Vincent Smith                23.1.96.

Reading through the first collection of essays on KES, it seemed to me that the contributions of my own generation were tainted with negative meditations on the so-called ethos of the school, a bleakness that was almost wholly absent from the earlier and later reflections. Perhaps this indicates a deep nostalgia on the part of the older boys and a genuine change in culture for the newer boys and girls, but I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that my time at the school was the Clapton era. I can certainly identify with the uneasiness which many of the contributors evinced, particularly remembering my early years. It is illustrative of the shock which attending the school gave to my system that I can remember so many details of my first year in form 1(2), details which I cannot so completely recall for any other year - for example, the names of my form master and the masters responsible for every subject, my form room number, the precise positions of my places in class and in the assembly hall. Perhaps most surprising is that forty years later, I can still reel off the thirty name roll call of that first year without effort or hesitation.

Most of my school reports have survived and these give some indication of what that ethos was. However, only one of the first year reports survives, and I note that the form master (Kopcke) summarised my performance with the words "Half-asleep, it seems to me, a good part of his time. Logical thought is beyond him, so far as I have seen him in action". It is a sad fact that many of the masters of that time could see the effects but could not deduce the causes, which sometimes lay in their own hostile and potentially destructive approaches to teaching. For the more sensitive types, an escape mechanism was needed which in my case was an ostrich-like attempt to become invisible by focusing so intently on a formless infinity that all became invisible to me. I recall an incident from my second year involving this same master. My form was queuing outside room 30 for a morning period. Evidently there had been a timetabling error as Kopcke had just begun a class with another form. He sent one of his boys (Morant) to enquire why we were waiting. One of our number (Simpson - I have kept his secret for forty years) replied that we were waiting for Fred - the nickname of Mr. Hetherington. Morant was rewarded with uproarious laughter then he returned to Kopcke and announced in a loud voice "They say they're waiting for Fred". Kopcke exploded with rage, rushed to the door and demanded to know who had had the impertinence to return such an answer. Unable to extract a confession or to find a grass, he took the names of the first dozen or so boys in the queue and announced that we were in detention. Accordingly, we spent an hour that evening under the now relaxed and amiable gaze of Kopcke, who was nevertheless still seeking a confession. It occurred to me at the time that my logical powers were somewhat greater than his, at least at that moment, as I had deduced that the real culprit in this incident was Morant, and not the detainees. But of course, I didn't dare to voice that opinion.

For those of us who had problems with the masters, I have little doubt that Nathan was the universal Lucifer, but which of his deputies were the most demonic depended on whose paths one had the misfortune to cross most often. In my case, Arculus undoubtedly filled the role of the great Moloch. For two years I approached his physics lessons with a degree of trepidation I have felt at no other time, before or since.

But there were good angels too. Chief amongst these was Jackson, who arrived in 1958 to replace Sam Carter as deputy head. My generation must have been responsible for his christening as Flinky, but I can throw no light on the origin or meaning of that nickname. He was a humane man and a good teacher, and my respect was all the greater for his situation as deputy head. I suspected that Nathan posed as big a problem to the masters as he did to the boys, and presumably Flinky would have to take the brunt of it. During my A-Level years, I was amongst the first batch of students to be offered a statistics option. Flinky took on the task of teaching the course and admitted modestly that he was learning as well as teaching. The manner of his doing so, as well as his approach to pure mathematics, was impressive enough for me to make a career out of it.

Another Maths master, Bridgwater, whose nickname of Ponto is much more easily explained, was another good angel. He demonstrated very ably that control could be maintained with respect as well as fear, and that achievement is more likely to follow from the former than the latter. His respect was earned, like Flinky's, with genuine concern and good teaching, but also with a liberal dose of humour and a devastating line in repartee.

In between lay a host of characters, some more memorable than others. Patrolling the Plutonian shore was a Cerberus whose three heads I had labelled Henry, Wightman and Burridge. I do not recall these heads fawning upon us as we entered, but I remember well enough their reactions once we were inside. Eli Vout, despite his role as scripture teacher, was a sort of Charon who, I sensed, did not live naturally in the underworld but was willing enough to take you there. The amiable or manageable neutrals included Burke, Johnston, Shorty Burns, Lucy Lockett and Red Fred Wilcock. The milder masters were open to some ribbing from the pupils, and when a degree of meekness was also detected the ribbing could be merciless. These days, any complaints I might make about the tyrannous master versus the sensitive pupil are tempered with the thought that some masters were also a little sensitive and unsure of themselves, and instead of making allies of them, we subjected them to our own brands of tyranny.

Amongst those I remember with particular respect, if not necessarily with affection, are Slasher, Hemming and Buck Adam for French, Chalmers and Turbojet for Latin, Fred Hetherington and Herman for English, Ticker for Economics, and Tom Cook for History. There are no scientists on my list, but perhaps I was just unlucky.

Two other masters initially frightened me with their deep booming voices, but both won my respect and both had a considerable influence on my development. Twyford was an enormous man, a veritable globe of daunting continents, who gave me a little trouble during my early years through his fierce looks, thunderous voice and turbulent temper. Yet in my second year, when my anxieties were at their height, I happened to run into him one Saturday morning outside Walsh's. His face lit up as if he had just met a long lost friend and tipping his cap, he said "Good morning" in the pleasantest voice imaginable, leaving me in stunned silence to wonder if school masters had split personalities. Later, he was to be my chief encourager in breaking out of the dreaded 3(4), 4(4), 5G sequence. And then there was Clarence, the art master and the only true eccentric I ever met at KES. He bore a marked resemblance to Albert Schweitzer, sported a substantial red moustache to contrast with his grey hair, and smoked a curved pipe filled with some foul-smelling substance which announced his approach long before he turned the corner to the art corridor. It was rumoured that, before my time, he had been used to come to school in a pony and trap. His voice was even deeper than Twif's, and could be heard from every corner of the assembly hall during morning hymn. When lessons were in progress, he would often leave us to continue with our work and, donning an authentic artist’s smock, would work on paintings of his own. He was not, as I recall, a terribly good painter. Not infrequently he would burst suddenly into plainsong, or begin quoting great reams of Venus and Adonis or some other erudite narrative poem, at the top of his huge bass voice. Most amusing for the pupils were the times when we had lessons in the history of architecture. He would then read to us from Cox and Ford's book on parish churches, and sooner or later would begin reading in an ecclesiastical manner - singing each syllable on middle C but dropping a minor third for the final syllable of the sentence. I cannot easily identify what his influence on me might have been, but I feel sure it was positive and enduring.

Many of the masters became more human when seen outside the context of their classes, and I particularly remember two events which did much to improve the image of some of them - the staff review of 1957 and a Brains Trust of about 1962. In the staff review, Ticker Robinson stood on a soap box and sang, most appropriately, Down with the British Constitution. Shorty Burns had a range of humorous cameo roles, whilst Fred Hetherington performed a routine reminiscent of Max Wall, in which he treated the audience like an orchestra and conducted it with a stick of celery. Even Arculus seemed less fearsome after appearing in drag and mustering a high falsetto voice to impersonate a diva. The Brains Trust was chaired by Ticker and the brains were supplied by Flinky and the two Neds - Points and Johnston. It was instructive as well as entertaining to see them on the receiving end of the questions for once, and their personalities were accurately reflected in their answers. Characteristically, Flinky was able gently to mock himself and his profession by quoting (but mis-attributing) the well known line ‘Those who can, do; those who can't, teach’. Points, also characteristically, dismissed the remark with disdain, but was unable to resist the temptation to complete the quotation and say that of course it was really due to Bernard Shaw. It is a pity there were not more such events to bring the masters into closer, non-aggressive contact with the pupils. Actually, one other event occurs to me as I write. This was a parents evening in which I was functioning as one of the "guides" in the art room. I had loaded the record player with L'apres midi d'un faun, and as Red Fred Wilcock approached, I mustered the courage to say "Creates just the right atmosphere don't you think sir?" He replied, "Yes, and it would be even better if played at 45 rpm instead of 33."

Many incidents and anecdotes remain with me, but if I were to focus on the bad ones, I would accuse myself of the same negativity with which I opened this reflection. When I think of the better ones, I find myself first wallowing, like Justice Shallow, in the Jesu, Jesu, the days that we have seen syndrome, and then condemning myself, like Falstaff, for prating about the wildness of our youth and the feats done about Clarkehouse Road (and every third word a lie?) So a minor, somewhat neutral recollection to finish with. In my final year, I spent most of my free study periods in the company of three fellow statisticians (Cowling, Croxford and Thompson), playing cards. In this manner, we profaned our precious time even in the Holy of Holies - the school library. With its closely placed rows of bookshelves this was a suicidal venue, and on one occasion, whilst trying to decide which card to play, a well-cuffed arm reached silently over my shoulder and seized the hand I was holding. The arm of Tom Cook, the history man. We were reported to the headmaster and my diary for the next day records that I cobbled all day - the vernacular of the time - and that retribution came during period 6. For the umpteenth time in my school career I was summoned to the notorious Nathan, but this time in the company of my fellow transgressors. Nathan opened with a question, "I suppose you think I'm just a stupid old fool?" Cowling, the most extrovert of our group, instantly replied "Not at all sir". If we had been sitting round a table I'm sure we would have kicked his shins for precipitating an almost certain volcanic explosion. But the explosion did not come. Nathan was nothing if not unpredictable. He asked what game we had been playing and when we said Wot, a name which, like the game itself, we had invented for ourselves, he replied that he didn't know what wot was, and shook silently with laughter at his own ‘joke’. When we tried to claim that our card sessions had been mostly collaborations on statistical experiments, the laughter became uncontrollable (summarised succinctly in my diary in expert KES-talk as smally crease!) We did not join in; nothing in the world was more dangerous than an amused Nathan, whose laughter was invariably cynical and usually a prelude to eruption. But again we were surprised. He remained calm and simply stated that if we wished to behave like children we would be treated as such and henceforth would be supervised during private study. I had to admit that that was a fair response. Unfortunately it did not stop our games, but necessitated the acquisition of a new deck of cards. I still have the old deck somewhere, missing, of course the dead man's hand which doubtless found its way into Tom Cook's waste paper basket.

A few weeks later I was summoned again, but for the only time in at least twenty such visits, it was to receive Nathan's approbation. I had won an exhibition, and to Nathan's astonishment joined what the Star had described as the cream of the school. In my case homogenized milk would be more accurate as my award was not to Oxford or Cambridge, nor to Durham or London, but to Exeter, a place hitherto regarded as so remote and uninteresting that it might have been floating in the Channel. Nevertheless, it pleased me to end a turbulent and uncertain school career on a happy note, and I suspect that I was used for some years after my departure to convince new generations of 4(4)-ites that all was not yet lost.

Last year, whilst preparing a collection of parodies and burlesques, I wrote a poem, in the manner of C S Calverley, which I think is an accurate summary of my experience at King Ted's. I enclose it, with apologies to traditionalists for the one piece of poetic licence - in my time, K.E.S. was NEVER pronounced KES!


(after C S Calverley)

Often, on a Sunday morning,
Drawn by demons, nonetheless
To the ancient pile I wander
Known familiarly as KES.
And the ghosts from days departed -
Ranks of budding gentlemen,
On the Close are all around me,
And my spirit sighs again.

What, but now an idle folly
Seems the census (‘63),
Documenting in its measures
Fifth and Sixth Form history?
“Scientists in love are losers,
Vis a vis the Moderns' gains;
68 percent, however,
Go for beauty, not for brains."

Backward moves the careless dial,
And I'm quaking, frail and weak
Before that most obnoxious species
Called emphatically "A Beak:"
Loafing, as I loafed aforetime,
Never then with tranquil mind,
Knowing what an Arculanean
Might be creeping up behind.

Past the Grecian bays I saunter.
Whistling softly with unease;
Once again the first year roll-call
Seems to whisper on the breeze.
"Bailey, Blackburn, Boyle, Bridge, Bryars.......”
Still rings out like yesterday,
“... Wheatley, Whitley, Whyman, Young." - now
Nearly forty years away.

Once an unassuming Freshman,
Soon I learned the College trait -
Find a native strength to foster,
Find a flaw to aggravate:
Each perambulating infant
Captured in its certain squall,
And my eager eyes detected
Those who'd flourish, those who'd fall.

By degrees my education
Grew, and I became as others;
Swiftly sinking with the faction
Tyrannous behaviour smothers;
Wrote me letters from the pater,
Telling tales that fabricated
Disabilities and ailments,
To excuse the games I hated.

Learned instead to work with numbers,
Play a passable legato,
Write a madrigal, and sport with
Leonardo and sfumato:
Studied architectural history,
Or (more curious sport than that)
Read the works of William Shakespeare,
Conned by rote the Rubaiyat.

I have stood serene on many
Pleasure Grounds, too long to list 'em,
Reached, albeit scarred and blistered;
Should I then condemn the system?
Though pernicious fields of conflict
Littered with distress and pain,
Part the joys of youth and manhood,
Where so many might be slain.

When within my veins the ice ran,
And the furrows creased my brow,
I perhaps did, undergraduates,
More than you are doing now.
Therefore turn you, O beloved ones,
To your hidden soul, and I,
Your ‘poor moralist’, will take you,
In my ‘solitary fly’.

                                                                   Vincent Smith 1995

[This article goes nicely with 1950s Junior Staff, received in the same week.]