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Farnborough Grammar School

Prospect Avenue, Farnborough, Hampshire

Telephone : Farnborough 539

Stephen Roberts (Memories) - 1963 to 1970

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I was a very ordinary pupil at Farnborough Grammar School 1963-1970 and have nothing outstanding academically to write home about (six ‘0’ levels and one ‘A’ level D grade in Music). I became a qualified teacher in an inner London secondary school for 30 years… but that’s another story…

The headteacher of Farnborough Grammar School, JA Bourne, on his report to parents, was always questioning whether I deserved a place in the school. The pranks and japes, anecdotes and stories however, that have been resurrected, are recognisable and unique as FGS activities go even though some are (allegedly !!) distant and cloudy memories…

(Thank you Malcolm for the memory prompts on the web site.)

Before I further yet more “truths” I would like to say that I was a happy pupil at school most of the time and especially with the education that went on out of school routines. I recall the camps to Wales during the summer holidays – two types of weather – wet, or very wet; walking for miles, the night treks – accompanied by glow worms – and the ration boxes “10 men for 1 day” or “1 day for 10 men” to look forward to. I still have a small flat can opener that was found in the box – clever design. I can’t say the same for the bar of chocolate which never appeared in the ration boxes though it was listed.

My first musical memory was the putting on of green tights to take on the role of a peacock in a number of performances of Benjamin Britten’s “Noyes Fludde” in Guildford Cathedral. It also proved to be a rare chance to establish an interest in females. Music and Drama activities I thought, were the porthole to this world of meeting Aldershot High school for girls, Farnborough Convent girls and Saleasian College boys.

And so it proved! I became a not very good flautist! My thanks to – Hampshire Music services who awarded me free Flute and Piano lessons for the rest of my school days with special mention for the following: -

Peter Mound – music teacher/choirmaster
Colonel Brown - extraordinaire instrumental teacher
Patsy Moore Flute teacher and accompanist
Hampshire Youth Orchestra
Farnborough Wind Quintet/Ensemble (Andrew Denyer - oboe, Geoffrey Shillam - bassoon, Michael Nash - clarinet, Richard Alloway, - clarinet, Robin Yates -, euphonium and myself - flute.

My recall of performing highlights
Farnham Festival
Michael Garrick “Jazz Praises”
British Youth Wind Orchestra – (I shared the flute front desk with Annie Lennox of Eurythmics fame)

Is this for real?

Among my memories have to be with the Combined Cadet Force CCF . The school ran a 6 day timetable ; Day 1 being Monday one week, Tuesday, Day1 the following ; Wednesday Day1 the next and so on......... Quite confusing for an 11year old, still in shorts, who had his school cap “debobilised” the moment they came in the school gate - a tradition apparently and carried on by Year 8 pupils. (My mother was not best pleased!)

Don’t ask me how the timetable worked – all I understood was that the (CCF) could experiment every Friday afternoon – driving, crashing, repairing vehicles in the MT (Motor Transport? Empty??) hut and driving 3 ton vehicles on the rugby field {swamp} much to the amusement of those first year pupils of Latin classes with Nuncs. (I must read his biography one day) The rest of the school had to learn and practice marching skills or do “Social work” in the local area during this time.

But the real highlight of Friday PM was to join the rifle range club and try to get a 1 inch grouping with 5 pieces of 0·22 live ammunition. I was asked to leave the club for wishing to use the Sten gun for target practice having “borrowed” the still functioning weapon from the armoury store at the end of the Music room. My involvement with weapons diminished after “a field day” when we were issued with a 303 rifle and 5 rounds of blank ammunition (alleged to have been swapped with live ammunition collected from Bisley ranges by some pupils the weekend before to be fired in a theatrical war game lasting all day.)

We went about forming a military type band – just an excuse to do the playing of marches on our chosen instruments. I am not sure how this fitted in with the “Give peace a chance” message that was being promoted world wide. I long understood that the Lindsay Anderson film “If” released in 1968, featuring Malcolm McDowell together with the novel and film “Lord of the Flies” were an influence on how the school was being run and how our behaviour subsequently developed.

Staff were given nick names by pupils and staff alike - J.A. Bourne (Head teacher aka “PROD”, W.C. Bishop soon became “Boggy Bishop)” and Mr Jones “Jonah”. The reason for this has been lost in the mists of time - All that I remember was during on the first lesson of Biology with Jonah for most 11 year olds contained a quick drag on a cigarette for “Sir” in the prep room, some form of strong liquid refreshment and the spraying of excitable 11 year olds the contents of the innards of a sheep’s intestines!! There were no complaints as far as we know - just a good example of a FGS jape. On a quieter note, the lighting of a found packet of cigarettes (Jonah’s?) and sticking them lit in the mouths of the head trophies displayed on the walls of the lab just before a parent’s evening was considered a good one, also. Nobody was held to be responsible or the creator of this amusement. “Janks/Jankers” was the punishment avoided - an hour long detention writing out lines of “wisdom” such as “Describe the inside of a ping-pong ball” in 100 lines.

Some pupils were entitled to a milk ration delivered just before the mid - morning break – the classrooms had a distinct odour especially during the colder months when the bottles were half consumed and left on the radiators to warm through. An unpleasant game of throwing a bottle into a crowded class hoping someone would catch it cleanly – and before it smashed and emptied its contents. The staff were no better in these sort of behaviours . A geography teacher demonstrated his cricket skills frequently by throwing chalk or board rubbers to encourage more attention. More often than not he was able to knock a pen out of your hand. Lifting your desk lid to deflect the accuracy of the throw was the only defence. “Cave” was the cry to warn of danger of approaching staff – and in this role of “coming to sort out a problem” where Mr Cotgreave - or ”Trunky” as he became known for sticking his nose into other people’s problems by skilful interrogation and “sorting” it.

The potentially most dangerous episode was when as prefects, we were ordered to empty the main school field of pupils. Much confusion ensued - it was lunch time - and with everyone wanting to know “why?” eventually the reason came out - builders on a site adjacent to the school had unearthed a huge and unstable phosphorus dump from the First World War. Now that would have been a bit special to an excitable eleven year old!!

By recording these stories I hope I’ve not been too self-indulgent. The myths and legends that have grown up over the years should encourage a smile or two for these difficult days - (coronavirus, lockdown, zoom, pandemics, Covid19)

Stephen Roberts : April 2020

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