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Backwords: Minus All Trace Of Party Spirit

“He had me taped by the end of my first term with him. “Apt to rely on others,” he wrote in my report book. Which was a rather kind and absolutely true way of saying that I frequently copied homework from one of my mates…’’

Mike Shaw, with varying degrees of affection, recalls those who taught him at grammar school.

An invitation to one of Pete Newton’s tea parties was never greeted with pleasure when I was a schoolboy at Royds Hall.

There were no sandwiches, jelly and pop at his parties. Just a load of extra work to either punish us for some misdemeanour or improve our arithmetic.

Asking us to join him after school was maths master Mr. Newton’s quirky way of saying that we were being kept in.

His sense of humour was as dry as the tickly cough which punctuated his lessons with an irritating frequency.

He also wore an old-fashioned deaf aid that let out some weird, whistling noises when he turned up the volume control in his waistcoat pocket.

But for all his little idiosyncrasies, Pete Newton was both a shrewd judge of character and a first-class teacher.

He had me taped by the end of my first term with him. “Apt to rely on others,” he wrote in my report book. Which was a rather kind and absolutely true way of saying that I frequently copied homework from one of my mates.

But he achieved what I had believed to be impossible. Not only did I pass my School Certificate exam in maths but was awarded a credit into the bargain.

Physically, the tall, learn Mr. Newton was completely different from another teacher who for a time also had the unenviable task of tutoring me in the intricacies of mathematics.

Mr. Barker, better know to his pupils as Benny, was a genial chap of enormous girth.

In those days when few teachers had cars, one of the big attractions for pupils who arrived at school early was to watch Benny roll up in his tiny black motor.

After parking outside the main entrance it took an immense effort and usually two or three minutes to extricate himself from the driving seat.

When he did eventually manage it, he may just have been able to hear the cheering from a crowd of pupils peering eagerly through the corridor windows.

Buffer Bates retired after teaching me in physics for only one year. He could have been forgiven for throwing in the sponge on my account alone, but there was probably more to it than my total inability to understand the basics of his subject.

He was a gentle old soul who stands out in my mind mainly for his habit of lunching on sausages which he cooked in a frying pan over a Bunsen burner.

His successor, Teddy Gill, was an amiable character who endeared himself to me partly because of our shared love of cricket.

It was rumoured that he had once been a star batsman and I must confess to a twinge of sadness as I caught him out at square leg when he had scarcely got off the mark in the staff versus school match.

It was wartime when I started my five-year spell at Royds, so perhaps it was not surprising that the teachers seemed to be either rather old or very young.

At least a couple of the young women members of staff had come straight from university or college.

One was an incredibly bad teacher of German, who lasted only a short time when it was discovered that she was incapable of exercising any sort of control over most of her classes.

The other was a petite and most attractive English teacher who sent us fourth-form boys into raptures when, clearly conscious of her physical charms, she sat on the dais with her short skirt concealing little of her flashing thighs.

Her name was Miss Kingston. But word soon got round on the classroom telegraph that her first name was Helen. So when she set us the task of writing a job application letter, practically every boy in the class addressed it: “Dear Helen.”

Inevitably I suppose, our concentration was seriously undermined by the vision of loveliness in front of us, with the result that many end-of-year reports bore the comment. “Exam result very disappointing.”

I can just imagine the scramble for invitations if Miss Kingston had been in the habit of holding tea parties.


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