John Paul Victor on 30 August 2017, aged 61
W OQ69 - CQ73
Benn Scholarship, House Monitor, 1st XI Member - Cricket and Football
Brother of Richard (W77), who wrote:
John was born to Elizabeth and Philippe Victor in February 1956; Betty of Yorkshire stock from Pickering and Phil’s family originally Huguenots from Lyon, France who moved to the UK in the 1930’s. Philippe’s father had fought for the French in WW1, invalided out after a gas attack.
John attended Downside Preparatory School, privately run by the Dodd family for generations on the Webb Estate in Purley, Surrey, where the family also lived at ‘Cherry Hinton’. This was a home that would become known for it’s entertaining to many visiting Carthusians and friends.
John was already showing his character at Downside with good academic progress, 1st eleven sports and the occasional brush with school authority. John’s early eye for the ball was enhanced by his attending Old Whitgiftian Raman Subba Row’s cricket classes. Fellow Downside pupils included Peter Oundjian (later of Saunderites ) and Graeme McWhirter, cousin of Ross and Norris whom he met on several occasions.
Passing common entrance without too much effort John was considered a bright new hop on his arrival at Weekites in OQ 1969. Two vertically aligned crosses set against his name in the school’s White List, testified to his Benn Scholarship, awarded for distinction in Classics in the Foundation Examination.
Along with the year’s other scholars, he went straight into Remove (a), led by one of the great beaks of the age, who later became Housemaster of Duckites, Philip Balkwill (g58, Brooke Hall 1966-1990).
For companionship in that form year, he had four other Weekites, including one other Scholar-Philip Stanbury (V73), and also his very close childhood and lifelong friend, Peter Oundjian (Music Scholar, S73), from Downside, and who has movingly written of John: “It"s one of those extraordinary aspects of life that makes a friendship eternal. He was always my cool, bold friend who seemed to fear nothing... he was inspiringly noble and brave in his suffering".
If John had become mildly frustrated at finding himself under some immediate classroom pressure, he soon found a way to vent some steam on the football pitch, both for House and the School 14 side, where he played with great vigour and determination. But, in the last house match of the 1969 season, as was his wont, he went in for another crunching tackle and broke his leg quite badly. Mike Doggart (S73) remembers: “I was watching on the sidelines when John broke his leg. It was in a house match against Duckites and he went for a through ball and collided with the immovable object that was Chris Titman (g72), the Duckites goalie. We knew it was a bad break as soon as it happened. John was pretty nippy up until then - I always remember him as a winger not a midfielder - and it definitely affected his future football career; otherwise he would have been a first XI regular.”
Being side-lined from games in a plaster cast for a full term was not to John’s liking and it caused understandable irritation for this talented sportsman. However, with what was fast becoming his trademark no-nonsense determination, John somehow ascended and descended (no doubt in some pain and with occasional help from housemates) the famous 114 ‘Weekite steps’ to and from Chapel and hashes.
The daily physical struggle of getting around school seemed to give John some added determination in the classroom. He certainly excelled at French, perhaps not altogether surprisingly, given that he was half French.
But it was on the cricket fields of Charterhouse in CQ 1970, leg happily mended, that John started to find some real momentum. His love for and skill at the game was quite apparent early on and it was to be his calling card for many a year to come.
He was also made head of the Weekites’ lower dormitory (under cubes) and later of Long Room in apparent recognition of an emerging maturity- one, it has to be said, not readily recognised by those over whom he was given a degree of control. John’s dormitory governance amounted to nothing less than a mild form of anarchy, expertly orchestrated under the benign gaze of a newish and somewhat forbearing housemaster, Tony Day (Brooke Hall 1954-1990).
John’s roguish charm and readiness to test most of the prescribed limits, meant that he quickly acquired friends keen to emulate his more, shall we say, relaxed attitude to schooling.
Meanwhile at home, John cycled his bike down a steep hill, fortunately near Redhill General Hospital, hitting a lorry and breaking his arm, and defending a ladies honour at a party had his nose broken, it was never straight again.
No sooner had John forsaken the sanctuary of a dormitory for the freedom of his first study, than his home-grown engineering skills were put to use. Those of a certain vintage will recall that studies in the old Houses had very high ceilings, with equally large sash windows. Ideal dimensions, in fact, for building a cunningly disguised second floor. Wooden uprights and boarding were duly smuggled in and assembled into a load bearing platform, then adorned with old carpet and cushions, it was essential for any self-respecting Classics scholar to be able to fully relax while studying for A levels.
The structure was hidden from view by way of a false ceiling made of motley rugs and sheets, hung loosely to just above head level to avoid attracting the suspicions of any prowling beak, Matron or Housemaster. A state-of-the-art stereo system completed John’s multi-purpose pad. Smoking at school, while obviously highly illegal, both then and now, could be indulged in out of sight and in some comfort, with the top part of the sash wide open to ensure that smoke exited, and with a powerful joss stick burning below to disguise any faint whiff of illicit activity. He was never caught.
While John assiduously cultivated a “too cool for school” persona during his O level and specialist years, his beaks, according to his school reports to which the writer has had access, were certainly onto him.
A selection of their remarks in various school reports that must have given his wonderful parents at least some pause for thought about what their dear son was getting up to (reproduced here by kind permission of his OC brother Richard (W77), demonstrate John’s quicksilver nature:
“He seems to have cast himself in the role of village idiot as far as Latin is concerned.” A little harsh perhaps, but even John may have agreed there was a touch of truth to that one.
Balanced by: “He has all the making of a first-class linguist:” (just obviously not Latin!), from his specialist French Beak.
“A cheerful amiable rogue, who seems to enjoy his work and does very well.” Additional Maths.
“He really does promise much more than he ever actually achieves on paper.” English.
“He would, I think, be reluctant to admit that he has done any work or learnt anything worthwhile this year;” Latin, again.
Balanced, in the very same Latin report, by: “He sometimes appeared to be asleep, but seldom was, and usually had an intelligent grasp of the Latin we were reading.” This was a John speciality- seemingly nonchalant on the surface, but very much on the ball.
“His approach to French this Quarter has been reminiscent of the way he wears his cricket cap: jaunty and cavalier...But the light-hearted zest goes with a determination to do well.”
So the academic plaudits and brickbats continued throughout John’s lower and upper sixth form journey.
While he certainly tested (some severely) his various beaks along the way, his Housemaster, Tony Day, always had a soft spot for John. While recognising that his charge could at times be impetuous, even a touch over-confident, he invariably preferred to focus on John’s many fine qualities (writing at the end of LQ 1973 “I always feel he will do the right thing in a crisis”), and duly made him a senior monitor for his final two terms: “He has been a great success here and has contributed much to House and School both as a distinguished games player and a cheerful, forceful personality. He is one of the most likeable boys I have had in the House.”
The last words must go to the late, great Oliver Van Oss (Brooke Hall 1965-73), who John (and others of the era) had the great good fortune to have as Headmaster: “An old friend, who has had a notable career here. Everybody likes him, there is nothing mean about him.”
John’s sporting achievements were mainly on the cricket field for House and School. He was also a more than useful footballer, playing as a robust, very reliable midfielder. He represented the school at U14, U16, 2nd and 1st XI levels, including a 1st XI tour to Luxembourg in November 1972.
Cricket was John’s sporting forte. He played for School at all levels, successfully captaining the 1971 U16 side, being elevated to the 1st XI in 1972 for two seasons and was Vice-Captain in his last year, 1973. He quickly caught the eye as a wicket-keeper/batsman, having earlier shown his assured glove work in the junior ranks.
John’s great strength, aside from keeping and batting, was his infectious, cheeky enthusiasm in the field. As with all fine wicket-keepers, he became the heartbeat of the slip cordon and galvanised the out fielders. Always flattering inaccurate throwing by gathering cleanly, he was prone to offer some choice bon mots to any hapless transgressor (usually a fast bowler).
John’s reliability and skill behind the stumps saw him take a total 29 catches, including 6 stumpings in his second season. It was stats like these that drew Tony Day’s comment: “He is the best wicket-keeper the School has had for many years.”
John was also an effective middle order batsman, gaining justified elevation from his initial number 11 slot. In his prime, he despatched bowlers with ease and considerable power. And he had the happy knack of propping up the tail of an innings, managing no less than 15 not outs in his 32 innings for the XI. He topped the batting averages in both 1972 (23.89) and 1973 (40.25), finishing with a respectable career average of 31.59, and a highest score of 68. He was awarded colours at end of his first year in the XI.
One Sunday in 1974 John’s Ford Capri was innocently caught up in an accident. In front of John was a car which suffered the full impact of a collision. This was driven by a friend Aiden Threlfall (Stowe) who sadly died in the accident. John suffered serious injuries including a smashed hip and spent a few days in intensive care. This was not to stop his cricket, but he did suffer pain over the years and had a replacement hip early in life.
John continued his playing with the Charterhouse Friars and the Cricketer Cup side after leaving School in 1973. He was named Z after Z-Victor 1, the call sign in TV program Z Cars by Anthony Allom (W57).
Peter Bristowe (W80) remembers: “ I met John (although I really only knew him as "Z") on my first Friars" tour having just left Charterhouse. We spent a night or two in Brighton and it was really an eye opener for me. Z must have been at least five years older than me and I remember him vividly. He was dashing, fun, talented and friendly. All those qualities combined to make an impression on me. As I mentioned at the Friars dinner, I particularly remember him shaving off half his beard in Brighton. It still makes me laugh”.
As part of the Friars Andrew Barker (S63) remembers: it was in 1981, when having won the Cup for the second time, about 20 of us met at Gatwick at 8.00am to be flown on the Moet & Chandon chartered plane to Epernay. One person was however missing -Z. We knew he had been to a party in London the night before, but these were the days before mobile phones and after a short delay, the pilot said we had to go. On reaching the Moet chateau, profuse apologies were offered on behalf of the delinquent Z. We had a splendid tour of the cellars followed by a great drinks party. Just as we were going through to lunch, there was a screech of tyres and brakes on the gravel outside and in ran Z. His alarm hadn’t gone off, and he had driven like the clappers to Gatwick where he privately chartered a small plane, flown to Epernay hired a car and here he was. Our host, the Baron, was immediately charmed, and when later in the afternoon the rest of us got in the bus back to the airport, there was Z, grinning from ear to ear, waving us good bye. He had been invited by his new best friend, the Baron, to stay for dinner and the night.
After Charterhouse, John attended the Polytechnic of the South Bank to undertake business studies. However, he soon found further study not to his taste and left to join the family business, working out of Old Street, London N1 and across Europe installing engineering equipment. Finding the UK market in gentle decline he switched to the exhibition business. His great grandfather had managed the ‘Foire de Lyon’ so it runs perhaps in the blood. John joined Montgomery’s of Manchester Sq. W1 and so began his career in the exhibition world.
John’s next position was Jakarta where he ran the region for many years and that allowed him to spend time in Bali, Singapore and Australia. He also visited the grave of his soldier great uncle, George Hesp (44RM Commando) who died on the infamous Burma Railway.
John then moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, living in Sandton. He joined the Inanda Club where he could continue his passion for mixing work, sport and a strong social side, putting it mildly.
John left his employers and started on his own, running many successful shows in SA, building them up and sometimes selling them on to the big players. During this period through his work he met and married his life partner Bette McNaughton. They lived a gregarious and lively lifestyle in Sandton and had their son James, who took the new family name McNaughton-Victor.
Many cricket matches and sports tours were organised and run in South Africa through Charterhouse connections and other old friends. Again, thanks to Andrew Barker, John played for and helped greatly in the organisation of two cricket tours to SA of the Greenheads [a joint Friars and Old Tonbridgean team] in 1980 and 1983 and also the Friars tour to Cape Town in 2002. Whenever he was in the UK, he was also a regular attendee at OC Football and Friars fixtures.
Despite running many successful exhibitions, working and living together took its toll. John and Bette divorced but continued to run their separate businesses. John moved to live and work in Cape Town and they occasionally teamed up when circumstances required to jointly run a show. John sold his flat in London to re-invest in new projects and continued with mixed success in the post-apartheid years.
John continued with sporting interests although slowed down by his damaged hip. He was a member of various clubs and societies, which included fishing and sailing but his first love was supporting England especially at the Western Province CC. John would be easily found entertaining and holding court at the Long Bar, Newlands. He also attended various England cricket tours around the world including to the West Indies –particularly on Barbados where he enjoyed time with his many friends.
Without a major backer, exhibition and promotion opportunities in South Africa became fewer and harder to come by in the later years. In John’s final years he alternated between living in the UK and South Africa having interests in both countries. During this period John was diagnosed with diabetes and six months later with pancreatic cancer. He took the news stoically, much as his mother had done who passed from cancer some seven years earlier. Despite his illness John was still to be found at Lords (he was a life member of the MCC) in his final months.
I know from the messages of condolence that John, or Z, is remembered very fondly by those that worked, partied and played sport alongside him.
Sadly, John’s father Philippe survived John by only a few months passing aged 93 in November 2017.
Thanks from Richard to all contributors and Jeremy Cama (W74) for his assistance.