Category Archives: Writing

“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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What would you do ? (2) The Solution

Here’s the emergency from last time:

And here’s the situation:

The proverbial has hit the fan. A deep, fast flowing river. A rally car in mid air, about to plunge into its surging, ice-cold waters.

So, not a good situation. The water will easily submerge the car, but the water pressure on the doors will be too strong for the men to open them. How will they escape?

And page 2 says that the solution is:

“Your first reaction might be to keep the water out. But this would be fatal. You would quickly use up the oxygen inside the car and suffocate. The only solution is to take a deep breath, wind down the windows to allow the water in, so that the pressure of the water inside will be almost equal to that of the water outside. Then the doors can be opened for you to escape.”

Just don’t try any of this in an Austin Allegro, though, because the percentage rates of success in the “Window Lowering” section of this “Star Car of 1975 Competition” were actually very low. After all, Merseyside Police were officially ordered by the Chief Constable never to jack the car up because the car’s chassis would immediately be twisted and permanently deformed by the vehicle’s weight.

Don’t try it in a car with electric windows either. Presumably in a top of the range luxury saloon, you will all die.

In the comic’s illustration of the “Dilly of a Pickle”, the car looks like an ordinary Ford Cortina, but is probably not. In the 1960s, there was a very popular racing and rallying variant of the Cortina, fitted with a Cosworth engine, called a “Lotus Cortina”. It was usually white with a green stripe and a Lotus Badge on the rear wing:

The smug car behind, driven by Dick Dastardly, is a very popular and successful rallying car, the Saab 96, the model used by the Number One Man, Swede Eric Carlsson. Here he is, one of the absolute masters of the commute to work:

 

 

 

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What would you do ? (2) The Puzzle

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

So, not a good situation. A deep, fast flowing river. The water will easily submerge the car, but the water pressure on the doors will be too strong for the men to open them. How will they escape?

 

 

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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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What would you do ? (1) The Solution

Here’s the emergency from last time:

And here’s the situation:

The canoe’s occupants were threatened with a capsize. There were more crocodiles in the water, there was no time to use the rifle and there was a clear need to act fast.

And page 2 says that the solution is:

“The expert hunters have an immediate answer. They cover the crocodile’s eyes. Immediately the monster stops threshing. When a crocodile cannot see, it becomes docile. And then the net can be put round its body to prevent it escaping.”

And that solution is absolutely right. My Dad had a pet blind crocodile for years and he never ate anybody. Well, not completely anyway. And the crocodile was even better behaved.

And finally, always have something big enough to wrap round a big crocodile if you come across one:

 

 

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What would you do ? (1) The Puzzle

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963, priced sixpence in pre-decimal money, two and a half pence in today’s money. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964. Here is the Eagle for that very same day. It seems to have swallowed “Boys’ World” without even noticing:

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the great man:

Here’s the front cover with the situation for “What would you do ?”

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section. Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

The monster crocodile has escaped and is thrashing about in the boat. The canoe’s occupants are threatened therefore with a capsize. There are more crocs in the water and there’s no time to use the rifle. There is, though, a clear need to act fast.

Both the picture of the situation and the yellow box can also be enlarged with a double click. I’ll be telling you the answer on December 5th. First prize is a chance to spend an evening Crocodile Rocking with Elton John, second prize is a stuffed thirteen foot crocodile and third prize is a thirteen foot crocodile which is not stuffed.

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The problems with researching World War Two (3)

Last time I was talking about the difficulties faced by the researcher trying to link a High School boy with a war casualty, in the absence of any details to prove that link.

Let’s move on, though, to some even more complex examples. We all know this rhyme:

“This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none and this little piggy cried wee wee wee wee all the way home.”

Can you pick out which one is which in this slideshow?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Well, how many little piggies were involved? And which jobs could have been done by the same, single, pig?

Let’s take it one stage further.

What is the minimum number of little piggies required to satisfy the rhyme?

And what is the maximum number of little piggies possible to satisfy the rhyme?

Let’s look at the maximum possible first. We begin with two little piggies, one to go to market (TLP-1) and one not to (TLP-2). TLP-2 stays at home, worried that he has agoraphobia. And then there is TLP-3 who gorged himself on roast beef in a fast-food restaurant in Texas. TLP-4 was worried that the meat was not beef but pork, so he did not eat any. His friend, TLP-5, was so upset by the idea of porcine cannibalism being broached that he ran home as fast as his little legs would carry him. So the answer is FIVE.

In the minimalist world, TLP-1 and TLP-2 are mutually exclusive, so they are both needed. In other words, you cannot go to market and stay home as well.

But it’s perfectly possible to go to market (TLP-1) and to have roast beef when you get there (TLP-3).

And it is equally possible that a little piggy could stay at home (TLP-2) and then prefer to watch television and eat ice cream and chocolate rather than consume roast beef (TLP-4). That means that TLP-1 and TLP-2 can easily cover the workload of TLP-3 and TLP-4. What about TLP-5? Do we need a third small porcine individual just to run home? Of course not. When TLP-1 has finished his work as TLP-3, he can return to base as TLP-5. So all that work, but, in actual fact, only TWO pigs are needed to do it.

When you are a little more experienced, you should try looking at the other possibilities. Could “The Three Little Pigs” have been hired for the job? And what about four?

And my point is? Well, if you are investigating William Brown, Boy No 3553, you may have to look at which William Brown could have been in a certain place at a certain time, and which William Brown could not. Your carefully planned series of events may come crashing down to earth when you realise that your Private Brown has been killed in Libya but buried in Burma. And William Brown is a nightmare name anyway, with any solution highly unlikely.  Boy No 3553 might well have grown up to be Able Seaman Brown (D/JX169407), but then again, he might have become Flight Sergeant Brown (R/111993) or Gunner Brown (1443935) or Lance Corporal Brown (3770585) of the Royal Irish Fusiliers or Stoker 1st Class Brown (D/KX 88989) or Ordinary Signalman Brown (D/JX 269496) or Stoker 1st Class Brown (D/KX 165881) or Corporal Brown (532583) of the Royal Air Force or Gunner Brown (1721406) or Private Brown (13000452) of the Pioneer Corps or Private Brown (7262686 of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

The unusual nature of somebody’s name is a reasonable indicator of a link but it should not really be the only evidence presented. Boy No 5168 was William Henry Goodwin which I thought would be an unusual enough name to link the little boy with any war casualty of that name who might turn up on the CWGC list. In actual fact, just to disprove the point, I managed to find two different William Henry Goodwins, neither of whom attended the High School.
The first one was wounded in Libya in North Africa but he lived to tell the tale (WHG-1). The second one was on a different list because he was killed in North Africa. He is buried in the Alexandria War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt (WHG-2). Which one was Boy No 5168? Was it just one of them?
Or was it both of them, as WHG-1 was first wounded in Libya, and then, as WHG-2, a few months later in a second incident, was hit a second time by machine gun fire, killed, and then buried in Egypt?

Or was it neither of them, because there were actually three individuals? One was wounded in Libya (WHG-1), one was killed in Egypt (WHG-2) and one stayed at home and spent the whole of the Second World War managing a fish and chip shop in Basford so that he never turned up in military records (WHG-3).

Supporting details are absolutely crucial.

Let’s continue with the WHG-community as an example. Simple question. Can we be certain that WHG-1 and WHG-2 and WHG-3 are all different people without supporting details? And contrariwise, can we be certain that they are all the same person without supporting details? Well, in a word. NO. We can’t. In fact, we can’t be certain of anything.

That’s why we examined those little pigs. In the WHG-community, at least one person has to go to North Africa and if he does, then he can be killed but he can’t spend all six years of the conflict in Basford managing his chip shop. Even if he does change his name to Billy to avoid military service:

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