3 – My School Years : 1947-1957

Nigel Molesworth. My schoolboy hero, others prefered wimps like Jenning, Biggles etc. But not me, I did my best to emulate Molesworth as much as possible, which got me into an awful lot of trouble and resulted in some seriously bad reports.

rodbourn college
My first proper school was Rodbourne college, I was a ‘day boy’ as is was a bike ride away from The Cleeve, except when my parents were away house / pub / farm hunting, then I boarded, great fun.

I do not remember much about this place, I know I did not learn much academically.

Memories :-

Lying naked on the front lawn while the headmaster sprayed us with water from a garden hose, (it was the hot summer of 49), this stopped after two sessions. I guess some parents complained. Not mine, I never told them.

After the above practice ceased. The school being ordered to dig a large hole to form a swimming pool. Small and full of muddy water.

A boy being shot and blinded in one eye with an air rifle, accidently not intentionally.

Being caned for letting off bangers on 4th November outside the headmaster’s quarters. His father lay seriously ill inside. Not known to me, but known to the ones who supplied me with bangers and matches.

In 1950 my father was booted out of the RAF, he could have stayed if he dropped a rank and given a desk job. The war was over, another was not expected and the RAF was being thinned down, the ‘volunteers’ were the first to go. He could fly before joining the RAF which is why he was accepted as a volunteer. He was too old for active service, so was doing the work mentioned in 2 – Wiltshire Aged 7-10

RAF officers when they leave tend to buy a farm or pub. As father was not very good at getting up in the morning, he brought a pub. The Dartmoor Inn Hotel at Merrivale, located on the road between Princetown and Tavistock.

It was a great success as a pub and hotel, with a great reputation for good dining. A lot of the hotel guests being fly fishermen (only form of fishing permitted, in the rivers Walkham and Dart, the rest being walkers, when the red flags on the Great Mis Tor firing range were not flying. I upset the fishermen by bringing in loads of trout home compared with their meagre catch. I accused of using bait, I said no I was ‘tickling’ them, they thought I was taking the piss, but I wasn’t. I tried to sell my catch to the hotel cook though a third party, but was found out, it worked for a bit though.

Tickling Trout, could have been me, but my socks would have around my ankles An illustration from an Arthur Ransome book.

I enjoyed living on Dartmoor, loads to do. Christmas were particularly good, we were oversubscribed room wise, so we could pick who stayed. It was like a country house atmosphere, the bar stayed open, guests put money in the till. For most Christmas’s we were snowed in. We had no mains electricity, just a generator, the large paraffin fridge provided food for the local community. I think electricity arrived about 1952. We had a telephone, the number was Princetown 12. My mother ran the hotel up to 1957, my father having left earlier to teach Dartmouth Naval Cadets to fly chipmunks and then start up an airline with his new wife. He got a temporary job during this time, working for De Havilland writing the instruction manual for the twinseater Vampire, which included being shot out of the ejector seat.

The book he wrote about the airline he started up.

I had just graduated from Schweppes Ginger Beer to Bass’s Mild when it was sold.

Memories of my time at the Dartmoor Inn :-

One boxing day the guests got the champagne going. One retired army gentlemen Jack who walked to the pub every day across the moors with his dogs from Sampford Spiney and drank nothing but draught beer, was given a glass. I was about 13 at the time and sat on the barstool next to him and was unnoticeably disposing of his champagne. After a few glasses I got up to go to the toilet, “mummy I feel funny”. My mother gave Jack a filthy look, father looked and said, “the boy is pissed”.

My mother was given Marks and Spencer’s best nightdress as a Christmas present from one of the hotels chosen guests, (he owned St Michael). It did not fit, I was given money for a day out to Plymouth on the proviso I changed the nightdress. I was told by M&S that it could not be changed as it was a ‘second’. He was crossed off the invited guest list for subsequent Christmas’s.

Firing pellets from my bedroom window at the rear end of cute Dartmoor ponies whilst they were being stroked by tourists. The air rifle was a very low powered one. It just stung them a bit, causing them to bolt.

Collecting blank 303 cartridges from the Great Mis Tor range, for unauthorised use in school CCF rifles and the Bren. They never did find out where the blanks came from (stocks in the armoury were checked), that allowed the rifles to be fired during a parade.

Great Mis Tor

A school had to be found for me, it was decided I should be a boarder, out of the way, less trouble I assume. The local prep school (Mount House), in Tavistock had no space for another boarder and recommended Upcott House at Okehampton, which had fifty boys all boarders. So I went there and loved it. In the dormitory the first night, there was all these homesick kids, crying for their mummies, cats, dogs etc. I could not understand why.

Upcott House Prep School for Boys. Okehampton, Devon.

I got away with not doing too much there, until one Sunday service which was held in the gym where the organ was located. Trouble makers were put in the first row in front of the headmaster. We sung a hymn, the boy next to me nudged me to shut up, he said the headmaster was looking at me. Same thing happened for the next hymn. I ignored them a carried on singing. After the service I was called back into the gym, the headmaster and Mr Bradley were there. I was asked to sing the notes Mr Bradley played, then scales and a finally a verse from a hymn. In the meantime boys outside were listening expecting to hear me be ticked off for something, came in and stared unbelievably, I did a lot of singing and learning to read music after that, but not much academic work. I was always interested in music and appreciated it. To my family light music was Gilbert & Sullivan. Mr Bradley (my Mr Chips) helped me develop my love of music, having an enormous library in his room next door to my dormitory. One holiday the Halle Orchestra with Sir John Barbarolli were performing in Plymouth, I proudly took a copy of the programme to show Mr Bradley. He looked at it and said it was a bit difficult and could I understand it? I admitted that it was and that I only liked one piece, Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings.

He played it that night after lights were out. His door was open and volume was more than enough for me to hear it, I crept out and thanked him when it finished, he said, “for what”, with a smile on his face. I visited Mr Bradley regularly after I left Upcott. He had a serious injury in his foot caused by a German bullet in WW1. He never attended the remembrance Sunday service refusing to play the organ for it. He ranted on to us about, “they died to save our country, bullshit, they died because they were ordered to go to war, fight and get killed”. Not really sort of thing 8-13 Biggles reading boys, wanted to hear.

The headmaster of Upcott House had friends in the BBC, he arranged to have a service recorded for the Sunday evening religious programme. I did a solo verse, a record was made, my parents never brought a copy and I don’t think they even listened to the programme, I was ignored when I asked if they had. Singing was a no no, it was maths and other stuff that counted.

Memories of events with took place whilst I was there:-

1951 Festival of Britain, with the Skylon and Dome of Discovery, my Father and sister went, They brought me back a Slinky.

Everest was conquered, (we were frog marched down to the local cinema for a private viewing).

The King died, not quite as exciting as Everest.

Memories :
Being asked if I was a roundhead or cavalier, If I had understood the question, I would have probably freaked out. According to John Cleese’s autobiography, he was asked the same question, with the same reaction. So maybe it is a prep school thing. His was close to mine.

I left Upcott House after failing to pass the Common Entrance exam to the public school chosen for me. Being good as a chorister and being the best at throwing a cricket ball and javelin failed to help me get a place. What to do with me? Then a leaflet arrives at Upcott advertising a new public school in nearby Dorset. The headmaster filled in the application, sent it off telling me I would like it there as they had an abbey for me to sing in. I was accepted. I never saw the application form, but I am sure it bore no relation to my academic achievements or lack of them.

Milton Abbey School & the Abbey

I was one of the first intake of twenty-four boys at Milton Abbey School in 1954. We had the headmaster (the founder) and two masters. On arrival I explored the school buildings found most of the rooms to be empty, then the grounds. I was most interested in finding the swimming pool that was mentioned on the slip of paper that was the prospectus. It still wasn’t there when I left in 1957, I believe that they are one their second now. The building had a recent addition of a modern wing, where our bedrooms were located, we had our own rooms. The second morning the head master’s wife reprimanded me after inspection my room for making my bed without hospital corners. “What sort of prep school did I come from that does not teach boys how to make beds with hospital corners?”. I replied one where maids made the beds. Not a good start, as some of the twenty-four had come from a prep school she and her husband had founded.

I am the tall one

I kept quiet about my singing ability, as I had had enough of it and my voice had gone from treble to alto and I realised that would go soon and one boy, a cathedral chorister had a far better voice than me, so I felt that mine was not needed. I did enjoy singing quietly, in the eight times weekly high church services, conducted by The Reverend Headmaster.

The Abbey, I enjoyed this place.

I do not intend to go on to much about Milton Abbey, other than to say it has with the guidance of some excellent headmasters and governors, has developed into one of best schools in the UK. I enjoyed my stay there very much, I had a great time, however that was not the reason I was sent there.

Academically I did badly at school as I had ADD, (attention deficit disorder, ADHD without the H (hyperactivity), which was not recognised it those days, I could not concentrate in class and would be away in my dreams a few minutes after the class commenced, unless I was really interested in the subject. I was considered to be brainless and lazy. I did well at history which the headmaster took, they reckoned this was the reason I did well, it was not, the reason was is that he used a lot of movie and slides in his lessons, which kept my attention. I knew I wasn’t brainless, a few years previously, my prep school had a knockout chess competition, I could not play the game, but I wanted to enter, A friend could, so I got him to teach me the moves, within the week I had won the competition, much to everyones surprise and astonishment. It was decided that I was just lazy and inattentive as far as lessons went.

I have often wondered what happened to Bert and Fred. Bertie Boyland’s and my hand reared jackdaws, common birds so common names. Bertie’s father got free education for his son in exchange for sending one of his Caterpillars to flatten land to form a cricket pitch. Fred used to disrupt classes by tapping on my classroom window demanding entry. This happened my last term at Milton Abbey the last I saw of the pair, was playing on the lawn under a sprinkler. I left Fred there as we had dogs and cats at home and the Dorset countryside was better for a jackdaw than Dartmoor.

I do not intend to go on to much about Milton Abbey, other than to say the it has with the guidance of some excellent headmasters, developed into one of best schools in the UK.