Category: Presidents

2008 OSA President – Norman Venner

Four Venner brothers were at Shebbear from 1944 to 1963. Two of their sons were to follow.  At the same time two sisters were educated at Edgehill.

Meanwhile, their father Thomas, farmer and agricultural merchant and a true believer in all things Shebbearian, found time to chair the appeals committee which raised money to build Pyke House in 1965.

A dormitory in the new house was named “Venner” in recognition of his work and the family’s contribution to the school. Now, the name will appear again on the panel which records all the Presidents of the Old Shebbearians’ Association.

Norman Venner, second of the brothers, was elected President at the Centenary Reunion in January.

Born in the Parish of Bampton in 1939, he was a boarder from 1950-56. After Shebbear, he qualified as a Public Health Inspector and worked for local authorities in Barnstaple, Northam and Bideford.

He left local government in 1965, moved to Cheshire and worked for Odex Racassan as Technical Sales Manager for eight years. The job took him all over the world.

Another move took him to Flintshire in North Wales when he was appointed Managing Director of Celtic Furniture Manufacturing Ltd. Then it was into business for himself with the opening of Venner’s Restaurant in Wrexham.

A heart attack forced him to sell the business in 1998 after 16 successful years. For the next five years he helped his wife run her outside catering business until she, too, had to sell because of illness.

Norman is involved in Freemasonry. As a Grand Officer he attends many Lodges and committee meetings. He is a past President of Wrexham Rotary Club and is currently vice-President of his local Conservation and Heritage Society.

He attends his local church regularly and when vice-chairman of the appeals committee helped raise £600,000 for renovations between 1996 and 2000.

He is helping his wife market a cookery book she has written to raise £65,000 for the Hospices of Cheshire and Wales. They are three-quarters of the way towards the target.

He married Patricia, a farmer’s daughter from South Molton, in 1964. They have two sons and two grandchildren.


2007 OSA President – Chris Blencowe

Chris Blencowe was a boy at Shebbear from 1961 to 1968 and a member of Thorne House. His younger brother Nick was also a pupil. Chris’s son William was to follow.

After studying history and politics at Reading University, he joined the Royal Air Force, specialising in logistics.

It was a 33 year-long career that would take him from the rank of Pilot Officer to Air Commodore.

Along the way he was to serve as Station Commander of RAF Stafford, study for an MA at King’s College, London, serve in Bosnia, and have three tours of duty in France, latterly as Defence Attaché at the British Embassy in Paris.

Retirement? No such thing. On returning to the United Kingdom, he was appointed as Treasurer and Bursar at Pembroke College, Cambridge University, where he is also a Fellow.

2006 OSA President – Simon Birks

Simon Birks came to Shebbear from Sussex in 1968, well into George Kingsnorth’s headship, and left after the Upper Sixth in 1975.
Read his own profile notes and you get the impression that he achieved little. Not quite the case, M’lord!

There is no mention, for example, of the academic successes– form prizes, the OSA’s Civics prize -and nine O-Levels and three at advanced level.

Nor that he was a Thorne House Prefect, Senior Librarian, Editor of the Shebbearian, as well as being successively, the Secretary of both the Lower and Upper Union of Debating and Dramatic Societies.

He would claim to have had no gift for acting. Yet, a little research, shows that he played a leading role as Sir Oliver Surface in Sheridan’s School for Scandal in 1973.

The reviewer commented that the acting was of a consistently high standard throughout and that Mr Birks gave a “strong” performance.

From Shebbear, Simon went to Trent Polytechnic, gaining a BA in Legal Studies in 1979.

He was called to the Bar in 1981.

“Following the usual Shebbear practice I applied to the very best chambers for pupillage – regardless of the fact that I had never even studied their special area of practice,” he said.”

Twenty-five years on finds him almost at the top of the practitioners’ list at the prestigious Clarendon Chambers in Lincolns Inn, London.

His specialist area covers Real Property and Public Law.

“Occasionally” I will meet another Old Shebbearians as an opponent, judge or a solicitor.”

In 2004, he appeared for the head teacher and governors of a comprehensive school when a 15-year old girl lost a battle in the High Court for the right to wear strict Islamic dress in school.

Simon argued successfully that the girl had not been excluded from school, which multi-cultural and multi-faith, but had simply stayed away. The case was widely reported.

He was persuaded to join the OSA by another Old Shebbearians barrister, now his Honour Judge Michael Carroll.

Subsequently he has been one of the association’s most loyal committee members. He was also a regular visitor to Shebbear for career evenings held in the 1980s and early 1990s.

And lest you think, that his life consists of all work and no play, he is an enthusiastic sailor “Dinghies – usually rather slow ones, always battered – and often someone else’s.

“In more recent years, living in Kent, I have also been introduced to Thames sailing barges and to a friend’s narrow boat.”

2005 OSA President – Michael Buckingham

Michael Buckingham, one of the OSA’s youngest Presidents for many years, was born in Awali, Bahrain, in October, 1955, and brought up in Kuwait. He passed the entrance exam and entered Shebbear College in September 1967.

His father’s family were from North Devon and his grandfather active in the Methodist church. Shebbear proved a great contrast with home in Kuwait but the family spirit of the school was such that friends were made quickly and friendships forged which have survived the decades.

While at Shebbear, he did not excel at games but managed to break a couple of school swimming records. He valued greatly an introduction to the arts – in particular concerts organised by Michael Richardson and theatre trips arranged by Dick West. This initial interest has ben reawakened in recent years.

When he left Shebbear after O-levels, his family moved from Kuwait to South Wales. Michael joined a bank but life as a bank clerk was not his forte and within two years he had joined Whitbread in South Wales as a management trainee within the finance department.

As the youngest male member of staff, he was soon questioning ways in which the company worked and was co-opted on to national internal committees to examine ways to computerise existing systems.

This was an exciting in the business world and he represented Whitbread Wales on the implementation of several main frame systems. It was during this period that he became known for his particular interest in the computerisation of fixed assets and represented the company on an external user group with the system manufacturer, the first such user group ever to be set up in Britain. He quickly established a reputation for his knowledge and spoke at conferences in the UK and America.

After a company reorganisation Michael moved to Cheltenham where he was responsible for merging the finance systems of three companies into one and then managing the finance team.… He became involved in the nominal ledger system used to produce profit and loss and balance sheet accounts. He was elected chairman of the UK Computer Associates Masterpiece Users’ Group and organised conferences for businesses throughout the country.

Another reorganisation resulted in a move to Sheffield where he managed a team responsible for assessing changing business needs of all Whitbread companies for nominal ledger and fixed assets. Much of his time was spent living out of a suitcase.

After yet another reorganisation, he accepted further promotion and moved to the headquarters of the newly-formed Whitbread Beer Company in Luton. This was his first opportunity to assess the benefits of midrange computer systems. After three years as a senior finance manager, he accepted a redundancy package and moved to London.

It was following this move that his interest in the arts re-emerged. He has supported a number of dance companies and helped set up a support organisation for a ballet school.

He is currently working as a self-employed consultant specialising in developing management training programmes where is able to capitalise on his wealth of practical experience. For many years he has also been the OSA’s Treasurer.

2004 OSA President – Lt Col Michael Johns JP

It is the early 1950s. Shebbear is bursting at the seams. Under JBM’s energetic and inspired headship, the number of boarders creeps towards the 250 mark. Few new buildings then. Boys sleep out – Buckland House, the Vicarage, the Manse … The school bustles with vitality. Competition to get into school teams is intense. House matches are fought with ferocious zeal. There are four scout troops. On stage in the Old Third, soon to be transformed into the Memorial Hall, something is always being rehearsed.

It is an environment that shaped many lives.

We look through the magazines of the period to discover how M.O.Johns was developing. A rugby player certainly; in the 2nd XV but soon to be promoted to the 1st. His ability in the senior team is applauded by EGEL.

He is a keen scout – a patrol leader in the Senior Troop. Leadership qualities already showing. A Sub-Prefect, too. This privilege allowed occupancy of the “subs hut”, furnished with leather chairs, a darts board and an electric wall fire for making toast. He does not ignore his studies and is heading for a good clutch of O-levels, including Latin. He is a Librarian.

We get some clues as to the direction he will take when he leaves Shebbear in 1957. An edition of the Shebbearian reviews JBM’s “zestful production” of Shaw’s Arms and the Man. We read that “Michael Johns capably portrayed a Russian officer.” Arms … officer … could a military career lie ahead?

Then in an earlier magazine, there is a report of a mock trial held in the old library and organised by the Union Society. Before Mr Justice Dickinson, Commander William Daniel is sued for breach of promise by Mrs Eliza Jones.

Evidence was given by a Pc Johns, “a stalwart constable of Holsworthy” …

Michael Johns left Shebbear and was called up for two years’ of National Service in the army. Quickly, he was picked out as someone of potential to be an officer. After attending Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lt and served in Kenya, Muscat and Oman.

In 1960 he joined the Devon Constabulary as Pc No 689. Two years later he rejoined the Army and was awarded a Regular Commission. He served with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Rangers, undertaking duties in Muscat, Oman, Aden, Bahrein, the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, Berlin, BAOR and Northern Ireland.

He was also attached to the Royal Ulster Constabulary for two years.

Retiring from the Army in 1979, he returned to Holsworthy where for four years he was Transport Manager for West Devon & Cornwall Farmers Ltd. From 1983-86, he was Clerk to Bude and Stratton Town Council.

He was a member of the area’s Youth and Adult Training Team from 1986-96 and subsequently has “been self-employed in many, various occupations and tasks”.

He has been a Magistrate on the North Devon Bench since 1990.

Proposing him as President, Bill Oke, a lifelong friend, said: “He has had a worthy and sometimes colourful career. He is a community man, a man always willing to help or to give advice. A man always ready to go that extra mile.

“He is sincere – and he can be wonderfully hilarious. He is conscientious, likewise he is caring.

“He will, I know, fly the OSA flag with enthusiasm throughout the coming year.”

2003 OSA President – Dr David Shorney

David Shorney is modest about his achievements.

He will tell you that during his six years at Shebbear he was a member of Troop 1 and the choir but failed to distinguish himself in the classroom or on the sports field.

Probe a little further and you discover that in fact in fact he subsequently achieved much more. Scholar, teacher, academic, researcher and writer would more aptly describe him.

Dig even deeper and you find out that the real purpose of his life has been to care about and give hope to those less fortunate than himself. Our President for 2003 is the son of the late Dick Shorney, who taught for two decades at Shebbear, before taking up a lectureship at Loughborough College in 1943.

David went with his parents to Leicestershire to finish his schooling. He trained as a teacher at Westminster College, then in London, before National Service in the RAF.

Afterwards, he set out to gain a place at Oxford University and won an Open Scholarship to Exeter College where he read Modern History. There at the same were John Page in his final year and the later Robin Howard in his second. Leaving Oxford he taught at Hardye’s School, Dorchester, and in a number of schools in Leicestershire before going to New Westminster, British Columbia, to teach at a senior high school.

Returning to Britain in 1962, he took a postgraduate diploma in Theology at Durham University, followed by a lectureship in history and religious studies at Neville’s Cross, Durham, a teacher training college. He also began research into British disarmament policy in the inter-war years which led to the award of a PhD.

Moving south, he took up an appointment at another teacher training college, Avery Hill in south-east London, which eventually became the headquarters of the new University of Greenwich.

In 1986, after taking early retirement, he began what he regards as the most important period of his life. His history of Avery College (Teachers in Training 1906-1985) published in 1989 was acclaimed in the academic press. In 1996, he wrote Protestant Nonconformity and Roman Catholicism for the Public Record Office. One reviewer said it was the best introduction to the subject he had ever read.

Retirement also gave him more time to devote to the homeless and disadvantaged. In Durham, he had already set up a hugely successful club for children from one of the city’s most deprived areas. In London, he worked for Crisis, the organisation which provides comfort for people forced to live on the streets at Christmas; worked and became a trustee for the Attlee Foundation in London’s East End; became treasurer of a day centre for the homeless and marginalised in Deptford, and joined a team of Simon Community volunteers taking soup and sandwiches to rough sleepers in central London.

In 1991 he set up the Aldo Trust in Bradford, Yorkshire, as a memorial to his parents and acquired a large house which for more than 10 years provided accommodation for the young homeless, as well as conference facilities for churches and voluntary organisations.

Now he is researching the history of the Bible Christians: “It has enabled me to come much closer to Shebbear and its origins. It is a remarkable story of which we can all be proud and one which I hope I shall be able to share with others in the near future.”