THE inspirational schoolmaster who persuaded J R R Tolkien not to burn the manuscript of The Lord of the Rings and wrote an authoritative biography of C S Lewis has been honoured with a prestigious annual fellowship award.

George Sayer was head of English at Malvern College from 1949 until his retirement in 1974 and profoundly influenced generations of his pupils.

Broadcaster Jeremy Paxman whom Sayer taught in the mid-60s said he was the best teacher he ever had.

The college has just launched the George Sayer Fellowship with a public lecture by Oxford professor , Alister McGrath, an expert on Lewis and Tolkien.

Professor McGrath said: "Apart from his influence on Tolkien and Lewis, Sayer must have been a great teacher.

“He would return students’ essays with witty, encouraging comments scrawled on them in red pen and sometimes smeared with marmalade and his cat’s paw-prints.

"In my role as first George Sayer Fellow, I hope I can emphasise Lewis’s link with Malvern plus my own great delight in reading his work and share that love with the pupils.”

The school's head of English said: “Alister’s first lecture on the friendship between C S Lewis and George Sayer was a fascinating insight into how each man influenced the other.

“He’ll also spend time here as writer-in-residence and give workshops to pupils throughout the year, encouraging them, as Sayer did, to read, write, think and savour the joys of literature.”

Mr Sayers's widow, Margaret, aged 92, who attended the lecture, said: "In one of his visits to our home in Malvern while sitting around the fire, Tolkien was down about struggling to find a publisher.

"He even threatened to destroy the whole thing but George reassured him and asked him to read some passages from it aloud. He told him that it certainly deserved a publisher and that he might even be able to find one.”