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Michael Duncan 1940-2024

22/02/24: Michael Duncan, who has died of cancer aged 83, was Master i/c Fives at Harrow from 1969 to 1974 and Membership Secretary of the EFA from 1980 until 2010.

Michael was educated at Denstone, where he played rugby fives, as well as representing the school at cricket and rugby football. After taking his degree in mathematics at St Andrew’s University and a DipEd at Brasenose College, Oxford, his first teaching post was at King Edward’s, Birmingham, 1965-68. He then moved to Harrow where he stayed until his retirement in 2002.

At Harrow, Michael converted to eton fives with enthusiasm and played for the Old Harrovians, the Beaks, who in those days had regular fixtures with the School and Westminster masters, and The Hill Club. He was soon persuaded to take over the running of the school fives from Michael Vallance, whose limited fives experience had been based on the Brighton College code (a buttress but no ledges or step).

From 1982 to 1992 and again from 1998-2002, Michael was Organisation Master, which involved constructing timetables, arranging cover and invigilation, and generally organising the academic side of the school. Before the advent of computers, this was a role that required considerable analytical as well as diplomatic skills, accommodating the demands of heads of department with the idiosyncratic needs of masters and boys. This was achieved on a huge wall chart – forerunner of the Excel spreadsheet – the entries being in multicoloured inks. It was a work of art in itself. In between his two terms as Organisation Master, Michael was Director of Studies.

In 1966, Michael married Jeanie nee Davidson and they had three children: Fiona, a teacher; Colin, a Royal Navy helicopter pilot; and Hamish, a veterinary surgeon. Hamish, playing with Jamie Fleming, won the Schools Eton Fives Championships for Harrow in 1991.

Later that year, Michael and Hamish reached the final of the Abercrombie Cup for father and son pairings, where they lost to Gerald and Simon Barber.

Dale Vargas writes: “I knew Michael Duncan for more than fifty years and I count him as a really good friend. We worked together in the mathematics department at Harrow and for many years we taught parallel A level divisions. We both coached and played cricket and fives, and in the very early days, I can even remember our taking to the rugby field together.

“Michael was an absolute stalwart: efficient, reliable, dedicated and happy to take on unglamorous jobs and to do them without complaint – even with enthusiasm. He brought the same qualities to the thankless task of managing the EFA database as he did to the role of Organisation Master. When handing over to Gareth Hoskins in 2010, he wrote, “I took this on from Jack Gaywood when I was a member of the committee, which must have been around 1980. Dale persuaded me to do it as I think he thought that I had some idea about computers. At that time the computers were in a special room in the Maths Department so I could never do anything at home and everything had to be saved on disc. . . . In a funny way I will miss updating the EFA database of addresses, but I cannot say I will miss having to produce address labels as it did not seem to matter what I did over the years, there was always a hitch somewhere in their production. Anyway, this is my last. . . .”

“This was a typically self-effacing assessment of thirty years of devotion. We forget how laborious much of this clerical work was in the early days of computers and before email.

“After retirement, Michael and Jeanie built a house for themselves overlooking Drumoig golf course, just outside St Andrews. Unsurprisingly, Michael became a prominent member of the club as both player and official. He was playing golf until a few months before he died. Michael was also a skilled gardener and I can remember being amazed by his display of dahlias on an occasion when we were staying with them.

“Michael was a man who could be accurately described as the salt of the earth and I mourn the passing of a dear friend.”