Received: 2021 (by email)
Bob Brown - 1961 to 1985
It’s almost as if Collegiate was my destiny. My Uncle Robbie had been a pupil there in the 1920s and my grandmother had kept his cricket whites and his school cap to pass on to me when I grew old enough to fill them. However, she died when I was only eight so never lived to see her ambition fulfilled.
It was in was a grey spring morning in 1949 when I first arrived at Shaw Street on a No 30 tram.
Having gathered in the yard we junior school kids were ushered into various classrooms to sit the eleven plus. I was in room 26 and was overawed. Compared to the rooms at Rice Lane this was a massive space. And here I first met Miss Hill, a feisty little soul, who kept absolute order.
I did as well as I could on those examination papers: English, Arithmetic and Verbal Reasoning but I failed. Perhaps I could excuse myself: I had missed a year of schooling at a critical time. I had been admitted to the Royal Infirmary to be treated for pleurisy during the spring of ‘47and was instructed by the surgeon to convalesce at home for best part of a year.
And so it was to Longmoor Lane Secondary Modern School that I would go to catch up on that missing year. My grandmother would have been so disappointed. However, at thirteen we had a second chance to sit the selection exam and it was to Alsop that I went to work for my O and A levels. Here I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the chemistry lab and in the Dramatics Society and the Film Club. So enjoyable were those five years that I decided that teaching chemistry would by my dream career.
I guess I should have gone to university; I had matriculated, certainly. Three A levels and a handful of O levels would have got me onto an undergraduate course in chemistry. However, the advice at Alsop was that without a foreign language I would not be considered and I had long struggled with Spanish; how I had struggled.
So National Service loomed and I settled for two years by the seaside courtesy of the RAF: basic training at West Kirby, the remainder of my first-year training as a radar fitter at Weston super Mare and the second year in a tent overlooking the Mediterranean on a cliff top in Cyprus where I put that training into practice. And then two years in college (Westminster) which was close to heaven, followed by a harrowing year in a dysfunctional school on the edge of Brixton.
I was rescued by an advert in the Times Educational Supplement. The Collegiate was looking for a science teacher. My application was sent in at the speed of light; I even paid extra for recorded delivery. I was rewarded by a telegram from Harold Magnay (Liverpool’s Director of Education) asking me to report to the school for an interview in two days’ time. I suspect I would have had to have made a total hash of the interview not to have been appointed. I was coached before the interview by Woody (newly VP) and it just so happened that Mr Croft (the headmaster) lived next door but one to my old headmaster at Alsop (Mr Warren) who had provided me with a generous testimonial.
Collegiate was a positive experience from the start. A week or two after my interview I received a very welcoming letter from Langton, the head of science. Unfortunately, it was also rather confusing as he failed to tell me that the third form was actually the first year.
And so, I had fulfilled my grandmother’s dream, although the school cap was no longer appropriate and I harboured no desire to play cricket. That first day (staff only, no pupils) ended with a staff meeting and again Miss Hill made her presence felt with a complaint that pupils were taking off their caps as soon as they turned the corner into Brunswick Road. What could be done about it? I am not sure anything was.
There, in the chemistry lab, I entered the domain of Harry Heys who at that time was six years away from retirement. I learnt a lot from Mr Heys who was a superb teacher and an accomplished communicator. My first lesson however was in the etiquette of the chemistry department. I was to address him as Heys, (not Mr Heys), the senior technician as Mr McLeod and the junior technician by his Christian name.
In total contrast to the school I had come from the department was a well-oiled machine. For every week of the school year the lessons were specified in detail; the apparatus needed for the demonstrations and for the practical sessions was listed so the technicians knew well in advance what was needed. For a young teacher all the heavy lifting had been done. All I had to do was read Harry Heys’s text book and garner some interesting peripheral facts and plan my lesson. And the lessons were pure theatre (I loved theatre) as I demonstrated explosions and created chemical magic on the front bench. Unlike another school I could name, all the reactions were genuine – never faked – and if they didn’t work, well science is sometimes like that.
As far as I know we never killed anyone but some might think it was not for the want of trying. Regularly poisonous fumes of hydrogen sulphide would be expelled from the fume cupboard and rise up the side of the building and into the language rooms on the top floor. Often much of the school would reek of bad eggs.
Years after Heys’s departure an accident in the fume cupboard would have the school evacuated as the Fire Brigade was called to deal with a poison gas leak. A metal cylinder of sulphur dioxide had been corroded by acids kept in the cupboard and the poisonous gas filled the laboratory.
My only close encounter with an accident was during a demonstration when I splashed burning sulphur onto my tie. I was so engrossed in what I was doing that I didn’t notice and continued with the lesson for a little time. No one in the class thought it necessary to let me know that my tie was slowly smouldering beneath my nose.
Outside the lab I found other interests to fill my hours. Having served in the RAF for two years the CCF appealed to me, especially target practice on the range. Sid Chalk (Major) and Eric Langford (Captain) were happy to welcome a new recruit who dressed in the uniform of a Lieutenant of the South Lancashire Regiment. Soon I was running after-school sessions on the 0.22 range on the top floor and enjoying weekend camps at Altcar where we could get to grips with 0.303s. From time to time the cadets would compete with a staff team on the indoor range and competition was close.
The following year (’62) Bob Mander came to teach geography and he too joined the contingent. Bob had been CSM as a pupil at Birkenhead School and we had enjoyable times together at summer camps at Aldershot and Brecon as well as Easter camps at Altcar. The highlight at Altar was curry night in the Officers’ Mess – I believe the cook had honed his skills in India.
My long interest in film and cinema also prompted me with Keith Bradbury, David Herring and the German Assistant to set up a Film Society in the school year 1962/63. We ran a programme of feature length films in the hall after school. This developed to include lunch hour screenings of shorts in the projection room which was enthusiastically taken up by John Butler when he joined the school in 1966.
As a Second Lieutenant, life in the CCF was less than demanding; Sid and Eric did all the admin and the cadet CSM and Sergeants looked after the cadets. I think it was Sgt Tilly who tentatively informed me that I had acquired the nickname “Arty” from my initials RTB. I guess it could have been a lot worse.
In ‘63 the contingent had a further influx of officers when John Higham and Keith Fenton joined the staff. Also, that September Arthur Roberts (later to be head of Alsop) came to the Collegiate as head of maths. Coincidentally, Arthur had taught a segment of the radar course I had been on in the RAF and later he would become a valued colleague in the team involved in G&S productions. My original commitment to the CCF had been for five years and so in 1966 I stood down and turned my attention to other pursuits.
Theatre had been a big part of my youth and I was no stranger to the footlights. Soon after joining the school I offered John Pritchard any help he could use in putting on the school plays. Kindly he allowed me to help where I could be useful. My biggest contribution to any production of John’s was researching the coats of arms of the characters in Henry IV Part I. I had a passing interest in heraldry and in those scenes where shields were carried I can vouch that the coats of arms were pretty well accurate, even if the shields resembled dustbin lids. Where I could not find any historic reference to a coat of arms I made it up, but using sound heraldic principals.
While on the topic of heraldry it was I who sowed seeds that grew into the new blazer badge. One day in ‘61/’62, prompted by the mosaic Liver Bird on the floor of the main entrance, I asked Mr Crofts if the school had a coat of arms. The next thing I knew was that he was exploring the possibility of acquiring one. I played with a few designs myself based on the arms of the founding fathers of the school but I had no input to the final design. Within a year the school had acquired a grant of arms and I had a small copy of the arms made to hang in my study next to those of Westminster College. Actually, I was really disappointed when it was decided that the old blazer badge (a subdued and understated blue device) would be replaced with a bright and garish yellow shield.
It was in 1962 that Colin Jones joined the staff. An accomplished and ambitious musician he was to remain with us for only 3 years. I guess the school organ attracted him; during his time with us he was working towards his fellowship of the Royal College of Organists. When I arrived at the school there a flourishing musical tradition, based on the talents of staff and pupils alike. This expressed itself in a concert held towards the end of each summer term. Among the stars in my time were Paul Southern, a boy soprano of prodigious talent in his first year in 1961/62, and A P Bird who was outstanding as bass soloist in Haydn’s Creation in 1964. Messrs Kay and Blackburn were leading lights from the staff in the annual summer concert and they were well supported by many competent singers. The musical events which made the deepest impression on me were a concert version of The Mikado in 1963 and Haydn’s Creation directed by Colin Jones in 1964.
I suspect Colin was accumulating achievements for his CV when he approached me to ask if I would be interested in staging a production of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. I didn’t need asking twice. At that stage, although I loved musical theatre, I was not a G&S fan. The only Savoy Opera I had seen was an amateur production of The Mikado at the Crane Theatre. I soon researched the canon and settled on HMS Pinafore, one of the shorter operas which could be staged fairly easily.
With Paul Southern and Ross Griffiths singing the soprano and alto leads and a handful of teachers as male leads we were in no way short of talent. With six principals and thirty members of the chorus it was a significant undertaking. Woody was particularly supportive. He turned on the financial taps so there was no skimping on production values. John Pritchard worked tirelessly as stage manager with help from Tommy Hewitt. John put in a lot of unseen work and was particularly helpful when it came to the technical rehearsals before the final dress rehearsal. So many people contributed – rehearsal pianists, ticket sales, publicity, make up, front of house – it was truly a team effort and on the nights of the performances there was a twenty-five-piece orchestra gathered by Wally Walters from the musical talent at Liverpool University.
The show went well. We milked the encores and curtain calls shamelessly and personally I was high on adrenalin for hours afterwards. Two reactions to the production remain sharp in my memory fifty-five years later. I overheard Maureen Tan (the office junior) enthusiastically telling a colleague it had been a really good show and Tommy Hewitt complaining that “some people” – that’s me and Colin I guess – got all the praise.
Colin could now include a G&S production to his CV which may have helped him land a post at Chester College that summer.
There followed another five annual G&S operas which I produced working with Roger Golder and later Joe Joyce as musical directors: Pirates, Patience, Princess Ida, Ruddigore and Iolanthe. From Patience on we welcomed real women into the principal female roles.
I met a young neighbour, Margaret Conder, during the interval of Pinafore on the first night; we married three years later. A trained singer, she took the role of Mad Margaret in Ruddigore and the title role in Iolanthe.
By 1970 I had enrolled as a student with the Open University and worked for four years to my degree in Chemistry and Psychology. Brian Jones and others took over the G&S productions
After gaining my degree I produced three school plays in the 70s. First the musical review, Oh What a Lovely War, then Seagulls Over Sorrento and then Billy Liar. As an audience member I had enjoyed all three shows on the professional stage over the years. I felt privileged to be provided with the resources to stage them at the Collegiate with the support of so many colleagues and pupils.
When I first joined the staff of the Collegiate I used to tell myself that I would have paid to have this job. The staff room was congenial – more like a down-at-heel gentleman’s club (with occasional visits from Miss Hill and Mrs Macdonald) – with its easy chairs (provided you didn’t sit in C L Morgan’s spot by the fire) and billiards table (I never improved my handicap in 24 years) and periodicals and daily newspapers on hand. Free periods were truly free to pop over to the barber’s or do some local shopping and if they were at the end of the afternoon then you could be at the bus stop well before the crowds of pupils emerged.
At sixteen I thought teaching chemistry would be my dream job. I guess I got that right.
The End of an Era
September ’61 C R Woodward had been recently appointed vice principal having been a member of staff since January ’46.
Mr Tyrrell retired summer ’62 after 38 years on the staff joined staff 24 head of English 29. Produced school plays 25 in total.
New Sept 62 B C Fitton and R W F Mander
Easter 63 Mr Colessnr maths moved on as did Mr Moncibowcyz 2nd maths
Summer 63 C L Morgan retired, joined collegiate sept 24 history rugby
Arthur Roberts appt senior maths BR Shirt snr history E M #Edwards PE
December 64 BW KaY CLASSICSLEFT REPLACED BY b Hollinghurst
Dec 63 s l Knowles died having served school for 43 years
© Liverpool Collegiate Old Boys' Association (2018)