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Sir Brian Young

20 January 2017

Kindness and faith: Sir Brian Young

Kindness and faith: Sir Brian Young

Canon John Nightingale writes:

SIR Brian Young, who died on 11 November, aged 94, was one of the most distinguished lay Christians of his age. After wartime service on naval destroyers, and winning prizes as a first-class Classical scholar at Cambridge, he was, at the age of 30, appointed Headmaster of Charter­house.

Twelve years later, he left to become Director of the Nuffield Foundation, and then Director-General of the Independent Broad­casting Authority, where he pre­sided over the launch of Channel Four. In his retirement, he chaired the Board of Christian Aid, besides serving on the Arts Council, the British Council of Churches, and numerous public bodies.

Though an accomplished teacher, lecturer, and preacher, he did not seek the limelight; but those who met him were struck by his ability, kindness, and faith. A tall man, he could initially seem Olympian, but those who got to know him better found him a sympathetic listener and a source of encouragement and wit.

His interests ranged widely, in­­cluding trees, limericks, opera, logical puzzles, origami, and the poetry of A. E. Housman. In mid-career, he wrote The Villein’s Bible, an illustrated study of how the Romanesque stone-carvers of West­ern Europe interpreted the biblical stories for the villeins, the common people of their day.

This work of interpretation was something that Brian himself at­­tempted, in his regular preaching and teaching over 60 years, during most of which he worshipped at the parish church in Gerrards Cross. In his last year, he had great delight when his grandchildren persuaded him to edit and publish a collection of addresses that he had given in Charterhouse chapel, one of which I can vividly remember.

His commitment was obvious to his pupils, though never forced on them. His tall, dark, vigorous, and yet serene figure had all the presence of the traditional headmaster; but he had the gift of setting the nervous young at ease. Contact with him could also reveal a fatherly concern which included, as something ob­­vious, and without any prying, your spiritual as well as intellectual well-being.

Steeped though he was in the culture of Christendom, he was adamant that true faith required commitment, not narrowly pietistic, but involving intellectual integrity, personal devotion, and practical action, not least in securing a better deal for the less privileged. He argued strongly against the hypo­crisy of those who in public never put a foot wrong, but whose real character is revealed when the mask slips, or who make a be-all and end-all of material success.

These traditional Christian prin­ciples he attempted to apply to his own life and times, to the next gen­eration of students, to new methods of education, to the mass media, and, as a late convert, to the com­puter age. He was proud of having launched Channel Four as a non-profit-making body, committed to cultural excellence, and he con­tinued his commitment to Christian Aid right up to donations obtained from his last book, and at his thanks­­giving service.

I saw him from a distance as a schoolboy and through working for Christian Aid. In the past few years, I started to get to know him as a friend, one of remarkable memory, imagination, and sense of humour, whose personality and life was an unobtrusive reminder of our membership of the communion of saints.

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