Gabbitas & Waugh

The educational consultants known as Gabbitas have included the following historical description in their internet prospectus:

Gabbitas has been involved with Independent Education for over 145 years.

We have helped with the education of the British royal family, crowned heads of Europe, famous authors and composers such as Evelyn Waugh, Stephen Fry and Edward Elgar and many other outstanding figures in the arts and sciences.

Founded by Mr Gabbitas in 1873, today we are part of the Shaw Trust, a leading national charity that creates brighter futures for people through work, training and education.

They are presumably referring to their role in helping Evelyn Waugh secure his first job as a schoolmaster at the Arnold House school in North Wales. Waugh worked with the “scholastic agents” Truman & Knightley (Diaries, p. 191). That firm was acquired by what was then Gabbitas & Thring sometime around 1990 and then became Gabbitas, Truman & Thring. That was later at some point shortened to its present name.

Waugh fictionalized the firm as Church and Gargoyle in his first novel Decline and Fall. Mr Levy of that fictional firm explained its classification of schools to Paul Pennyfeather in a frequently quoted passage, most recently appearing an article by Adrian Wooldridge entitled “Hotels from Hell” in the current issue of The Economist’s 1843 magazine:

In Evelyn Waugh’s first novel, “Decline and Fall”, the hero, Paul Pennyfeather, is sent down from Oxford for indecent behaviour. Desperate for any job he can get, he visits Church and Gargoyle, scholastic agents. “We class schools into four grades,” says the teaching agency’s boss: “Leading school, first-rate school, good school and school. Frankly, school is pretty bad.”

Much the same can be said of hotels. One of the oddities of a career in journalism is that you find yourself ricocheting between the equivalent of “leading schools” and “schools”. […]

Actor Kevin Eldon makes a proper meal of that scene as Mr Levy in the recent BBC adaptation of Waugh’s novel.

According to a 1996 article in the Spectator, Gabbitas might, with all fairness, have been even more aggressive in associating itself with major literary figures in its prospectus:

Some of the most illustrious names of the 20th century passed thorough the agency after university: Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, W.H. Auden, the scientist Barnes Wallis and the comedy actor Jimmy Edwards among them. There was a simple coding system to assess the social status of young graduates seeking employment. Those considered the least suitable were marked on a card as Good M and A — Good Manner and Appearance; only those in the firm knew that it really meant: impossible to place. This code was used in case the applicant ever saw the card. The highest accolade was: Thorough Gent, Very Good M and A.

Any young man wearing what used to be called library spectacles, with thick frames, had his card marked with a symbol. It indicated he couldn’t be a thorough gent but a left-wing intellectual. Evelyn Waugh, of course, immortalised Gabbitas and Thring in Decline and Fall, as did John Betjeman in Summoned by Bells. The agency found its way into a W.H. Auden poem Letter to Byron.

Gabbitas may also want to do some consulting with Russian language experts since it appears to be targeting Russian expatriates as potential clients. It lists as satisfied clients the “Three Serebryakovas” and “the Serebryakova’s”. They apparently mean the Serebryakov family or, less formally, the Three Serebryakovs (although if they are referring to three sisters of that family, “Three Serebryakovas” might be so understood, if nevertheless seeming somewhat eccentric to Russian speakers) .

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