Tuesday 27 February 2024

Fwd: OWT March 2024

MARCH 2024

FROM HOWARD TOON  1951-57   Does anyone remember the regular bicycle inspections?  During my time at CBS I was a keen racing cyclist, and I spent the money from my three paper rounds on replacing the steel components with alloy equivalents.  Amongst these was a single-ping bell, as opposed to the usual ting-a-ling-a-ling version.  This incurred the disapproval of Johnny Jeeves, the inspector, who would not listen to my protests that the Tour de France  riders used them.  He threatened to bar me from cycling to school unless I reverted to the old-style bell.

FROM DAVID ATTON 1955-62   I first met Doc Burrows at the beginning of the 1957 spring term when I was in 3 Alpha.  He was my chemistry teacher, a replacement for Mr Guy.  When I asked the latter, 'How does litmus paper know how and when to turn blue or red?' he barked back, 'I'll ask the questions round here.'
I was twelve years old, Doc was twenty seven.- almost certainly one of the youngest teachers at CBS.  However, looking back his no-nonsense professional approach, and his ability to clearly explain subject matter using impeccable green/yellow chalk presentations, were remarkable given his relative inexperience.
He persuaded my parents and myself that I should pursue science in the fifth form, on the basis that I was a solid student and eventual career options would be wider.
In the sixth form Doc taught me how to study, work hard, and the best way to approach exams and interviews.
My cohorts, Bruce Adams, John Herrick, Bob Neill and Jim Taylor, were more talented academically.  Doc was extremely helpful in my being accepted at Oxford, as were Adams and Herrick.  Neill and Taylor attended University College, London.
Doc's  most enduring influence was to show how to study privately, to work hard and use the distractions of university life for fun.  That formula not only made me successful and happy at university, but also in my business career and retirement.
Thinking of Alan Bennett's The History Boys, the Doc's approach to teaching was more akin to the ambitious Irwin than the devil-may-care Hector.
I owed Doc a great deal, and I made that clear to him at several reunions.  However I owe more to the school which these newsletters commemorate, the school I chose to attend simply because soccer was the winter option, not rugby.  Most of all I made some great friends, and still correspond with many from my home in the USA.

FROM JOHN BLAIKIE  1955-62   The passing of Doc Burrows was sad news indeed,  He was a much-liked figure, a very good teacher who never lost his cool.  Others of my era who took chemistry through to 6Sc3 can better confirm that, as I dropped chemistry and only took maths and physics.
My only distant memory of Doc is when we were doing an experiment involving phenolphthalein.  He made it very clear we should avoid ingesting any, as it would involve us sitting in one uncomfortable place for a long time.

FROM DAVE 'FOGG' POSTLES  1960-67   I was saddened to hear that Doc Burrows had passed away.  I only have vague recollections of lessons in the labs at Elbow Lane, where Mick Quincey and I shared a bunsen burner. 
I do remember the Neill brothers, the older brothers of Alex, remarking on their respect tor The Doc, who assisted them on their passage to Oxbridge.  I send my good wishes to all remaining Wyvernians.

FROM JOHN BENNETT  MBE  1956-63   I received the very sad news of Arnold Doc Burrows' death from his son, Simon, soon after his passing.  Doc was a very special person to me.  He was not only my chemistry master during my sixth form year - 1960-63 - but also a big influence on my later life, for which I will ever be grateful.
After taking my 'A' levels, and receiving a distinction in chemistry, I stayed on for a third year in the sixth form.  At my father's suggestion I applied for a place at dental school, and was accepted at London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol.  I then had to decide which one to choose, and went to Doc for advice.  His response was: 'Before you decide, I think you should consider taking the scholarship examinations at Oxford.  And I would recommend you apply to Christ Church, because this school hasn't had a boy at the college, and to read biochemistry, because it is a less popular course than chemistry.' 
So I applied, and in March 1963 found myself in the huge hall at Christ Church taking the exams.  I didn't get a scholarship, but was awarded a place at the college.  Dentistry was abandoned, and I spent four very happy years at Oxford, met some lifelong friends and met my wife, to whom I have been married for fifty three years.
Rather then being a retired Leicester dentist I'm a retired banker, having retired in 2005, then having a second career as a local politician in the City of London, where I chaired several committees and was the City's Chief Commoner, the 'Leader of the House'.  I stepped down in 2023, and continue to live very contentedly in London.  This is in stark contrast to what I could have been had I taken my father's advice rather than Doc's.
Several years ago I contacted Doc through the Old Wyves and asked if he remembered me.  He responded immediately, saying of course he did and recounted things I had long forgotten.  He reminded me that during my time in Oxford he had attended Wadham College as a school master fellow.  We continued in contact via Simon, his son who, like me, is involved in the City livery movement.  None of what I describe would have happened if I had not had that decisive conversation back in 1963.  I owe Doc a very great deal, and I am so sad at his passing.

FROM BRUCE PEGG 1971-78   (Editor's note - the following item is taken from Bruce's book Goin' Down De Mont, and is reproduced with his permission via a third party.  The book was mentioned more fully in the February OWT)  My endearing memory of the show [Showaddywaddy concert, De Montfort Hall, Tuesday June 25th 1974] is of getting there.  A few of us pupils from City Boys had bought tickets to the show, only to find out it was on the same night as the school prize giving.  A week or so before the show we met with our headmaster, Mr Bell, and begged him to let us out of the evening. 
But he ignored our pleas, even when we told him that we would be out the price of the tickets.  In no uncertain terms he told us that our attendance at the school that night was mandatory.  In those days, if a headmaster told you to do something you did it or you suffered dire consequences.  We had no choice, or so it seemed.
Then Rog Mortimer pleaded with his mother to drive us to the De Mont as soon as the evening ended, which she agreed to do.  So as soon as the last note of the school song was over, we flew out of the assembly hall, ripped off our blazers and ties and piled into the waiting car like bank robbers leaving the scene of the crime.  Off she sped, down Whitehall Road, up Evington Road, breaking every speed limit on the way.  Finally she dropped us off on Granville Road and we sprinted into the Hall in time to see Showaddywaddy take the stage.  We may have missed the support band, and we were still wearing part of our very uncool school uniform,   but at least we were able to join the sweating throng and scream for our hometown stars.

FROM TONY WAKEFIELD  1951-56   The photo of 1952 is my class, 1A.  For some reason, I am at the back in civvies though I did own a school uniform.  The teacher is Flash Gordon.
Unfortunately, without any encouragement, I wasted much of my time at CBS, ending up in 5F and getting three 'O' levels without studying.  I was too busy enjoying life away from school to bother, much to my regret.  My ambition was to be a Teddy Boy, which I achieved, but I still have strong feelings for CBS.

FROM DENNIS BIGGS 1949-56   One of the teachers to make a lasting impression was Mr Goddard, who taught us basic German grammar in 3 Alpha.  I still recall him striding between the rows of desks, ruler in hand, drumming into us the declension of the definite and indefinite, articles in the nominative, accusative, genitive and dative cases so we could chant them forward and backwards to him.  This grounding stood me in good stead, as later I took 'A' level German and later in my career I lived and worked in Germany for twelve years. 
One of the impressions and experiences of working in Germany was the general recognition of the preventative benefits of keeping fit and healthy through outdoor exercise, perhaps a legacy of earlier generations.  Employers, and the health care system, fostered the tenets through their policies of allowing workers to undertake exercise and sports. 
All workers can spend four weeks or longer on a spa break, to regenerate their health and learn better ideas about nutrition, diet and outdoor activities.  I attended such a spa break where we spent our time doing hiking, swimming, gymnastics and other sports as well as learning about diet and leisure activities such as yoga, pottery and weaving etc.
One of the lasting ideas and legacies was the teaching of Dr Kneipp that we undertake exercise in water, and to tread water on a daily basis to promote good health as well as drinking medicinal spa water.  I returned to work a stone lighter, I think in the fittest state of my life.  I am sure we in the UK could learn lessons that prevention is better than cure for many of today's ailments.  It seems to me there is not enough emphasis on the idea that a healthy mind and body are the best way to enjoy a long life.  I have continued to take holidays in several German spa towns, as well as breaks in Buxton and Harrogate.  I recommend them to maintain a state of good health.

FROM NICK 'NED' MILLER  1961-68   A belated tribute to Mr Palmer in a new book on Leicestershire Church History.  Several folk have mentioned the inspiration they gained from Michael Palmer, a history teacher during the sixties.  In particular they have recalled the Saturday excursions, which were such great fun and really brought history alive.  I was particularly taken by the treasure hunts.  On Saturday mornings we collected a sheet of clues concerning places round the county and set off on our bikes to seek the answers.  We all hoped to be in the winning team, thus the prize winners, when we returned in the late afternoon.
Many clues were about churches, not surprising given that Mr Palmer was the son of a clergyman.  Somehow that interest has stayed with me, even though my career took me far away from history and far from Leicestershire.  Inspired by an old 1950 British railways poster showing Hungarton church up on its hill, encouraging people to visit this historic county, I have written a book. Church History in Leicestershire 520 pages, plus 41 colour illustrations, it's just been published by Book Guild ISBN  9781916668065 at a giveaway price of £14.99.  Find out more at https://www.bookguild.co.uk/authors/authordetail/2289  The book is for the general reader, you will find something about everything! 
Michael Palmer is duly acknowledged in the introduction as planting the seed for the book.  It might have taken over fifty years to germinate, but great to see it flowering at last.  Mr Palmer receives due thanks, as compensation for the pranks we played on him.  (This was originally written 22nd January 2024 - Ed)

    (The following will be published in the local church magazine, but it is also relevant here - Ed)  This little tale is true, a rather trivial story of a guilty conscience and atonement.From 1959 to 1964 I was a pupil at the City of Leicester Boys Grammar School.  Apart from the secretary, and a few dinner ladies, it was an all-male environment. Christian names did not exist.  Most of the masters were old-fashioned disciplinarians, and wore gowns.  At least one had fought in the first world war, and several others were hard-bitten veterans of the second world conflict.
Physical punishment was common, but we accepted it as part of school life and never complained.  The teachers demanded, and for the most-part received, our respect. That said, two or three of the younger teachers had a more sympathetic approach, which endeared them to the more timid boys such as myself.  They managed to strike a balance between the very strict traditional approach and a gentler one, without losing the respect of the boys.
One of these was Alan Mercer, who taught maths.  Alan was a devout Christian, and formed a lunchtime club called Crusaders which met weekly.  As I recall, it was religious but not overly so.  I think it was mainly bible stories. I was not particularly religious, but went along because I liked Mr Mercer, and it was something to do over lunch (The school was in the city centre, so most boys stayed for dinner)  My pal Peter McDermott joined for the same reasons.  I think there were about a dozen of us in total.
Now to the point of this story.  Around 1962, just before the Easter holiday, Mr Mercer - obviously we did not refer to him as Alan, his nickname was Jasper - set a competition for us to enter.  Over the holiday we were challenged to write a bible story in our own words, and the prize was a book. Naturally I decided to have a try, but such matters took a back seat in favour of more interesting pursuits. Before I knew it the holiday was almost over, and I had not put pen to paper once!
It so happened our bookcase held a book of bible stories, and here the trouble began.  I opened it to find an idea for a story, but ended up copying one word for word, which I submitted without any feeling of guilt or shame.  It was Jonah and the Whale. Not surprisingly I won the competition, and duly received the prize.  I still have the book, The Third Curiosity Book for Boys, by Montague Goodman.
And there the matter might have rested, except in 1998 I created an Old Boys Association, which put me back in sporadic touch with Alan Mercer. Late last year he sent me an email, saying he had terminal cancer and his end was near.  He had declined treatment,  having 'no wish to prolong my already miserable existence.'
This provoked my repressed feelings of shame and guilt about my deceit of sixty years ago to resurface.  I confessed, and hoped I would be forgiven. The prompt reply, 'Of course I forgive you,' brought a tear to my eye

FROM FRANK SMITH  1959-66   (Frank is our IT guru - Ed (Guru's a bit tooo strong a word to describe my "skills"! - Frank))  I received this Facebook message from Rebecca Jacobs-Farnsworth.  "I just wanted to say thank you so much for this page.  I did a random search for images of my father and came across one.  It brought a big smile to my face, so thank you.  It's wonderful to find a photo I might otherwise never have seen."
I asked Rebecca for more details and offered to try to find more references to her dad, and she replied, "My father's name is Derek Green, date of birth 19.01.45.  He was good friends with Dave Hornby and Jim Gilfedder.  That's so incredibly kind, thank you.  I just appreciate you looking, anything on top of that is a bonus.  I was over the moon to find the photo.  My father passed away twelve years ago"  Derek Green is listed on the online database as attending the school from 1956-61.

FROM KEITH NICHOLSON  1961-68   I arrived at Elbow Lane September 1961, when Tony Baxter commenced his teaching career.  He was my form master, and made a bold statement on my end-of-year report regarding my maths abilities,  Turned out I did not disappoint, as I went on to Cambridge to read maths.  I was awarded an exhibition for my final year, having just missed out on a scholarship.  I must confess I was not displeased, as I spent my final year playing various sports for my college without having to fret about expectations.
My early years at CBS were unremarkable - I suspect consistent with most of my contemporaries.  I was more of a late developer than a star. 
My first memories are of the trip to Russia.  Even today, friends regard it as an extraordinary venture for a school in 1966.  Sad to say, I have not been back since, but would very much like to do so.  I have, though, returned to Berlin many times, mostly on business.  One member of our party attracted the attention of the border guards.  He refused to wake up and leave his couchette, so they could search for anyone trying to escape from East Germany.  The rather large guard managed to throw the boy out of the couchette.  The second occasion concerned our departure from Russia.  The boy had bought a camera - in those days Russian cameras were very good compared to those available in the west.  The issue was that its value exceded the money he had taken into the country - he had been trading on the black market!  He was allowed to depart and, from memory, take the camera with him.
Our maths set during 1965-68 was very small, only five.  Neil Darlison, Mick Bromilow, Steve Preston, the late Steve Zanker and myself.  At the end of the school day we regularly played cards.  Unsurprisingly it was usually bridge, though we also played poker from time to time.  Stakes were the old penny and halfpenny.  I recall the head sometimes dropped into the room after school when we were playing poker.  Coins were quickly brushed into laps, or the odd one onto the floor, but he never uttered a word.
My last memory is of Tony Baxter giving Neil and I, in his words, some experimental teaching experience.  We taught a first year sixth maths group for two terms, and set their year-end exam.  I had one further experiment - keeping a lower-school English class quiet whilst they carried out set tasks.  I was also invited to play for the staff cricket team on one occasion - it must have been as an honorary member of staff.  No doubt Tony Baxter hoped the experience would turn us into teachers, but it never happened for me.  However, I did head KPMG's training department for two years.
Tony wanted to know where people are now.  Neil Darlison went to Oxford to read maths.  Steve Preston headed to Lancaster University, and Mick Bromilow to Oxford, he became a lecturer in the Open University, and was heavily involved in athletics in Milton Keynes, for which he was awarded a BEM.  He also won blues for cross-country and athletics at Oxford.  There was a brief obituary for Steve Zanker in an earlier OWT.  But I did not keep in touch with anyone.
I went into The City, joining the firm that is now KPMG.  I qualified as a chartered accountant, picking up a prize on the way.  I became a partner, and eventually headed their UK insurance practice, as well as being an honorary partner in the Swiss firm until I retired in 2009.  I was also a member of the UK Auditing Practices Board, with special responsibility for setting standards in the audits of financial sector firms.  I should add that another Old Wyvernian, Stephen Purse - he was younger than me - also became a partner at KPMG.
Today I can be found in Sussex playing tennis four or five days per week, having retired from all my diirectorships.

AND FINALLY...   Having rashly volunteered to join the school orchestra, I was duly issued with a violin.  One day per week we had a lesson after school, with Bill Sykes and a peripatetic music teacher called Mr Hall.  They were held at Elbow Lane, in a room off the gym,  To complicate things further, my parents conceived the idea I was a musical prodigy, and enrolled me on a course of piano lessons at a house on Aylestone Road.  We had a piano at home, and I practiced for half an hour per day after school.  Now, one of my many failings is a short attention span so after a while my interest in music began to wane.  But by then my parents had purchased a lovely violin for me, so I had to keep going!  By the fourth year the remaining trainees were ready to join the orchestra, and I took part in at least one concert in the Great Hall, with parents present.  The orchestra rehearsals took place once per week after school, and lasted one hour.    By that time the piano lessons had long-ceased as a waste of money, and I began to skip the odd orchestra practice.  I had to make sure my parent's suspicions were not aroused, so I spent the hour wandering round the city centre before catching the later bus home.  Carting the violin to and from school was a right nuisance, so I began to leave it in the corner of the hall with the spare school instruments.  When my parents queried this, I fed them a cock-and-bull story which, because I was such a plausible liar, they swallowed hook line and sinker.  I thought I was being clever by attending occasional practices after school to keep Bill  happy, but unbeknown to me the first of two calamities was about to befall me  (To be continued - Ed)

Dennis J Duggan  1959-64
February 27th 2024