Final Assembly July 1962

[By Chris Meakin, KES 55-62, March 2004]
One of the things that typically happened at Final Assembly, in the late 1950s and early 1960s anyway, was that the school's star musicians - somehow one only remembers the trumpeters - were given a Talent Slot. Either they stood on Nat Clapton's little stage or even went up into Norman Barnes' organ loft to Do Their Bit.

Nervous as hell, they would not so much play their trumpet as spit down it, while the assembled school all tried to mask its embarrassment. I genuinely believe Nat Clapton found such performances every bit as trying as we did, no matter how proud Norman Barnes was of his protégés.

Anyway, in July 1962 headmaster Clapton drew head prefect Hetherington to one side and gently enquired whether there was a decent pop group within the school, and could they kindly do something worth listening to at Final Assembly instead of the school being subjected to yet another expectorating trumpeter? A few years earlier that great school extrovert and thespian Mick Sara had paved the way with a farewell performance of Flanders and Swann's Hippopotamus Song - thanks to David Cook for reminding me of that.

We will now never know which bit of ground Nat Clapton had his ear to in early 1962, but I have my suspicions. Later that Autumn of that same year, my first term at Keble, Paul Whyman and I (the two KES undergraduates at the College that year) were playing bridge with others and listening as we played to Radio Luxembourg on a red Roberts radio. Suddenly we all stopped playing bridge. Something very new and very different was emerging from the radio for the first time - none of us had heard anything quite like it before. It turned out to be "Love Me Do" by a hitherto unknown group called the Beatles.

The Keble maths scholar in that year came from Liverpool Institute, and he soon explained that in his later time at the school there had even been inter-form Pop Group competitions, and the group which won by a mile called themselves the Quarrymen. Not bad. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison at school for free.

I reckon Nat Clapton must have heard something of this on the Northern grammar school grapevine by July 1962, because I am pretty sure he never listened to Radio Luxembourg. Competitive on the Hastings scholarship network? Nathaniel Langford Clapton? Who could ever think such a thing? Honestly.

Although there was no regular KES pop group at the time, resourceful Phil Hetherington organised an ad hoc substitute. Dave Nelson played piano, Chris Riley played bass guitar and there was another guitarist as well as a drummer. (Names please - CM*) Appraised beforehand of this unwholesome counter-culture gig, music master Norman Barnes ostentatiously absented himself from that Final Assembly. The phrase "not invented here" does rather spring to mind.

No matter. We could just about manage without him for one afternoon. On a cue from Clapton, the KES ensemble gathered to the right hand side of his little stage and launched into a very acceptable version of the Ventures' instrumental "Trambone". The younger forms up in the gallery above thought it was possibly an impromptu edition of Top of the Pops and clapped along, in merry unison, to the rhythm.

Then Bag did his stuff. Until that day I did not know that Roger Bagshaw, one of the characters of the Upper Sixth, led a secret life as a pop singer — even though he and I (and Nick Dennis) had also been at Morley Street Infants together, 1949-51. So I had known him since he was five. Others knew him well enough, however, and had taken the sensible precaution of pouring two or three pints of t'best bitter down him during the dinner break.

back l to r: Paul Whyman (KES and Keble College Oxford, 1962-66)
Roger Bagshaw (KES and Durham University, 1962-65)
front l to r : Martin Hall (KES and Merton College Oxford, 1962-66)
Chris Meakin (KES and Keble College Oxford, 1962-65)
At a carefully judged moment, Bag galloped down the central aisle of the stalls in hall, ripping off his school blazer as he went. He grabbed a microphone from one of the musicians and launched fortissimo into "Be Bop a Lula, She's My Baby". The sheer guts of the guy — nothing remotely like it had been heard in public at KES ever before.

The school went wild. The more observant among the prefects in the front row noted a headmasterly toe tapping vigorously in time to the music beneath his little desk. The next best thing to a shy grin almost erupted on the Claptonian countenance. On the quiet, the boss was obviously enjoying every minute of it.

At length, Bag reached his final note. Pandemonium — anyone would have thought Fred Trueman had just taken a hat trick off Lancashire at Bramall Lane. There was only one thing for it — an encore. Roger Bagshaw trod the hallowed 5-6 steps reserved for headmasters, prefects and prize-winners, stood behind his headmaster, took a deep anti-beer fumes breath and sought permission to do another number.

Nat Clapton replied with an unambiguous two-armed gesture of approval, the gist of which was "carry on, carry on". So Bag did. I can't even remember what his second number was, but I did feel deeply proud of having been at the same school as him. Twice. And whatever else, Durham University's gain that same Autumn was unquestionably Oxford University's loss. The dark blues urgently needed talent like that. Only two years earlier, lads from the Fenland Polytechnic had, quite superbly, carried all before them with 'Beyond the Fringe' at the Edinburgh Festival.

The best Oxford then had to offer musically was the band which performed each Saturday night in the Union cellars, "The Dark Blues". Resident male vocalist and future satirist/thespian Doug Fisher (Keble) was not a patch on Bag. That said, Roger Bagshaw's duets with the Dark Blue's resident female vocalist Annabel Leventon (LMH) would have been music to my ears. If only.


* Gordon Hall (1956-62) adds: "There were two other guitarists on that day: Bob Hollands played lead guitar and I played rhythm guitar. The instrumentals we played were 'Perfidia' and 'Walk Don't Run' both by the Ventures. I can't remember Bag's encore, nor can I remember who played drums but I will contact Bob Hollands with whom I am still in touch and see if he knows."