Tony Staniland was one of those hard-to-categorise, larger-than-life people who was a hero to those whose lives he changed, but who was modest about his own ambitions, and seems to have worked so hard simply because it gave him pleasure. A physically big man, well over six feet tall, this philoprogenitive educator had six children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren by three marriages, loved driving his smart cars, drinking red wine (“I was born two glasses short of perfection”), the South of France, and Queen’s Park Rangers. He was so fervent about teaching that, late in life, he deducted a few years from his date of birth on his CV, resisting retirement, so as to continue giving classes, to the benefit of the equally no longer young (mostly female) admirers to whom he taught literature at New Horizons Chelsea. Most of his working life, however, was spent rescuing damaged young people, with whom he had some special affinity.
It’s difficult to imagine where this gift came from. Born in Marylebone, London in 1929, Tony was an only child. His father, George Havelock Staniland, was the manager of the BBC Singers, the 80-strong group founded in 1924 in Maida Vale, and he was closely connected to the Proms. Tony grew up with memories of meeting most of the great names of music, including Malcolm Sargant and even Ralph Vaughan Williams. Music remained one of his greatest passions, and he regularly attended the Proms, as well as events at the Royal College of Music, Festival Hall and smaller venues.
Though the family was not Catholic, he was sent to the Knightsbridge Oratory for primary school; and later to Dame Alice Owen’s School in Islington. His wartime experience might go some way to explaining his empathy with children with broken lives. His imposing father was in Bedford with the BBC, responsible for the broadcast of the daily service and other programmes. Though his mother, née Justina Lavinia Yoxall, might have taken him to live with her own mother in Wiltshire, she opted instead to stay in London as an air raid warden, and Staniland was evacuated to several different houses in the Home Counties for two and a half years.
Following his military service as a young officer, and a year of university at Cambridge, about neither of which he had much to say, Staniland subsisted on a variety of jobs, including being a librarian. In 1953 he married his first wife, Joan Skinner, and they had a son and two daughters. He fell into teaching because he badly needed a job to support his growing family, and began this career at a rough school in Battersea, where the Head was impressed by this young man who serenely did his football pools while keeping order among the 15 and 16-year-olds no one else could control. This temporary appointment was made permanent, but to make ends meet, Staniland also ran an after-school club in Parsons Green and worked in a coffee bar for three to four nights a week. By 1962 he’d married his second wife, Elfrida (‘Fridl’) Berger, and soon had a total of five children to look after. He regarded her Austrian father, Walter, who had written studies of Nazism, as his intellectual mentor, and long after the marriage had ended continued to visit Dr Berger in Salzburg. He first met Anne McLoughlin, whom he later married, at one of his English Lit courses in 1973, and subsequently at a performance of ‘King Lear;’ their son, Lorcan, has inherited his grandfather’s musical talents.
In 1966 Staniland took a degree in English literature and Education at Goldsmiths’ College, and two years later the Advanced Diploma (now upgraded to MSc) in Child Development at the University of London, followed by an MA in Psychology from Durham. In 2009 he became a Fellow of the Institute for Learning.
He went to Vernon House School, in Brent, in 1968, and was Head Teacher from 1972-82. The school took pupils from aged five to sixteen who had social, emotional or behavioural difficulties. This was before the educational establishment medicalised these problems and gave them names and diagnoses. A magazine article by Andrea Kon describes him as ‘a tall relaxed man with greying hair and startlingly blue eyes [who] has real friendship and support to offer his staff; he runs the school in a settled structure and has loads of love to give to the emotionally hurt children who become his responsibility.’ Staniland had nine staff and the school took about fifty pupils at a time. His record was astonishing: sixty per cent of the children who passed through Vernon House in his time were able to go on successfully to ordinary schools. He regarded it as his job, he said, ‘to repair the academic as well as the emotional damage from which our children suffer,’ though each child was allowed to work at his own pace. He did, however, insist on being addressed as ‘Sir’: ‘The relationship has to be one of children to adults. It’s no good pretending to them that we’re children, too,’ he told Ms Kon. ‘They have to come into a stable structure – many, after all, are inclined to violence when they arrive.’
Joining the Inspectorate in 1981, from 1985-91 he was Senior Inspector/Education Officer, redesignated Director of Special Services. He taught two–three evening courses each week throughout his career, originally because of the six children he was eventually supporting – though it seems almost to have become an addiction – and he from 1991 he lectured in Psychology at the London Metropolitan University, The American University in London, the Open University, Kingsway College, and in Literature at Fulham and South Kensington College, Kingsway College, Camden, and Kensington and Chelsea College.
An ardent Francophile, in 1979 he and Anne discovered La Garde-Freinet, a little French village in the Massif des Maures, 20km above St-Tropez, where I first met him drinking pastis in the kitchen of our bohemian aristocrat friend, Lady Jane Heaton. Tony and Anne, who otherwise lived in Primrose Hill, treated the village as a second home. –Paul Levy
Antony Staniland, educator, born London, 5 August 1929; m. 1st, 1953, Joan Skinner, 1 son, 2 dau., m. diss; 2nd, 1962, Elfrida Berger, 2 dau., m. diss.; 3rd, Anne McLoughlin, 1 s.; died London, 22 March 2014.