Owen Frampton

Art-teacher father of Peter Frampton whose pupils also included the future David Bowie

Tuesday 18 October 2005 00:00 BST

Owen Frampton was an inspirational teacher who encouraged his son Peter Frampton to become a rock star and was an influence on the early career of David Bowie. He gave Peter his first guitar lessons and taught Bowie art - when the boy who became Ziggy Stardust was still "David Jones".

Bowie and Frampton were both pupils at Beckenham Technical School in Bromley, Kent, where Frampton père was head of an extensive art department. While his wartime record as an officer in the Royal Artillery contrasted with his work as a teacher, in both roles he was a noted for his compassion and devotion to duty.

Known as "Mr Frampton" or "Ossie" to generations of pupils, Owen Frampton was born in Kennington, London, in 1919. His father was a Royal Navy submariner based at Chatham, Kent; the Frampton family moved from south London to Sheerness to be closer to the naval dockyard. Before the Second World War, Frampton was educated in Beckenham, where he met his future wife, Peggy ffitch, at the age of 13. He later studied for a degree at Goldsmiths' College in New Cross, intending to become a teacher. He played guitar in the college dance band.

After the outbreak of war in 1939 he joined the Army and became a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. He married Peggy at St John's Church, Eden Park, in 1941. Their marriage lasted 64 years, but after a five-day honeymoon they would not see each other again for five years.

During the war Frampton saw action as a gunner in North Africa, in Sicily and at Monte Cassino in Italy. In 1945 he stayed on in Austria, and was involved in the repatriation of Russian prisoners of war. However, as White Russians they had fought on the side of the Germans and faced a grim future if returned to the Soviet Union. Peter Frampton says:

My father had been put in charge of the Russian prisoners. He got to know them well and didn't care what country they came from. He put on concerts and shows and looked after them. Then he was ordered to send a trainload of White Russians back to Russia. When the empty train came back, the carriages were stained with blood. The prisoners, including women and children, had killed themselves, because they knew what fate awaited them. At that point my father resigned and said he would not send another train back. Many years later he was interviewed on BBC radio about what had been one of the great secrets of the war.

In 1946 Frampton came home to England and studied in the evenings at Beckenham Art School while teaching design, lithography, printing, photography, ceramics and painting at Beckenham Technical School. He was still studying when his son Peter was born in April 1950. He became head of an expanded art department as the school moved from Beckenham to Bromley. His pre-Diploma course enabled many pupils to go straight to art college.

His son Peter went to the Technical High School for a year before moving on to Bromley Grammar:

My father was very good at finding the passion for art within his students. One of his pupils, George Underwood, became a painter and designed three David Bowie album covers, Space Oddity, Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust.

David and George encouraged Peter to play guitar in their group:

It was 1962 and I was 12 years old. My dad had taught me my first guitar chords. He used to leave the art-block door open so we could bring our guitars in and play Buddy Holly songs.

David Bowie recalls Owen Frampton as

an excellent art teacher and an inspiration . . . Most of his pupils went on to art school and I went to an advertising agency as a designer.

However, Peter had some problems being at the same school as his father:

I didn't enjoy calling him "Sir". My younger brother Clive stayed at the school for five years, but I left after a fracas with one of the pupils my dad didn't get on with. I was beaten up after school. That's why I was sent to Bromley Grammar, although David and George stayed on. When David saw me on Top of the Pops with my first group, the Herd, he shouted: "That's Peter - he should be at school!"

My dad was my first manager. When the Herd asked me to join, he said, "If Peter worked at the post office he'd get £15 a week. So he should get the same in the Herd." As it turned out the band earned a lot more but I still only got my £15. Dad didn't think about that. I got rid of him as my manager after that!

Mr and Mrs Frampton went to see their son perform many times when he became a star with Humble Pie and a highly successful solo artist. In 1976, Frampton Comes Alive sold 12 million copies and was hailed as the biggest-selling "live" album of all time. Peter invited his parents to America and, when Owen retired aged 60, they lived near their son in New York State.

After five years, however, they returned to live in Sussex. Owen Frampton became ill in his last years but stayed in touch with his former pupils as well as his sons Peter and Clive, who sang a specially composed tribute song, "Not Forgotten", at his memorial service.

Chris Welch

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