Professor Francis Clarke

My mother, Yolande May Eveline Clarke, married my father in 1940.  

Her father was Professor Francis Clarke, who founded the history department at Queen Mary College London.  His family came from East Anglia, but certainly at this stage, little else is known about his family other than that he has a brother called Sydney who ended up in Nottingham.  Francis Clarke had been a brilliant scholar earning a double first at Balliol, Oxford, and fellowship of All Souls immediately afterwards under their admission by examination which was restricted to 2 admissions a year.  For non historians at least he had a very low profile and family gossip suggested that his separation from my grandmother, Eveline, when his two children were still less than 10, for a rather lonely existence in Sevenoaks, meant that he never reached his academic promise.  As he died when I was eleven I have only a few vague memory of a visits when he brought a football.  

The family nevertheless has many anecdotes of this almost caricature of a history professor.  He was notoriously vague or other worldly.  He is credited with regularly falling asleep on trains and ending up at confusing destinations he had not intended - that is if he managed not to catch a train going somewhere else entirely.  He would apparently work late into the night in his college office from time to time, getting locked in without having his own key with him, and having to be let out in the morning by the cleaner.  On one occasion he was seen to walk into college, collect his mail, turn round one of the pillars in the entrance hall and head for home.  My grandmother immediately phoned his secretary on his return at 11 in the morning to ask "where on earth should he be?"

On another occasion in the early 1940ies, my father was making polite conversation, asking "What do you think Bismark would do in the present situation?"  The question seemed to have been forgotten as the professor piled spoonful after spoonful of sugar into his tea, causing it to overflow.  Finally the response came "I think Bismark would have been rather too old to have taken any real interest"!