CLARENCE HELLIWELL, the art and woodwork teacher, was probably the member of staff who amused us most and the one we found the easiest to imitate. He was rather below average height with a good shock of hair and an untidy ginger moustache. He smoked a pipe. It was rumoured that he grew his own tobacco. In any case, it had a strong, unpleasant smell. Boys also said that he had fought in North Africa as a 'Desert Rat'.
He was a hopeless teacher. In fact he very rarely taught us at all in the usual sense of the word. One lesson, which we heard at least twice, was about perspective. For this he used an old picture frame with a cracked glass. He told us, 'At times an old picture frame can be quite handy to have around, for instance for explaining what is meant by the term 'Perspective'.' Chris Wragg recalls one of these lessons when he was suddenly awoken from his daydreams by Clarence pointing his T-square at him and asking, 'You, boy, tell me, What is the picture plane?' This completely stumped Chris. The answer is, as Clarence had no doubt just been explaining, 'The picture plane is a vertical plane at right angles to the field of vision', and thanks to Clarence's forceful personality this definition will be indelibly imprinted on Chris's memory until his dying day. The only other lessons I can remember were on 'how to prepare a piece of wood', 'how to make a mortise and tenon joint' (which I don't think we were allowed to make ourselves!) and on 'the parts of a plane'. He used to get us to recite the first of these at the beginning of woodwork lessons. 'Choose a piece of wood, Plane one face, Put a face mark on it, Plane one edge, Put an edge mark on it, Gauge for thickness, Plane to thickness, Gauge for length, Saw to length.' As far as I remember he never explained the reason for this order. The names of the parts of a plane gave him an excuse for 'T-squaring' (i.e. hitting you on the bottom with his T-square) anyone who accidentally dropped a plane. He used to explain that we must not ill-treat a plane, 'for a plane has a soul/sole'. Now and again Clarence would become aware of one or more of us imitating his voice, cough or mannerisms. On these occasions he never showed great annoyance, but used to tell us that we had broken the eleventh Commandment, 'Thou shalt not mock the Art Master!'
The Art Room was on the top corridor, next to Nick's room 63 (although mercifully Nick had retired by the time we reached the Senior School). Most of the time we would be drawing and painting at our desks whilst Clarence was absorbed by his own painting at one end of the room. At one time he was doing a copy of a Picasso picture of a mother and child. Later on, when we were in the Sixth Form, we tried to convince him that he had missed out part of the mother's arm. Perhaps Picasso had made this omission too. In any case, Clarence told us that such details don't matter to the true artist. Another picture was an outside view of the school. At that time, after finishing his meal in the dining hall, Clarence would appear on the School Close and set up his easel. He became so absorbed in the creative process that he didn't mind a crowd of boys watching him. Similarly in the classroom he was often not aware of a queue of boys standing behind him waiting to show him their pictures, despite their coughing to draw his attention. There was a particular 'Clarence cough' which we used to do. When we had finished our pictures we had to show them to Clarence to be marked out of 10. Then he would give us paper to start our next picture. As far as I know, we were never, except in Art exams, given any guidance about what to draw or paint. Parfitt once did a painting of Goofy. Clarence did not recognise it, and Parfitt had to explain that Goofy was a Walt Disney character. 'So this is Walt Disney's latest,' Clarence mused. 'I used to love Donald Duck when I was young. (Pause) Next time, produce something original, please.' At the end of the lesson Clarence would often not hear the bell and had to be told that it had rung. Occasionally he did come out of his creative trance and realise that we were not as silent as he expected us to be. On such occasions he would say in a loud authoritative voice, 'Step out the boy who is talking!' I can't remember anyone actually 'stepping out', but it probably encouraged us to be quieter for a time. When the bell went for the end of the last period in the afternoon we often made such a disturbance that Clarence would not let us go immediately. Instead he would say, 'Before you can go I want silence I can cut with a knife'. He would then sit on a desk-top in front of us looking at us with a half smile on his face. This made us collapse one by one into such helpless laughter that it was quite a time before he would allow us to leave.
Clarence made no attempt to learn our names. Somehow or other he remembered Guenault (pronounced Gayno), and he knew R.M. (Roger) Walker, because he was clearly a gifted artist. A pen and ink picture that Roger had produced in an art exam was reproduced in the School Magazine. Clarence once told Roger, 'One day, Walker, you could become a great artist!'
At the end of term Clarence used to read to us. It was always one of two texts. One was a story which seemed devoid of plot, but Clarence said that it had been written by a creative artist, not a painter, but a painter in words. It began: The white man turned in his canoe and saw the silvery purple of the lagoon ‑. The other began: When a baby is born it makes a tiny humming sound. This is the baby's first contribution to art. ...Later on the child reaches the mud-pie stage. It has now become a sculptor, ....
The Woodwork Room was at one end of the first storey. (It was later made into the Library.) Here Clarence had his stock of wood and tools. There were also doors in various stages of construction leaning against the wall. These were thought to be what Clarence was making for a rundown cottage that he had bought near Retford or Worksop. Perhaps because of this, or maybe it was simply because of the shortage of timber after the War, Clarence was very loth to allow us wood to make the ashtrays or model boats which we wanted to make. First of all we had to produce a scale drawing of what we wanted to make, and this had to be approved by Clarence before we were allowed to choose a piece of wood. Again, this piece of wood had to be approved by Clarence before we could start to 'plane one face, etc.' I think that most of our projects never got past the design stage. Clarence clearly didn't enjoy 'teaching' us woodwork. Occasionally he would say, 'I don't know why I spend my time teaching you boys woodwork when I could be earning thousands of pounds a year painting masterpieces!'
After two years, when we reached the Fourth Form, we stopped having weekly art and woodwork lessons with Clarence. This was in order that we could start our third foreign language. Our next regular lessons with Clarence were during part of our time in the Sixth Form. This seemed to be part of a General Studies course. We no longer had to draw and paint. Instead Clarence used an epidiascope to show us masterpieces by great artists of the past. He drew our attention to the techniques employed by these artists e.g. how Rembrandt used a palette knife for applying paint quickly to his last paintings, as well as to details of the paintings ('What magnificent chiaroscuro!' or 'What splendid breasts that lady has! Not the miserable protuberances which go by that name today!'). He enthused over the name of Rembrandt's wife, Sakia, and told us that he had called his second daughter after her. He claimed that he could actually smell the soup in one of Daumier's drawings, and hear the splendid music of the lady playing a cello in one of the masterpieces. When he reached Picasso he found it more difficult to convince us of the value of what he was showing us. Someone produced an abstract drawing called 'Female figure' from a magazine and asked Clarence how it deserved that name. After some thought Clarence said, 'Perhaps if it had been this shape (and he drew the outlines of a woman's body in the air with his fingers) you would have understood it better. But you must admit that there is something beautifully feminine about this shape.' We agreed, but then Clarence said, 'How naive and inexperienced you are! You don't know what a minx a woman can be!' At the end of the course Clarence set us to write an essay on what insights we had gained from his lessons. I remember doing this work, but we never got our essays back.
Years later I read Clarence's obituary in the AHA (Assistant Masters' Association) journal. It seemed to have been written by a KES master. At end of the obituary the writer claimed that Clarence had been 'both a gifted artist and a fine teacher'.
See also Mr. C. HELLIWELL, A.R.C.A.