Master Piece (part 1)

20 Dec

To anyone who thought on reading my last posting that entitling it “Introduction to a masterpiece” was a move which showed exactly how much of an arrogant monster I am, I would like to say, “Yes I am an arrogant monster but not THAT much of one”!

I always intended for this article to be titled “Master Piece” – TWO WORDS – because it is nothing more than a “piece” about “masters” and put it in as ONE word in the previous title just to annoy anyone who feels that way about me!

If you have come to this post without reading the previous one (or better still the previous two) I suggest you go back and read them otherwise this will be gibberish to you.

To briefly summarise I promised one of my “regulars” that I would write on some of my secondary school teachers (MASTERS – got it now?), their nicknames and their little quirks. Actually it is perfectly correct to use the entirely masculine term as there was only one woman in the entire boys’ school – the Headmaster’s Secretary.

As I have described elsewhere the all-girl school was in the other half of the building which was shaped like a letter ”E” but with an extra arm. They had both male & female teachers – I have no idea why we didn’t.

Anyway, let’s start at the top for the first two and then at random as I remember them.


Mr Armstrong the Headmaster. As previously mentioned the nickname was perfectly obvious once you saw him in full “sail” along a corridor with his Cambridge University robes flying out behind him. Usually quite tolerant but you had to watch out if you were trying some new stunt or piece of mischief because you never knew if he’d burst out laughing or put your whole year in detention! Didn’t like it if no-one asked questions when anyone came to address us on something.


Mr Northway, the Deputy Head and our Fourth and Fifth year Maths teacher. I have no idea where the nickname came from but it was plainly meant as a derogatory term and he had the knack of getting up a LOT of kids’ noses. This was evidenced by the four foot high white painted slogan on the corrugated iron wall of the girls’ school cycle sheds which backed onto a public footpath leading to the recreation ground where the clandestine smokers would gather at lunchtime. I don’t know if that activity had anything to do with it but certainly everyone who walked down there was reminded that “FAIRY IS A C**T”!

My own memory of his nasty side concerned his attitude to “long hair”. Now I was never long-haired by the standards of those days – my mother told me that as long as she was paying for my haircuts I’d have it done when SHE said! Fairy had other ideas, however, and HIS way of discerning whether your hair was “too long” was to see if he could lift you out of your chair by the bits growing down in front of your ears. THAT really bloody hurt! Spiteful GIT!

As may be expected he had no sense of humour and was completely lost when the whole school erupted one morning when he read out an announcement. This concerned a complaint by the Caretaker concerning inappropriate objects being put down the toilets. He listed several of the types of object concerned – I think it was things like books and PE gear – and then made the immortal addition!

“Someone even threw a ruler in FOR GOOD MEASURE”!!! And he genuinely didn’t get why half the school were wetting themselves laughing!


Mr Chambers, our first year Physics teacher. An obvious nickname really and not one that anyone I know would have used to his face! He was getting on a bit in 1964 and I’m not sure if he left for something else or simply retired at the end of that year or the one following. An old-style school master who you only annoyed if you really fancied meeting the gym shoe sole that he kept in his drawer for corporal punishment purposes. (Yes, they WERE allowed to do that and if you got it your parents would assume you deserved it!)

He actually seemed to me to have quite a sense of humour and I always remember one of the first things he said to us in his quite broad Suffolk accent.

“Booys”, he said, “If you don’t understand something I (he pronounced it “OY”) want you to put your hand up and say ‘Mr Chambers, WOY?’”


Mr Hewitt, who replaced “Gassy” as head of Physics by the time we got to the Third year ( Year 9 in the modern way of counting school years) He had extremely protruding front teeth and a luxuriant handlebar moustache – the two together did make him look something like a Walrus, hence, I think, the nickname.

From his accent I would say that he originated from the London side of Essex and his accent plus his dental difficulties meant that he simply could not say the word “force” – used a lot in Physics – without it coming out as “FAWSE”. Naturally this compelled us to make him say it as often as possible! “A WHAT, Sir?”

I have him down in memory as one of the “good guys” even when we discovered in his lessons that, provided you were sat at one of the side workbenches and far enough forward, you could wipe the blackboard behind him while he spoke by hooking up a Bunsen burner to one of those high pressure lab water taps!

I did, however, fail Physics at GCE “O” Level. This was not down to HIM it was down to ME. You see, the curriculum required us to be studying snappy stuff like the Latent Heat of Evaporation of Naphthalene, when what I wanted to be doing was the up-to-date stuff I was reading about outside school. Mundane stuff like the Big Bang theory, Quasars and Pulsars, Origins of the Universe – that sort of thing! There was just no way they were going to give US anything like that and I bet they still don’t.

“Bunter” (or “Spider”).

Mr Webb (which makes the “Spider” alternative immediately understandable), took us for Physics, Chemistry AND Maths in the Second Year. He was somewhat rotund, which is probably where “Bunter” came from and would, I imagine, have been suitably jovial too – if he hadn’t been the most mocked, ridiculed and persecuted Teacher in the school!

It appears that shortly before I started in 1964 he took an English class involving one of the lower streams (this was told to me by an older, distant cousin who was there at the time) and was explaining to them how in films and plays extras with no actual lines would fake background conversations by muttering “Rhubarb, Rhubarb!” over again. They thought this was hilarious and proceeded to disrupt every following lesson with him by incessant murmuring of that phrase. He then made a BIG mistake and flew into a rage about it whereupon (of course!) the whole school took it up!

By our time it was not necessary to utter the words; just a long, rolling “rrrrrrr!” sound could get you a detention if done in a way that enabled him to identify you!

I have to admit that in my Class there were no really first class Footballers or Cricketers but we had more than our fair share of world class “Bunter-baiters”, as they were known. Far better than the more general “Master-baiters” more prevalent in the rest of the school (in more spellings than one!).

Being the “A” stream and, therefore, considered maybe a little bit brighter than some we confined our efforts in this line to out of class baiting (shouting down a corridor and running away) as we recognised the stupidity of openly and blatantly winding someone up while you’re shut in a classroom with him for over an hour!

I have no idea whether Bunter was a good teacher of his subjects or not – the universal lack of respect concealed any talents he may have had. I daresay he cannot have been too bad to teach those three subjects to the top flight of our year.

He was certainly easily distracted and we had some fun once we noticed that we had him for a double lesson (80 minutes) three mornings per week and that he sometimes seemed unsure as to which of the three subjects he was meant to be teaching us. From then on all of our efforts were taken up getting him to talk on the wrong subject every time.

I also recall that he was a bit slow on the uptake when we appeared to be genuinely concerned at not understanding some small point. On one great occasion we kept him talking (and I’ve no idea what started it) for almost an entire double lesson on how it could possibly be that if you have seven lampposts in a row there will only be SIX spaces between them!

I see that by this point in the article I have already gone over 1500 words – which I think is quite enough to absorb at a single sitting. I don’t want you getting verbal indigestion, now, do I?

I have, therefore indicated what will now happen by adding the words “Part 1” to the title. Part 2 will follow with the shorter pen portraits when I’m allowed time off from Christmas preparations or have another ‘flu induced sleepless night!

See you then,



Posted by on December 20, 2009 in Schooldays


3 responses to “Master Piece (part 1)

  1. theworldaccordingtomorpheus

    January 6, 2010 at 7:30 am

    Your descriptions are so good, it’s like I was there – oh, wait – I WAS!

    I later learned Bunter was secretly considered absurd by most of the other masters. And I once tried engaging him in serious discussion when we were alone (something I wouldn’t have attempted with Max Page – maybe you mention him in part 2 – I’ve yet to read that).

    I figured maybe there was a PERSON beneath his absurd pomposity. Well, I can now report – there WASN’T! He was just an IDIOT!

    Chenery told me he actually worked ON for several years past his retirement. Talk about a sucker for punishment!

  2. richard haxell

    February 16, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    I spoke to a distant relative who had attended the school years after us who informed me that he knew nothing of Bunter or Rhubarb but did speak in highly amused terms about ” Lemon ” seemed like the same person so maybe he did eventually shake off the tags..though sadly not the levels of derision.


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