Robert John Unstead
Born in Deal in Kent on 21st November 1915, “Robert, known as Bob” was educated at Dover Grammar school 1926/34 becoming Capt. of the School Cricket team and Vice Capt. of the Rugby team, gaining A level passes in History, Latin and French, Graduating in 1936 from Goldsmith College as a qualified teacher.
As war reared its ugly head Robert joined the RAF as a PT Instructor before becoming a controller in the Operations room joining the D Day landings, and ending his military service in Greece, Italy and France.
Back in civvies Street he became a headmaster at The Grange primary school in Letchworth garden city. It was here he developed his unique ideas of richly illustrated history books aimed at children, and he had declared during the 1950s that most of the current history books available in schools were enough to put children off the subject for life.
He set about writing the first four books of a series called ‘Looking at History’. These became an outstanding success, full of lavishly coloured illustrations accompanying his clear and direct style of narrative which while being accurate was easy to read and understand for the youngsters they were aimed at, selling over eight million copies world wide. Proving not only popular with teachers and children to the delight of the author they became must have Birthday and Christmas presents.
Married to Florence, the family, his three daughters, Judith, Susan and Mary, moved to Reedlands, a picturesque property in Thorpeness adjacent to the Meare.
Quoting his daughter Mary “the family enjoyed life in the village during the 1960s meeting such people as Joyce Grenfell, Jilly Cooper and President Kenyatta to name but a few, life seemed to be an endless party atmosphere and lots of entertainment to be had with social activities and many friends. Mum and Dad loved every minute; they played Golf, Bridge, Tennis and enjoyed a very social scene’ Dad bought us a boat to row on the Meare which was a great source of fun especially for his grandchildren, later. He always encouraged us in everything we did, particularly, education and sport”.
His books became bestsellers around the world. With 100 plus titles to his name the books sold in there millions. He was invited to Australia where he assisted on 5 publications on the antipodean’s history. Likewise while visiting the USA, following the release of his book the History of Great Britain which received the award BOOK OF THE YEAR by the Library 0f Congress, he was invited to the White House by the President, Richard Nixon, to share a luncheon, a moment his family were so proud of, during which Florence sat next to Paul Ghetty, discovering although being very wealthy was a decidedly, a miserable fellow.
It was at Thorpeness Golf Club in the 1960s that I first met Robert, a very kind and friendly gentleman, when I and a few of my mates sought work as golf caddies. The going rate was 7/6d or 37½p for a round of golf lasting approximately three hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons and school holidays. If the golfer was pleased with your knowledge of the course and game he paid up to ten bob or 50p a round.
Being a young Air Cadet with 1379 squadron in Leiston at this time Mr Unstead would chat to me about life in the RAF.
His continuing support for the local young people in the community and his passion for education Bob became Chairman of Leiston Middle School (1973 – 85) and Coldfair Green Primary School, where he donated annual History and Achievement Prizes. He was so creative with his work, producing almost 100 titles, he became affectingly and quite deservedly known as ‘the young person historian’ and ‘Mr History'. His most ambitious work was ‘A History of the World’ in 1983 which he aimed at a much wider readership and soon became a bestseller’.
At the time of his death he was working on a new book about the 1940s, in collaboration with his daughter Susan, a successful children’s author and publisher in her own right.
Sadly Robert passed away on 5th of May 1988 and was laid to rest in Aldringham churchyard on 11th May.
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