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Farnborough Grammar School

Prospect Avenue, Farnborough, Hampshire

Telephone : Farnborough 539

Nuncs (Thomas Grosch)
F.G.S. - 1943 to 1965

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NuncsNuncs, or more formally, Thomas William Grosch was Latin master throughout my time at F.G.S. but also turned his hand to English and French as required. Not being much of a Latin scholar myself I didn’t get to know him especially well while at school but he lived close to me in Crookham Village and following his retirement, maybe even before that, was organist at the parish church. It was through that connection that I began to learn more about him.

Born at 57 Grafton Street in Mayfair on 4th August 1900, his father (Thomas Henry) was a postman at the GPO’s West Central District Office and mother was Rose Rachel née Harwood. He attended Hungerford Road Primary School in Camden Town and from there won a scholarship to the City of London School. Along the way he became involved in church affairs and developed an interest in music especially the organ in the Palace Cinema in Kentish Town which he discovered at the age of nine. He missed service in the first world war because the armistice came two weeks before his call up date.

Access to university was a case of win a scholarship or pay your own fees but influenza denied him the opportunity of taking the Oxbridge scholarship exam and second chances were not on offer. Thus Nuncs finished up working to finance his passage through University College London. He had been introduced to the art of playing piano to accompany silent films by the pianist at a Hackney cinema who wished to go on holiday, Nuncs was 17 at the time, and it was therefore natural that he would continue in that line of work to finance his studies. In 1922 Nuncs obtained his degree just after his mother’s death at the early age of 50, a tragedy which affected him greatly.

Nuncs at the cinema organMeanwhile his cinema career was progressing well. Cinemas were growing ever grander and dispensing with humble pianos. Bigger and better organs were the order of the day and Nuncs’ reputation as an organist grew. He accompanied the films at many of the major cinemas of London and the South East. Among them were The Rialto, Enfield. The Majestic, Reigate. The Pavilion, Hoddesdon. The Ambassador, Cosham and others in Bromley, Epsom, Kingston, Paddington, Surbiton, Walton, Weybridge and Worcester Park. So popular did Nuncs become that far from being displaced by the coming of The Talkies he went on to provide interlude music and full concerts on the Mighty Wurlitzers and Compton cinema organs. Nuncs owned a number of 78 r.p.m. records of his performances but I didn’t get to hear them.

The coming of another war brought this to an end and Nuncs was sent to Aldershot and the R.A.O.C. as a civilian clerk and from there it was just a short bicycle ride to Farnborough’s grammar school which offered evening teaching employment. By May 1943 a full time teaching post became available and after obtaining the permission of the military authorities Nuncs was able to take the job the following September.

At that time there were twenty two teaching staff of whom seven were substituting for those called to the war effort. The headmaster was B.J.Neill. Things went reasonably well for Nuncs who busied himself not only teaching but also staging a number of school plays. Tom Pascoe who continued to teach woodwork into the 1960s assisted with scenery and props. The headmaster however suffered constant ill health and was replaced in 1950 by Dr. J.A. Bourne (Cantab). I believe Mr. Neill died soon after his premature retirement. Dr. Bourne however did not prove to be well disposed towards Nuncs.

It was just before this change in his fortunes that Nuncs acquired his nickname. In 1949 one of his old cinema contacts asked him to give an organ recital at the local cinema during a special childrens’ film presentation. It was quite normal at that time (and for many years later) for adults to be introduced to children as Uncle (or Aunty) and so Thomas Grosch was announced as ‘Uncle George the organist’. Inevitably there were some grammar school boys in the audience amazed to see another side to their Latin master’s talents and by the Monday morning he had become Uncle George to all his pupils - soon to be abbreviated to Nuncs. On page 65 of his autobiography Nuncs writes, “Should I attain obituaries, this name may mark the passing of a children’s friend”. It seems that he did and it has.

Nuncs at home in CrookhamUnfortunately for Nuncs the new head decided that school plays were a waste of time and there were to be no more. I am aware that Nuncs and the new head fell out about a number of issues and Nuncs believed this blighted his career at F.G.S. until his retirement some 15 years later. Relationships were further strained when Dr. J.A. Bourne a.k.a. The Jab appointed a new teacher, Dr. Booy, to be Head of English above either Nuncs or Dr. Naish who was the more experienced and qualified man. To add insult to injury Booy was allowed to reintroduce drama and Nuncs made his subordinate. Soon after these changes The Jab found that Nuncs had allowed two boys to play chess in a staff room and by all accounts his rage knew no bounds. Nuncs eventually retired from F.G.S., aged 65 and almost immediately took a new post at a private girls’ school in Crondall.

Just before retirement Nuncs played the part of God in a production of Benjamin Britten’s Noyes Fludde in Guildford Cathedral, a production in which at least one F.G.S. pupil also took part; Chris Haines (1957-1965) was one of Noah’s sons. In addition to his musical interests Nuncs enjoyed his motor cycles and sports cars. His pale green MG was a regular feature of the small parking space in front of the school. Another of his hobbies was horology and he frequently wore the repaired watches of several pupils at the same time while testing them. (*) I once, a short while after leaving school, accompanied him on a trip to the many clock and watch repair shops of Clerkenwell where he bought spare parts and lubricants. During that trip he showed a special interest in learning other teachers’ nicknames. It’s surprising that they weren’t well known to staff. He was especially intrigued by the fact that Mr. Rogers the Chemistry master was called Boris. Boris, as I’m sure many will remember, indulged in a peculiar and unnatural punishment consisting of slapping boys hard on both ears simultaneously. I wonder how many suffer hearing loss as a result of his strange perversion?

Nuncs became a well known figure around Fleet and Crookham after his retirement and his death at the end of 1982 was well reported in the local newspaper. I have no information on any close family apart from the fact that he was born with a twin sister, Rose May Grosch. Certainly he lived as a bachelor and devoted his life to the welfare, education and friendship of his young charges and was a rare gentleman and thoroughly good man.

Some of the above is taken from Nuncs’ autobiography, ‘A London Lad’, privately published in 1972, price 80 pence including postage.
* This recollection from Chris Haines.

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