The Royal High School Club



Famous FP's

The Royal High has educated many who went on to become celebrities in many fields.    The following are a small selection from early days through to the present.    Click on any of them for an RHS-orientated biography.


Sir Walter Scott

Alexander Graham Bell

Captain Eric Brown RN

Ronnie Corbett

Robin Cook

Ian Charleson

David Robb

Sarah Boyack

Fraser Doherty



Alexander Graham Bell


3rd March 1847 - 2nd August 1922

Alexander Graham Bell is undoubtedly the most famous scientific figure to emerge from the Royal High in the 19th Century, and vies with Sir Walter Scott for the title of our most famous son.

The following potted autobiography is an amalgam of articles in the public domain along with some photographs throughout his life.


A selection of photographs taken throughout his life

As a young child, Bell, like his brothers, received his early schooling at home from his father.     The family home was at 16 South Charlotte Street, which now has a commemorative plaque marking it as Alexander Graham bell’s birthplace.   He had two brothers: James Bell (1845-1870) and Edward Charles Bell (1848-1867), both of whom died of tuberculosis.     His father was Professor Alexander Melville Bell, and his mother Eliza Grace (nee Symonds).   Although he was born Alexander, at age 10 he pleaded to his father to have a middle name like his brothers.    For his 11th birthday, his father acquiesced and allowed him to adopt the middle name Graham, chosen out of admiration for Alexander Graham, a Canadian being treated by his father, and a boarder who had become a family friend.     To close relatives and friends he remained ‘Aleck’ which his father continued to call him in later life.

At the age of 11, he was enrolled at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland, which he left at age 15, completing only the first four forms.    His school record was undistinguished, marked by absenteeism and lacklustre grades.      His main interest remained in the sciences, especially biology, while he treated other school subjects with indifference, to the dismay of his demanding father.    Upon leaving school, Bell travelled to London to live with his grandfather, Alexander Bell.    During the year he spent with his grandfather, a love of learning was born, with long hours spent in serious discussion and study.    The elder Bell took great efforts to have his young pupil learn to speak clearly and with conviction, the attributes that his pupil would need to become a teacher himself.    At age 16, Bell secured a position as a "pupil-teacher" of elocution and music, in Weston House Academy, in Elgin.    Although he was enrolled as a student in Latin and Greek, he instructed classes himself in return for board and £10 per session.     The following year, he attended the University of Edinburgh, joining his older brother Melville who had enrolled there the previous year.

In 1870, Bell emigrated with his family to Canada, and the following year he moved to the United States to teach. There he pioneered a system called visible speech, developed by his father, to teach deaf-mute children. In 1872 Bell founded a school in Boston to train teachers of the deaf. The school subsequently became part of Boston University, where Bell was appointed professor of vocal physiology in 1873. He became a naturalised U.S. citizen in 1882.

Bell had long been fascinated by the idea of transmitting speech, and by 1875 had come up with a simple receiver that could turn electricity into sound.     Others were working along the same lines, including an Italian-American Antonio Meucci, and debate continues as to who should be credited with inventing the telephone.    However, Bell was granted a patent for the telephone on 7th March, 1876 and it developed quickly.     Within a year, the first telephone exchange was built in Connecticut, and the Bell Telephone Company was created in 1877, with Bell the owner of a third of the shares, quickly making him a wealthy man.

In 1880, Bell was awarded the French Volta Prize for his invention and with the money, founded the Volta Laboratory in Washington, where he continued experiments in communication, in medical research, and in techniques for teaching speech to the deaf, working with Helen Keller among others. In 1885 he acquired land in Nova Scotia and established a summer home there where he continued experiments, particularly in the field of aviation.

In 1888, Bell was one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society, and served as its president from 1896 to 1904, also helping to establish its journal.

Bell died on 2nd August 1922 at his home in Nova Scotia.







Dr Bell visits the Royal High School for the last time on St Andrews Day 1920


The Evening News carries the same story as shown on the left


We are indebted to Kenny Orr, Ronnie Tait and Jimmy Dignall for their contributions to this article.

Further description of the Great Man will appear here soon...




Captain Eric Brown

21st January 1919 - 21st February 2016

It was at the 2010 Prize-Giving that a remarkable nonagenarian delivered the FP address, and became better known to the School and FP Club.   He had long been a member of and contributor to the life of the FP London Club, but had not (at least recently) graced Edinburgh with his presence.     Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, Hon FRAeS, RN to state his full title, was a wartime flying officer, engaging in many dangerous sorties, and post war became a test pilot.

Captain Eric Melrose "Winkle" Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, MA, Hon FRAeS, RN (born 21 January 1919) is a former Royal Navy officer and test pilot who has flown more types of aircraft than anyone else in history. He is also the Fleet Air Arm’s most decorated pilot and holds the world record for aircraft carrier landings.

Brown received the affectionate nickname "Winkle" from his Royal Navy colleagues. Short for "Periwinkle", a small mollusc, the name was given to Brown because of his short (5ft 7in) stature

Eric was awarded the title of Greatest ever test pilot by the Guild of Air Pilots and Air navigators in 2008.

Read the background and the citation at

In one of his several books, Wings on my sleeve, Eric takes the earliest opportunity to feature The Royal High School high in his recollections by quoting on page 1 of chapter 1.

"As a schoolboy I won a scholarship from my local primary school to Edinburgh’s historic Royal High School, with its classical Greek temple buildings set in the heart of the Scottish capital.     There I had a most happy schooling with academic honours (runner-up to Dux of School) and sporting successes in Rugby (1st XV) and Gymnastics (school champion)”.

Eric is indeed shown sitting on the ground (right) in front of the 1935-36 1st XV


An extract from his Wikipedia article reads – “After World War II‚ Brown commanded the Enemy Aircraft Flight, an elite group of pilots who test-flew captured German aircraft. That experience makes Brown one of the few men qualified to compare both Allied and Axis "warbirds" as they actually flew during the war. He flight-tested 53 German aircraft, including the Me 163. He tested this rocket plane in powered flight as apparently the only Allied pilot (having done that rather unofficially, as it was deemed more or less suicidal undertaking due to the notoriously dangerous propellants, C-Stoff and T-Stoff), and the Messerschmitt Me 262, Arado Ar 234 and Heinkel He 162 turbojet planes.

Fluent in German, he helped interview many Germans after World War II, including Wernher von Braun and Hermann Göring,[11] Willy Messerschmitt, Dr. Ernst Heinkel., Kurt Tank and top Luftwaffe fighter ace with 352 victories, Erich Hartmann. In addition, Brown spoke to Heinrich Himmler. Coincidently, Brown had himself been using Himmler's very own personal aircraft, a specially-converted Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor that had been captured and was being used by the RAE Flight based at the former Luftwaffe airfield at Schleswig.[13] He was also able to renew acquaintances with German aviatrix Hanna Reitsch, whom he had met in Germany before the war.      On 15th November 2014 he was the guest on 'Desert Island Discs' 3000th edition.

Click - to hear the programme.

Eric has spoken at two recent Royal High functions, firstly at the 2011 School Prize-Giving, where he received a standing ovation, and secondly at the 2012 London Club dinner where he captivated the audience with tales of his meetings with Nazi leaders before and after the War.

Read more at -

Eric Brown passed away on 21st February 2016 aged 97.







Eric in his uniform as a Naval Captain

Eric pictured on his graduation day in Wings on my Sleeve.    Halfway down page one he has already described his days as a Bursar at 'Edinburgh's historic Royal High School, with its classical Greek temple buildings set in the heart of the Scottish Capital'

Eric delivers the address at the 2012 London Club dinner.


The top table:  Captain Eric Brown RN, Rector Jane Frith, London Club President Valerie Peay, President Louise Stevenson and School Captain Craig Taylor










David Robb

David Robb delivered an impressive Former Pupil’s address at the 2012 Prize-Giving.    Recognised immediately as one of the stars of Downton Abbey, and accompanied by his wife, actress Briony McRoberts, he recollected his schooldays, and his experiences in acting and life.    One story recalled an entry in the Funeral Order of service for the talented and famous English Rugby player, Andy Ripley.     He had said “You can earn a living from what you get, but only get a life from what you give”.    David commended that approach to the students.     He was in much demand after the event for autographs from parents and students.

David can be seen in the 1965-66 Prefects photograph - click here

David Robb has starred in various British films and television shows, including films such as Swing Kids and Hellbound. He is well known for playing Germanicus in the famous 1976 BBC production of I, Claudius and as Robin Grant, one of the principal character in Thames Television's 1981 series The Flame Trees of Thika. He has also performed as a voice actor for several Star Wars video games and had a recurring role in the fantasy television series Highlander: The Series. He has worked extensively on BBC radio drama including as Charles in the original radio series of Up the Garden Path opposite Imelda Staunton, as Captain Jack Aubrey in the BBC Radio 4 adaptations of the Patrick O'Brian "Aubrey" novels and as Richard Hannay in several adaptations of the John Buchan novels, including Mr Standfast in 2007.     Read more at

David was born in London.   Brought up in Edinburgh and educated at the Royal High School, since 2004 he and his wife, the actress and activist Briony McRoberts, have run in the Edinburgh Marathon to raise money for leukaemia research.

He also volunteers regularly for Samaritans duty , as reported in the London Evening Standard in November 2011.

‘When someone calls the Samaritans, the last thing they expect is to speak to a star of Sunday night television. But the actor David Robb who plays Downton Abbey's Dr Clarkson, has volunteered at the charity's Soho branch for 24 years’. (read more at 

The Downton Abbey website describes his experience thus:

London born, and raised in Edinburgh, David Robb is a veteran Masterpiece actor. In addition to his portrayal of Germanicus in the iconic 1977 production I, Claudius, he has appeared in Masterpiece's Flame Trees of Thika, Parnell and the Englishwoman and Sharpe's Peril. His feature film work includes Swing Kids, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and The Highlander. Robb has lent his voice to several Star Wars video games, and worked extensively for BBC radio on dramas and adaptations.

In 2012, accompanied by his wife Briony, he presented the Former Pupil's speech at the Prize Giving.




As  Germanicus in the award-winning 1977 TV adaptation of 'I Claudius'

  Being interviewed in 2010 about his long association with The Samaratins   As Dr Richard Clarkson in Downton Abbey  



Robin Cook


28th February 1946 - 6th August 2005

Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook attended the Royal high for four years between 1961 to 1964, but was somewhat reticent about his RHS schooling and it failed to make his entry in Who's Who.   He is however remembered by some of his schoolmates, two of whom provided the following anecdotes 

Robin Boog (Club President) wrote "Robin Cook was at Royal High from, I think, 1961 and 1964 when his father
was one of the Science teachers. Around Easter 1964 his father moved on and Robin finished his sixth year in the
Boarding House. I know this because I had to move to accommodate him !"

Peter Nisbet, who is now resident in Blaenavon, South Wales shared the same leaving ceremony as Robin in 1964, and his traditional RHS Club leaving gift - the History of the School by W C Ross inside back cover shows Robin's signature among others in class 6X.    The inside front cover was signed by teachers of the time and is also reproduced here.



Robin Cook's entry is third from the foot of the left column


Robin's teachers included many old favourites, including Jock Cunningham, Bill Bowie, Willie Cochrane, Tom Fairlie, Miss Whiteside and Nigel McIsaac


He was for some time a member of the RHS London Club

A detailed life history can be found at

Robin Cook collapsed and died while climbing Ben Stack mountain in Scotland on 6 August 2005






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Last modified: 01/21/19