Sir Philip Craven (1961-1969)
I was at Bolton School from 1961 to 1969 and then went on to take a three year Geography degree at Manchester University where I scraped through that degree but got a first class honours in Wheelchair Basketball, training 3-4 hours a day at the McDougall Centre and also adding in an hour to an hour and a half of swimming each day. By the way, I did not enjoy the swimming training like I did the wheelchair basketball training.
I had had a rock climbing accident when I was 16 while I was at school which put me in a wheelchair and from then on I developed a sports career as you will hear later.
After university and my first Paralympic Games as a wheelchair basketball player, in 1972 I went to play in France for the Club Olympique de Kerpape where I was fortunate enough to play for the team that became French national champions and cup winners two years running. But the greatest prize of my two seasons in France was to fall in love with a wonderful French (Bretonne) woman who became my wife on 6 July 1974 and with whom I had two great children, Gaëlle and Yann.
Over those two seasons in France, I realised that my earning capability was limited in France with marriage looming and had to come back to Britain to get a decent job. I worked for British Coal (formerly NCB) from 1974 to 1991 and then, with Thatcher having closed down the British coal industry, embarked upon a career in sports administration. During my playing career I played nearly 200 times for Great Britain, winning a World Championship, Commonwealth Games gold, two European Championships and a European Champions Cup gold with Sheffield Steelers, but never secured a Paralympic Games medal.
During my playing career I had been chairman of the Great Britain Basketball Association on three occasions (you never stayed too long there owing to the difficulties of the post). Once I retired from British Coal in 1991, I was able to devote my time to international wheelchair basketball. I had been elected chairman of the international body governing wheelchair basketball at my last Paralympics in Seoul in 1988 and in 1989 I founded the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation. In 1994, I became the IWBF Chief Executive Officer for a limited four-year period as well as being its President. In 1998 I was re-elected as President but then developed a career as performance director for the Great Britain men’s wheelchair basketball team until my election in December 2001 to the position of President of the International Paralympic Committee.
To this day I am still the President of the International Paralympic Committee and will finish my final four-year term towards the end of 2017.
What is your connection to Bolton School? Were any other members of your family here?
As previously stated I spent 8 wonderful years at Bolton School, starting in Upper 2B at the Junior School on Park Road and finishing in 1969 in Economics 6A, before moving on to Manchester University. My brother, Roger Lee Craven, was also at school some nine years before me from 1951 to 1958, I believe. Unfortunately Roger passed away in early 2012.
What is your fondest Bolton School memory?
Well this is quite a difficult one really, and maybe the memory that I will state here shows a little bit of my rebellious nature. This happened one morning when I was a member of 5A3. All the boys had assembled as usual for registration, but then when each boy came into the classroom, they noticed that certain not too kind wording had been written up on the board concerning one of the teachers at school. There then ensued an investigative process led by George Lancashire and Roger Kirk to try and identify which boy had written those words up on the board. I remember it well that each of us was questioned and at one point I was asked to furnish my English book so that my handwriting could be compared with what was up on the board. Maybe I did respond somewhat flippantly in saying “sure – here it is” and was told very clearly by Roger Kirk to be more careful in the way that I spoke to him. I was never charged but I know that a very good friend of mine, Norman Fletcher was detained until lunchtime when the charges were dropped. To this day we do not have any idea as to who wrote those words up on the board.
Did any member of teaching staff particularly inspire you while you were at school?
Well there were really two, and they both inspired me to acquire a love of history. The first one, and I don’t have his first name, but he was called Williamson came up from Oxford, talked awfully, awfully like that but all my pals in Transitus C feel as if we were in the trenches in the First World War, just like the Accrington Pals!. This teacher was absolutely inspirational and I think everybody got a grade 1 at O Level from his teaching. But the member of staff who inspired me most has to be George Lancashire, despite the investigative process that I have referred to under the previous question. George brought economic history to life. He used the latest text books – I remember one being specifically on the agricultural revolution. He inspired a life-long love for the coal industry and its fundamental contribution to the industrial development of Britain. I have always been a great fan and a great supporter of coal miners and what they do (more the Joe Gormley side of the NUM than the Arthur Scargill).
What do you feel your experience at Bolton School has given to you personally?
Well I think I have only one word to say, and that is “freedom” – freedom to get involved with what I wish to get involved with. When an individual feels free then there is a greater probability and opportunity that self discipline will develop within that individual, slowly and, indeed, very slowly in my case.
I think it is this feature in Bolton School where a boy, or even an Old Boy, can get involved in so many different activities as well as academic school life. These multifarious opportunities give the individual the chance to experience different things, some of which will excite them and some of which will not.
This is why I believe that the freedom to experience many different opportunities is crucial to developing the whole individual, and I encourage both boys and Old Boys to continue with this practice.
What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?
Be yourself. I really encourage you to be curious as was said by Andrew Roscoe at the OBA Dinner at school in December 2014. Be curious to find something that really inspires you to greater things, and inspires you to do something that you really enjoy doing. Do not take a path that someone else forces upon you. Try different things and then go in the direction that moves you.
Freedom is all that anyone can ask for. And then it’s up to you!
What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?
I think the key to this question is that the word ‘genuine’ because it seems to me that more and more we are getting back to a situation that if a family doesn’t possess sufficient funding for the excellent education of their children, then the opportunities for those children are greatly diminished.
I believe the world in the 21st century is short of great leaders. Great leaders come about when people are tested and have to overcome significant difficulties in their lives. The silver spoon, on its own, has never created great leaders.
Therefore, Bolton School’s 100 Campaign is crucial in finding the boys and girls who, in the future, can face difficult situations, cannot be corrupted and can come up with workable solutions for the good of humankind. This is why I believe that the 100 Campaign must re-establish genuine open access to the excellent broad education offered by Bolton School.