MEMORIES OF KING EDWARD VI GRAMMAR SCHOOL, RETFORD
By Mike Dunstan (1964-71)
My first contact with the school was when my father took me to meet the headmaster Mr Gover (or “Fat John” as I came to know him). A scary experience.
I remember fretting over the letter I received that contained pages of school rules, and wondering how I would ever remember them all. I didn’t, especially the one about the Biology Pond being out of bounds until I fell I fell in one winter’s day when the ice broke.
On my first day we sat in Form 1F in our classroom in the New Block, arranged alphabetically (that’s why all my friends had surnames beginning with D …) and quietly faced the front, where a smart young man in a suit kept us in order. We thought he was a teacher but no, he was a prefect.
In my first Latin lesson Mr Katin had us examine the coins in our pockets, and translated the mysterious inscriptions that had previously baffled me.
My first detention came a few months later (talking in class, tut tut) and I was too ashamed to tell my parents so pretended I was staying late for “Tash” Illingworth’s stamp club. Of course, they found out at the end of term when it appeared on my report.
Tash also gave me my favourite teacher’s report, where he said that if I used my brain once for every ten times I used my mouth I’d be top of the form.
I avoided the cane but received a headmaster’s detention for (guess what) talking in class. Three hours on a Saturday morning picking up litter around the school. I also got a detention from a prefect whose name I forget because I refused to let him beat me in the annual chess tournament.
There was lots to do at lunch time. Serving in the dining room was a drag, playing Hot Rice and Thrush behind the tennis courts was fun. School dinner cost a shilling, but the bakers next to the school (Vickers) sold bags of day old cream buns for threepence and sixpence, which left enough to buy a ciggy from the sweet shop over the road. They sold them singly for a penny each from a biscuit tin under the counter. Luckily for me it was a short-lived pastime. In winter we used to corner the new boys in the Fives Court and pelt them with snowballs. There were occasional run-ins with the boys from Sir Frederick Milner’s School (or Silly Fools Mental School as we unkindly called it).
The caretaker was called Ferd, and his room under the stage in the assembly hall was called Ferd’s Hole.
“Fat John” was a scary sight hobbling around the Quad with his cape and walking stick. Even scarier after he’d had a hip replacement, because then he could waft silently.
“Miser” (pronounced “Mizzer”) Charlton, the deputy head, began every sentence with “Now listen to me …”, but he used to let us sing Jerusalem at the end of choir practice if we’d behaved, and on his last day when he retired he was nearly in tears.
Another large man with a walking stick was “Rhombus” Mclean, who taught maths. Most of his lessons would contain at least one story from “when I was in Burma” and his detentions were feared for their long divisions – get them wrong and you got another detention.
Tash Illingworth had punishments down to a fine art. He would administer a bacon slicer to the buttocks with the blackboard ruler, shut you in the cupboard of his desk, make you stand in the litter bin, throw a blackboard duster at you or administer an Obey Tap with his knuckle to the crown of your head. Named I believe after “Obey” Dyer, a former pupil (or was he a teacher?).
“Cret” Atkinson taught Biology, and walked with a pronounced bounce in his step.
“Jed” Poyner taught Physics and was a genius (apart from the time he dropped a soldering iron and picked it up by the hot end). We bought him a packet of Phyllosan for his fortieth birthday. He showed us how to simulate electrical circuits using water, and with a complex arrangement of U-tubes, pipes, balloons and header tanks made a working model of a multivibrator that powered a clock.
The school playing fields were a long walk away down Oaklands Lane. I enjoyed rugby but hated soccer and cricket. The cross-country runs were legendary. At the bottom of the playing fields were dykes that you could leap over at the start of the run, but on the way back you were so tired that you just waded through the ice-cold water. One day the school had to be evacuated for a bomb scare (I’ve no idea why that happened) so what did they do with us? Sent us on a cross-country run of course.
I worked my way up through 1F, 2F, 4J, 5J and the Lower Sixth then spent two years in the Upper Sixth, my final year as a Prefect. When the Prefects’ Common Room was redecorated one wall was left as bare plaster. The artistic types began to cover it with pencil drawings of sketches from Monty Python and it was becoming a real masterpiece until one of the teachers took exception to “RIGHT, WHO’S GOT THE POX?” in large letters and we had to paint over it. Fat John would knock on the door when he wanted to see us, and addressed us as “gentlemen”, so you really felt that you had got somewhere in life.