Monday 18 March 2024

OWT Memorial Edition March 2024


MARCH 16TH 2024

EDITORIAL   The recent sad passing of John Larry Lawson and Dr Arnold Doc Burrows prompted several Old Boys to share their memories of, and appreciation for, our teachers.  As I grow older, and more nostalgic by the day, I often think back to my own unfortunate time at CBS.  I have always admitted to being my own worst enemy, especially during my first year (1959-64) but still can't decide whether I was simply a bone idle, deceitful boy, or if I had some sort of mental health problem which no doubt would be diagnosed today.  The truth will never be known!  What has become apparent is that several teachers were more than willing to go the extra mile if they felt a particular pupil showed exceptional promise, and clearly many of those pupils appreciate that to this day.  Here are a few of my own memories.  Wally Wardle walking so quickly his gown billowing out behind him.  Alan Jasper Mercer's lunchtime meetings of the Crusader Club.  Bill Sykes regular temper tantrums, which resulted in heads being smacked indiscriminately as he went round the classroom.  Jock  Gilman standing at the staff room door, reading the proffered excuse notes.  Ken Witts breezing into the room, banging his briefcase on the desk and shouting, 'OK, you lot...'  Basher Brewin, the only teacher who ever made me cry, via a public humiliation accompanied by rapping me on the knuckles with a ruler.  He had fought in World War 1, and once told us that because he was such a short man he was provided with a box to step on so he could leave the trench more easily!  And meeting Brian Sadie Thompson on a cruise to Iceland in 2002.  One day we shared a lunch table, and he noted my Wyvernians tee shirt.  He did remember me, but for all the wrong reasons, as he was my form master during my short tenure in 1 Alpha.

FROM PETER BATES 1953-58   Thinking back almost seventy years is not too difficult with regard to John Lawson.  He was the form teacher in 3A, went with us to games sessions at Grace Road, taught me maths every day.  Physics and chemistry were double periods once per week.  I loved those lessons, and (apart from games) was quite successful.  And that success was due in no small way to Mr Lawson.  He commanded my great respect, and there was always a hint of his great sense of humour.  John was a great motivator, and made his lessons interesting.  He was a brilliant teacher who was kind. I had problems at school, but John was fair and sympathetic, even when I deserved punishment,  How I regret being unable to attend the annual reunions.  I would like to say a belated thank you
to a brilliant teacher, who was kind and compassionate even to naughty boys.  Rest in peace.

FROM DAVE 'FOGG' POSTLES  1960-67   There have been many references to the late Michael Palmer, along with eulogies,  Here is the link to an obituary written by his daughter, Emma.
Regarding history teachers, I value the short time that John Anderson was with us.  I had the benefit of his teaching in the third year sixth.  He widened my horizons, offering to lend me his copy of Das Kapital.  He mentioned people such as William Davies, the supertramp, and Eric Fromm's Fear of Freedom.  I met him subsequently when I was working at Leicester Museums.  He brought in a school group from Desford to work on archive material.  A wonderful man, I wish I'd had a greater association with him.  In our short acquaintance he really helped me to mature.

FROM BOB CHILDS  1976-2009   Written from information in Andy Marlow's book:  John Lawson can be seen on page sixty, as a member of the First XI cricket team, which he went on to captain in 1946.

Some readers will be aware that John was an all-round sportsman, and in the 1945-46 season was a regular member of the First XI football team.  Indeed, in 1946 he was noted on speech day as one of the school's top three sportsmen; this is marked by a photo of the winners on page sixty eight.  John is sitting on a bicycle at the front of the Humberstone Gate building.

In 1952 John was appointed to teach maths and physics.  Soon he teamed up with Dave Lawrence, another gifted sportsman and physics teacher.  They can be seen together on page 102, in charge of the 1957 First XI cricket team, which included Frank Whitelam. 

 John was a real enthusiast, and set up a squash club.  This used the facilities of the Leicester Squash Club on London Road.  By the time John's twenty-year stint at Downing Drive ended he had morphed into teaching physics and electronics in a department led by Dave Lawrence.  This included Bill Mann, and Dave Sarson, one of his ex-pupils.  If you have access to the book look at page 221.  You will see a photo taken at the 2002 reunion of what we might call The Famous Five.  Messrs Burrows, Baxter, Lawson, Thompson and Mann.

Some Further Information   John was born on July 12th 1929.  In 1939 he was living at 37 Doncaster Road, Belgrave.  The rear wall of the house was adjacent to the footprint of the Cossington Street baths.  His father is described as a Traveller Grocer and Wholesale Merchant.  No 37 appears to be part of a terraced block called Burfield Villas.
A Personal reminiscence   I always found John to be a helpful and cheerful colleague, so I hope he forgave me for this unusual incident.  It took place one Saturday night  in the early eighties.  As a cricketer myself, for Newtown Linford, I enjoyed the non-league fixtures in September against different clubs at different grounds.  This incident followed a match against Wigston Town, their team included an ex-City footballer - Howard Riley??  I can't remember the result, but do know I stayed longer in the bar than was wise.
Thankfully my drive back to Wintersdale Road, Evington, was uneventful - until I drove past the school on Downing Drive.  I noticed the lights were on in the block of twelve classrooms.  By the time I reached the shops opposite The Dove I had resolved to turn round to investigate  (Think Starsky and Hutch, but in a Ford Fiesta!)  I slowed down by the unlocked main entrance, and turned off the engine and lights.  To my horror, I saw a shadowy figure loading computers into a car.  Not wishing to confront the burglar I shot to the nearby telephone box (No mobiles then) and called the police.  They took my details, saying they would meet me outside the school.  On returning, I was horrified to see someone lock the gate and drive off towards Evington.
I decided to do my own version of Z Cars and followed the vehicle to Whitehall School with the registration number committed to memory.  Then I returned to Downing Drive, where I found three police vehicles, a very lively police dog, blue flashing lights and powerful torches.  With a warm glow I described what I had seen, and passed on the number of the car.  I was then instructed to sit in my own vehicle.
By now it was around 10pm, and the police had conducted a complete sweep of the site.  And then I looked on in amazement as the police produced a boy called Michael Trickett, one of our pupils, plus his girl friend.  Even more surprising was to see our Head of Music, Dr Peter White, in full evening dress.  He had been round the back looking in his car for sheet music.  Then the sergeant told me they had traced the suspect vehicle.  Did I know a Mr J A Lawson...?  Briefly my brain recoiled at the thought of John Lawson being a master criminal, and it was not until Monday I learned he had taken the computer to see if he could repair it.
The sergeant thanked me for my actions, but strongly advised me to return home without delay, without asking me to blow into a bag.  For some time hence certain colleagues delighted in whistling the theme tune of The Pink Panther films every time I entered the staff room!!

FROM DAVE WINTER  1959-66   I was never taught by Doc Burrows, though he had an informative influence on me through the swimming team.  'City Boys' Sweeps the Board' had been a familiar headline in the Leicester Mercury swimming gala reports even before the Doc's time.  That success and status was due in no small part to the school's proximity to Vestry Street baths, and to the energy of Mr Brushe, a French teacher who left the school just as I joined.  But when Doc Burrows took over, the whole enterprise moved to a new level.There was a sense of serious purpose, almost professional, in his approach.  The frequency and intensity of coaching and training increased.  Any boy displaying a degree of ability was talent-spotted and encouraged to join the sessions.  Finer points such as starts, turns and take-overs were practiced rigorously.  The team acquired its own strip - lightweight tangerine trunks!  Speedos had just come on to the market, and had instant wow appeal.  Doc Burrows - the early adopter!
Inter-school galas across the Midlands became regular events.  I would regularly get out of lessons to travel by coach to Hinckley, Loughborough, Ashby, Burton On Trent, Leamington Spa, Derby and Nottingham.  The only school we feared was King Edwards Camp Hill in Birmingham.  Through this serious commitment there arose a real team spirit, which was important as swimming is, in many respects, a highly individualistic sport.  This team spirit manifested itself most during the return journey.  Led by senior boys in the rear seats we would roar an impressively wide repertoire of appalling songs.  These included, The Hairs on a Dicky Dido, As I Was Walking Through a Wood - to the tune of The Old Hundreth - and an absolutely filthy adaptation of The Twelve Days of Christmas.  I don't know what Doc's classroom manner was like, but I'm sure that many of his colleagues would have stamped on such dubious bellows and guffaws.  But throughout the journey he would sit serenely at the front, never batting an eyelid.
As I grew older my role in the team diminished, and by the sixth form I only made the freestyle relay squad.  But it left me with a lifelong enjoyment of competitive swimming, which I am pleased to have passed to my children.  And they, in turn, to their children.  And for that I am grateful to Doc Burrows.

FROM ED FEATHERSTONE  1959-65   My failing memory tells me I first came into contact with John Lawson in 1 Alpha, when he taught us maths.  Rather more clear is the memory of being on the receiving end of a well-aimed piece of chalk for not paying attention.  However, as a football enthusiast - though not a very good one - I recall the dedication and effort he devoted to the sport. On one games afternoon John was refereeing another game when a player broke his leg.  We all heard the crack.  Instantly John calmly took charge, dealt with first aid and arranged for the boy to be taken to hospital.   On many a Saturday morning I would join John and the Junior XI at yet another fixture.  I was the reserve, so seldom got to play, but he noted my constant attendance and loyalty.  So to my surprise I was awarded my football colours.
Later, between leaving 5L and joining 6A1 (English, history, geography) I was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Naval College.  All I had to do was matriculate in order to take my place.  Very soon the headmaster was invited to a weekend conference in Dartmouth.  When he returned Ernie was full of good ideas, and summoned me to his study.  He was convinced I was taking the wrong 'A' levels.  He said the navy wanted scientists, and wanted me to switch to physics, maths and geography.  I pointed out that I only had 'O' level general science, and my 'O' level maths was not designed for those taking it at 'A' level.  Anyway, as Ernie would be sending written reports to Dartmouth each term I though it best to do as I was told.
To catch up, I was offered one-to-one tuition with Tony Baxter (Maths) and John Lawson (Physics)  By the end of my first term in the sixth I had caught up sufficiently to join the main classes.  There is nothing like one-to-one tuition to get to know someone, and I developed a deep respect for John and Tony.  I owe them both an enormous debt of gratitude.  I enjoyed being taught by them, and I know my fellow classmates felt that too.
At one of the reunions I told John that you definitely needed to be a scientist to be a naval engineer,  I, as a seaman, might have made a more successful naval officer had I stayed with the 'A'levels with which I had a greater aptitude.  John replied, 'So we failed you?'  'Absolutely not,' I replied.  Being a naval aviator requires a good grasp of maths and physics.  But, more importantly, John Lawson taught me how to apply myself to learning a subject outside my comfort zone.  Thank you, John Lawson.

FROM MARK HAYLER  1956-64   So sorry to hear that John Lawson has passed away.  He was my 5S form master 1960-61, and also instrumental in my obtaining a pass in 'A' level physics.  We had some very clever mathematicians in our year (I was definitely not one of them!) who would spot any errors on the blackboard and quickly point them out.  To which he would respond, quick as a flash, 'Well done.  You spotted the deliberate mistake.'  RIP Mr Lawson, and thank you.

FROM MIKE RATCLIFF  1958-64   I was very sorry to hear the news about John Lawson.  He was always the most enthusiastic, approachable and friendly of teachers.  He, together with Bill Mann and Dave Lawrence, formed a very strong team teaching physics when I was in the sixth form.  In later years we had a few interesting conversations after the reunions, as John would park his car on Toller Road, off London Road, and complete the journey into town by bus.  On several occasions we were on the same bus together as we headed back towards Knighton and Stoneygate.

FROM STEVE TAILOR  1973-78   So sad to hear about John Lawson.  I was a Downing Drive pupil, and started the school electronics club.  Despite the fact that Mr Lawson had never taught me physics, he immediately offered to stay after school as the supervising teacher.  John helped me to believe in myself so as to have a long and continuing career in electronics.

FROM BRIAN SCREATON  1959-65   I shall always remember John losing his walking stick at the first Wyvernians lunch, and a frantic search of the building ensued.  Then, to everyone's amusement - especially John's, the stick was found hanging on the back of his chair, concealed by his coat!

FROM TERRY HOLT  1954-59   Very sad to learn that John Lawson and Arnold Burrows have passed away.   They were two of the most inspiring teachers I was privileged to encounter during my time at CBS.  The last time I spoke to John at a recent reunion I reminded him of the encouragement he gave to those of us interested in amateur radio.  He had informed us he was clearing out his garage and one Saturday morning I, along with Dennis Brown and Terry Cox, went over.  We were gifted with lots of components, and asked if we required any more!  One of our favourite haunts for such components was Dick Kerr's Army & Navy surplus shop, opposite the Odeon.  We must have been a real nuisance to John, as we often knocked on the door of the staff room at lunchtime to seek his advice.  But he never seemed to mind.  A really kind and inspirational teacher. 
Arnold Burrows gave me the best career guidance I ever received.  My interest was jet and rocket propulsion, and he encouraged me to apply for an engineering apprenticeship at Rolls Royce after sixth form physics and double maths 'A' levels.  I only completed one year in the sixth before leaving at sixteen to follow Dr Burrow's valuable advice.  I spent twenty four years with the company, and for over fifty years have been a chartered engineer M.I.Mech.E.  My grateful thanks to two outstanding and inspirational teachers.

FROM JOHN OFFORD  1958-63   The passing of John Lawson was sad news for me.  He was responsible for me becoming an athlete.  It wasn't school policy, but he cared enough to give me his thoughts on the potential danger of wearing spectacles whilst playing for his Junior XI team.  He knew I would be disappointed, but had seen enough evidence to show I should concentrate on running.  John's support gave me the confidence to change, and he was proved correct. We chatted about it at the reunions, and I always thanked him.  I know he was proud that I became an international runner.  John was a kind, approachable teacher, always generous with his advice and help.  RIP.

FROM ALAN RICHARDSON  1970-77   I was very touched to receive a message from John Lawson's son, Peter.  Enclosed was a letter I had written to John in 1982, after I had started my first job in Rochester.  Peter had found the letter amongst John's papers, he had kept it for forty two years.
John taught me physics in the second form and the Upper Sixth.  I was top in the form, and also top in most subjects for almost all my time at the school.  It was not an unconditionally popular situation, and for much of the time I tried to avoid too much attention.  In those days Oxbridge had an entrance exam to which students could put themselves forward.  It could be taken in the fourth term of the sixth form, or sometimes after staying on for 'A' levels.  Despite my academic accomplishments I did not put myself forward in the fourth term.  Instead I applied through UCLA and gained conditional offers from Leeds and York.
I was in the Upper Sixth when John went to work on my mum and dad at a parents evening.    He insisted I should apply to Cambridge.  It was a transformative intervention, and following top A & S grades I returned to the City of Leicester School in August 1977 to apply to Churchill College and to prepare for the entrance exam in November.  But I was offered a place in early September, so left school then.
At Cambridge I achieved a first in maths, vindicating John's judgement, and after three years working on antenna design for C & S Antennas, Kent I returned to Cambridge and joined Cambridge Consultants.  They are  a product development consultancy.  I stayed for thirty four years, including fifteen as a director, and five years as CEO.  I doubt any of that would have happened had I not attended Cambridge university, which would not have happened without John Lawson's advice.
I met John again at the 2015 reunion, but he did not remember me.  Not surprising - there were so many different faces over the years!  But I will never forget John Lawson.

Dennis J Duggan (1959-64)
March 16th 2024