A Sad farewell to former KCS head David Briggs

Today (27 March) we remember David Briggs, former Headmaster of King’s College School, Cambridge, who has died aged 102. He was also a former chorister and choral scholar at King’s and is believed to have been the last surviving member of the choir that sang at the first broadcast Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 1928.

David’s daughter, broadcaster and author Anne Atkins, announced his death in a very moving BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day on 17 March. She told listeners that she had read him her script – on the impossibility of choosing between human lives – the previous evening, only to be told a little later that he had passed away. Anne’s Thought for the Day yesterday was equally poignant as she described what had been planned for today’s funeral and what her father’s ‘un-funeral’ would be, due to the coronavirus lockdown.

From Chorister to Headmaster

He was taken to King’s in February 1926 for a voice trial, aged 8 and started as a probationer two months later. The fees of £8 a term covered board, lodging and laundry as well as education! David told his daughter that life at King’s was Spartan, if kindly. The boy in the next bed would get up after lights out and put all his clothes back on, reversing the process before Matron came in the next morning.

After King’s David went to Marlborough College where he joined the Chapel Choir, took up the violin and formed a jazz band called The Dandelions. He returned to Cambridge with a both an academic and a choral award at King’s, singing bass. It was here that he met David Willcocks when he was appointed Organ Scholar. After the war he began his teaching career at Bryanston.

Anne Atkins writes: “In 1959, King’s College School advertised for a headmaster. My father had not thought of going into junior education but applied, beating 150 others to the post of Master Over The Choristers. David Willcocks was already there as organist.

So, having sung treble at King’s for five years as a boy, and bass for three-and-a-half years as a student, my father returned to become headmaster for the next 19.”

Farewell Corporal Punishment, Hello Girls!

The first change he made was to abolish corporal punishment and his last was to make the school co-educational, just before his retirement in 1977.

A former pupil says: “We choristers loved him because he’d lived our experience. As a teacher he was enthusiastic, wise and funny. He ran a very happy school.”

RIP David and thank you for all you did for choir schools and choristers in your extraordinary life.