Prizes, Pranks and Punishments 1950s RLS Style

By Leon Metcalfe

During Daphne’s and my period of 1952–57, under the jurisdiction and tutelage of George Embleton, and the attempted secondary education of us, among others, the offerings in the title were abundant. As in the Scouts and Guides movements, you could work for and win armfuls of all sorts of physical and academic rewards and kudos.

On the physical side, I managed to earn and receive my cricket and rugby colours, but wasn’t allowed to remain at the RLS, regretfully, to attempt to achieve the Victor Ludorum, and was the wrong sex to achieve the Victrix Ludorum (which I am sure I would have stood a better chance of winning!). These two individual trophies were presented to the most able specimens of point-earning in traditional and field events gathered up to and including Sports Day. The latter was an annual event held on Buckingham Town’s Cricket Club ground (at the end of the Summer Term), and was the year’s climax. It followed the ‘build-up’ events such as the long jump, which took place in the gap between the school’s only tennis court and Chandos Road, when the school was housed on the old site.

Somewhat earlier than that, again for individual and House points to be awarded for Denton, Stratton and Newton (these will be recognised as founders of the school) was the cross-country run. This has received much coverage in Latin Life. Nevertheless, however tempting it was on the return leg to enter the rail station, cross the footbridge and exit out on to Chandos Road, and the milk factory, I don’t recall anyone attempting it. I’m sure many would have thought of it!

The cross-country was very much the demesne of the ‘chaps’, since the girls being ‘feminine’, were in those days considered far too genteel to perspire and sweat their way round the course. ‘Sweat’ was something ladies and ‘gals’ didn’t prescribe to then!

Like me, Daphne won her colours for both summer and winter sports – tennis and hockey, but outdid me by gathering a cluster of academic prizes in the form of books suitably encrusted with the school crest on the cover and a book plate inside depicting the ‘glories earned and awarded’. We still have them, as she worked hard, deserved and was awarded them, to be presented to her on ‘Founders’ Day’ and therefore are treasured.

I worked hard one year in the hope that I would receive the ‘Well, he did his best’ – Effort Prize. I wasn’t rewarded with it so dropped out of the competition again (I’m sure there is a moral there somewhere!). However, I continued in most academic subjects to finish each year in the top half-dozen, or so my annual reports seem to indicate!

The Cheeseman Elocution prize was awarded annually to each form to compete for and Mrs Capel (Lottie) had the unenviable task of trying to persuade the various Bucks yokels with, in my case, Yorkshire-via-London accents, to put their embarrassing selves forward.  For the ‘Love of Lottie,’ I offered myself on occasions! The ‘pressed-men’ , unless ‘in with a shout’, regretted it and still had to commit to memory a favourite poem acceptable to the adjudicating panel, and alternatives such as ‘Nellie the Cripple’ or ‘The boy stood on the burning deck picking but . . .’ (but we’ll draw a veil over that) were best left behind on the rugby coach returning after victories! More to the adjudicators’ liking were poems such as ‘Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright’ or Walter de la Mare’s ‘Silver’. Many a time and oft have these been shyly mumbled!

Enough, for now, of the formalities of ‘Life at the Latin’, and let’s have a look at fun time, the practical jokes and ‘gallows’ humour that was part and parcel of the ‘relaxed’, less pompous side of the RLS in the 50’s -out of uniform and into clown’s garb!

Before stepping out of uniform (no, stop it, you mustn’t peak), it must be noted, for historical accuracy, that all first form boys wore short grey trousers, however tall you were, and Geoff Harris and I were the tallest in September 1951 (but I was one of the shortest in our form by 1957.)  Obviously the compost I got myself into could not have been as enriching as my contemporaries.

As far as the girls were concerned, they were kitted out in navy-blue gym slips and white blouses for winter, while summer saw them in red and white striped gingham dresses of longish length (certainly well over the knee with red cardigans, if needed, with white ankle socks.

One handy tip for us flannelled fifties, when we eventually progressed ‘up the school’ and long trousers became ‘de rigueur’, was how to keep the knife sharp creases looking their best.  My mum, who had been in the clothing-manufacturing trade in London before the age of Terylene and other artificial fabrics, used to get me soaping (with a tablet of soap) the inside of the creases.  They were then ironed, (pressed – is the technical term) the soap embedding itself into the weave of the material and ‘bingo’, creases to wonder and amaze the onlooker! They lasted for about half a day, but you did have clean knees, though this may have had an effect on rheumatism in later like!

Finally to top it all off, the boys wore caps and the girls their red berets (ready for all forms of combat SAS style).  A very daring raid took place on the school bus between Buckingham and Padbury one return trip from school.  My ‘beloved’ crested cap was victim of a stealth and snatch raid when Daphne audaciously robbed me of it, smuggled it to a willing colleague who departed the bus at Padbury. A counter attack ensued and Daphne’s red beret disappeared out of the bus window as we travellers left the village for Adstock! Subsequently my cap was retrieved, Daphne’s beret was not, and the consequence was I was caned by Mr Embleton and honour was satisfied all round! Incidentally I think that was the last caning I received at the Latin School for George soon disposed of my presence at the RLS.

Another piece of bus-related activity occurred on arrival at the foot of the school drive one very cold and frosty morning. As the pupils were alighting some, the likes of Bill Small and Chris Dickins, began making faces in fun at me who was still seated near the front of the bus. To startle them I feigned a punch in their direction which travelled too far and so fast that it smashed the window!  For this, although perhaps I should have been, I was not caned. The bus monitor saw no tom-foolery so rightly reported the facts and, although I was the guilty party, insufficient evidence saw me go scott free and no canes were involved!

The school bus continued to play a major role in our travelling lives and the interest we gleaned from it. For example, one winter the Padbury Brook between Bent Hill and Padbury flooded its valley, overswept the bridge and much caution had to be exercised by the driver to negotiate us and his bus safely through it.

One ‘historical’ piece of the coach ride home was the Adstock turn where there was originally a ford. Later in life the stream was piped and concreted over. Pity really as fords are very rare these days but always fun to drive through.

Now to a very dissimilar occasion, further along the route beyond the Adstock turn area nearer to Addington when, as one of the front seat passengers, I was surprised and a bit bewildered to see the bus’s nearside front wheel travelling along the road in front of us – it having become detached from the brake drum and wheel nuts on the hub! The driver braked, the bus stopped, and no harm was done. We all had a laugh, but then had a long wait for replacement transport to collect us to make a late delivery to Winslow and beyond.

On transport it must be related that Brian Jenkins (Jenks) and I used to take it in turns to cycle from Winslow to the RLS.  We were both excellent cyclists and frequently beat the bus in either direction

Moving away from transport and on to the more aesthetic academic life of the School but retaining the fun and frolic atmosphere, we began, when we became more relaxed in his presence, during our first year, to test out our music teacher, Bryn Evans‘s knowledge of musical instruments – ancient and modern. It so happened that, for passing the 11+, one among us was given a multi-thousand page encyclopaedic dictionary, which was found to be ‘strong on illustrations and information on multifarious musical instruments’. The lesson delay plot was to plant instrument information on the form members, so that enquiring questions could be asked.  Bryn was never found wanting for a correct response and description, but unfortunately these, although musically academic in nature, were ‘off’ mainstream curriculum.  As a consequence Bryn soon twigged what we were up to and gently put us down. Fun was had by all – which was always Bryn’s teaching philosophy, bless him.

A very wondrous occasion took place on a November grey and grizzly day when the Oxford versus Cambridge Varsity rugby match was due to be played It had become a tradition (all of two/three years standing!) that a trip to Twickers would be arranged for the rugby players among us to have a day out and to see how the game should be played. Suddenly, however, with no reason given, the trip was cancelled. There was much grumbling and moaning in the ranks of the deprived and a decision was made by a number of miscreants to ‘stay home and watch it on the tele’. This was done, not the same atmosphere and camaraderie was generated and the teams for once were wearing grey and darker grey kit respectively (B/W TV!). Needless to say, the following day the ‘naughty ones’ were picked out for some choice words from our footballing teacher, Mr Embleton and, as a punishment, each of us was ‘rusticated’ for all of one day. So another day off – legitimately this time – was taken and the punishment accepted to a man!

It is perhaps worthy of note that in the early days of the Silverstone Racing Circuit and the Formula One racers (Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart et al), George ‘the head’ Embleton, during the Friday prior to the race, decided to take a trip to the circuit where, not only did he find the stars whizzing round the circuit, but also in the presence of a couple of his senior pupils! No report of the punishment for these miscreants has ever been published!

Other trips which were organised and not cancelled were a study holiday in Paris, a 6th Form Geography Field study to the Lake District, taking in the Atomic Energy Plant built in that region, and a pupil exchange for a smaller group, where RLS pupils were matched with ‘socially and academically suitable’ young people in Sweden.  An exchange, a month in the UK followed by a month in Sweden, was the plan. Sufficient RLS students were desirous of the scheme and signed up for it. My mum and dad were eager that I should have this opportunity to make the exchange and we were all carried forward on a crest of goodwill, interest and excitement. To allow me this opportunity was quite a financial sacrifice for my parents and, when we welcomed Bengt, our Swedish teenage guest, we all wondered if we had made a good decision.

I won’t itemise many of his ‘fun’ activities as you, the reader may become too excited at the limits the Swede attempted to achieve. First a little cameo profile of how socio/educational well-balanced the two families were, bearing in mind that life in the UK in 1954 was still struggling less than ten years after World War Two, whereas the last Swedish ‘war’ was versus Norway in 1814 (we had a two year war against them in 1810 – 1812!). Bengt, my Swedish ‘friend’, was 16 and I was 14, his family, mum, dad and sister, had a winter apartment of vast proportion in Malmo and a summer residence, a detached house in its own grounds, on the coast north of the city. It was complete with its own yacht in the marina, plus, of course, a modern Opal saloon car! My dad, mum and I lived in a council house and dad cycled from Swanbourne to Aylesbury daily to carry out his shoe repairing trade. For weekends he used his 1934 Austin Ruby saloon with a broken and boarded-up near side rear window!

Bengt came along to school with me since he arrived before the end of our summer term and left his mark , literally, as he inscribed his name using his diamond ring on one of the front central windows of the Chandos Road School building.  For all I know it may well still be there if the windows have not been changed since.

To provide a ‘flavour of England’ we drove Bengt up to York for a stay, but throughout the journey he refused to look out of the car windows (and he was sitting on the unbroken glass side!).  He travelled the whole journey with his head under his jacket! However, he came to life when we arrived at our destination, my Aunty Maude’s Victorian terraced, two bed roomed house backing on to the City’s bus depot.  The house had, of course, outside facilities!  After unpacking, Bengt was nowhere to be seen.  The panic began when his disappearance was discovered and it was only reduced when, an hour or so later, the ‘escapee’ was eventually located inside the Odeon Cinema chatting-up an usherette and with his arm around her.

My parents requested a meeting with the teacher organiser, Mr Archer, and were reassured when he said that he would keep in touch with me throughout my stay in Bengt’s family home.  He didn’t as he was in Stockholm, 380 miles from Malmo, and the telephone never rang for me!  Fortunately the Lungrams were lovely people and welcomed me into the family, including granddad, who had an apartment in Malmo where he lived with his cat who was a prodigious leaper. Granddad would stand at one end of his sitting room and throw long looping papier-mache balls towards the cat who leapt, twisted and invariably caught the ‘missile’ in his front claws as the next one was thrown! Mrs Lungram spoke no English but despite this we enjoyed each others’ company through gesticulation, pidgin phrases and laughter!

As an aside between school organised trips, Chris Dickens and I, one summer holiday, made a ‘historic ride’ (not quite like Dick Turpin and Black Bess) on our bikes to my home city of York.  We covered the slightly extended distance of 220 miles in less than 24 hours, including a short, but quite cold, snooze in a ditch somewhere near the area known as the Dukeries, so called because in past times so many Dukes did actually build their mansions in the area. Naturally we had been building up our cycling fitness during weekends throughout the previous term.  After spending a week in York with my Aunty Maude we made the return trip again by bicycle.

Daphne had a Geography School trip up to the north-west of England, Cumbria, to study the physical aspects of the subject – ribbon lake formations, hanging-valleys, arretes and the like.  They also had a visit to Calder Hall, one of the very first atomic power stations.  It later became know as Sellafield. This was another of Mr Archer’s arranged and organised school visits.  The most exciting part of the trip was a visit, not then open to the public, to Ingleborough Cavern, where they had to crawl while holding lighted candles to see the route ahead.  I don’t think a Health and Safety check was  required in those ‘prehistoric’ days when visiting caves and caverns!

Returning to another school study trip, this one not organised by the ubiquitous Mr Archer but by the wonderful, kind and thoughtful Miss Fox, backed up by another member of the mathematics department, Mr Robinson.  We were ‘housed’ in a Parisian school building the Lycee Janson de Sailly, while the ’normal’ inhabitants were ‘en vacances’.  The accommodation was excellent, sleeping in dormitory fashion and eating in the large well-equipped dining hall.  Food and coffee, the latter drunk from a bowl, were most enjoyable apart from the globe artichokes which we were not accustomed to as not too many had ‘slipped through’ the German blockade of our sea ports just a few years earlier!

On our visit we lads were a bit ‘put-out’ as there was a hotch-potch of Algerian young men also staying at the school.  Naturally, to a girl, all our travelling female companions fell deeply in love with the bronzed, flashing eyed North Africans.  It had all the constituents of a G & S Opera in the making without the music!

An amusing thing happened at Fontainebleau when Mr Robison, being a little lost and left behind as he swept-up the slow ones among the party, asked a local French ‘soldat’ the way to the railway station “Ou est la guerre?” We didn’t hang around to hear the soldat’s response but made a run for it to ‘la gare!’

I haven’t covered too many of the ‘punishment’ aspects of this Latin School Era. For the less outrageous, less dramatic misdemeanours such as being ‘late for school’, prefects were posted at the head of the drive. Other minor infringements such as being late for lessons, homework not completed, not wearing uniform were punished with mundane tasks such as writing out 100 times ‘useful and appropriate sentences’ set by Sir or Miss stating:-

‘I must hand my homework in on time’,

or

Learn the first five verses of a set poem’

or

Being creative in penning an appropriate letter of apology,

or

Apply and note down the numbers 1 – 5 in at least 100 different configurations.

Sometimes, for being inattentive in class, the miscreant had to try and catch a blackboard rubber him!

Another trick comprised of attaching balloons, at the end of morning sessions, to the lab’s high pressure water taps. This very juvenile activity proved to be totally unrewarding as nothing happened – so much for our knowledge of physics – surface area, expansion and pressure!

Then there was the infamous (very juvenile again, but then ‘we’ were, or should that be ‘I’) battle of the headmaster’s Onions (much more fun than the 1814 punch-up between Norway and Sweden), but, as usual, the penalties were paid after the confrontation in George’s office where he was again determinedly wielding his stick. This ‘battle’ occurred when we were charged with clearing-up after one of the operas. The scenery flats were to be stored, ready for the next event, in Mr Embleton’s Grenville Cottage garage roof space where double access doors opened on to the lane. Sturdy lads were to pass the scenery up to more sturdy boys in the roof space. The latter having positioned themselves in said space discovered the floor to be covered with onion/shallot sets littered about just asking to be used as potential missiles, (King Harold and the upstart Duke of Normandy came to mind!) They were brought into immediate action as they rained down on the heads of the stalwart lads taking their part as scenery porters. Great fun, much laughter mixed with cheering and ribald comments were passed until the incident was reported to the Headmaster, at which point retribution with little humour was set in motion culminating in yet another opportunity for Mr Embleton to inflict more floggings on the stalwart ‘troops’ of King Harold!

The grand finale to RLS fun time was three innocent episodes taken at the appropriate occasions when presented. For example, when the original open air swimming pool by the town bridge was built in the mid-fifties, school rugby sessions on the field by the Ouse (through the town, down to the Old Gaol and turn right – now a shopping precinct, I think) culminated in an elicit dip in the new swimming pool, (in the absence of any showering or washing facilities at the school.) No one, to my knowledge was caught in ‘flagrante delicto’ during this activity – well it wasn’t ‘extra curricula’ now was it?

The ‘catch’ might have been, but wasn’t, when a flirting couple locked in the cleaners’ cupboard at the Town Hall mid-presentation of the Gilbert & Sullivan production of the year. They were not ‘caught in the Act (!)’, for fortunately the spirit of ‘The Show Must Go On’ prevailed and an unknown hand turned the key in time for normal service to be resumed.

There was the case of Robinson’s (Maths teacher) ‘severe warning’ for couples absenting themselves from the School Hall whilst taking part in extra-curricular Friday evening social dance sessions. Well I’m sure we teenagers managed to really ’warm-up’ in the Hall and needed to cool down in the fresh air after a while. Even before ‘Strictly’, Robinson could have claimed to be ‘Strict’!

In our era we did have budding entrepreneurs but, on at least one occasion that didn’t end well. A timber board about 10cms high and braced at the rear with right-angled pieces of wood was fashioned with slots just wide enough to allow a Dinky toy car to pass through when rolled from a distance away. This became the boys’ popular playtime pastimes. I think the charge was something like a 1d (that’s an old penny) for two cars, and if only one of your cars passed through a gap you doubled your investment- pay one penny to win two pennies – can’t be bad, but a higher authority deemed it to be gambling and unseemly, so it was banned but without punishment as I recall – most unusual!

Thus far I have not mentioned the fun side that 1563 Squadron ATC allowed us. Much was good stuff presented by Tommy Allitt (such a good chap) who, I believe, had served in the RAF during the Second World War, our War. He was very interesting in his work with us on navigation, wind, air speed plus drift, and their influences on aircraft in the sky.

The funny, laughable stuff was always the drill instruction when not knowing your left foot from your right, likewise turning left or right, plus the precision of the drill when it came to ‘halting’ and even swinging one’s arms in the correct sequence relative to what your feet and legs were up to! Although intelligent grammar school young men(!), we looked more like Dad’s Army.

On frosty winter evenings following ATC sessions, having been dismissed, we on occasions, carried receptacles filled with water to flood the concrete cricket practice pitches set into the grass (to the left and in front of the school building). The hope and intention was that a keen frost would give us the perfect ‘pitch’ on which to develop a long icy slide during the following morning’s break and lunchtimes. I don’t think I have been on a slide since, just a long sledge run with both the grandsons on board the time before last when we had good snow in the Chilterns. That was when I was 70! The last time it snowed heavily up here was this year 2018, but now at 78 I missed out through having the ‘flu!

As slides at schools seem to be banned these days, I don’t think our grandsons know how to slide – very sad. Life is not like it used to be!

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