REX GRAY – DIRECTOR OF MUSIC, THE ROYAL LATIN SCHOOL
1926 – 1999
Several generations of Old Latins and Buckingham people will be saddened to hear of the death of REX GRAY. He died of a heart attack in Swanage Hospital, Dorset in September 1999, but news reached Buckingham only in the following June. He was in his early 70’s at the time of his death.
Rex Gray made a big impact on the Latin School, its students and the town in the 1960’s and 1970’s with a stream of memorable Operatic Productions. His favourite territory was Gilbert and Sullivan. His productions of Iolanthe, HMS Pinafore and other old favourites in the Old Town Hall became legendary for their production and musical values. These shows attracted large crowds of local people who had no direct connection with the school. Rex was a superb musician and a brilliant accompanist on both piano and organ. He had worked in post-World WarII Concert Parties and he never lost his professional touch. The School year has three foci for Rex: the Annual production (alternately an “Opera” and a play), the Christmas Carol Service and Founders’ Day. He felt these public events when the school, his school, or rather George Embleton’s school was on show were held to be more important than his academic work. The school, Rex felt, treated music as a stocking filler, a diversion to be dropped into timetables to afford pupils some light relief. Rex thought that the piper was worthy of greater reward and was upset that GKE failed to award him extra “emoluments”. That trace of bitterness meant that Rex’s efforts tailed away as he got older. The shows became more intermittent, the choir less well trained and the school orchestra shrank to a smaller band. Lessons got shorter as Rex always repaired to the staffroom for a smoke between lessons. Pop music wafting across the classrooms in the “Main Block” usually indicated that his GCE group was home alone in the Music Room, a draughty classroom designed to open out as a bandstand during the summer months.
Rex wasn’t a staffroom hearty as he was essentially a private man. The one sport in which Rex engaged was tennis and I suspect that he showed talent in the ballroom. He was the school’s recorder in chief and he roamed across the school fields during many Sports Day photographing the achievements of fine young athletes. Team sport seemed to be an anathema to Rex, but that impression may have been due to the tensions that existed between his demands and those of Saturday sport. Representative sport at RLS in George Embleton’s time was pre-eminent – if your name was on the hallowed team sheet then you were committed to turning up. As a result, Rex spent the morning and afternoon before the final Saturday evening of his productions chain-smoking and fretting – praying that his leading man would not loose a front tooth in a scrum and that the chief Fairy would dance and not hobble across the stage.
Rex was a great hobby man. He was a dab hand at chiropody and many a Buckingham pair of feet had corns softened by his careful touch. He was an expert tailor, and RLS staff , both male and female, always looked dapper after Rex had added a pleat here and a dart there. They could unite in his praise as he said, “Suits you, Sir.” Rex owned a printing press and produced handbills and fancy tickets for a number of local activities including the Chandos Cinema. Rex had an interest in films and would invite close friends around to his home to share “movies”. Like many creative people Rex was highly strung and when cigarettes could no longer calm his nerves he decided to take early retirement in 1978. Rex expected that his hobbies would enhance his pension when he retired. Unfortunately, Rex was not a great businessman and his retirement was not a time of relaxation or of great joy. Eventually, he moved with a young male friend to a small house one street away from the sea in Swanage, Dorset. Knowing few local people, he was isolated and lonely. The sad, long decline set in, punctuated only by occasional visits by staunch friends such as Graham Collis, formerly a neighbour of Rex’s in Manor Park, Maids Moreton and colleague throughout Rex’s time at RLS.
Rex will never be forgotten by the hundreds of students who discovered music and drama with his inspiring help at The Latin School. Perhaps the pinnacle of his achievement came in 1970 with his production of Lionel Bart’s “Oliver”. RLS was one of the first schools to produce this musical after the original stage show in London. For the first time in the school’s 800 year history there was a revolving stage hewn from English Oak . Fagin was the star. He was played by Brett Gannon who was unrecognisable. Those were the days when make-up meant layer on layer of transforming greasepaint. Rex and his teaching chums laboured for two hours each night turning boys into old men and girls into urchins.
At the time of his death, 30 years on, RLS was in rehearsal for their latest production – “OLIVER” in another radical staging by the school’s resident guru, Martin Boileau. This time the scene was an East London Street with the audience sat in the houses on either side, a promenade staging. How Rex would have revelled in this new recreation. How he would have loved to see a new generation’s joy as they sang, danced and acted their hearts out. He knew such things were the stuff of life, and he was ever ready to share his secrets.
Ed Grimsdale (Former Deputy Headteacher, RLS and colleague of Rex Gray 1968 – 1980)