President of MCC and warden of Radley College for more than 20 years

Born: October 8, 1931;

Died: June 19, 2019

Dennis Silk, who has died aged 87, was an outstanding headmaster of Radley College (1968-1991), one of the leading public schools in England. In almost a quarter of a century Silk broadened the base of the school, improved its academic results and greatly broadened its commitment to sports. As a teacher he is fondly remembered for his patience and his enthusiasm to impart his academic knowledge and as a coach at both rugby and cricket.

Under his lengthy tenure as headmaster Radley grew from 450 to 600 boys which greatly helped the finances of the school. Silk remained adamantly opposed to the admission of girls but through his genial personality – and welcoming smile – he built a happy school with a sense of trust and understanding between pupils, staff and parents. He gave them all the feeling that he genuinely cared about them and the school.

Eric Anderson who was headmaster of Eton in 1990s regarded Silk as the best headmaster in England, who transformed Radley from what Anderson described as "a pretty ordinary place to one of England's best public schools.”

When Silk retired from Radley, rather than accepting a retirement gift for himself, he established the Dennis Silk Fund to support the education of talented boys whose parents could not afford the school’s fees. Over 30 boys have since benefited from the fund.

Dennis Raoul Whitehall Silk was the son of the Rev Dr Claude Whitehall Silk, a medical missionary working in a reservation in California, and his wife, Louise, who was Spanish. She died when Silk was four and he and his brothers were brought up by their father in north London – not far from Lords where Silk was to score two centuries in the Oxford v Cambridge cricket match.

He attended Christ’s Hospital and then won an exhibition to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge where he read English. He established himself as a gifted sportsman and was a blue at cricket and rugby and a half-blue at fives, captaining the cricket XI in 1955. He also became a close friend of the poet Siegfried Sassoon on whose work he became an authority.

Silk was a great lover of rugby. On leaving university he played for Bath as a centre while teaching at Marlborough College (1955-68) but when the offer came to move to Radley as headmaster Silk accepted immediately.

He ensured that the teaching improved and that the staff built a good relationship with the pupils. He imposed a fair but firm discipline throughout the school and he had the knack of remembering faces and names. He frequently rose at dawn with photographs of new boys and their parents laid out over his desk so that he could memorise all the names. There was also added information on the particular interests of each boy.

The school gained wide publicity when Silk approved in 1979 a BBC fly-on-the-wall series about the school. The governors left the final decision to him and he had to accept he would have no editorial control over the final output. It was a brave decision as the cameras roamed over every aspect of daily events at Radley. Silk was seen reprimanding two young boys who had been caught with a bottle of brandy behind a bush at night. The polite but stern ticking-off from the headmaster was short and sweet, “Do it again and you are for it.”

A boy interviewed in later years confirmed his appreciation of the education he had gained at Radley. When asked about Silk’s influence on his life he replied, “Pivotal. Dennis Silk was the most influential man on my life besides my father”.

The series also captured Silk’s genuine love of his job as headmaster and teaching, “I try to keep as many people as happy and contented as possible.” It did not lead to an increased intake at Radley but it did, Silk argued, improve the perception of the public-school system. He was much heartened after the last programme to receive a letter from aa Welsh train driver saying that if he had the money he would send his son to Radley.

He published Attacking Cricket and a selection of the poems of Siegfried Sassoon.

On retiring Silk lived in Somerset and kept in touch with Radleans, colleagues and attended many sporting occasions. He was a passionate gardener and was president of MCC (1992-94) and acted as chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board for two years when he was strongly in favour of creating a national cricket academy.

Dennis Silk is survived by his wife Diana who he married in 1963 and by their two sons and two daughters.