"I know you think that I know less history than your dog...."

David Cameron at home A photo given to Kidson by David Cameron before he left Eton College

"On Monday night, David Cameron broke his silence at a comically recherché occasion. He spoke to launch a biography of a schoolmaster (The Enigma of Kidson by Jamie Blackett, Quiller). The subject, Michael Kidson, was a master at Eton in the ex-prime minister’s time. The book contains a photograph of Cameron’s ‘leaver’ (the inscribed photograph of themselves that boys give to staff and friends when they leave), which he gave to Kidson. Young David stands at the garden gate of his parents’ old rectory (see above). He begins, ‘I know you think I know less history than your dog [a celebrity called Dougal]’ and goes on to say he has little hope of getting into Oxbridge ‘but the strangest things can happen’. They did. Other ‘leavers’ feature, including those from Cornelius Lysaght, Dominic West and the present Archbishop of Canterbury, a mixture of occupations which Kidson enjoyed.

"Kidson was the classic eccentric bachelor schoolmaster — potentially a very annoying stereotype. But he was unusual among teachers seriously interested in their subject in preferring pupils who weren’t top of the class. So the launch party was largely a gathering of men who happily describe themselves as ‘thickoes’, a fact of which Cameron made well-judged play. Eton has a good system by which boys have a ‘modern tutor’ (chosen by them), who looks after their academic and intellectual welfare outside class. Kidson was genially rude to his pupils, often calling them ‘completely illiterate’, but he cared about them. The nicest thing in this book is the way he stuck up for his boys. Of one, who he fears will be thrown out for failing exams, he writes to the head master: ‘He is, in my view, a thoroughly good man… He is kind, cheerful, honest, well-liked; frequent peccadillos can’t damage the good side. If there were a conventional war tomorrow, you couldn’t wish for a better companion in a slit trench… To send him away would do him no good, & only put a great load on his mother’s shoulders.’ How much better educated millions of teenagers would be if each had a crusty grown-up who saw it as his job to be their advocate."

Extract from Charles Moore's The Spectator's Notes column in The Spectator (June 17, 2017)