On the other hand it meant that someone like Bill Sykes was unlikely to have had a job in the new dispensation. I lasted one lesson with him, when as soon as he discovered a pitch less than perfect I was sent to the back of the class to dwell on the imperfection of French verbs. Thank goodness the rest of the staff did not follow his 'educational' prescription, otherwise the corridors would have been filled with French Irregulars whilst maths and science teachers focused on their Oxbridge Scholarship candidates!
My memories mainly revolve around sport. My proudest achievement was to be skipper of the team which bowled out E M Wright's X1 for 57 and went on to win by 9 wickets. Their team contained a clutch of Mundens so no mean feat. I was a novelty bowler and a batting nurdler who was lucky enough (on account of age merely) to hold the fort between two outstanding cricketers, Whitelam and Davenport. Pressed into service as an opener, what a pleasure it was to watch Davenport quietly take oppositions apart with his mental strength and silky cover drives. (It was no surprise to find later that he had settled in Bradman's Adelaide)
There were only two co-educational experiences available on the premises - the school play, where real girls gradually took over from bewigged male adolescents and -where I was involved- the inter-school debating society held in our library once a month, when speakers from all the Leicester grammar schools took part. A History teacher from Gateway, Mr Bond, and I ran the show. I have no idea whether it lasted long after we left. I remember Garth Pratt from Wyggeston, whom we all assumed would be PM one day, and Delia Balls from Collegiate who caused many a flutter.
Falstaff's immortal opening line in the play is 'Sirrah, you giant, what says the doctor to my water?' The 'giant' in question was his page, played by Steve Buckley. Steve went on to study fine art at Durham University and became a distinguished contemporary artist. One of his paintings, Dancers, was purchased by the Government Art Collection. When I was appointed the nation's housing minister in 2003 I had this huge and lovely canvas hung on my office wall. I invited Steve, then Professor of Fine Art at the University of Reading, to visit my rooms in the Old Admiralty Building in Whitehall, and we spent a convivial evening contemplating his great work. What an ensemble we were – the denizens of the Boar's Head Tavern in Eastcheap: Richard Makins as Mistress Quickly and Tom Williams (again) as Ancient Pistol; and the Country Justices Silence and Shallow. Silence ('Alas, a black ousel') was played by Richard Paynter and Shallow ('Jesu, Jesu, the mad days that I have spent') by the excellent John Page. Tragically my friend Richard Paynter died of peritonitis on 6 November 1957. For many of us this was our first experience of premature death. His headstone is by the porch of St Luke's Church in Thurnby.
Despite this sad association, I clearly have the warmest memories of my first school play. I remain very grateful to George Franey and the school for giving me the opportunity of so many great parts in so many stellar school productions: Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream, de Stogumber in Saint Joan, blind Tobit in Tobias and the Angel, and Sir Oliver Surface in School for Scandal. There are some who might say this was good training for my later career. It is true that from time to time I would startle my civil servants by telling them 'It's all showbiz, after all'! (Keith Hill PC was the Labour Member of Parliament for Streatham 1992-2010)
AND FINALLY... My sorry career at CBS, involving truancy, lies and deceit, has been well-documented in these pages. For the benefit of newer readers, by the spring term of 1960 I had been demoted from 1 Alpha to 1A This followed a meeting between my parents and Mr Bell, and it was hoped I would find the going easier. But the die had been cast, and my reputation preceded me. Demoralised and ashamed, I was soon demoted to the B stream. Looking back, as I have done many times over the years, it is obvious I was my own worst enemy. Always a secretive and solitary child (characteristics which, to a lesser extent, have followed me into adulthood) I confided my problems to no one. Not my parents, nor my brother and sister, not the teachers. Perhaps, in these more enlightened times, someone would realise I was struggling. 'Poor little chap, what's the matter?' But in 1959 we were expected to be made of sterner stuff, and whilst I did need help everyone simply thought I was bone idle! So the first, second and third years were not much fun, though things did improve in the fourth and fifth years. Looking back, there were a lot of good times as well as bad. Forging excuse notes for games, which usually meant a pleasant afternoon in the library. I hated team sports, but quite enjoyed cross country. I had written a 'permanently-excused' note for swimming, so was able to sit on the balcony at Vestry Street baths every week. Surely Jock Gilman was not really taken in! The lunchtime Crusaders meetings, run by Alan Mercer, were a highlight. In 5F the last period on Fridays was geography with Ken Witts, who was always in a good mood presumably in anticipation of the weekend. It was a nice way to finish the week. One of the sixth formers came to school in a bubble car, which could be driven on a motor cycle licence. He was allowed to park it in the little yard by the entrance to the canteen, where Mr Franklin parked his blue and white Fiat 1500. Watched by a crowd of boys waiting for first-sitting lunch the sixth former fired up the bubble car, which to his consternation failed to move. A couple of boys has lifted the rear end off the ground!
Dennis J Duggan October 16th 2017