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E.V. Gatenby's life and career

Edward Vivian Gatenby (1892–1955) was born in Leyburn, Yorkshire. He gained a First Class Honours Degree in English, and an M.A. from the University of London, before working for a time as Lecturer at King’s College, University of London. In 1923 he went to Japan to work as a university lecturer in English language (in the same year as A.S. Hornby (q.v.)), and became a Lecturer in English Language and Literature at the prestigious Tohoku Imperial University, Sendai, in 1926. He was to remain at this university, later becoming Professor, until 1942 when he left Japan. During this period he also taught at Fukushima Commercial High School. In 1929 he brought out a book with the London publisher Murray on The Cloud-men of Yamato: Being an Outline of Mysticism in Japanese Literature.

During his years in Japan, Gatenby was an active member of the Institute for Research in English Teaching, becoming a staff contributor to its Bulletin. Through the Institute’s influence he became a ‘warm advocate of the Direct Method’ (Phillips 1956a: 87), although ‘He was not an extremist, and disapproved of extremism in others’ (ibid.). In the late 1930s he collaborated with Hornby in the compilation of the Idiomatic and Syntactic English Dictionary (Hornby, Gatenby and Wakefield 1942), which was later reissued by Oxford University Press as A Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (Hornby, Gatenby and Wakefield 1948).

Having left Japan in 1942 (presumably on the same ship as A.S. Hornby, since there would have been no opportunity to leave at this time except under the same exchange of nationals agreement), Gatenby, like Hornby, was greeted in the UK with an appointment to the British Council. Gatenby was sent to Turkey as ‘Linguistic Adviser’ for Council operations there, receiving the same job title Hornby was given for his work in Persia. In 1944 he gained the post, in addition, of Professor of Pedagogy and Head of the English Department at the Gazi Educational Institute in Ankara, at that time the only Teachers’ Training College in Turkey. By 1945 he was also a Professor of English at Ankara University. But, as Phillips (1956b: 2) comments, ‘Even such a heavily loaded programme was not enough for him’ and by 1951 he was giving a series of English lessons by radio from Ankara (which made him well known all over Turkey), preparing a quarterly pedagogical bulletin in Turkish, and examining in English for the Turkish government.

Gatenby was also publishing extensively in the UK in these years. On the basis of his teacher training experience with ‘non-native speaker teachers’ (or, as he put it, ‘non-English teachers’) in Japan and Turkey, he issued a book of practical hints on teaching methods titled English as a Foreign Language: Advice to Non-English Teachers (Longmans, Green) in 1944. During the first six years of its existence (1946–52), he also contributed no fewer than ten articles to the journal English Language Teaching which had been founded by his friend A.S. Hornby at the British Council in London, on a wide range of topics including ‘Second language in the kindergarten’, ‘English studies in Turkey’, ‘Translation in the classroom’, ‘Conditions for success in language learning’ and ‘The use of wall-pictures in language teaching’. In the late 1940s he turned his hand to textbook-writing, having noted (see Gatenby 1947: 10–11) certain weaknesses in the Oxford English Course materials which had been prescribed in Turkey for state schools ever since Faucett’s (1933–34) advisory stay there. He first adapted the Essential English materials previously produced by Charles Eckersley, with Essential English for Turkish Students being published in 1948 (Eckersley and Gatenby 1948). Between 1949 and 1953 Longmans brought out, additionally, his own new course for Turkey, A Direct Method English Course. A New Course Specially Designed for Turkish Students (five volumes, with corresponding teachers’ books), and an adaptation of this for wider sales was also published soon afterwards under the shorter title A Direct Method English Course (Gatenby 1952–53). Both of these series sold well enough for second editions to be produced in 1954. Finally, there was another joint publication with Eckersley in 1955, a set of English wall pictures to illustrate the words in West’s (1953) General Service Vocabulary, with an accompanying Teacher’s Handbook and exercises (Gatenby and Eckersley 1955).

As Phillips (1956a: 88) reports, between 1946 and 1955 Gatenby travelled a great deal under British Council auspices. He held summer schools and advised governments on English teaching in the Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, Yugoslavia and Israel, and visited English classes in various countries, including South Africa and Egypt. A particularly signficant visit occurred in 1950 when he went to Mahableshwar, in India, to direct the first large-scale British Council event to be held in that country after Independence. Phillips (ibid.) offers the following eyewitness account:

To that conference came Indian experts, many of whom were facing the problem of the teaching of English as a foreign language for the first time. For India has attained her excellence in English because she has used it. It has been the medium of instruction and the only means of communication between Indians whose mother tongues were different. It was for Professor Gatenby to explain that, with the ultimate relegation of English to the place of a subsidiary language in India, the methods of instruction in that language must be radically changed. I well remember the atmosphere of scepticism in which that conference started, and the way in which Professor Gatenby’s kindly informed insistence changed that atmosphere to one that was as friendly as it was sincere. The final speeches of the delegates, and their expressions of thanks were a very moving testimony to the influence that Professor Gatenby had spread over the whole conference during those very pleasant and rewarding days.


Gatenby addressing the 1950 conference in Mahableshwar (source: British Council 1950)

The conference ended with a list of ‘General recommendations’ which clearly owed much to Gatenby’s influence, including: the promotion of the direct method ‘as the only method calculated to give a sure foundation in the language, the occasional judicious use of the mother tongue being permitted during such language instruction’; the need to concentrate in the first years on ‘a mastery of the words and structures of a selected vocabulary’; and the establishment of an ‘Institute of Research in English Language Teaching’ (an echo, clearly, of the Tokyo Institute for Research in English Teaching).

Gatenby’s work for the British Council was honoured in the UK with the award of an O.B.E. (in 1953), followed in 1955 by a C.B.E.. In 1954 he had resigned from the British Council and was hoping to retire to England, with an advisory post at Longmans in prospect, but his intensive work in Turkey and frequent travelling had taken their toll, and in November 1955 he died suddenly after only three days’ illness.


 For details of publications by Gatenby referred to above, see the separate 'Works' page on this site.

Phillips, L.R. 1956a. ‘Professor E.V. Gatenby, C.B.E., M.A.’ (Obituary). English Language Teaching 10/3: 87–90

Phillips, L.R. 1956b. ‘Professor E.V. Gatenby’. (Obituary). Gogaku kyoiku.

Gatenby, E.V. 1947. ‘English language studies in Turkey’, English Language Teaching 2/1: 8­–15.

The British Council. 1950. The Teaching of English as a Foreign Language: A Report on the British Council Summer Conference Held at Government House, Mahableshwar, India, 3rd to 13th May 1950, in the Dakin Collection (Warwick ELT Archive).

Smith, R.C. (ed.). 2005. ‘General Introduction’ to Teaching English as a Foreign Language, 1936–61: Pioneers of ELT, Volume 1. Abingdon: Routledge.


The above account by Richard C. Smith (uploaded here in 2007) is adapted from Smith 2005.