Category Archives: The High School

What’s the School Play this year? (3)

In the late 1930s came four plays which more or less enshrined the High School’s “Golden Age of Female Impersonation”. The first of the four was put on in 1936. It was that well-known Shakespeare rib-tickler, “Twelfth Night”. Here is the full cast:

And here is a smaller selection, although, strangely, I can’t find every single one of them in the previous photograph:

They all look pretty good, more or less, at least until you manage to see them in close up. This young man will die in the outskirts of Dunkirk 1n 1940. He has only four years left of his young life. He has such a strange expression on his face. If I didn’t know better, I would say he was well aware of his imminent demise. Or perhaps it’s the famous “thousand yard stare”. Here’s the actor:

And here’s the “thousand yard stare”:

This pious “young lady” (below) will be one of the two hundred or more parachute troops who were drowned when their gliders crashed into the sea during Operation Husky, the disastrous attempt to invade Sicily with airborne forces. Does that knowledge that he has only seven short years to live show on his face, too?

In 1937 the School Play was “The Fourth Wall”, a detective story in three acts by A.A. Milne. It was a marvellous opportunity  to get your hands stuck into a pair of plus fours made from the R101 (left leg) and the Hindenburg (right leg).

And just look at that wonderful dress on the right. It’s so frothy, so summery, so YOU !  Warm evenings in August or even September. Perhaps good for dancing. Perhaps even a Charleston or ten.

And this time, they actually want you to wear it. Your Dad won’t go crazy and offer to lend you his jodhpurs. And for the first time ever, your sister will want to borrow one of your dresses.  

And just ;look at the seductive whites of that pretty young man’s eyes. And those cheekbones. Somebody out there really knows how to give make-up some “oooomph!” :

 

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What’s the School Play this year? (2)

Last time we had a brief look at The Dramatic Society’s production of Aristophanes’ “The Frogs” in 1924. Just look at those beards. And is one boy in the centre of the back row wearing a white burqa?:

Seven years later, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, February 23rd, 24th and 25th 1931, the School Play had been “She stoops to conquer”. Here is the cast who contain, perhaps, a few more convincing women than is usually the case. This is because, I suspect, the Dramatic Society were being forced to use many more young boys, not least because the School’s Sixth Form was much, much smaller  during the 1930s than it was to become, say, in the 1960s:

Any proceeds from the play, after the deduction of expenses, were used to help finance the Dame Agnes Lads’ Club in Norton Street in Radford.

Another popular School Play around this time was “The Rope”. Looking at the photograph below, it seems to have starred Borat and his balding brother. On a more serious note, the young “lady” on the left, within five or six years, will be killed trying to slow down the German advance towards Dunkirk:

This young man, Alfred Warren, was, in  actual fact, a most accomplished female impersonator. His first ever role was as Anna Waleska in “Andrew Applejohn’s Adventure”. Witness his review in the School Magazine:

“The School stage has rarely been graced by a more charmingly seductive figure than Anna Waleska. His performance was astonishingly good, especially when one remembers that it was his first appearance. He contrived to give to his impersonation just the right shade of exotic fascination, and if his accent was neither Russian nor Portuguese, it had at least a foreign quality and was sufficiently intriguing. This young man betrayed a knowledge of feminine wiles amazing in one so young, the manipulation of his eyebrows alone being worthy of a Dietrich. One can hardly blame Ambrose for becoming as wax in the hands of such a siren.”

Two years later, in GB Shaw’s “Captain Brassbound’s Conversion”, the School Magazine said:

“The presentation this term was an act more daring than any of its predecessors. There was only one person fitted for the: “prodigious task of portraying so gracious a personage as Lady Cicely. His voice, now at breaking point, just suited her position as mistress of Brassbound’s crew: his seductive manner fitted the beguiler of a dozen men. His part did not allow him this year the opportunity to display those feminine wiles of which, as Anna Waleska, he had shown himself so complete a master, but his expression, now wheedling, now indifferent, was no less successful in enticing the unfortunate victim into her trap. He perhaps tended to overdo that half crouching feline posture which he so often employed against Brassbound. Nevertheless, clad in exquisite garments, which must have cost the society a small fortune, he contrived to overcome the artificialities and discrepancies of Lady Ciceley’s rôle, and for that achievement alone he deserves high praise.”

The young man would not carry forward his talents into the worlds of either stage or screen. He will be killed “somewhere along a canal” near the village of Oostduinkerke, trying to slow down the German advance towards Dunkirk. Not every soldier with the British Expeditionary Force had a free trip back to Blighty:

 

 

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What’s the School Play this year? (1)

A high proportion of secondary schools in England put on an annual school play, and the High School, even back in the 1920s, was no exception. In the distant past, I have paraphrased the main problem faced by those who sought to put on a School Play, years before things changed for ever in the 1970s:

“The Dramatic Society would put on an annual play, usually, a classic, although not always by Shakespeare. The problem was that Nottingham High School was for boys only, and, in the words of the School Magazine: “The Dramatic Society has always hesitated to produce a modern play because of the difficulty of satisfactorily filling the female parts. Twentieth Century dress does not lend itself so well to the purpose of transformation as do Elizabethan and Georgian costumes”.

I also pointed out that even with the classics, the problems may only just be beginning. This photograph by the Reverend Stephens is from a post-war School Play, and shows one of the leading characters. The Reverend captioned it “Williams”, and, poor lad, Williams could almost stand there and represent fifty years’ worth of completely insoluble difficulties with School Plays. No matter how well he learns his lines, young Williams cannot change the size of his hands or the size of his feet or the firmness of his jaw-line:

Similar problems occurred in the same era with “The Rivals”. This was in 1953. Here is Miss Lydia Languish. Better hands, admittedly, (except for the knuckles) but that’s not a woman’s nose :

Here is Miss Julia Melville, perhaps the best so far:

And here is the famous Mrs Malaprop. Did you spot my malapropism in the previous post about Junior Plays?

What you can’t miss is that great wide barrel chest, ever ready to control a hard driven football. And look at that chin and that nose.  Those hands and those knuckles.

Things were no different by 1962 when Gogol’s “Government Inspector” came to call. Messrs Boyden and Taylor, try as they might, were still two strapping great lads, whether Russian Woman 1 was standing and Russian Woman 2 was sitting down :

Or whether Russian Woman 2 was standing and Russian Woman 1 was sitting down:

And just why does he/she have a table tennis bat? Both pictures, incidentally, come from the Reverend Stephens.

Just as a taster for next time, let’s think about some of the other problems faced by the School’s Dramatic Society. As we have seen, there were no girls from Nottingham Girls’ High School to play the female parts but, on occasion,  even the props and costumes could be rather unimpressive.

This is a very poor reproduction, by myself, of the School’s 1924 production of Aristophanes’ side splitter, “The Frogs”. I would contend that they should have called it “The Beards”. Or it could have been read out merely as “Black Beards 6 White Beards 2″. And while you’re trying to find all eight, don’t miss the two boys who are having to hold their badly behaved beards in place with their hands:

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In the Steps of the Valiant (Volume One)

Three months or so have passed by since I first published “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”, which was the story of the lives and deaths of 23 of the 120 or so men who were educated at Nottingham High School and who subsequently sacrificed their lives for us all in the Second World War. Also included is one young man who was killed in the early 1950s in the RAF.

So far, I am afraid, sales have been really quite disappointing. I have no real idea why this should be the case. The book is of a length commensurate with the price. The number of words holds up well alongside, say, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, “The Two Towers”, “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Emma”.

The book is priced at £18 and is more or less entirely my original research. And what better things could you get for £18? Two cinema seats. A bottle of “Graham’s 10-Year-Old Tawny Port”. You could buy a Venus Fly Trap. Or a glasses case with your name on it. Or enough wildflower seeds to plant three square metres. You could buy some Miracle berry tablets. The tablets last for about an hour and alter your taste buds so that anything sour tastes sweet.

Perhaps the book is being perceived as being limited to only one town or city. I don’t know, but I had hoped that people would realise that Nottingham stands here for any British town of similar size.

What is much more important though, much more important than sales alone, is that my original research has now been completed and that we now have a much longer list of war casualties than was previously the case. In the immediate aftermath of the end of hostilities in 1945-1946, the High School thought that 82 of its former pupils had perished in the war. My researches have extended that number to 121 men whose lives and deaths have been investigated and will now never be forgotten. I have also found five deaths in the early 1950s. Once they have been unearthed and brought out into the light, they will never be lost again. And people will have a chance to read something about the lives of these brave men and to see what they did for us all.

In the First Volume, the men featured are Alfred Highfield Warren, Bruce Arthur Richardson, Sidney Moger Saxton, Edwin Thomas Banks, Francis Nairn Baird, Clifford Frank Shearn, John Edwin Armitage, Wilfrid Henry Vivian Richiardi, Ian Mactaggart MacKirdy, John Harold Gilbert Walker, Robert Renwick Jackson, Howard Rolleston Simmonds, Charles Davy Hudson, Alfred Tregear Chenhalls, Walter Raymond Julyan Hoyte, Paul Wilson Cherry, Warren Herbert Cheale, Philip Bonnington Smith, Anthony Bertram Lloyd, Philip Mackenzie Britton, Richard Christopher Sowerbutts, William Roy Llewellyn, Keith Henry Whitson and John Jeffrey Catlin.

Here are just a few of them. This is Tony Lloyd of the Parachute Regiment:

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This is Keith Whitson:

And  John Harold Gilbert Walker, Spitfire pilot:

And Alfred Chenhalls:

And Edwin Banks and his aircraft, a Gloster Gladiator:

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And Robert Renwick Jackson and his all-black Douglas Boston:

Their brave deaths spanned a whole world. Killed in a Dakota over the Bay of Biscay. Killed in a Bomber Command aircraft over Germany. Killed by the Blitz in Leicester. Killed in North Africa fighting on foot. Killed fighting to seize a bridge in Sicily. Killed fighting to seize a bridge too far in the Netherlands. Killed by exposure during the summer in an unenclosed RAF dinghy in the English Channel. Killed in the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia. Killed crashing a Gloster Gladiator in Greece. Lost for ever in the trackless snowy Canadian wastes. Killed crashing a Fleet Air Arm fighter into the warm waters off Trincomalee.

Here’s that link:

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“Of course, we were much younger then” (2)

This is a second series of photographs taken by the Reverend Charles H Stephens. They portray some of the actors in the Junior Plays during the academic year 1976-1977. All of them were in Form 2L. What is most striking is how the actors have begged, stolen or borrowed, items from ordinary life and then, by putting them all together, have created a character for their own particular Junior Play.

The first picture shows the actors in a drama whose plot I cannot begin to imagine. It must surely involve a huge admirer of Harpo Marx, whose hobbies include cross dressing in those night dresses you get in the Hammer Horror films of the period. Just to prove the point, on the right is a sinister Christopher Lee type figure, presumably waiting patiently for a cup of luke warm blood from the demented waiter in the middle:

Picture Two shows the Exorcist in the middle, apparently wearing some of the Reverend’s robes that had shrunk in the wash and were therefore surplice to requirements. The little boy on the left clearly has completely the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the rule that “Junior Plays are not performed in School Uniform”. Just taking your tie out of your jacket will not be enough. And on the right, the happy little chap who won the North of England “Neat shirt sleeve folding” competition for the next fourteen years running:

The third photograph shows a capacity for violence compatible perhaps with “Straw Dogs” or “Clockwork Orange”, two films of the time. On the left is the little boy who had clearly decided that the winner of the Junior Plays will be decided not by the judging panel nor the Ballot Box but by the Armalite. In the middle is the representative of the Metropolitan Police, looking a little morose, perhaps, but with his plastic policeman’s helmet, just like you get in toy shops, jauntily on the back of his head:

The boy on the right looks rather sad too. The police had promised to help him find, and then recover, his trousers. Still, that dress is rather nice and compliments perfectly his top garment, whatever it may be. A housecoat? Or the “Something more comfortable” that dubious young women with dyed blonde hair are keen to get into?

Next is the Junior Play set at Woodstock with three classic haircuts, two state of the art guitars and one army surplus coat in two extra small. Note the camouflaged ex-US Army cap that fishermen wear and always cover with lots of badges. Note, too, the denim waistcoat complete with war surplus sew-on USAAF wings:

The final photograph shows the final three actors. On the right is the cowboy, whose costume is the easiest of the lot. A pair of jeans, a heavy, thick shirt, your Dad’s fishing hat and your little brother’s cap gun. And in the middle, somebody to whom you’d really have to pose that embarrassing question “And who are you meant to be, sonny?”. Well, he has made a fair attempt at reconstructing the beret of the Parachute Regiment, but the shirt and the trousers are a strange combination. Note the snake belt fastening, incidentally, which was then compulsory for all small boys to wear at least once before they reached the age of fourteen. On the left, he must surely be something Arabian, but exactly what I am not so sure. He has his mum’s tea towel over his head, held on with elastic, and a pair of wide, flared, bell-bottomed trousers which belong to his sister. Presumably his mother hasn’t noticed her missing Laura Ashley curtains in the third bedroom. Let’s hope too that that is a plastic scimitar and that the bra-like garment over his shirt has not been borrowed from his sister:

Next time, we’ll look at some of the School Plays over the years.

They laboured under a terrible handicap, which is clearly stated in the School Magazine:

“After the First World War, the Dramatic Society would put on an annual play for their parents and their siblings and friends to come and see. Usually, it was a classic, although not always by Shakespeare. The problem was that the School was for boys only and, in the words of the School Magazine: “The Dramatic Society has always hesitated to produce a modern play because of the difficulty of finding boys capable of filling the female parts. Twentieth Century dress does not lend itself so well to the purpose of transformation as do Elizabethan and Georgian costumes”.

 

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“Of course, we were much younger then” (1)

The Reverend Charles H Stephens, as we have seen before on numerous occasions, was a very keen and excellent photographer, as well as a teacher of Geography and a Minister of the Church. He has left to us a great many photographs of the ordinary moments of school life at Nottingham High School between 1945-1978.

These first few are of the Junior Plays, but date from the late 1950s. Junior Plays were prepared and rehearsed in English lessons, and then put on in the Hall, say, with the rest of the year watching. The very best of the plays might then be watched by pupils from other years.

Here is a photograph by the Reverend called “R Williams & Junior Plays”:

I cropped the photograph to produce this one of Mr Williams, looking for all the world like an earnest disciple of Jean-Paul Sartre. I think wearing pullovers like that must have been compulsory until at least 1962:

The first actors captured by the Reverend are some of the members of Form 2K in “Island of Doom”. The photograph was taken in 1958:

The following year, the Reverend took this picture of the preparation for another round of Junior Plays. The Masters are labelled as Mr RWilliams (1956-1962), Mr CN Lammiman (1957-1962) and Mr BE Towers (1945-1964). I’m afraid that I know very little of any of them. In 1964, I  was still in my first year at secondary school:

This photograph presumably dates from around the same time. It is entitled “Unknown actors near E5”:

I have not written a great deal about Junior Plays in my various publications. I do know, however, that in 1964, 2L put on the very successful “The True Story of Good King Wenceslas”. This was in the same year as the first ever Old Folk’s Christmas Party.

In 1972, five Junior Plays were put on in the Founder Hall. 3A1 produced an “offbeat version of the Robin Hood legend”, 2A1 managed an “ingenious insight into the life behind cave paintings”, and 3B2 offered “Carry on Chaucer!” The theme of 1L’s play was “a serious one”, although the title has not survived. The competition was eventually won by Mr SG Nash (1970-1974) and 1H, with their unforgettable “The Gong Wong Ruby”. They received the Bryden Trophy.

On a warm July evening in 1975, four Junior Plays took place. They were “Charlotte’s Web” performed by 1M and masterminded by Mr R Stirrup (1968-1980), a modernised version of “The Kraken” by 2AL, aided by Mr G Powell (1974-1977), “Dillisclondes Saga” from Mr CJP Smith (1974-1992) and 3BT, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by 3BS and Mr JM Royston (1972-1975). The eventual winner was “Liang and the Magic Brush” from Mr PE Norris (1970-1975) and 1K, a traditional Chinese folk story, specially written for this occasion.

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My New Book

We have just finished publishing my new book about the High School’s casualties in WW2. Here is the front cover:

And here is the blurb from the back cover:

In the Footsteps of the Valiant: The Lives and Deaths of the Forgotten Heroes of Nottingham High School (Vol.1).

This is the first volume of a series detailing the Old Nottinghamians of all ages who sacrificed their lives in the cause of freedom during the Second World War. After nearly five years of ground breaking research, I have been able to add at least forty new names to the official casualty list. I have also uncovered details of the fates of almost all of these hundred and twenty casualties wherever they died, from Saskatchewan to Iran.

This is not, however, a book just about death. I also tell the stories of their lives: their families, where they used to live and their years at school with Masters very different from those of today. You will discover their boyhood hobbies and their sporting triumphs, where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. Most of all, you will find all the details of the conflicts they fought in and how they met their deaths, the details of which were completely unknown until I carried out my groundbreaking research. And all this is spiced with countless tales of the living Nottingham of yesteryear, a city so different from that of today.

No tale is left untold. No anecdote ignored.

Now available for purchase through Lulu.com:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-knifton/in-the-footsteps-of-the-valiant-the-lives-and-deaths-of-the-forgotten-heroes-of-nottingham-high-school-volume-one/paperback/product-24309191.html

The book has 348 pages and is 24 x 19 cms in size (9½ inches x 7½ inches). Any profits will go to ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and the RAF Benevolent Fund.

The title refers to “the Valiant” because for the last hundred years or so, the hymn sung in the very first assembly of the school year is that old favourite, “He who would valiant be”. The hymn was the only one ever written by John Bunyan, the author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. Here are the words of the three verses. They don’t write them like that any more:

“He who would valiant be ‘gainst all disaster
Let him in constancy follow the Master
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim

Who so beset him round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound – his strength the more is
No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight
He will make good his right to be a pilgrim

Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit
We know we at the end, shall life inherit
Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say
I’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim”

Here’s the video:

Apparently the boys back in the 1920s wanted to sing the original unexpurgated John Bunyan version, but were not allowed to. Verse 3 lines 1 and 2 used to be:

“Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend,

Can daunt his spirit “

Verse 2 lines 5 and 6 used to be equally exciting with:

“No lion can him fright,

He’ll with a giant fight,”

You can read all about it here.

This hymn has nowadays become the Battle Hymn of the SAS.

One Old Nottinghamian was killed fighting with the SAS in the Mediterranean theatre. Another died at Arnhem:

And another in Iran:

Another in Burma:

Another in Egypt:

In Leicester:

In Greece:

And in Saskatchewan, Canada:

And now, after nearly five years of completely original and ground breaking research, at least forty new names can now be added to the old list of eighty.

And the hitherto unknown details of the fates of almost all of these hundred and twenty casualties have been discovered.

The full story is available here.

 

 

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