Monday 7 August 2017

OWT 95 August 2017





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EDITORIAL Apologies for the late distribution of this OWT, but other matters have occupied my attention over the past few weeks.

FROM RICHARD WAKEFIELD 1961-68 As my old mum may say, there are teachers... and then... there are teachers. In my seven years at City Boys there certainly were. I was there from 1961 to 1968 and found the teaching staff was changing in nature through that time. Initially the staff were predominantly of a more senior persuasion ranging down to middl- aged, or so it seemed to this pupil A notable exception however was the excellent Tony Baxter, who I seem to recall shared a first day with me. As I moved up through the school I believed it was merely an accident of ageing on an annual basis. It seemed that some of the more senior staff were moving on and a younger crowd with, I imagine, a more radical approach were coming in and changing the feel of the school in many ways. I find in life that the majority of any demographic are perfectly good, capable, upright citizens, with a small number of greats at one end and a small number of bad eggs at the other. We will all have memories of our teachers, those we liked and those we didn't. I think it fair to say there were some we liked, others we didn't, and we'll all have our views of who falls into which category. But I think it fair to say that the majority were definitely members of the good, capable upright persuasion. Some were very much in the excellent camp while others were ... well, I'm not here to mention that...
For my money the top man was without doubt the redoubtable Ken Witts. Ken was, for me, a formidable presence and certainly not a man to give trouble to. I recall once, ill-advisedly, doing just that and I never did it again. But I respected him and learned well under his tutelage. He seemed to be up-to-speed with developments in his field (geography.- see what I did there?) and in my view put information across in a very straightforward and easily absorbed way. Like many however, I did question his rather avant-garde way of pronouncing The Himalayas, but notice that his pronunciation now seems the accepted one!
I recall whilst in 5F our form room, on the top floor of the science block at Downing Drive, was the Geography room. Ken was concerned at the speed with which stationery was evaporating from the store cupboard, so at the beginning of a lesson, when he heard furtive rustlings from the cupboard, he moved with the stealth of a panther approaching an unwary antelope and shut and locked the door. Clearly he had caught a suspect and made an academic arrest. Not many seconds later the stillness of the room was shattered by rattling and shouting. Ken opened the door to release a flustered and embarrassed Geography teacher number 2 - if memory serves me rightly, Dave Gilyean
The other teacher I rated almost as highly is the splendid Stanley Ras Berry... I had a piece about him in here before, but he truly set the seeds for changing my life for the better. My previous piece related to the time we were studying Emma by Jane Austen. The good man said how funny a passage was and read it out to a set of blank uncomprehending faces. We didn't see the funny side, he was non-plussed and abandoned the lesson there and then. For reasons I don't recall, I was doing English Literature for' A' level despite reading nothing except for Charles Buchan's Football Annual and the Beano. However the lessons this man gave led to my developing a huge love of Ms Austen's work, as well as many other classic writers and poets. I have loved literature in all forms ever since, and thank him for planting that love in my heart.
Finally a true maverick, a character, a one-off, in Brian Scott. In the 6th form I studied Latin. Now if you don't know, the Latin word dum means while. That is relevant!!! The first lesson, there were five rather nervous, not to say bemused, pupils sitting in the room as the aforementioned Brian Scott sailed majestically in bellowing "Dum... Dum... you're dumb, Smith... get out and wait in the corridor" Now the boys name wasn't Smith, I know what it was, who he was, but will not reveal it here. He then told the shocked survivors of that opening what Dum meant, and proceeded with the lesson. (I don't get it - Ed) He must have done a great job, because at the end of the year i came away with an 'O' level and a rather respectable grade

FROM ALAN PYKETT 1959-66 A few months ago there was an article in the Daily Express, which was perhaps seen by other Wyvernians, about attending an all-boys' grammar school in what I presume was the 1950s or early 1960s. So much of the article resonated with me about my time at City Boys that I could have written quite a portion of the article myself! Three items stood out for me. First, as soon as you attended the school first names disappeared so instead of Alan, Brian, David and Robert it was Pykett, Papworth, Billsdon and Leake - even amongst ourselves. I am sure those former classmates mentioned will not mind being used as examples. Secondly, we did not have teachers. Instead we had masters, sometimes in their flowing gowns and sometimes not. Lastly the playing up of the music teacher (oops master) Ring any bells? At the school mentioned in the article, when listening to the boys on an individual basis for their tone, some produced various animal sounds. However, their misdemeanours did not go unpunished. The culprits were given a page of an exercise book, the type made up of little squares, and told to cut out each individual square. Of course, our music master was Bill Sykes. I personally don't remember him being played up too much, but I do remember him listening to us individually in the second year to get a new intake for the school choir. Going back to surnames, I am not quite sure how widespread this was, but I believe it was definitely prevalent in public schools. Possibly this was something to do with our head, Ernie Bell, running our school somewhat on those lines.

FROM DAVE POSTLES (1) 1960-67 CBS: a musical journey Increasingly, reflections on earlier life tend to invoke the metaphor of music. Life-course is presented through musical adaptation and change. In parenthesis, the musical appreciation in the assembly hall at Humberstone Gate occurred largely as a distraction for many of us, an imposition approximating a regularized detention, although I recall one highlight when Colin Desborough correctly pronounced Dvorak to general astonishment. His elder brother, of course, was deeply interested in classical music. On the contrary, the life-course of many of us - my acquaintances - conformed to transitions in popular music. On my council estate (Northfields) in the 1950s, the ascendancy belonged to Little Richard. We walked the adjacent countryside in a large gang bellowing out 'Good Golly Miss Molly', 'Long Tall Sally', and the other lyrics. One strange interloper was Johnny Duncan and the Blue Grass Boys, 'Last Train to San Fernando', an evocative ditty, though of what is still illusory, certainly not of the annual pilgrimage to Skeggy by train. Both represented, in different ways, the insinuation of US culture. That,then, was the pre-CBS cultural environment. As in many other aspects, recruitment to CBS involved a widening of many horizons. There was now no cultural hegemony, but disputation. Who was superior: the late Buddy or the living Elvis? Through amity, with Alex Neal, and through him the influence of his two elder brothers (also at CBS) I aligned with the supporters of Buddy - a not inconsiderable number at CBS, not least the New Parks contingent. Those differences became elided after the first year. The cultural domination of the first wave of BritPop, the so-called 'Mersey Sound', reintroduced some sort of thin cultural coherence. Let it be agreed, however, that this initial wave was represented as much by Joe Brown and his Bruvvers as the Beatles. It was JB and the Bs who provided the accompaniment for the twist contest at Elbow Lane, not least 'Picture of You' (but also, of course, the paradigmatic US Chubby Checker) By the third year, contestation was revived. What was the sentiment towards the new US invasion from Detroit, Motor City, Motown, and, as importantly, the 'Wall of Sound' of Phil Spector? One future Head Boy adamantly inscribed on his satchel 'The Ronettes'. Not everyon agreed. There was now no consensus. At the annual show, my near-neighbour Gerald Taylor and his band entertained (regaled) the (compulsorily) assembled
mass to a string of retrospective hits by The Shadows. 'Apache', anyone? By 5A, there was much reminiscing: a (supply your own grave) la recherche du temps perdu. Was this a symbol of maturity and reflection? It was possibly not, since some of us made a fleeting homage to the DeMont for the bill which included The Nashville Teens ('Tobacco Road') and The Animals ('House of the Rising Sun') but only as support for Chuck Berry (a late addition to the programme) and the 'legendary' Carl Perkins). In to the first year in the sixth form, with the redoubtable Steve Mellor (alright, mate?), the original rocker on his motorbike. We vacillated between Brit stuff and US black genres. At the back of the classroom was a little store cupboard which contained, of all things, a record player. Vinyl was brought in and listened to at any opportunity, not least The Kinks. In another entirely variant adventure, a large group frequently ventured out by bus to The County Arms at Blaby, where the standard fare was Soul (Ben E. King, 'What is soul?') I guess we were all heterodox. 'Black is black' was not quite apposite; we were all imbued with that little bit of black ('Say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud', The Commitments). One consequence was the general response to Ding Dong's invitation to a representative from the South African Embassyto address the sixth form about apartheid ('separate development'), which ranged from rational hostility (Dave Winter) to quiet bemusement ('What is this guy on about?'). (Ding Dong had some minor teaching engagement for the sixth formers on current affairs). Then another transition occurred in the second year of the sixth form: We all became Mods, in the vanguard Geoff Pullan (renowned centre forward). How far were we all duped? The anthem of The Who, 'My Generation', seems now dissimulation. 'Hope to die before I get old'? I suspect that, like me, Geoff has become an old codger. In acknowledgment, however, he also favoured The Small Faces, inspired by the late Steve Marriott. I do remember being admonished by Geoff as we attempted on the bus into town to sell tickets to the convent girls (the context must remain obscured). Geoff was one of my close friends at school, but he was equalled by that footballing legend, Bill Dixey, the advocate of real Blues, constantly evoking Big Bill Broonzy - in the same sentence as Leibnitz (or was it Spinoza?). Whilst we conformed to the crowd, Bill was sui generis. What does this random, self-absorbed narrative mean for life at CBS? I tcertainly indicates some amour-propre, some of the chip on the shoulder, the revolt against the cultural imposition of a dominant institution: the faux renegade, of which there were many (sales of stale cakes, anyone? nipping off to the bowling alley?) More importantly, it reveals how our lives were joyously enhanced in the face of educational adversity by the camaraderie of small groups, affinities which worked outside thecurriculum. Those figurations (Norbert Elias) changed constantly, but were vital support networks. For many of us, learning at CBS was a permanent challenge, one often not successfully met, and it is to those mates that we owe our negotiation of the difficulties: through collective avoidance, resistance, and occasional collaboration. I salute you all in retrospect. If there is a god (probably not), may he bless you. Play the music.

FROM DAVE WINTER 1959-66 Like John Bennett I've got very pleasurable memories of taking part in school plays, albeit in only fairly small roles. Nevertheless this has allowed me to refer nonchalantly on more than one social occasion to having acted alongside Michael Kitchen in The Government Inspector' and The Tempest. Funnily enough I haven't got programmes from either of those, but I have got programmes for Cymbeline and School for Scandal. I have no recollection of Cymbeline whatsoever, but I do remember enjoying School for Scandal enormously. I can call to mind Messrs Bennett and Smart with great clarity, and also Keith Hill as Sir Oliver Surface. Looking down the cast list I notice that my older brother also took part. I had completely forgotten that detail!

FROM DAVE POSTLES (2) 1960-67 Bravissimo Brian Stevenson. I'm sure Michael Palmer would have rejoiced in your achievement and the display of such application and commitment in that arduous route to your degree. He and I would hope that it brought great enjoyment and satisfaction. I like to think too that I would have encountered you at the Central Library and benefited from your expertise. Without being too overtly political, I'd like to celebrate not only our school, but also the librarians and libraries which then could be such a part of developing young lives (if one wanted to take that route) and the OU, surely (as so many realise) one of the astonishing achievements of a government of the 1960s (although some of us did not have the opportunity to vote for it)

FROM ANDY HOWES (1957-60) Thanks for organising another great reunion. I enjoyed it very much.
I noted a number of passed names in OWT 94 and all are recorded in the database, as follows:  Leonard HARRISON, attended from September 1939 until July 1944, Terence Bernard WILSON, attended from September 1944 until June 1949, Raymond John WINTERTON, attended from September 1952 until July 1956, Martyn John HEIGHTON, attended from September 1958 until July 1965 .If anybody wants that database (as an .xls file) then I will be happy to forward it by email (contact - I do not recall now who painstakingly converted all of those record cards (viewable at most recent reunions) but the spreadsheet keeps on answering queries. I hope to see all again next year.

FROM SIMON PARTRIDGE 1966-72 The nearest I got to Elbow Lane was working for both Fosse Motors in the evening and Avis Rent-A-Car , Lee Circle, during the day. That was during the hot summer of 1971. Carol King had released one of the best half-dozen albums ever recorded by a female singer-song writer. Simon Tong, English teacher, was in traction in the LRI following a serious car accident in which his hip was dislocated. This caused concern amongst his second year 'A' level English students. I had fallen in love with a Tesco supervisor, but separated as we were by her plate glass and the windows of my kiosk we were destined never to meet.

These reminiscences are set during the early years of Downing Drive. Having left Leicester forty five years ago I have attempted to set the article into the social/cultural context of the time. Where I have revisited episodes already described by myself or others I have tried to avoid repetition.

At some point in 1967/68 I was approached by Messrs Gates and Tong, and asked if I would like to take part in the junior school play. I had always been prone to showing off, and if truth be told I had been envious of Greg Hicks' acting ability - he was a pupil at my former school. His father, Rudy, had a market stall opposite the Queen Street Odeon, and lived to 103! Greg was to become a member of the RSC.

During the first inter-house drama competition I was gripped by P Mikelec's clever and humorous portrayal of the reluctant Jonah, who was decanted on to the shores of Nineveh by a whale with the instructions to prophesy to the inhabitants. I think it was the same Mikelec (what was his first name?) who won an Oxford scholarship, the recognition of which entitled everyone to an extra day's holiday. Before such awards were abandoned I believe we had a half day for a pupil gaining an Exhibition at Oxford or Cambridge. Likewise I remember being mesmerised by the part of the station master in Arnold Ridley's The Ghost Train, who was the actor?

I had no track record in acting, but there was a reason for the invitation. The play was to be John Whiting's Penny For A Song but with the political content removed. Nevertheless it remained an amusing account of one family's preparations to repel Napoleon's imminent invasion of the south coast. It was believed, albeit incorrectly, that I bore a passing resemblance to Napoleon Bonaparte! The most memorable feature of the production was a stack of chairs, stage right, disguised to look like a tree. On top of this was perched a lookout, played by John Measom, who was there not only for the duration of the play but the whole evening.

The following year, 1969, the senior school play was Henry IV Part 1. Falstaff was played by the late Dick Hammond, from whom I began to learn about acting. The producer was Tony Baxter, who might have been assisted by J W Mawby. Hammond did not ingratiate himself with Mr Bell, the headmaster, as he had corresponded with the letters page of the Leicester Mercury. He complained about the lack of facilities for sixth formers (eg a coffee machine) and the poor treatment generally, pointing out they were there on a voluntary basis! Hammond entered folk law by being burdened with a reference from Mr Bell which indicated he was unsuitable for teacher training. As expected, this resulted in Hammond being turned down at all the colleges he applied to, though he was finally offered a place at Wrexham to study Educational Drama.

1969 was my 'O' level year and I, along with a few friends who were far more able than me, failed maths. Thus we were unable to proceed into further education. As an aside, I recall a boy from Spencefield who, having arrived at sixteen to do 'A' levels, secured a place at Oxford or Cambridge two years later, this being conditional on his having a foreign language at 'O' level. He spent an entire year in the third year sixth studying French - and nothing else - to secure his place. The situation was serious enough for Tony Baxter, head of maths, to intervene. He arranged extra lessons during some lunchtimes prior to the November resits. As a result I passed, eventually being able to train to be a teacher in Cardiff.

The following year, 1969/70, Tony produced John Arden's Serjeant (sic) Musgrave's Dance. Unbeknown to me this was to become Tony's second act of salvation. The aforementioned Hammond played Black Jack Musgrave - Hammond was blond!

Richard Gill, who taught English and RE, always said that knowledge of the text was paramount for 'A' level scripture and he was right, as in 1971 I failed. Mr (later Reverend) Gill became Head of English at Wyggeston, a historian and an expert on the Victorians. I likewise failed Economics, but made a proper job of that. Mr Wardle, an intelligent and highly perceptive man, had a heart-to-heart with me prior to this disaster, and predidcted that women would be my downfall (To be continued. My apologies to Simon for some rather heavy editing - Ed)

AND FINALLY... Alan Pykett's mention of Bill Sykes prompted memories. I recall him as a small, very bald, Yorkshireman with a mercurial temper. He always wore a dark blue suit, sometimes with his gown. We thought he had heart problems, as he often put a small pill under his tongue. Once the red mist descended Bill had the worrying habit of walking up and down the aisles between desks, slapping heads indiscriminately. Through no fault of his own, Bill was responsible for a major disaster in my school life. I have told this tale before, but it might bear repetition. By the third year I had graduated from weekly violin lessons to the school orchestra. This practiced after school on Mondays, but true to form I began to miss the occasional session. This was a completely pointless exercise, as I could not arrive home until an hour later than usual or my parents would smell a rat. So I mooched around town, with nothing to do. My absences became more and more frequent, and as nothing was ever said I thought I was getting away with it. But by the summer term of 1963, Prize Day was looming, and as the orchestra played a major part it seemed wise to knuckle down to work. So imagine my dismay when Bill told me to 'bugger off' as my services were no longer required. I had not exactly covered myself in glory at CBS, and the one thing my parents were proud of about my school career was the fact I was in the orchestra. Instead of coming clean about the situation I never mentioned it, which was foolish as my parents, brother and sister intended to attend Prize Day. Not only did they look forward to my virtuoso performance, I was to collect my one-and-only prize, this being for English. I find it hard to believe, but I waited until my family were on the steps of De Montfort Hall before blurting out the truth and running inside. I duly collected my prize (The Kon Tiki Expedition, by Thor Heyerdahl) and fled at the end of the proceedings. Of course I had to return home eventually, but can't remember the consequences. Probably it was yet another disappointment in me more than anything.

Dennis J Duggan 1959-64

August 6th 2017