The answer is that they all provided inspiration for some of the 13 ‘Spells’ chosen by the competitors in this year’s McEachran Prize, the School’s most eccentric competition, held annually in honour of the legendary Frank McEachran, or ‘Kek’ as he was known to generations of his disciples, amongst them the writer of this piece.
This year’s inspirational judge was Peter Broad OS, who taught in the English Faculty under Peter Fanning and was subsequently Head of Drama and a Housemaster for 13 years at Eton College, his gracious and generous adjudication as spellbinding as the best of the talks themselves.
Seven boys and six girls ranging from the Third Form to the Upper Sixth showed off their erudition and imagination – this is unashamedly a competition for the intellectually courageous – delivering free-style talks on a rainbow of chosen texts: Bronte, Maya Angelou, Spike Milligan, Oscar Wilde, Margaret Atwood, James Taylor (OS), Burns, Stevie Smith, Anthony Burgess, Orwell, Shakespeare, Donald Trump and Wittgenstein.
Wittgenstein won the day, with Shakespeare following hard on his heels. Jonny Snell (Ch U6) chose as his text ‘The limits of my language are the limits of my world’ from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus-Logico-Philosophus, delivering a lucid talk on this most difficult of philosophers in a way that had the audience rapt. Jonny has a conditional place to read Philosophy at Robinson College, Cambridge University.
Highly commended was Milton Tai (SH L6) with an analysis of sound and sense in the opening lines of Antony and Cleopatra, unconsciously choosing the Shakespeare played loved above all others by McEachran.
In the junior category, awards were made to Theo Parsons (Rb 5) for explaining the psychological truth underlying Stevie Smith’s Not Waving but Drowning, and to Sapna Chudasama (G 4) for a personal and highly engaging talk on Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman.