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.
Captain Eric Brown RN
Alexander Graham Bell
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
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
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
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
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
January 1919 - 21st February 2016
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.
Eric Melrose "Winkle" Brown,
(born 21 January 1919) is a former
who has flown more types of aircraft than anyone else in history. He is
Fleet Air Arm’s
most decorated pilot and holds the
Brown received the affectionate nickname "Winkle" from
his Royal Navy colleagues. Short for
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.
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
Eric is indeed shown
sitting on the ground (right) in front of
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
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
Messerschmitt Me 262,
Arado Ar 234
Heinkel He 162
Fluent in German, he helped
interview many Germans after
World War II,
Wernher von Braun
and top Luftwaffe fighter ace with 352 victories,
In addition, Brown spoke to
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
He was also able to renew acquaintances with German aviatrix
whom he had met in Germany before the war.
On 15th November 2014 he was the guest on 'Desert Island Discs' 3000th
https://www.facebook.com/BBCRadio4/posts/10154789132145459 to hear
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.
Eric Brown passed away on 21st February 2016 aged
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
The top table:
Captain Eric Brown RN, Rector Jane Frith, London Club President
Valerie Peay, President Louise Stevenson and School Captain Craig
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
David Robb has starred in various British films and
television shows, including films such as
He is well known for playing Germanicus in the famous 1976
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
video games and had a recurring role in the
Highlander: The Series.
He has worked extensively on BBC radio drama including as Charles in
the original radio series of
Up the Garden Path
Captain Jack Aubrey
BBC Radio 4
adaptations of the
"Aubrey" novels and as
in several adaptations of the
in 2007. Read more at
David was born in
Brought up in
and educated at the
Royal High School,
since 2004 he and his wife, the actress and activist
have run in the
to raise money for
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
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.
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
28th February 1946 - 6th August 2005
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
was one of the Science teachers. Around Easter 1964 his father moved on
and Robin finished his sixth year in the
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
A detailed life history can be found at
Robin Cook collapsed and died while
climbing Ben Stack mountain in Scotland on 6 August 2005