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News > Archives & History > Frank Sam Butler

Frank Sam Butler

The March 2014 issue of the Old Diocesan College Magazine featured an amazing tribute to Frank Sam Butler, one of Bishops' most fond and respected art teachers.


Arts & Culture

Found in the Cape Times, November 1954: 

“Schoolboy has 5 lbw in ONE Over”

Walker, a Bishops boy, in an under 15 match took 5 wickets in one over – all lbw ! In vain however, as his side still lost.

Mike Walker (1957O) writes: It should have been six! Unfortunately the umpire Sam Butler gave the batsman not out despite him being the plumpest of them all. He said to me, “not out, that’s enough for one over.”


To appreciate this, you really have to have known Sam Butler. So valued was he as the Bishops Art master that he continued to teach until he was 80! He celebrated his 80th birthday with his colleagues in the Upper Common Room during the tea-time break. Anthony Mallett composed and read this poem while Sam cut his cake: To Sam, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.


What we like in you Sam is your taciturn tenacity.

Your corduroys, your bush hat … and your nerve.

Add to this your honesty and sensible sagacity.

Not to mention cussedness and verve.

We are staggered by your paradoxical longevity,

Your apparent lack of lassitude and cares;

But the recipe is simple, (if you’ll all excuse the brevity),

It’s climbing up those flaming Art Loft stairs.

Surrealistic op-art, or merely painting scenery,

Your contribution here has been immense;

But now you must behave in a manner octogenary,

And demonstrate some youthful common sense.

Samuel, we salute you on this memorable occasion,

And even if we are a lot of cranks,

There’s none of us here present needs coercion or persuasion

To wish you HEALTH … and HAPPINESS …and THANKS.

Sam Butler and Anthony Mallett.

Frank ‘Sam’ Butler taught Art at both the Prep and the College. He had served with the RAF in Mesopotamia during World War 1 and had worked in Egypt. He went off to war again in 1940, in the Camouflage Unit. Sam taught his subject as a joyful experience for all concerned. He was also devoted to his junior cricket, which he approached similarly.

Sam Butler works on a piece of art.

John Gardener (1947G) writes:

His Bohemian garb and cheerful mien concealed considerable technical skill, most publicly seen in his numerous stage sets. He retired when over 80 and continued painting at Kalk Bay. He died in August 1980. The Sam Butler Art Centre was opened by his son Jeremy Butler (1965) in October 1986. An exhibition of his works was held in 1989 to mark the centenary of his birth. In honour of this remarkable man, we are publishing some examples of his work inspired by the Western Cape and also the Far East. These pictures have never been seen by ODs before.

Found in the Archives. This was written by Sam – a few memories of his days and years teaching Art at the Prep.

When I arrived at Bishops Prep there was no Art room and I went from class to class with a fruit box full of pots of paint. I was terrified of mucking up the rooms and in order not to do this instructed the kids to wipe their fingers on my trousers rather than get paint on their clothes. This game became so popular that within three months my flannel bags were covered with paint. I had to stand on a chair to take them off and put them on as they became stiff as boards – great laughter in Chapel!! On my return to school in 1943 – the room, now the present staff room, was given to me. It was in an unbelievable condition and nothing the kids could do could possibly make it worse so we did spells of clay modelling – about eight weeks at a time – and had some lovely results. Trengrove-Jone is now a doctor made superbly clever models and one of his made at College of the Discus Thrower remained with me for years. As a teacher these days of linocuts and clay modelling were my happiest between the War years – to say nothing of the Plays. With no available cash, we had to make do with any available rubbish we would paint on and nail together. How the Staff put up with me I never knew! 


A self-portrait and collage of a selection of some of Sam’s unseen work.


This poem ‘Echo’, a parody, was published in the school magazine March 1940, written by the Editor Mr CC Lacey. ‘Bill’ obviously refers to Sam Butler.

Any community may have its Bill, but never a community had a Bill like ours:-


So picturesque,





And inscrutable a Bill as ours.

How Bill had earned a living before we knew him

All were free to know, yet none could imagine:

He’d scattered British justice

Over tucked-away oases;

Groomed horses, played at ducks and drakes

With Brass-hats on the Nile;

Rubbed shoulders, always friendly-like’

With fellahin, muezzins, diplomats and camels;

Been apprenticed to a wizard,

Made ropes of shining sand.

Now Bill has his vocation – writ large across his trousers:

They are, so to speak, his banner,

His innocuous “skull and cross-bones,”

Bespattered with the rainbow.

(His ties and shirts and so-called hats

Are not exactly orthodox,

But nothing to his trousers –

Originally grey, at last the full palette!)

You might dislike Bill? It isn’t worth the trying:

He lives in a jolly world, you see,

Just next door to ours –

Next door, but saner,

Where clouds and flowers and sunsets,

Paints, colours, candour, freedom

Are worth much more than cash, and

Than other folk’s opinions.

Youngsters seem to like him, pester him to draw them

Boats and beasts and Kings.

So, of one thing I’m positive:

If ever Bill, the nomad,

Decides to pull up tent-pegs and chase the blue horizon,

Our place will be the narrower, the drearier, the madder

By a long, long chalk.


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