Many thanks to Paul Richards, now residing in Australia for his excellent memories at Xaverian and St Anne’s Prep. If there is anyone else out there who has memories to add, email me at bcweb01@billbl
I was there from 1956-63, when Bro. David (rather unkindly known as ‘Chimp’) was headmaster– he twice administered 6 of the best to my rear end, and judging by the fearsome look on his face at the time, he thoroughly enjoyed it! Then Bro. Cyril became head for my last 2 years – although I had met him at St Anne’s Prep School where he taught maths.
Now much as we all admired Bro. Cyril as headmaster, I have one memory from St Anne’s that may show him in a slightly different light. If he thought he did not have your undivided attention, he had the habit of waving one of those 12” wooden rulers to and fro horizontally such that the ruler made contact with the tip of your nose on each of its swings, all the while speaking to you in that quiet voice – which, more often than not, served to claim your attention.
Despite thus tantalising my nose on more than one occasion he was kind enough to make me Cuthbert’s House captain when I was in the 6th form at the College, an onerous responsibility for the shy/retiring sort I was then.
As far as the teachers are concerned, I remember them thus:
Bro. Aidan – PE (or was it Bro. Adrian?) Most of us used to hate PE, especially trying to climb up those hanging ropes. He also used to send us on runs around Victoria Park. I wasn’t the only one who took short cuts and then simulated heavy breathing on re-entering the gym to give the impression of dedicated and honest athletic toil.
Bro. Pius: spoke with decidedly plummy tones – I recall once, on his entry to a rather hot and stuffy class room, he declaimed in a booming voice: “There’s a distinct smell of boy in here”.
Bro. Gerald: I can’t remember what he taught but recall him murmuring approvingly “Well played, Richards” after I’d scored 75 in a cricket House match.
Mr. Connolly: English. Tall, imposing bloke, wasn’t he?
We had a visiting American brother, whose name escapes me, but in typical American fashion would regularly set us short tests on the subject matter. Whenever the fatal words “I have prepared a series of questions” were uttered by him, a collective groan arose from the class.
‘Chuck’ Sellars, our music teacher: We had classes in a ground floor room in Marylands, overlooking the lawn. We did a lot of singing and he arranged the class according to voice i.e. sopranos, tenors, bass etc. In my first lesson I was in the sopranos and, about 8 bars into the first song, his ears seemed to prick up and he stopped playing the piano. Looking in my direction, he said “Richards, move to the tenors”. That sore throat I’d had wasn’t the onset of a cold but was my voice breaking. He also came for lessons at St Anne’s where we sung lots of jolly Cecil Sharp-type folk songs – “The Lincolnshire Poacher” sticks in my mind for some reason.
‘Lippy’ Marsden, chemistry: he had a speech impediment caused by a protruding lower lip and was unable to pronounce his Rs. There was much unkind sniggering when he spoke about “copper pywites”.
Dapper ‘Dan’ Mallan, history: a popular teacher whose life was tragically cut short.
‘Tom’ Arkless, maths: irascible, and I never really liked the way he taught maths. He paced across the front of class, hands grasped behind his back, dictating geometry theorems and algebraic solutions. It was all a bit too ‘learn by rote’.
‘Jock’ Burns, physics: He frightened me to death. Enough said.
‘Larry’ Halstead, French: I remember his waspish, sarcastic comments. He was once the target of an air pistol shot from the upstairs window of the 6th Form building (Sunbury) – which fortunately missed. He threw me out of his French class for incompetence (probably why I recall his acerbic comments.). [The air pistol shooting incident I have mentioned elsewhere. This account varies from what my brother Bernard Cummings told me and illustrates how easily events can be changed over the years. According to Bernard, the shooter was stood next to him in assembly and caught Mr Halstead in the back of the neck. Alas, Bernard passed away in 2013 so I can’t cross check if my memory of what he told me is faulty. if anyone else has a perspective on this I would love to hear it. BC]
Mr Dever, history and British Government: my favourite teacher who treated 6th formers as adults and soon-to-be University attendees, and always made his lessons involving and interesting.
Mr ‘Underpants’ (I know, not very original was it?) Underwood, Eng Lit: another favourite teacher who illuminated Alexander Pope, John Milton and William Gibbon. One lunchtime, with English as the first post-lunch lesson, someone thought it would be a wizard wheeze to write “Fartbreak Hotel” on the blackboard. ‘Undies’ was not amused when he entered the class and proceeded to make us feel very small with a brilliantly judged tirade against childishness (correctly so, especiauncturelly for so-called adults!)
Mr ‘Pug’ Diamond, Latin and RE: he was regularly distraught and practically in tears over our murdering of his beloved Virgil. I presume it was an RE lesson when I received the only ‘official’ sex education at Xavs from ‘Pug’, when, forewarning us of the perils of the Sodom and Gomorrah which awaited us at Manchester University Union, he came out with the immortal line: “Beware of the men with the little rubber bags (!)” He used to enjoy pointing out that my name – Paulus – was Latin for ‘little fellow’ (I’m only 5′ 7″) [I was never taught by Pug Diamond but another of my brother’s stories was that he once dragged a boy out of his class onto the fire escape, still sat in his desk. Apparently the dinner time venue of choice was The Clarence which is quite probably a curry restaurant now – I will check the next time I am in the vicinity of Wilmslow Road. BC]
We had woodwork lessons in a room above the cricket pavilion – I can’t recall the teacher’s name [Mr Swallow? I think the building referred to was once a racquets court from what I remember my father telling me. BC]- but he continually bemoaned our inability to perfectly reproduce the mortice-tenon and tongue-groove joints he demonstrated for us.
(From St Anne’s I also remember Mr Curtis, a ginger headed and bearded art teacher – and a crack shot with a piece of chalk if he caught you giving less than 100% attention.) [Yes, Mr Curtis – ‘Redbeard’ – used to set a test for new boys to see if they had artistic potential. Failure to produce a Rembrandt or similar meant woodwork instead – I inevitably ended up making a bad job of the aforementioned mortice-tenon joints BC]
We also had a Tuck shop, situated in the back yard behind Marylands – a big favourite was baked beans in a balm cake. I think the Tuck Shop was discontinued.
Some contemporaries I remember – John Heffernan, Tony Keigher, Tony Blackburn, Tony O’Malley (a lot of Tonys), Gerald Higginbottom, Kelvin Humphries, Tony Conduit, Kenneth Lee, Philip O’Grady (a seriously mad fellow – yes, it was he who – allegedly – was in command of the aforementioned air pistol which discharged in the direction of ‘Larry’ Halstead, and who also took delight in igniting the gas outlets in the chemistry lab – without attaching any Bunsen burners – thus causing a roaring flame to shoot horizontally across the lab bench) , Michael Denton, David Howell, Charlie Lomas, John Kind, David Ansbro, Roger Macnaughton, Peter Quinn and Kevin Skerrit. [I remember Peter Quinn – I think he went on to be head boy. I remember he used to go to Old Trafford for net practice which I thought very impressive at the time. David Ansbro – another head boy? BC ]
Now Kevin Skerrit had a unique talent – he could make brilliant farting noises – dry ones and wet ones – with his hands. This intrigued me no end and I practiced endlessly until I was almost, but not quite, his equal – at the cost of seriously aching finger/hand joints and hours of unfulfilled frustration. It’s a skill that I still sometimes exercise on special occasions. But Kevin – he was definitely The Man when it came to hand farts. He had blonde hair and a rather pale complexion (hence his ‘Milky’ nickname.) He also had long, thin fingers, undoubtedly adapted under evolutionary pressure for maximum hand farting prowess.
Ward hall lunches – what can you say? I wish Jamie Oliver had been around then to put pressure on the cooking staff. My memory is of greasy, fatty stew, over cooked chips and veg and ‘sweets’ which included rhubarb and custard, tapioca and the aptly named rock cakes. The main utility of the latter was to serve as a missile when the not infrequent ‘bombing’ missions broke out amongst the various tables of lunch attendees. And I remember the fish cakes and the ever-present odour of burnt chip fat.
One day that will stay with me forever was that of the Munich disaster. The sense of shock and incredulity in the school yard was palpable as people drifted into school that the morning. I have been a lifelong City supporter but there was no division that day.
Memories, memories… and I haven’t mentioned the hours spent at Central Ref, studying and being incredibly cool with the girls from Loreto and The Hollies in the basement coffee bar, and enjoying a pint or two – on breaks from the Ref – at Willoughby’s just off St Peter’s Square, and buying my first ‘proper’ bike from Johnnie Berry’s cycle shop on Wilmslow Road, and wondering innocently what it was like inside the reputedly decadent Temperance Billiard Hall, and playing “shuffle table tennis” at lunchtime, using textbooks as bats … etc., etc.
Regards from Down Under