10 December 2022

A brilliant teacher, a talented performer, and a man of kindness: Vale to Brian Corless

Brian Corless has been remembered for his many talents. Picture: Monash University Archives 

By Alan Gregory 

2 March 2022

Dr Brian Arthur Corless OAM, 9 March 1935 – 7 March 2022. 

I have known Brian all my life. We were boys together at St Georges’ Malvern, then studied at Melbourne High and the University of Melbourne together, then later had Monash University in common. 

Brian was a man of two careers: Melbourne High and Monash University but a man of many more interests. Drama and the arts, cooking, English literature, Anglican liturgy, calligraphy, and St George’s Malvern. 

Brian attended MHS from 1948-1952, where he was active in drama. He was President of the Drama Club, acted in and produced plays, was a poet, a painter and served on the school magazine committee.  

He then completed a bachelor of arts and diploma of education at the University of Melbourne, where he became well known as an actor, producer and designer for plays with both the Melbourne University Dramatic Club and the Marlowe Society. He was engaged in drama when the Union Repertory Company was being formed, and performed along with many actors who became well known professionals, some on the London stage. He even met Laurence Olivier when Olivier visited Melbourne and he entertained Noel Coward. 

After a brief stint teaching in Gippsland, Brian came to Melbourne High School in 1960 where he stayed for 30 years, becoming a legendary teacher. He mainly taught English, and was an inspired educator. 

Brian was a key figure in the production of top class plays, musicals and operas. He usually worked with David Niven and also the music teacher at the time, notably Bruce Worlan. Together these three did some of the best productions in the school’s history, winning awards and prizes. As well as musicals such as Oklahoma, there were productions such as Orpheus and the Underworld, with full orchestra, La Belle Helene, and Gilbert and Sullivans. For 10 years, Brian and David also produced an annual Shakespeare performance. 

Brian had a great sense of humour too, and helped stage two staff revues as fundraisers, which were hilarious and successful. In one act Brian played Alice in a send up of Alice In Wonderland.   

Alongside all this, Brian was also Captain Corless in his capacity as adjutant to the School Cadet Corps, and was library master of the substantial school library.  

Brian was also a superb organiser. Speech Night never had lapses and always finished on time under his organisation.  

He was also a gifted calligrapher. So gifted that on one occasion, the tea lady sighting some of this work was moved to say: “Mr Corless is so gifted he should not have been a teacher, he should have been a sign writer.” 

During his time at the school there was a group of highly talented and enthusiastic teachers who were kindred spirits to Brian. Like others in this group, he sacrificed promotion to remain at Melbourne High, where great spirit of camaraderie prevailed. 

After a year as acting deputy-principal in 1987, Brian retired in 1989 at the early age of 54. He was later declared a “Distinguished Teacher of the School.”  

All his life Brian was an active Anglican at St Georges’ Church in Malvern. Here, he held active roles in running services, singing the office, serving, and directing the liturgy.  

His calligraphy work was also much used by the church. The Book of Memory with their one page entry on those who passed away were all done by Brian. He served for many years on the Parish Council including a long period as Honorary Secretary.  

Brian chaired and organised the church’s 150th anniversary celebrations, and he was writing a history of the parish. He was generous too, many of the objects in the church were donated by him, including the Christus Rex above pulpit in memory of his mother. 

At both the church and the school Brian’s brilliance at catering was legendary. Suffering dreadful staff dinners at the school, he enquired of the principal as to the cost. Brian then said he would produce a far better meal for less – and indeed he did.  

At St Georges’ Brian catered annual dinners or dinners for special events until age stopped him. Privately he entertained generously, and his parties were quite amazing. 

In retirement, and feeling idle, Brian took what was at first a minor job at Monash University. But his sense of order meant he ended up organising all graduation ceremonies, and he became the Esquire Bedell for the university. He performed this ancient office with panache, and his Anglican liturgical experience saw him put into proper order not only the graduating students but also the professors and vice-chancellors.  

Brian transformed the graduation ceremonies and also put in order the Monash coat of arms and flag. On retiring after 20 years the university invited him to address his last graduation and as a surprise conferred on him an Honorary Doctor of Laws.  

His work as a teacher, and for the Anglican Church was recognised too, with the Medal of the Order of Australia.  

On the personal side Brian was sometimes pontifical. But he could also be hilarious. As one teacher said, “If you want a successful dinner party just invite Brian.” Underlying a sometimes-formal exterior was a person of generosity and kindness.  

My sympathy at this time goes out to Brian’s partner Chris Clarke. Chris and Brian enjoyed a long and happy partnership. My sympathy also to Brian’s brother Dennis and his family.  

So we salute Dr Brian Corless OAM, and give thanks to God for his remarkable career with so many accomplishments. 

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