the pitch and in the mid sixties we both joined a large mixed skiing party to Austria organised by another Old Blue, in which I remember David keeping us entertained by telling a long-winded joke in German. And the following year nine of us went down to Spain in a Ford Transit van which unfortunately broke down in southern France, leaving us to complete the journey to the then fashionable Costa Brava by other means. So all we could do there was swim and drink until a rescue party could set out to recover the repaired van. Just before his 30th birthday David equalled his school 100 yards record in an athletics match for the Old Blues against CH. This was achieved after two pints of beer at the Black Horse in Horsham!
It was at a party after rugby in 1966 that David met Felicity and soon they were going out together. The following year Felicity moved into a flat near Gloucester Road where my wife-to-be was already located and so it was inevitable that we would soon meet. There followed a couple of years of frenetic social activity based on that flat, with David and Felicity getting married in 1968 and us in the following year.
After marriage David’s career with ICI continued in Paints Division, firstly at Slough and then in Cheshire for about ten years. We visited David and Felicity there several times and so the families got to know each other. Later David and I tried skiing again with various sons. It was in Cheshire that David acquired an allotment and discovered that he had green thumbs, as well as a wonky little finger from rugby, as his son put it.
It was in about 1985 that David’s involvement with ICI came to an end and he then obtained a job as Administration Director of Morgan Grampian, the business publishing group, which took him back to London. Back down south David and Felicity bought a house near Sevenoaks, Kent where they lived for the rest of David’s days.
David took up golf (with moderate success) and bridge (with great success), with Felicity joining him in the latter, so they made new friends through these activities.
After David retired in the mid 1990s we joined them on some exciting holidays including cycling in France and visiting various exotic parts of Africa. David had a great sense of humour and his sharp mind always enabled him to come up with independent opinions not necessarily in line with conventional thinking. So he was a stimulating companion. In his last three years he was increasingly afflicted by Alzheimers and Felicity did a marvellous job in caring for him, supported by his two daughters and son.
David at a golf course in Cornwall