Some recollections from Marcus Davidson CGS 1950 to 54
P-Q-R-S - the classes
of that 1950 intake sounding like those initials atop a Roman Legion's
My form, 1 R was located in, I believe, Room 5 with panoramic views across Orchard Lane to the boringly white tiled side of the Grand Hotel.
We were placed by name in alphabetical order starting from the back right hand corner of the room from right to left: Bacon, Bland, Barron, the Clark twins... It wasn't long before form master Bob Etchells proclaimed our uniqueness in having the good fortune to be selected for the city's only truly co-educational Grammar School where both sexes would pursue their academic lust in each other's direct company.
"The North of England doesn't house only men in just the same way as the South isn't purely occupied by women," he enlightened us, "so the sooner you come into contact with the opposite gender, the better equipped you'll be one day to join adult society." But such a progressive philosophy didn't extend to such social niceties as consuming lunch: strict gender apartheid there with only female prefects positioned at each table to enforce etiquette. By year two though, those matrons of decorum had disappeared leaving their former charges free to practice such elegant habits, while waiting for the meal to arrive, of giving the fork a good licking so that when the much coveted burned underside of a plate of mashed potato was passed along the line it could be stabbed in advance of its destination so that the intended recipient would decline the delicacy in the interests of personal hygiene.
The weekly excursions across the city centre to the YMCA's gymnasium saw the lines of two marshalled, in our case, by a rosy-cheeked youthful looking male I took to be a prefect. I saluted him smartly in playful obeisance, a tribute subtly ignored. It was only during the return hike that some considerate soul informed me he was actually a teacher, Mr. Fanthom.
Within a matter of weeks our marching orders received a change of direction - to the YWCA gym. We were to join "the ladies" for joint instruction in the art of terpsichorean finesse, a prelude to the impending Christmas party. An air of foreboding descended on the black-plimsolled reluctant young Astaires lining a wall facing another where nascent Ginger Rogers made no attempt to conceal their amusement. Sports master Derek Walker, supported by his opposite number Miss Toshack, ordered his apprehensive charges to "take a partner" but even three months of co-education had failed to eliminate that male "Them" and "Us" syndrome. No-one moved an inch.
A second exhortation couldn't breach the entrenched ranks. So removing his size 10 slipper and patting it gently against a hand, an unsympathetic Walker encouraged the unwilling to "take a partner now or be on the receiving end of this..." The line broke, hesitatingly. Nervous couplings were formed for that first waltz into close encounters with "the other kind." Eventually from slow waltz to foxtrot to quickstep, even square dancing.
That first year saw a couple of our biology lessons given over to chemistry master Mr "Buzz" Hum. He was to guide us through an initiation all about the "Birds and the Bees" so to speak. We sat in keen anticipation and he asked who in our number had received sex education from their parents. To my great surprise only three arms were raised: mine, Henry Hinchcliffe's and only one girl!
Our first year's integration concluded with all 120 of us split into two equal groups of sopranos and altos to sing Humperdinck's "Evening Prayer" from "Hansel & Gretel"..."When at night I go to sleep..." at Speech Day in the Victoria Hall.
That performance, which included the Third Year girls singing Hahn's "Si Mes Vers Avaient Des Ailes" and the wonderful Choral Society's rendition of Mascagni's "Easter Hymn" was recorded on to a 12" shellac 78rpm record. I have it and have transferred the three tracks to audio cassette tape. All was conducted by music master Edward "Bugs" Taylor who two years later was to instigate a mass detention, involving all Third Year boys, in the Chemistry lecture room.
Third Year boys were spared singing lessons with the girls because of "breaking" voices. So once a week we'd have to pile into that lecture room with it's tiered seats to listen to the BBC broadcasting some music related topic. They were not popular. One Jimmy Ewans, always full of jokes and the arch prankster, decided to sabotage one week's proceedings by inserting a wad of paper between the plug connecting the old wireless set to a lighting socket. So when the ageing receiver was switched on, not a sound emanated. Sixty-odd grinning faces watched the tutors' bafflement until the reason was finally discovered. Edward Taylor demanded the culprit be named. A non-compliant silence ensued. So he ordered a mass detention.
When it came, a stoic silence again prevailed - for at least 10 minutes until one of our number (I can remember who it was) named the hapless Ewans. The reviled "snitcher" was "sent to Coventry" for quite some time since everyone, except the staff, liked the irrepressible Ewans. He it was who cultivated the art of offering as many diverse responses at roll call that he could think of: from "S'me" to "That's ma' handle" to "Yep!" When answering a teacher's question to an entire class his would be the arm pumping the air continuously accompanied by cries for attention ranging from "Bwana!" to "Sahib!" and "Effendi!".
In those days our extra-curricular activities included such cultural pursuits as lunchtime battles between opposing sides entrenched behind the tiered seating of lecture rooms where the artillery pieces were strong elastic bands firing tightly folded paper missiles at any head peering over the parapet; adding a touch of colour to the aquarium in the Botany lab by emptying fountain pens into the water, to doctoring swiveling blackboards with messages to "Please Leave" on both sides with bogus teacher signatures for authentication.
It was as the third year's Christmas party approached when I had a "thing" about fun girl Norma Nutbrown. We were practising an Old Time dance both facing the same direction (similar to the beginning of a Gay Gordons) when passion surged and I was emboldened to give her a kiss: well actually a peck - on the back of her left hand as we danced the Maxina! Norma came with a friend to see one of my piano performances at the City Hall. While waiting to go on stage, in full evening dress with white tie and black tails before an audience of 2,500 during the annual "Starlets of the Steelopolis" show, I climbed up the stairs to the top balcony to find her, complete with caked-on make up - me not her!
"It was about this time that the CGS decided to stage a full-scale production of Benjamin Britten's 'Let's Make an Opera." It was a very unusual storyline, beginning as a contemporary play and then turning into a period costume musical about the exploits of a chimney sweep boy. Jack Morris (my year) was the blacked-up sweep ('Please don't send me up again, please don't send me up again...') with Latin Master Mr. Edgar Parsons playing his ruthless employer. Producer was Mr. Ernest Bailey, musical director, Mr. Edward Taylor.
Mr Fanthom and I had to perform an altercation which proceeded with him inviting the audience to sing along when the period costume part began. I can still see the venerable physics master Mr Harold Callister peering through heavy-rimmed spectacles at the libretto. He was a World War I veteran who, having served in the Durham Light Infantry, would always zoom down the school corridors at the rate of the Regiment's 105 paces a minute.
The lead singer, playing
a crusty old matron, was I believe, Audrey Graham. Her beautiful contralto
voice, trained and powerful, was awesome. Us youngsters had to hide
the terrified young sweep and Audrey's marvellously sung line of
'I'll hide him, I'll him, if once I lay my hands on him..!' still
rings in the ears more than half a century on. Also in the cast was
the extremely attractive 4th former Enid Hartle, a favourite of Mr Taylor
who chose her to sing the solo soprano in the Choral Society's performance
of 'The Easter Hymn" at the Victoria Hall in 1951. The most pleasurable
moments in the opera, for me, a precocious 1st former, were when that lovely
Ann Darwin and I had to hide under a sheet for several minutes. The twin
Andrew Clark also featured.
Finally, unforgettable moments in class. The wonderful Bob Etchell's English class where he's explaining how a Shakespearean soliloquy would sometimes be performed by an actor atop a ramp which protruded into the audience. "Oh, you mean like they did in that film 'The Al Johnson Story' " said one Hazel Wilson. "That's right," said Etchells adding sardonically "And I'll bet you remember the song he sang on it to that girl in the audience."
"April Showers" Hazel responded, completely unabashed.
Second year maths was hell - for male students. The tutor was the towering Irishman Mr. McMahon: get a vocally requested answer wrong and the chalk stick would come whizzing straight at you like some guided missile. Even worse was when he'd set complicated quadratic equation exercises. The aisles lined by un-Einstein brained 13-year- olds would keel inwards like the parting of the Red Sea as he slowly patrolled the walkways. You dreaded the awareness of him pausing to peer over your shoulder as, with sweating palm, you tentatively penned your next estimate. Then wallop! A swipe around the back of the head for making a mistake.
What a far cry from the acquiescent biology mistress Miss Connie Hutchinson. At the end of one period she informed us that our next appearance before her would be the study of human reproduction. But when the eagerly awaited appointed hour arrived, yet again the benches were laid out neatly with budding twigs and other unexciting botanical paraphernalia. 'But Miss,' complained an earnest Barry Ware, 'you said today we were going to learn about babies!' Smutty giggles all round. 'Yes Miss, you did' chorused the girls joining in with an air of affected disappointment. But we had to settle, once again, for the study of annual rings and other such un-risqué details of arboriculture.
Of all the cherished memories, the loveliest custom was at Christmas time, although the first occasion was something of a culture shock for the young lions after only three months of co-education. Some of the girls visited the little green grocers across Leopold Street in Orchard Street They returned brandishing small bunches of mistletoe, singling out the least adventurous of the short pants brigade for Yuletide humiliation.
History Master Withington asking Enid Hare why the Portuguese had to sail around the Cape of Good Hope to get to India. She answered confidently "Because the Turks wouldn't let them go through the Suez Canal, sir."
And while English master, Mr Horne, informed 4A we were "Rotten to the core..." Bob Etchells endeared himself to all he taught by bringing Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" to life in a way I never found anyone else could. I last met that wonderful man by chance when playing an evening cricket match. He was fielding at slip when I arrived at the crease. "So it's you!" he grinned. The first delivery I faced I swept with consummate ease to the fine leg boundary. "That's the stuff," he enthused "Show 'em what I taught you."
So with the very next delivery I pranced confidently down the wicket, executing an elegant on drive - only to miss the ball completely and be ingloriously stumped.
"Yes, those really were the days, my friends..." very happy days, many treasured memories.
Marcus R Davidson 1950
- 54 (transferred to Dronfield Henry Fanshawe Grammar school).