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Sir Eric Anderson KT

A member of the Milroy family.

The Provost of Eton College, Sir Eric Anderson, was made a Knighs of the Order of the Thistle during a ceremony at St Giles in Edinburgh, 02 July 2003. AFP PHOTO/Andrew Parsons Pool. (Photo credit should read ANDREW PARSONS/AFP/Getty Images)
Sir Eric Anderson
Sir Eric Kinloch Anderson KT, MA, Blitt. Hon., Dlitt., FRSE The son of William James Kinloch Anderson and Margaret Gouinlock Harper born in Edinburgh May 27 1936. He was married to Anne Elizabeth Mason aka Poppy. They have two children both born in Edinburgh, Scotland, David and Kate.

The following was written by Richard Kay - The Daily Mail.

The master of secrets: He taught three future Prime Ministers and the heir to the throne, and was a confidant of the Queen Mother - but, writes RICHARD KAY, former Eton Head Master Eric Anderson, who has died at 83, never betrayed their confidences

Reclining in her favourite armchair, dogs sleeping at her feet, the Queen Mother was at her most relaxed.

She had watched benignly as her guest honoured her entreaty to do justice to the sumptuous Sunday teatime spread laid out in the saloon at Royal Lodge, her home in Windsor Great Park. And now she was ready to talk.

Between them a tape recorder whirred silently as Sir Eric Anderson, then Head Master of Eton College, gently and with great charm, prodded her to recall from her prodigious memory and intimate knowledge, some of the pivotal moments of the 20th century she had lived through.

There were ten such exchanges between the last Empress of India and the ruddy-faced and softly-spoken Scotsman, spread over many weekends, and they represented a remarkable collaboration built on trust.

Over the course of the conversations, Sir Eric, who has died at the age of 83, elicited countless stories from her — but she never let her guard down. She had made it a rule never to talk about the Royal Family to anyone, ever since a youthful indiscretion when, aged 22, she spoke about her engagement to the then Prince Albert, Duke of York, which upset her future father in law King George V.

And she saw no reason to change even in her tenth decade.

She did tell Anderson that it was 'a terrible surprise' when King Edward VIII decided to abdicate to marry American divorcee Mrs Simpson. 'It was just a terrible tragedy, it really was. We all loved the Prince of Wales and we thought he was going to be a wonderful King. It was a dreadful blow to his brother (her husband who had succeeded him to the throne) because, you see, they were great friends.'

The Queen Mother had no need to worry about her interviewer. Sir Eric was the most honourable and discreet of men who, after their encounters, transcribed the tapes, typed them up and gave them all to the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, where years later they were used by Queen Elizabeth's biographer William Shawcross.

But Eric Anderson was far more than a safe repository for royal secrets. He was not only the most successful of Eton's modern headmasters but the best connected academic in Britain.

He had the unique distinction of having taught three Prime Ministers — Tony Blair at Fettes, in Edinburgh, and David Cameron and Boris Johnson at Eton. He also taught the heir to the throne, the Prince of Wales, at Gordonstoun where he cast Charles as Macbeth in a production the Queen and Prince Philip saw.

To Blair, Sir Eric was a mentor and inspiration; to Charles — from whom in that play Anderson is said to have drawn a performance of 'naked sensitivity and humanity' — he was the reason the Prince entrusted Eton to educate both Prince William and Prince Harry.

Of his own abilities, Anderson was typically modest insisting his contemporary Dennis Silk of Radley was 'the best headmaster of our generation'.

Quite possibly, but no one, surely, had ever been entrusted with so many confidences. Not once did it cross his mind to cash in on all that knowledge, even though as tutor and confidant to princes and future premiers he had such an abundance of material. He could have enriched himself on the lecture circuit but instead lived modestly in retirement with his beloved wife Poppy, whom he had met at St Andrews University where they both were students.

For this son of an Edinburgh kilt-maker, his passion — along with a love for the writings of Walter Scott — was education. And he spoke out freely on what he saw as the nation's educational disaster.

To Sir Eric, the heart of what was wrong was an ideological aversion to selection by ability. Rather than raising the standards for the many, he believed, it had held back the brightest while creating an 'educational underclass'.

His speech to the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference in 2006 must have been uncomfortable for his former pupil — the then Prime Minister Tony Blair — as Anderson declared Labour's comprehensive school revolution had left a legacy of 'watered down intellectual education' and 'permissive' teaching theories which allowed pupils to ignore grammar and spelling. It was the equivalent of six of the best for his protégé at Fettes where he was Blair's housemaster.

'There was a sort of chemistry between us,' he recalled. 'Tony was genuinely clever — he had a good enough mind to have become a don — but he was also rumbustious, maddening, pretty full of himself and very argumentative.

'He was forever knocking at my study door. Round it would come, the grinning Blair face which said: 'Sir, I don't think this or that rule is right, can we change it?'

'After that we'd have 15 minutes of brisk argument and then go away, neither having convinced the other but with a degree of mutual respect.'

On one occasion he had to admonish a 16-year-old Blair after the future PM and some friends had sneaked out of his boarding house for a late-night excursion. Young Tony was caught half-way up a ladder breaking back in to the school by police who thought he was a burglar.

Anderson recalled reading 'the riot act' to the boys. 'Tony took it very well,' he added. 'He treated it as, literally, a fair cop.'

Years later another future prime minister was in his headmaster's study waiting to receive punishment too. This was David Cameron who had been reported for smoking cannabis on a small island in the middle of the Thames which he and some friends had reached in one of the school's double sculls rowing boats.

Cameron recalled it as the 'worst moment of my life so far', later writing: 'The strange thing about that interview was that he seemed more nervous than me. I think he found the whole episode shocking, and he was clearly still coming to terms with the words for various drug paraphernalia.

'Because I was so keen not to implicate anyone else, I claimed — totally falsely — that I had only smoked cannabis once at Eton, and all the other times were 'at home in the village'.

'This involved me telling a more and more elaborate set of lies. I am not sure he believed a word I said, but my abiding memory is the moment he asked, 'Yes, Cameron, but who rolled the joint?' '

As for Boris Johnson, Anderson remembered a less than convincing role in Shakespeare's Richard III with Boris playing the king.

Johnson hadn't learned the lines and had them pasted on various pillars. 'The performance consisted of him running from one side of the stage to the other failing to read them properly,' Sir Eric said. A fifth generation member of the Edinburgh family firm of kilt-makers, Kinloch Anderson, Sir Eric declared: 'I live by Scottish standards of rectitude, probity and loyalty. It may sound pious but I believe they matter.' But after school at George Watson's College, Edinburgh, and winning a Carnegie scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, he decided on teaching, not kilt-making.

At Gordonstoun the ambitious young English graduate took Prince Charles under his wing. In the first play he put on, Henry V, he wanted to give the prince the lead because, as he told his wife, Charles was 'the best reader and, I suspect, possibly the best actor'. But he didn't, fearing it would be interpreted as being 'keen to be noticed by royalty'.

A lifelong friendship followed and it was Charles who encouraged his adored grandmother, then in her 90s, to reminisce with Anderson. He also arranged for Anderson to give Princess Diana informal tutorials in history and literature in the early years of their marriage. Her brother Earl Spencer was a pupil at Eton at the time. As diarist Kenneth Rose noted sardonically: 'I am not sure he made much headway.'

Despite his political conservatism, Sir Eric was viewed by Etonian standards as a liberal when he became head in 1980, abolishing the cane and moderating the school's snooty image. He stayed 14 years and returned later for a further nine years as Provost.

'Like all great school masters, he had a presence. Aided by a lingering burr of a Scottish accent, he had a natural authority without having to display it,' Vice-provost Andrew Gailey said yesterday.

'Remarkably, he was a Head Master liked by both beaks (teachers) and boys.'

In every way, a very modern Mr Chips.

Source: Richard Kay - 23 Apr 2020 - The Daily Mail

Eric Anderson became a knight of the Order of the Thistle in 2002. This honour is a personal gift of the sovereign and not awarded upon the advice of government.

Medals and Awards

The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle
The Most Ancient
and Most Noble
Order of the Thistle
Order of the Thistle

Family Connection

Sir Eric Anderson is a 4th & 5th cousin once removed on the maternal side of the family (Milroy Family).
Sadly Eric passed away on the 22nd of April 2020.  Eric and I had kept in touch via email and he was very helpful in providing family information and advice when writing our family history.

Owner/SourceRon Field
Date22 Apr 2017
Linked toWilliam Eric Kinloch Anderson

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