Soham Grammarians - 2006 Reunion

Who booked for the 2006 Dinner

Chris Bent, our Reunion Dinner Coordinator, spoke of his pleasure at seeing new faces, which helped to keep the numbers up despite many of the regulars being away this year. He said that having carried on the good work done by Roger Lane he was looking to share the organisation of the 2007 dinner with someone, or a team, who would then take over for 2008 onwards. He felt that the 1965-72 generation in particular might be asked to step forward. The website continued to play an invaluable role in attracting new support and enabling many to keep in touch.

We remained indebted to Soham Village College for hosting us and in particular to Mrs Margaret Bryden and her catering and serving team of helpers and pupils.

Later in the evening bouquets were presented to the Guest of Honour, Dr Carin Taylor, Principal of Soham Village College, and Mrs Ann Jarman (née Ford), Mrs June Lawrance and Mrs Margaret Bryden. The pupil team came in to be thanked and receive the traditional collection made on their behalf.

Over the four Dinners Chris had wholly organised, he said the donations from those attending when making their bookings had enabled not only £700 to be passed to Soham Village College as a contribution towards the work of the Resource Centre, which is our ultimate Archive, but had also provided us with a handsome reserve of £250 for corrections and additions to the In Memoriam book. On top of this we had organised and funded the Edward Armitage Memorial Tree which was dedicated in 2004.

At the end of the evening Frank Haslam, website/database editor, thanked Chris for all his work to make our Dinners such a success and also thanked all those who make the website of continuing interest by contributing items, yet more of which he had received at the Dinner. He particularly asked that anyone who had recently got an email address or changed it should contact him, as email helped to keep down our costs.

Guest of Honour
Dr Carin Taylor BA PhD CertEd NPQH

Principal of Soham Village College from September 2006

It really is an absolute delight to be here. I have been trying to think when I have had an experience anything like this and I suspect I haven't; I thank you very much for your invitation. It is also a privilege to be here and in a sense to welcome you back to your home, to Beechurst Hall - I am not sure whether it is you welcoming me or me welcoming you, but we share the mutual pleasure and privilege of being here tonight.

As I understand it my remit is not to be entertaining. I want to say a few words about what hinges around about what turns out to be a Frequently Asked Question - "why did you come to Soham to be the Principal of Soham Village College?" Many of you are living locally and may have children or grandchildren going through the school and you already have a good idea as to why I wanted to come to Soham Village College.

Some time after Christmas of last year I saw the job advertised and sent off for the details. I'll let you into a secret which I am sure won't go any further than this (laughter), Soham was the first school that I looked at with a view to wondering where I'd like to be. I was by no means disposed to throw away a very nice job to come and work here. I have to say that Soham almost called me, summoned me. I was so impressed by the information that I was sent, absolutely delighted to see the environment. I have only been here six weeks, but I have been able to say to staff and students, just look around you, I mean this is a beautiful place. You can think of many other secondary schools up and down the country and you can celebrate the fact that this is a really very beautiful place in which to learn and in which to follow your education.

But the thing that really struck me about Soham and why it might suit me and I might suit it, because at the end of the day it is all about the match - was that Soham Village College seems to blend a very strong sense of tradition with a very keen interest in modernity and the twenty-first century. You might expect me to say that, but they hadn't told me anything about you at all - I didn't know you existed until this Summer! One of the great strengths of Soham Village College is that very strong, and these days quite exceptional, sense of its own history and its own identity. Meeting you all tonight I understand where the roots of that come from.

There are many impressive things about this school but to gather together about a hundred people like you on an October Saturday evening says a tremendous amount about the affection you still have, probably for one another and possibly for your schooldays, or maybe some strange combination … although I have met one person who said his days at school were less than happy!

Even within the Grammarians you do combine that sense of tradition with the great modernity of the website, which is an exceptionally good website and has done so much to keep you all in touch with school and with one another.

So I was attracted to Soham because of its tradition and its values and also because of its willingness to look to the future. Now you might be looking at me and wondering what on earth the governors here have done. They have certainly appointed someone who is going to be leading the school into the twenty-first century. I have been delighted by the warm welcome that I had here from parents, from governors, from staff and from the young people themselves who at the end of the day are what this is all about for us.

Alongside the warm welcome has been a huge quantity of cake. I have never been given so much cake anywhere else in my career, everywhere I walk someone is having a birthday and gives me some cake, often three times a week.

So apart from the cake, which obviously I didn’t know about, I know I am working with people who are really looking to the future, people who will take Soham Village College from its strengths to even greater strengths and really that’s my mission. You know we have the motto ‘excellence with care’ and I think if we strive for that excellence and we keep all that is good about the caring environment and the supportive environment that we have enjoyed here I think that we are going to make an even more fantastic college for the twenty-first century.

So I do thank you very much for giving me time this evening to respond to your warm welcome, which is like meeting a whole new set of relatives and is another part of my induction into life at Soham Village College. I have learned quite a few things tonight, like you don’t go home from a Grammarians’ Dinner hungry, do you? The other thing I have learnt, but I think ‘learnt’ might be a little bit strong, is that you have a school song (laughter), it is more than clear to me that many of you have never heard it before, let alone actually sung it. And so, taking my new responsibilities particularly seriously, I am going to take hold of the school song and for those of you able to join one another next year, I do promise you that we will find some way of actually working out what the music is and how it might possibly fit to the words (laughter). I do wish you a very good evening.

Rex Waller BA, Latin 1949-60

Thank you Chris, for inviting me. Those of you whom I taught will find this very familiar. For everyone else we are going to start with a bit of education - where’s Beman? I shall say ‘Salvete Omnes’ and you will individually reply ‘Salve Magister’ – come on, say it so I can hear you get it right … Thank you very much indeed.

(Holding up a sheet of notes). This is your passport. Elderly schoolmasters are invariably verbose.

When I went from here to Bruton, where I retired from, it was part and parcel of the duty of the deputy at the time to preach at the Sunday service. The first one that I did, I thought I’d better make a real fist of this. It was an absolute cracker and at the end of it the boss came up and said it was fine ‘but you did go on a bit’.

So what I thought I’d do this evening is just share one or two golden moments while I was here.

The very first time I spoke to any of the Old Boys was when I had been at Soham about two years. We were at The Lamb in Ely in those days. I was such a greenhorn, I thought I’d use some kind of metaphor about Old Boy societies, so I came up with re-tread tyres - always being renewed. Just as with an old boys group, unless you get new blokes in at the bottom we are all going to fall off the perch at the top. So I gave this talk at The Lamb. I was so green, it was the Ely Standard in those days: ‘Schoolmaster Accuses Boys of Being Old Crocks’.

I nearly didn’t end up here at all, this was the first job I applied for, I didn’t expect to get it. I came down and in my pocket was a return ticket to Manchester, where I was at the university, and fifteen shillings which in those days was quite a bit.

I was interviewed but what I didn’t realise was that in those days if you were not appointed then you got your expenses and ‘thank you very much, off you go home’. If you were appointed, you got nothing! Months later you’d get it back in your salary and so forth. So there was I, and it was very severe stuff in those days, there was none of this friendly business, the governors were opposed to you from the word go. Anyway I had to confess that if I were appointed, and had to stay the night (which had to be to get your qualifications dealt with), that I couldn’t afford to do it.

There was a deadly hush and then Jimmy Cornwell, he was the vice-chairman of the Governors … you may not know this, he was the ‘Fen Writer’, in the Second World War when young men from the Fens were called up, when they wrote to their parents, many of the parents couldn’t read and many certainly couldn’t write, and so in the more remote parts of the Fens somebody was employed to go round and to read the letter out to mother and father and to write the reply … anyway, there was this deafening silence and then Jim produced a battered purse. He said “Well gentlemen, I think we can extend to this young man twenty shillings to pay for his board and lodging.” Very reluctantly they agreed, and so I was appointed!

The other thing was this. I was absolutely delighted of course and I got digs arranged, with Mrs Thorby, just opposite the cemetery. I thought I’ll come down, trunk and everything, and be ready for the start of term. So I arrived with all my stuff but there was no reply at the door. I noticed there was a rather languid youth swinging on a gate on the other side of the road. It was Col Rouse [unfortunately he is on your list of those who have died]. Now Colin, who I got to know very well later on, was already at school here. I asked him if my landlady was likely to be back soon. "Yes" said Col "but not just yet". I said well I’m joining the school, can I leave my things there. Yes, he said, so we unloaded the car, everything, lock stock and barrel and paid the taxi. I thanked Col and said “Well I’ll be seeing you on Monday then”.

“No, sir” said Col “school starts in a week’s time!”

My mother seems to have known most of everybody up in the North where I came from. Her parents lived next door to an elderly gentleman and his wife. In actual fact he was the headmaster of the primary school that Edward Armitage had been to, up in North Yorkshire, they knew each other exceedingly well. My mother told me “I hope that when you arrive in Soham you will be particularly respectful to Mr Armitage, because we shall want to know”. But he was the Boss, how was I going to be anything except respectful!

E Armitage, he was exactly you saw, he was an absolutely first class headmaster and the great thing about him was that he was an innovator. If you wanted to do something, you could, but it was your head that was on the block. I always thought that was absolutely fine. He encouraged those who wanted to, to do things, to get on with it and make a success of it.

The other thing was that he was an amalgamator. We were very status conscious in the 1940s and when Edward Armitage came we had the old hard core at the top – Rhys Thomas – you will know Taff!, Johnson, George Hunt who looked after animal husbandry, CJ Ford and Tom Riley. They had been ruling the roost before, during and shortly after the war, they were the absolute ‘you move us at your peril’ (laughter).

At the bottom were greenhorns like Ted Quinn, myself and Leon Kitchen, we were all beginners, we knew nothing about the game. Then there were the middle passage, RA Taylor a delightful chap, Tabraham, and Foster – Foster was the only chap I ever knew who could teach French and smoke in the classroom (laughter). He used to teach in the old classrooms over there [where the huts were]. He was very popular because he would put somebody outside whose job it was, never mind about the French, to keep an eye on what was going on … in particular E Armitage Esq in his gown … dear old Foster was quite an adequate teacher but he was on the old Black Cat [cigarettes] all the time.

The amalgamator? It was that we all got on remarkably well. Status was very much the thing. While they were on the school premises we never used Christian names, it was always Riley and Thomas, Ford. While they were on the job they always used surnames. The only ones who were above it were RA Taylor’s sidekick George Phelps (laughter), the other one was Fred Hobbs, the chief caretaker, and the old gardener, Crick, do you remember him? – he only spoke to George Hunt and nobody else (laughter).

One afternoon, because I was keen as a gardener … old Crick, he wouldn’t tell you how he did things, but he’d show you what he did, anyway I happened to be around the greenhouse, which was down there in those days, I was outside there with Hobbs chatting one afternoon and the old Mercedes swept up. It was George Edwards who had just been appointed as Chief Education Officer. Now in those days the Chief Education Officer was really at the top, next to God. He had come to have a word with the Boss. He got out of the car and Fred Hobbs, he was one of the real [doff the cap] types, said “Welcome to Soham Grammar School, Mr Edwards. I’m Mr Hobbs, the Chief Caretaker” and then as an aside “Oh yes, and that’s Rex, he teaches Latin here.” (laughter) [Editor - Dick Bozeat told us a variation on this last year.]

The other thing about EA was his flexibility. Ted Quinn will know, EA could be a tough cookie when required. However, one afternoon I happened to be passing his office to go through the Conservatory, the door opened and there was EA “Come in, come in, come in”. So I went in and there was EA with his cane. In the desk there was a knee-hole and crouched in the knee-hole was a small boy – Mitton, Ian Mitton [on the night I believe I said Roger but I meant Ian, who later took parts in productions], crouched in fear. EA said “What shall I do?”

Somebody, I don’t know who, whose discipline wasn’t up to much, had sent him to EA to be given a couple, which wouldn’t do him any harm (laughter). While EA turned round to get his cane the lad had bolted into the knee-hole of the desk. Dear old EA was popping at him with the cane saying “come out, come out” (laughter). “What shall I do with him?” says EA, and then “Well, I’ll leave you to negotiate with him.”

In any other school he’d have got in, grabbed him out and beaten the daylight out of him. EA went out and I was left with young Mitton. I told him “if you come out and Mr Armitage accepts that you won’t get into trouble again, will that do?” And that’s what happened. He told Mitton “Provided this doesn’t happen again, let that be the end of the story” he opened the door and out shot Mitton. You can’t conceive of it happening at another school at that time, which is why he was an absolute gem to be head teacher.

You might remember we had a games day in January, it was a Wednesday, it was an absolute pig, the weather was absolutely appalling. We didn’t have a proper gym then. So what were we to do? EA said “get them into the hall and leave it to me”, so that’s what we did, myself, Taff Thomas and Peter Taylor. They were all sitting down in the old Conservatory which was our hall in those days. EA sits down at the piano and he starts playing a few popular tunes of the time, and he carries on and in next to no time we got through the afternoon. He ended up playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and it had all been taken in. Now if they had been told what was going to happen instead of playing games, they wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with it. They were captivated by this and I thought if ever I have to deal with this sort of thing that’s what I should want to do. Which is why in many respects EA was a very, very special schoolmaster.

Now then, I was married and we had a flat in the vicarage, it has been sold since. The Rector of the time, dear old Canon P Boughey, was also a governor of the school. When we got married, he offered us this flat. His father, General Tom Boughey had fought in the Zulu War. Percy had drawn the short straw, not the Army but the Church. He was an absolutely marvellous chap, but he believed in disasters!

When we moved in I had been married a fortnight. There we were, very quiet one evening when there was a banging at the door. It was the Canon. “Everybody out, everybody out, we are about to explode!” The thing was that the Rectory had this enormous coke boiler. So we got out and there we were on the front lawn, myself, my wife, Mrs Boughey, a few people who were in the house and the rectory staff, all in the freezing cold, waiting for this thing to happen. But it didn’t, nothing happened. So the Canon says to me “come here, I’ll just get my stick”. We went down into the very bottom of the Rectory and there is this enormous boiler with the dial well into the red and old Boughey’s saying “you see, look how it is”, pointing with his stick. When his stick touched the dial, the needle quickly went back to normal!

Another night, it must have been 3am, another knocking at the door and there’s the Canon “Come at once, bring your stick, we have Bandits!” We go down to the church and there is something, a flickering red glow in the windows and we crept up. “Go in” says the Canon, so I opened the church door. Absolute silence. We were prepared to repel boarders. But there in the vestry was the electric fire. The old man had left it on!

The third thing (laughter) – well you should have lived with the Bougheys – we were just about to go to bed when he pops up and says “put your top coat on and grab a stick”. With the old Canon you didn’t query, you went. So off we went to a cottage down on Quy Fen or somewhere. When we got there he told me “hold your stick up and stand over here.” I didn’t have the foggiest idea what was going on. What I heard subsequently was the chap inside had just been released from Cambridge for wife-beating. Boughey had gone in and told him “see that man outside, he’s an ex-Commando (laughter) and if there’s one more complaint about you, he’ll beat the living daylights out of you!”
If it weren’t true it would be barmy.

We were putting on the first musicals after the war. It was going to be a bit of a push, when you do Gilbert & Sullivan you need a chorus line and how are you going to persuade boys to put skirts on? Well there was an absolute stroke of luck. John ‘Will’ Royston was the school goalkeeper and was as rough and tough as they came. He happened to be in my Sixth Form Latin group, there were only three of them (laughter). I had him over the back of a barrel, right? I persuaded him to take a female role, Little Buttercup, in Pinafore [1954]. Once he did that then small persons were willing to come forward to take the other female roles.

Here [in this hall] is where we twice came close to disaster. When this hall was inaugurated, the first production we did in here was The Gondoliers [in 1958]. The first three nights went like a bomb. Then comes the last night. As Producer I was standing in the wings watching. There is a delightful little dance and the Duke of Plaza-Toro has the Duchess on one hand and his daughter on the other. I noticed that his trousers were coming down and I was praying like billy-oh that there was a pair of underpants underneath! (laughter). Now he can’t do anything because he has his hands up in the air with these ladies in the dance. The only thing I could do was to gesture to the other side of the stage - Can We Get The Curtain Down? Well, it won’t work properly. So there we are, the curtain won’t work, trousers coming down. Fortunately all is well and just before disaster strikes, we get through.

The other near disaster in this hall was when the Old Boys Society need to raise some funds and wanted to put on a play, which we did. It was Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Niggers [1959]. There was one member of the cast Harold Papworth, he was the oldest Old Boy of the time and he played the villain. Dear old Harold began to live the role. We did three nights. At the end of the play the villain is grappling with the hero, who was played by Lionel Fleet. Harold was so absorbed he was actually throttling Lionel. We were sitting here enjoying it, it was very realistic. Anyway, unknown to us, but for the fact that Harold (who was rather portly) had slipped, there could have been murder actually committed on this stage.

I’ll shut up in a minute.

In the old hall, the Conservatory, there wasn’t any back-stage. There were the lovely steps at the back and when we did The Pirates [1957], I was watching it from there and it was going like a bomb. There was someone else standing next to me. He said “how do you think it’s going, sir?”. Just at that point there seemed to be something of a hiatus and all of a sudden he said “Oh, it’s me!” He was the Pirate King, he should have been on stage!

One other thing. We did a play with the staff. Now, you all remember old Stuart Saunders, we were doing Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers, and Stuart, who did a bit of Latin and a bit of RI was an absolutely marvellous actor, except
(a) he wasn’t very good at learning his lines
and (b) he liked to pop into the lav before going on stage.

Dear old Stuart was absolutely perfect so what we decided to do was to paste his lines on bits of scenery so that all he had to do was to walk from one to the other, and there he’d be. It worked, he was word perfect. But what we had to do in those days was to take the scenery down each evening so that the place could be used as an Assembly Hall the next morning, E Armitage laid that down. But Saturdays another gang came and put the scenery up. And so on the Saturday performance we started, but they hadn’t got the scenery up in the right order and dear old Stuart – why bother to learn your lines when they are provided for you – when he went to the first bit of scenery, his words were from the last act, not the first. Somehow or other we managed to get through! The funny thing was that on the way home, on the news, it was the 9 o’clock news, Dorothy L Sayers had died!

I reckon that’s about it.

Ah, just one thing (laughter). A friend of mine, he’s a vicar, and he got landed with a parish with the usual overheads, you know, the roof’s leaking and so on. How was he going to raise the money? He tried all the usual things. So he waited until Harvest Festival, when the church would be comparatively full. He preached the usual sermon, including that the church wanted everybody to help. He finished by saying that if there was anybody who was willing to donate £100 would they now stand up? The organist played the National Anthem!

Quite seriously now, this is the third reunion I have been to in the last fortnight and by a street you are the best attended and the most vibrant of the three. I think that is a tribute to all the heads all the way through from old Le Maitre who you wouldn’t know, to this charming Principal who is a tremendous improvement (laughter) and to fellow members of staff some of whom are here tonight – where’s the tallest man in the world? [Dick Bozeat] and to you, yourselves.

Can I stop now?

Some 2006 Reunion Dinner photos

Please rectify any missing or incorrect IDs. Name and entry year are shown

L-R: Mrs June Lawrance - Dr Carin Taylor - Chris Bent - Mr Rex Waller ...

... Mrs Ann Jarman (née Ford) - Mr Ted Quinn - Mr Gordon Hemmings - Michael Baldwin 58 - Philip Bignell 51

L-R: Gordon Hemmings (English 58-66), Michael Baldwin 58, Nigel Faben 59

Trevor Smith 61 and Nigel Faben 59 examining the Sports Cups

L-R: Michael Baldwin 58 - Philip Bignell 51 - Ken Ellingham 51

L-R: John Taylor 43 - Ken Ellingham 51 (standing) - Rex Lane 43 -
Roger Wright 48

L-R: Gerald Gillett 51 - Michael Barningham 60 (from Mexico) - Geoff Griggs 60

Geoff Rouse 56 front left, deep in conversation with, among others, a stripey Tim Boyden 58

L-R: Dink Palmer 37 - George Dann 33 -
Mike Goodchild 51 - Tim Dickinson 50 - Brian Thorby 49 - Ted Stanley 49

L-R: Tony Willenbruch 62 -Mr Dick Bozeat - Ralph Czumaj 54 (from Warsaw)

Mr Gordon Hemmings

Spring Vegetable Soup, or Charlie Ford's Egg Mayonnaise
Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pudding
Selection of Seasonal Vegetables

Brenda's Treacle Pudding & Custard, or Fruit Salad

Bish's Cheese Board

Coffee & Mints

Wine available at the Bar

Toast : HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN (Chris Bent, vice Arnold Tomalin MBE)

Guest of Honour: Dr Carin Taylor
Speaker: Mr Rex Waller

Toast: ABSENT FRIENDS (George Dann)

last updated 23 Oct 2009
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