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I discovered the F.G.S. website by chance while Googling
Richard Springate, an old friend, and felt I would like to contribute some reminiscences.
First Nuncs. I was pleased and gratified to see how many references there were to him, and all of them very favourable. He was certainly a unique figure. I started at F.G.S. in form 2B of which he was form master. I remember our very first day when he swept into the room looking rather fearsome but then defused the tension by a remark “You poor lot of frightened little things!” (or words to that effect). In Latin he once offered to give a watch to anyone who scored 100% in the end of term exam. I was thrilled to achieve this and get the watch.
Some of the pupils later on in school would visit Nuncs at his home in Crookham Village. He would serve tea with always the same food - boiled eggs and a cake, which he cut into four big pieces. He later purchased a pipe organ and put it in his own front room. I was musical, and he allowed me to play it. Years later he sold it to a church in Shellingford. Somewhere I have a snapshot of Nuncs outside his house. He wrote his autobiography in verse, entitled ‘A London Lad’, and actually dedicated it to me, because I (by then living in Orkney) was trying to arrange its printing by a local firm in Kirkwall.
By great bad luck the premises of the firm burnt down shortly before they were due to receive his manuscript, so in the end he found a local printer. The book was obviously inspired by John Betjeman’s own verse autobiography ‘Summoned by Bells’, but the title was influenced by ‘A Shropshire Lad’, a collection (very famous) of poems by A. E. Housman. I remember that Nuncs sent a copy of his “A London Lad” to John Betjeman and was surprised and disappointed not to receive any encouragement other than an acknowledgement.
Dr. Sewell seems much vilified but I don’t remember much about him as I was never regularly taught by him: he did seem to me to be a very learned figure, but I certainly never knew that he was an alcohol drinker. Tommy Junior (the epithet by the time I got to the school was strictly speaking unnecessary as he was by then the only Mr. Thomas, the much-loved Tommy Senior having by then left or died.) But ‘Major’ Thomas was a nasty piece of work. During the CCF sessions on Friday afternoons he would strut around throwing his weight about. As a teacher he was much the same: I do remember one boy called Travers, who admittedly was prone to misbehaviour, getting a violent and vicious slap on the face from him: we were quite shocked at this, because F.G.S. was not a school where physical punishment was ever practised in my recollection.
‘Cadets’ was hated by many of us because it was compulsory and we thought it a complete waste of time, as well as being a source of discomfort - having to wear scratchy khaki uniforms and stand in the hot sun ‘on parade’. One boy was made to follow the ‘major’ around every Friday afternoon because he was absolute in his refusal to participate in the quasi-military charade.
The ‘Jab’ (or ‘Prod’) was universally disliked - a thoroughly nasty man. He had taken on himself to teach Religious Knowledge (RK) in the third form that I was in, but never taught the subject, merely using the occasion for careers enquiries, a branch of school administration. I was once wrongly accused of not appearing to be studying as he entered the room and he made me write out the whole of Isaiah chapter 55 as a punishment. I seethed with resentment at this, but was too timid to protest my innocence. He had seen a boy called Rutland at an adjacent desk to mine misbehaving as he flounced along the corridor and by the time he was in the room itself he had picked on me as the culprit.
“Little Dick” in my memory was never called that, but always “Dickie Junior”. He also taught RK, and his class control was very poor. We had an exercise book which we called ‘The Dickalogue’ (by analogy with the biblical “Decalogue”) in which we tried to write down exactly what Dickie was saying, as most of it was his efforts to get the class under control, so the text would read something like “Now. Err, now, quiet there. Now on we go. Quiet please, Right. Right now, right, let's get on…” Eventually he would perceive what we were doing and try to get hold of the book, so it got passed round for someone else to write in. I still have the book somewhere. (Richard has kindly scanned it. See the link above.)
After gaining my Latin ‘O’ level with Nuncs’ help and guidance I went on to ‘A’ level taught by both Doc. Naish and a Mr. Glasgow. Doc. actually lived in the same road in Aldershot as me. Lower Farnham Road. His house was called ‘Hesperides’ a classical reference to the Garden of the Hesperides, because he had at the back not only a regular suburban garden, but a large triangle of land beyond which was a fruit orchard. It produced far more fruit than he could use and so he used to bring boxes of apples and pears to school to give to the pupils. His Latin lessons were memorable: he loved funny abbreviations; “Vergil” became “Verge”, and the book Anglice Reddenda (Latin texts for translating into English) became “Angle”.
Doc ran the school library and his lessons took place in it. Mr. Glasgow, despite his name, was not Scottish, but had a very broad rural west country accent, and like many teachers had little phrases that he always used, especially “In actual fact”. We tried one day to see if we could incorporate that phrase into a a question to him, and I recall a boy called Nichol (who arrived from Rochdale) managed to use the phrase without the teacher realising he was the subject of mickey taking.
When I first went to F.G.S. Mr. Barrett was known as Fritz (he was rumoured to be Austrian). He took singing classes and his nickname changed to Bebop, evolving to ‘Beeb’ or ‘The Beeb’. The object of pranks he once had to put up with a boy riding a cycle along the balcony to his room. But the best event I witnessed was on the last day of the autumn term at morning assembly. He sat down at the piano to play the hymn and the lower front panel of the piano between the pedals and the keyboard fell out onto his knees (we assumed someone had interfered with it as a joke). He called on Mr. Grosch for help, and Nuncs came up and replaced the panel, and the assembly went ahead. The upshot of this was that the following year on the last day of the autumn term when all were assembled in the hall there was no Beeb to play the piano. He simply failed to turn up, and I think that after that he left - either sacked or resigned.
I especially enjoyed the geography lessons of Dickie Senior because there was every week at least one lesson when he went completely off subject and simply talked about things that interested him, and he was very interesting. I felt that was education of the best kind, and the memory of it stayed with me. One image I recall was when he spoke about railways. He said the very best way to travel was by first class rail. The image I remember was him mentioning those railway carriages which had a mirror on each side behind and above the seats and opposite one another so that if you stood in front of one of them the image was reflected in the opposite one and back again ad infinitem. I was very sad when I read in the local paper ‘The Aldershot News’ late in the summer holidays one year that he had collapsed and died on a tennis court, aged 62.
I also remember “Moggie” Morgan the maths teacher. I assumed he was not fully qualified as every now and then a senior maths teacher (I think it was Cotgreave) came into the room and discussed various papers with him as though he was being supervised. Also he never wore a black gown, as did most of the masters, but his knocking boys on the head with his knuckles was painful and not enjoyed. He had an irritating habit of setting homework and marking it in class boy by boy when he would sometimes go through the ten answers saying “Correct, correct, correct, corrrrong, correct, corrong, corrong, corrong, correct, corrong. Not enough right. Do homework again!” And this would be written in the exercise book as “Do hmwk. again”. He also had a habit of addressing everyone as “Little boy” in a demeaning sort of way. I once remember him asking the whole class: “Is there anyone here who thinks they know all there is to know about fractions?” The way the question was phrased should have been a warning to all to be very circumspect, but one foolhardy boy, I think it was Jackson-Baker, put up his hand, whereupon Moggie fired at him: “What is an L.C.M.?” Of course J-B didn't know and became the object of ridicule. I also remember once that when we were given a geometric proof to do I couldn’t do it, and supplied the answer “It must be true otherwise they would not have asked for a proof”. This was transmuted by Moggie into “some halfwit said…” He was not liked.
“Charlie” Sweet taught French and although he was also a bit difficult I have always been grateful to him for making us spend the first six weeks of the term reading out loud sentences in phonetic script followed by the same sounds but in French. By this means we got a perfect French accent. I do recall being amused once by him saying to a boy called Richard (?) Mayne: “Do you want me to come over there and turn your head round and round until it is facing the other way?” To which Mayne answered, predictably “No, sir”.
I never had any regular lessons from ‘Charlie’ Upton, but I thought him a pompous fellow and he once reported me to the Jab for playing truant, as a result of which I was demoted from my prefectship, for which I never forgave him. However, I must say that there was one thing I was grateful to him for: in those free periods when he supervised private study he would often talk about and recommend books to read, as a result of which I read ‘The Birdman of Alcatraz’ and possibly others.
“Boggy” Bishop taught P.E. and History. His memorable saying was: “Facts and dates, facts and dates: that's what makes an essay!” Also I remember him describing communism as a system in which a communist wants all the wealth in the world equally distributed amongst everyone, and then when his share is used up, he wants the same thing done all over again. His other memorable quirk was always to pronounce the word ‘parliamentary’ in six syllables, thus - “par-li-a-ment-ar-y”.
After Beeb left we got a new music teacher, Mr. Leslie Lickfold. He was well qualified, and I believe a good organist (although I never heard him play), but he looked a physical wreck, and I heard that he suffered from malaria. He lived in lodgings in Aldershot, quite near St. Michael's Church, where he was organist, in a house owned by a Mrs. St. John (whose son Clive St. John was also a pupil at F.G.S.). Music was not taken very seriously at the school, and Mr. Lickfold had small classes comprising a handful of boys who were serious about it - Richard Springate, myself, plus a makeweight contingent of total no-hopers that the authorities didn't know what else to do with. I remember when these played up one day, Lickfold came back at them with “I’ve got boys here who are writing sonatas and concertos, and you lot blah, blah, blah…” It must have been frustrating for him. When he eventually came to leave, i remember that three of us asked him to give us a musical theme to write variations on, and we each wrote a variation on it and presented him with the score as a leaving present.
The replacement teacher was Dennis Owen, an easy-going young teacher who was approachable, and had no eccentricities or quirks. He had as a girl friend the music mistress at Aldershot High School, and there was an amusing incident which took place, I think, in St. Michael's Churchyard where the girl friend’s sister, who was a student at the Royal College of Music under Herbert Howells (a music professor and composer) related that poor Herbert had some affliction of his ears which meant that whenever he listened to a piece of music he heard it not only at the proper pitch, but simultaneously an augmented fourth above. An F.G.S. student, Michael Bowey, who was interested in music, immediately piped up: “Well, just tell him to listen to nothing but Schoenberg, and he won't notice any difference”. If this joke escapes the non-musical, let them listen to a piece of Schoenberg’s ‘serial’ music, and they will understand it.
My only memory of Basil Jowett was when he called a pupil (actually it was Jock Young, later to become a prominent criminologist) “a babbling idiot”.
Jonah, Mr. Jones the biology teacher, had a quirk: he would lose his temper and shout, and then immediately apologize, going all humble and contrite. I never had regular classes with him, so it was only occasionally that I witnessed this, which is why perhaps it struck me particularly as remarkable.
I believe that “Boris”, the chemistry teacher Mr. Rodgers, owed his nickname to a resemblance to an actor called Boris Karloff, who appeared in horror films. He also had a strange quirk: he always used what I call an ‘all-purpose pronoun’, namely “you’ll” when he meant simply “you”.
I remember Mr. Foster, the art teacher, once throwing a book in frustration right to the back of the classroom. A boy called Webb (†) picked it up and quietly took it back to him. Generally, though, he was reasonable.
Clive Strutt : August 2011
Read Clive’s entry on Wikipedia
The only “boy called Webb” of the right age to be in Clive’s class is Melvyn Webb who sadly died in 2009. Obituary.