Picture for John Davidson Briggs (David)

John Davidson Briggs (David)

07/11/1917 - 16/03/2020
Funeral: 30/03/2020

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David still having an impact

David voice could be heard on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme on Monday 30th March at around 8.35 am. You should be able to listen to this on BBC Sounds for around a fortnight afterwards.

Anthem for Mary and David

Some weeks before David died an anthem was written specially for him and his beloved Mary, to be sung at his funeral. Because the service has now been indefinitely postponed, many of the musicians who would have loved to sing and play for the service most generously gave up their time to record at home, each his or her own voice or instrument, which was put together in this beautiful compilation in David and Mary's memory: 


(A brief extract of this was also played on the Today Programme on 30th March; please see above for more details. It has also now been featured in Sky News and BBC1's Look East.)


Because of the risk to health of Coronavirus Covid 19, David's funeral has been postponed to safer times, when the many people who wish to pay their respects should be free to travel and gather again. We did however have a very small family service, at the time the funeral was scheduled to be, in the Garden of Rest where Mary is buried and David one day will be next to her, which we live-streamed:


This was done simply with a laptop downloading signal from an iPhone (at a time when the internet is under great strain because so many are home-working) so please forgive the erratic connection, particularly towards the end.


We would very much like to give something to David's two wonderful carers, who worked tirelessly to look after him and enabled him to enjoy such a long life and be comfortable in his last years, and who lost all their income with the person they loved so well. If you also wish to contribute to these two selfless and dedicated people in David's memory, please contact us at JDB@anneatkins.co.uk and we will advise how best to do this.

Obituaries and tributes

Please also add your own memories of David on the "Condolence" page. These lovely comments are much appreciated, thank you.

There was an obituary of David in the Daily Telegraph of Tuesday 24th March. There is also due to be one in The Times.


Within hours of David's death we were receiving pleas for a memorial service to be held at a more propitious time. Now that his funeral has been postponed we will certainly have some kind of ceremony at a later date, including the burial of his ashes with Mary's. If you want to be kept informed please register your interest at JDB@anneatkins.co.uk.

In memory of

John Davidson Briggs (David)

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2020/03/23/david-briggs-last-survivor-first-bbc-broadcast-nine-lessons/ David Briggs, last survivor of the first BBC broadcast of the Nine Lessons and Carols – obituary Briggs had a uniquely long association with the choir of King's College Chapel, Cambridge, and became head master of King’s College School By Telegraph Obituaries 23 March 2020 • 5:39pm Premium Humour and a liberal approach: David Briggs at 97 with daughter Anne Atkins, granddaughter Rosie, and Horatio the dog Humour and a liberal approach: Briggs at 97 with daughter Anne Atkins, granddaughter Rosie, and Horatio the dog CREDIT: John Lawrence David Briggs, who has died aged 102, had a long association with King’s College Chapel, Cambridge: he was a boy treble in the first broadcast of Nine Lessons and Carols in 1928; sang bass as a student in the 1930s; and from 1959 to 1977 he was headmaster of King’s College School, where he formed a strong bond with David Willcocks, the director of music who had been organ scholar at King’s on the eve of war. Nine Lessons and Carols, a variant of the service started in Truro by Bishop Edward Benson in 1880, had been introduced to King’s in 1918 by Eric Milner-White, the Dean, and its reputation quickly spread. Briggs recalled how during that first broadcast “the Crucifix actually collided with the microphone which was hanging from the ceiling.” That and other issues were dealt with by “a chap called Mr Anderson, who used to come year after year from the BBC with a box of tricks that he would unpack in the vestry”. For that first broadcast Briggs was a rank-and-file chorister. He recalled once singing the famous opening solo for Once in Royal David’s City, possibly in 1929. Except for 1930, the service has been broadcast live on the radio ever since (the television programme, a diluted version, is recorded in advance). Humour and a liberal approach were hallmarks of Briggs’s time as headmaster at King’s. One of his first and most controversial moves was to abolish corporal punishment. Although he could not make the choir a mixed one (Henry VI stipulated in 1441 that there should be 16 boys, a rule reinforced by the college statutes of 1453), he could make the school co-ed, which was one of his last acts. At the start of every summer he and Willcocks would, to the delight of the boys, put on fancy dress and officially open the unheated outdoor school swimming pool with a pillow fight on a wobbly plank above the water until they both fell in. John Davidson Briggs was born in Norwich on November 7 1917, the day of the Russian Revolution, he liked to say. He was the third of five children of Canon George W Briggs, a Cambridge man who became a distinguished hymn writer and rector of Loughborough parish church in Leicestershire, and his wife Constance (née Barrow). Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury, was one of his godparents, and young David spent his early years in a vast, 800-year-old rectory. He spent a year at Fairfield prep school, Loughborough, and had a handful of singing lessons from a Miss Anstey before singing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing for his voice trial at King’s; he joined the choir in 1926. Arthur “Daddy” Mann had been director of music since 1876, and Briggs recalled that little had changed in the intervening 50 years. Briggs adored Mann and kept a photograph of the organist above his bed for the rest of his life. The fees were £8 a term. “Life at the school was quite spartan, very simple,” he told the journalist Alexandra Coghlan in her book Carols from King’s. “There wasn’t an awful lot of heating or that sort of thing. It took great quantities of rice pudding to keep us going.” He recalled that the boy in the next bed would get up after lights out and put all his clothes on, removing them before matron returned in the morning. David Briggs, first right, bottom row, at his school in 1927 David Briggs, first right, bottom row, at his school in 1927 CREDIT: John Lawrence He won a scholarship to Sedbergh and then Marlborough, where he joined the chapel choir, took up violin and formed a jazz band known as the Dandelions. Membership of the Officers’ Training Corps was compulsory. Once while they were on parade the big bass drum that beat out the marching rhythm suddenly started sounding at random. It transpired that a practical joker had earlier opened it and put a frog inside, which was now becoming increasingly frantic. Briggs found the increasing militarisation of the 1930s incompatible with his growing Christian faith and left the OTC for the Scouts. He returned to King’s as a student, winning an academic scholarship to study Classics and History and a choral scholarship to sing bass, taking part in four more Nine Lessons and Carols services before the war. He bought a horse, Tiny, and paid a shilling a week to keep him on Scholars’ Piece, land at the back of the college. On one occasion the horse broke free. “At about 3am the porter knocked on my door and told me that Tiny had jumped over the fence and was eating the crocuses and could I please do something about it,” he told Coghlan in 2016. “So I had to go out in my pyjamas and fetch him back.” He was about to start teacher training when war broke out. As a conscientious objector he was ordered to face a tribunal which, in January 1940, ruled that he should join the Royal Army Pay Corps, a posting he disliked intensely. While he had no wish to bear arms, he also had no desire to be spared the horrors of war. Although his father, by now Canon of Worcester Cathedral, found his son’s “unpatriotic” stance incomprehensible, Briggs Sr travelled to the War Office in London and secured a place for him in the ranks of the Medical Corps. When an order came that all men and officers should be armed, Briggs took a stand: he could not and would not carry or use a weapon. He was prepared to face a court martial – even, he said, execution. However, the order was ruled to be against the Geneva Convention and he was spared. He found solace with the a cappella choir he formed from doctors and nurses, with copious quantities of sheet music paid for by the Army that he was later permitted to keep. After the war he was accepted for ordination but decided instead on teaching. In 1946 he became classics master at Bryanston in Dorset, where he oversaw the building by the boys of the school’s Greek Theatre and persuaded Ralph Vaughan Williams, a family friend, to write a trumpet flourish for the laying of the music school’s foundation stone in 1953. Six years later he succeeded Donald Butters as headmaster at King’s, where Willcocks was now organist. A new classroom block opened in 2004 was called the Briggs Building. In his late nineties Briggs was still singing with his local church choir in Bedford. On Christmas Eve 2015 he gave an interview for the Today programme on Radio 4, some 87 years after he was first heard on the radio. In it he recalled the enduring tradition of the candles flickering in King’s College Chapel on Christmas Eve as a boy treble’s pure voice sings: “Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little child.” In 1940 Briggs married Mary Lormer, an Australian maths scholar at Girton College. She died in 2009. They had two sons, one of whom is Professor Andrew Briggs, professor of nanomaterials at Oxford, and two daughters, one of whom is Anne Atkins, the novelist and former Daily Telegraph columnist. David Briggs, born November 7 1917, died March 16 2020 There is also an obituary scheduled for The Times this week.
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Donations for John Davidson Briggs (David) £1052.88

Robert, Catherine and Michael Hannaford

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Ben Atkins

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Anne Atkins

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Serena Atkins

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Alexander Atkins

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Stephen DREW

posted 23/03/2020

David Briggs, my prep school headmaster, was a warm, humane, affectionate and sympathetic presence in my life from my first day at King's, when I was nine, until his last day on earth, a period of over sixty years. God bless him for his kindness to me and to so many of those he taught and took care of.

Mags Wright

posted 23/03/2020

I Praise God for David who shone of the love, compassion, grit, perseverance, kindness and so much more of the characters of our Lord Jesus. And, through troubled waters showed me Jesus is enough. His lovely smile and hugs will be so, so missed. Roger and I look forward to seeing him again when we arrive home too. Mary and David are together with their Lord and Saviour. Or loss but heaven's gain. Xxx

Flora Brooke

posted 23/03/2020

Our thoughts are with all the Briggs family at this exceptionally difficult time.
love, Flora, Nick, Sophie and Orlando


posted 24/03/2020

David it was an honour to know you. A devoted loving family man who also grew to love me too as I did you. I will miss you so much David and I will never forget you. Rest in peace my darling X

C. V. Bettinson

posted 24/03/2020

Amo, amas, Amat. Amamus, AMatis, amant. David - your words and memories will be there forever for many. Thank you for your kindness, understanding and patience. I’m already looking forward to our next lesson 🙂

Helen Packman

posted 24/03/2020

I only met David in January this year, when I went to keep him company for an hour or so. It was an honour and a privilege to meet and converse with him. In spite of his good age, his mind was sharp, his humour and wit ready. I shall always remember him.

Alan Strange

posted 25/03/2020

A man with whom I had so little contact, yet made such a vast impression.

Alan Bannister

posted 25/03/2020

RIP - You were a great man.

Hugh Spencely

posted 27/03/2020

Very happy memories of JDB I sang in the chapel choir at Bryanston 1949-1954. and eventually got O level Latin. May your soul rest in peace and thank you for all you did for a teenager all those years ago.

Ursula Vickerton

posted 27/03/2020

You don't know me. But my Mother Catherine Staunton known as Rena died on new years eve, 31 Dec 2019. We had to wait due to backlogs until 28 Jan (her 94th birthday) to have a funeral Mass in Hendon at a RC Church we had never been to and then burial after a few graveside prayers with her husband of over 50 years. In the meantime at our local parish, in North Lincolnshire, where she had lived her last 2.5 years, a week before on Tuesday 21 Jan, we took over the usual weekly mass at 9.30 am, and remembered her, sang a few hymns without music and I told the 25 or 30 there including those from her care home and little about her and shared Tea Coffee and Cakes, which I had sorted/ baked the day before.
You gave your Father the best family send off with you all gathered around him and later gathered in simple prayers in the graveyard. Later you can have a memorial service, which in many ways can be simple, does not need funeral directors or a coffin. A good Picture or photo, people he cared for gathered, prayers readings and some simple refreshments.
This might be an Irish tradition, generally people have a funeral over there within 3 or 4 days of a death. No orders of service, news spread by word of mouth.. people gather and face up to the loss together. Afterwards Masses are arranged and said for the person who has died and their family, letter received and Small memorial cards prepared which are shared around family and friends for with a picture of the person or couple, dates and places of birth, death, burial and a few simple prayers on the reverse. I have found writing back to people and including these little memorial cards which were easy and inexpensive for a local printer to do helped me complete by thanking the people.
Thinking of you in your loss, I am sure very difficult. However you are not alone and a memorial service later in the year perhaps middle of summer or a significant date will I feel sure be possible and a fitting tribute to your Father. May he rest in peace and rise in Glory.
Ursula Barton upon Humber

Roger Hatton (Dorset 1949-1953)

posted 27/03/2020

David Briggs was my Latin Master at Bryanston.
He organised a visit by several of us to Evensong at Kings College.
Early on a cold February morning in 1952 I brought to him the news of the death of King George VI.
Seated at his usual desk in the large History Room he received the news from me with kindness but much sadness.
The whole room then stood to hear the news.
The visit to Kings has been remembered with gratitude for my entire life, along with a love of learning which was his priceless gift to many of us.

Penelope Rowland

posted 28/03/2020

I didn't know David but found his obituary in Tuesday's Telegraph so interesting. I have listened to Kings's Carol Service every year since I was a child and love the opening solo.
Sorry all the funeral plans went wrong but I am sure you have wonderful memories of David.
I will now re-read Anne's books.
Best wishes

Stephanie Duchesne

posted 28/03/2020

I had both the honour and privilege to have met David Briggs nine years ago while working in the Atkins' home, where he quickly became my teacher and friend. He taught me Latin and Greek, but more importantly, he taught me the importance of patience, kindness, and listening.
When I relocated back to Canada, David and I remained in touch via post, and remained pen pals for eight years. He would write to me as often as he could, sharing on his life, his family, and including any news paper articles he thought I might enjoy. David also sent me birthday cards every year, the last of which arrived just recently on my thirtieth birthday, dated March 9th.
David Briggs was an amazing man who lived a remarkable life and he will be remembered as such.


Tim Goetz

posted 30/03/2020

JDB taught me Latin at Bryanston about 70 years ago. He also supervised my contribution to the building of the Greek Theatre. He was always calm, kind and considerate. I did not realise that he was a Conscientious Objector so was probably very disappointed when I gave up Pioneering to join the Sea Cadet Corps and eventually the Royal Navy. Sorry JDB.

Fatmatu Bah

posted 06/04/2020

I am sadden by the departure of a dear friend Mr David John Briggs. He was greatly loved, respected and admired by the team of carers that worked with him. You are in our thoughts during this difficult time. Please accept our sincere condolence and wish that Anne and the rest of the family will find some comfort as you all deal with your lose.

With Best Regards
Former Team Leader
First 2 Care