SPOTLIGHT – DR TOM HORLER-UNDERWOOD
The Spotlight shines on our breakfast cereal devotee, Ghostbusters fan and brilliant Head of Sixth Form, Dr Tom Horler-Underwood.
Tom was born in Stourbridge, near Birmingham, and attended university in Sheffield, Cambridge and Swansea. He wanted to study history from a young age, but only a chance encounter at Sheffield turned him from a committed modernist into a medievalist. Tom joined Warminster in 2011, having spent three years at Swansea University completing a PhD in Medieval History and working for the final two years as a seminar tutor in the Department of History and Classics. A much loved history teacher at Warminster and a highly regarded Head of Sixth Form.
How long have you worked at Warminster?
Six years now.
What’s the best thing about your role?
That I get to see pupils develop from ‘Year 11 in suits’ into young adults, equipped academically and personally, ready to face the world with all its challenges. The relationship with pupils in the Sixth Form is different from any other relationship in the School, and it is a privilege to play a part in helping them mature into confident individuals.
Describe a typical day?
There is no such thing as a typical day, especially working with the Sixth Form! My day is split between teaching classes, university applications, academic and pastoral issues which come up, hearing about all the good things that people in the Sixth Form have been up to, planning interesting talks and workshops for the pupils to enjoy, talking with prospective pupils about their plans for Sixth Form, talking with former pupils about how their lives have changed since they left Warminster, etc. Every day is different, which is what I love about the job!
What do you think makes Warminster a special place to live and learn?
Without doubt, the relationships between everyone who is here: pupils with other pupils, staff with other staff, and pupils with staff. I’ve never experienced anything like it anywhere else.
We agree. We asked an Old Verlucian, Claudia Eeles, one of your most recent leavers about you and her time in Sixth Form. We wanted the low down on the real Dr Underwood. This is what she said.
“His infectious enthusiasm and zeal for school life is contagious, and as a stressed Sixth Former having such a humble and wise role model was all-important. He is open to new ideas and he is always prepared to go the extra mile. Whether it is simply a cup of tea on a grey day, a smile over his daily bowl of Cheerios (he will hate me for revealing he has his breakfast in the Sixth Form office!), advice on UCAS applications and history essays or even fancy dress for our 80s themed social. I only hope that his current pupils realise how fortunate they are before their school days are over, because I’m beginning to realise that such remarkable individuals are very few and far between.”
In your opinion, what is the perfect 80’s themed fancy dress?
Perfect 80s themed fancy dress would have to be Ghostbusters. The film is almost as old as me, and I used to love dressing up and pretending to be Raymond Stantz hoovering up the aliens!
We think we have discovered the secret to your success. Is it your daily bowl of Cheerios?
I always eat my breakfast in the Sixth Form Office, along with Mrs Nurdin. Over a cup of tea, it's the best way to start the day – I've always thought that discussions involving food are the most productive. I love Cheerios because I was never given them as a child even though I asked for them constantly, so now I'm an adult I can eat whatever I want! At the moment, though, I'm on Crunchy Nut Cornflakes – mainly to give me a sugar fix!
What would surprise us about you?
When I was 17, I climbed Kilimanjaro with a team of other pupils from my school despite having done virtually no physical training or preparation. I reached the summit, took photographs, and collapsed.
What other Warminster role would you like to try for a day and why?
Anything in the Admissions Department. The idea of being able to explain to an agent on the other side of the world why Warminster School is such a great place to study, and helping pupils to make that transition.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
A postman – I thought they finished work at lunchtime and had the rest of the day off! Other than that, I wanted to be a history writer or a novelist.
What did your school reports say about you?
Mostly positive – I always worked hard and never did anything even remotely risky or exciting. My Year 9 Art teacher said something to the effect that ‘Underwood’s skills may lie elsewhere, but they certainly don’t include Art’, and my RS teacher said I was ‘Like a bottle of Champagne which hasn’t exploded’ – I never understood what he meant.
Your note/advice to teenage self?
Enjoy what is happening, and stop worrying about the future. Life is short so make the most of every single moment.
Your mantra/motto or favourite quote?
Life is a journey to be experienced, not a problem to be solved.
Hidden ambitions still to achieve?
To publish a biography of the French king, Louis IX, thinking about why he was made a saint and how we can understand this in relation to his treatment of some of those under his rule.
A favourite possession you would save from a fire?
My three aging guinea pigs – Jerry (8), Frankie (6) and Marley (6). And my wife.
Arrogance, rudeness, laziness.
I don’t really have a favourite genre of music, but I like listening to Caro Emerald.
Anything sweet – chocolate, biscuits, sweets.
MasterChef Signature dish?
I am a hopeless cook, but if forced I’d do prawn cocktail and salmon with baby potatoes, carrots and green beans, white sauce, with a lemon drizzle cake dessert.
Favourite TV programme?
Last book you read?
Vintage Stuff by Tom Sharpe.
Last movie watched?
The Lady in the Van – based on Alan Bennett’s experience of a woman who lived in a van parked on his driveway.
Which actor would play you in a movie about your life?
James Spader – he has the right sarcastic tone which I’m told pervades my A Level lessons.
Gin and Tonic.
Favorite place/city in the world and why?
Anywhere in the Greek Islands. I love the culture, the people and the weather, and of course the history!
Twitter or Facebook?
Facebook, although I’m trying hard to get back into Twitter.
For more information on our fantastic Sixth Form – Sixth Form Life