Bolton School Former Pupils
Stuart Brooks, CMG OBE
Stuart Brooks, CMG OBE (1956-1966)
Stuart left Bolton School in 1966 to study English at Churchill College, Cambridge University. He represented the college on the “University Challenge” team before graduating in 1969 and successfully applied to go before the Civil Service Selection Board.
He was appointed to the Diplomatic Service where he embarked on a most distinguished career that would take him round the world, meeting the serving UK Prime Ministers of the time, including Edward Heath, James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.
Stuart’s first posting took him to Brazil, living in the Rio De Janeiro Embassy, working under the then Ambassador, Sir David Hunt – subsequently the “Mastermind” champion. He was then posted to the embassy in Lisbon, Portugal following the “Carnation Revolution” in the 1970s, and then behind the Iron Curtain in Moscow at the end of 1979. In Moscow, Stuart was responsible for maintaining the UK-Soviet diplomatic bilateral relationship. This was no easy task in the aftermath of the Afghan invasion and threw up frequent surprises – Stuart recalls one such occasion where he had to conduct an unplanned hour-long conversation, alone, with the Soviet Minister for Foreign Affairs Andrei Gromyko, in the middle of the night, entirely in Russian, while waiting for Lord Carrington, British Foreign Secretary to arrive at a private airfield!
He returned to the UK after this posting in the mid 1980s and was tasked with managing the Foreign Office Soviet Department in London, frequently briefing and advising Prime Minister ”Mrs T”. After a spell at the British Embassy in Stockholm, he then moved back to the UK to work on Foreign Office University recruitment rounds, leading on this at universities including St Andrews, Edinburgh, York and Cambridge. He enjoyed a posting to Vienna in the early 1990s and then returned again to London, taking up the post of Director of Personnel at the FCO.
In 2001, Stuart took the decision to leave the FCO after 30 years of service and took the opportunity, when headhunted, to join the Chevron Corporation following their acquisition of Texaco in 2000. For the past 15 years, Stuart has been based in the UK, leading on Chevron’s International Relations.
Since 2003 he has sat on the international board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to increase governance in the oil, gas and mining industries, working alongside figures including former UK Secretary of State for International Development Claire Short, and former Prime Minister of Sweden, Frederik Reinfeldt.
What is your connection to Bolton School? Were any other members of your family here?
I joined in 1956 and went to Park Road before joining the senior school in 1960. My sister was a pupil at the Girls’ Division.
What is your fondest Bolton School memory?
I have several. The Grasmere Camps at Park Road, led by the headmaster Mr Harrison, really cemented my life-long love affair with the natural world and specifically with the Lake District.
School also opened my eyes to the world of music and drama – Ian McKellen’s performance in Henry V stuck in the mind. I was given good roles in the School plays, and had the leading role in an Ibsen production. This love of theatre carried on to Cambridge and remains with me today.
Did any member of teaching staff particularly inspire you while you were at school?
I had some brilliant people teaching me who had lived through the fascinating politics of the 1930s and 1940s, which had a real impression on me – in class we always used to try and prompt these characters, like our Latin teacher George Grasby, to digress from the lesson topics and to wander on to something we regarded as much more interesting. Grasby was very easily led astray from the curriculum in this respect!
PA Stevens, the music master instilled a great love and understanding of music in me. I still play the piano from time to time and have retained an abiding love of the School hymn book – I still have my own copy in my possession. I also owe a great debt to Jim Garbett, from whom I had one to one English tutorials.
Mr Poskitt, our headmaster, was another inspiring figure who commanded respect. In the spirit of the 1960s, I led a campaign against the compulsory games sessions on a Saturday afternoon. We took the campaign to Poskitt who, to his credit, listened to us and allowed us “conscientious objectors” to undertake community spirited work in the place of mandatory weekend sport. He was splendid, and very eccentric.
Butch Ingham and his Trek Camps inspired a love of travel and adventure – I was lucky enough to venture behind the iron curtain to Prague and Hungary in the 1960s. Communication was hard as they spoke no English or French and Butch spoke no Czech or Hungarian. He ended up informing the station office in Prague that we all wanted to leave our belongings in the left luggage office, by repeating the Latin phrases “dormit in pacem” and “resurrexit” very loudly. He did, I think, manage ultimately to convey his point successfully.
The Scouts also cemented this real love of adventurous travel, with a trip to Corsica, as did the Scott Trust – I organised two such trips, one to Turkey and Syria before heading to Israel and Cyprus (to get our passports neutralised before heading to Egypt). The second Scott Trust trip allowed me to study Islamic architecture in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This was a real experience – not least because we were interred temporarily in a Cholera quarantine camp on the Iranian border!
What is the best career or life advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?
My interest in music, drama and the natural world has been extraordinary valuable and deeply sustaining. More generally, I can offer the following useful advice:
- Never turn anything down if it could be of interest and try to create your own opportunities. “Chance comes to those of a prepared mind”. (Pasteur)
- “Cast your bread on the waters” (Ecclesiastes) – you never know when your good deeds will come back to you.
- “Always allow the optimism of the will to overcome the pessimism of the intellect”. (Antonio Gramsci)
- “Events are never as good nor as bad as the first reports of excited persons would have you believe”. (General Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa)
- “Oh Lord, give me friends whose brains are sharp, whose tongues are acid and whose hearts are neither”. (my own Auntie!)
What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?
I think it’s excellent – I benefited hugely from the Direct Grant Scheme and would not have been able to come to Bolton School without it.