I joined Price’s in 1964, and was put into form 1B (surnames H to M), which was in one of the two “Terrapin” temporary prefab classrooms, sited on rough ground behind the art room and the woodwork room, overlooking the back gardens of the houses in Park Lane.
Somewhat unimaginatively, my initial circle of friends was mainly drawn from those who sat close around me in that first classroom – Kadleck, Kendall, Lamport, Lee, Leigh, Lowe, Loo, Lowry, Lydford. In the third form, Steve Holroyd came to Price’s, and also became a good friend; thereafter, together with Barry Kadleck, we were a bit like the ‘Three Musketeers’, always to be found hanging around together.
I seem to recall that school dinners were particularly inedible; cabbage, swede and turnip seemed to feature a lot, but perhaps I remember that because they were my most hated vegetables. Thin slices of anaemic and unidentifiable meat, swimming in warm water in the bains-marie also featured frequently, as I recall. I quickly changed to sandwiches for the rest of my time at Price’s. They were usually cheese: Cheddar, of course, because no other cheese had been invented then. It was a special treat if I got a pork pie.
Officially, you were supposed to sit on a reserved table in the main hall if you brought sandwiches, but I preferred to sneak off and ‘picnic’ somewhere around the grounds. My favourite place was on the platform half way up the steps that formed the external emergency exit from the gym, overlooking the rifle range. I was sometimes joined there by Kadleck, Holroyd and occasionally others, but they invariably went back to school dinners in the winter. Of course, we were eventually caught by the games master who ‘slippered’ us with “Sebastian”, his gym shoe. As the school buildings progressed and the music practice rooms were completed, these became the safer places to eat our sandwiches: once again, it wasn’t allowed, but Mr Boote and the prefects seldom looked in.
As far as the staff were concerned, I think I had a pretty low profile at Price’s. Being useless on the playing field, I didn’t figure in any of the interminable sport results read out at assembly, and I think I went pretty much ‘under the radar’.
Equally, I have to say the teachers didn’t leave a great impression on me. I had a sneaking suspicion that most of them weren’t really teachers at all, but had probably just been offered the teacher training course option when they were demobbed from the navy into civvy street, after the war. They certainly all sported plenty of medals on Remembrance Day and other official occasions; I always felt a bit sorry for the few young teachers, who I thought must have felt rather conspicuous and perhaps self-conscious by their lack of such decorations.
However, the Masters were almost universally kind and fair to me. I particularly liked the younger ones: Max Perrin (Chemistry) and ‘Cyril’ Lord (English and drama). We used to puzzle over how on earth a tall guy like Max Perrin could manage to squeeze himself into that tiny Triumph Vitesse of his. We could get away with more cheek to these younger teachers than we could with the more experienced ones, and they were less likely to give out detentions. On the other hand, you could often lure the older Masters into wasting considerable lesson time by entertaining us with their wartime exploits.
We were pretty awful to ‘Smudge’ Smith (maths). At the time he just seemed a nervous little wizened old man – a figure of fun for the boys. I can still see him now – his stooped posture and flowing gown, as he hurried along the corridor, carrying his little brown briefcase, right arm stretched out in front, feeling along the wall in front of him to steady himself. One day, someone put one of those big clockwork alarm clocks inside the teacher’s deck, timed to go off half way through the lesson. He nearly died of fright, poor chap. There was another occasion, early on, during the major school building works, when we all had to traipse down to Harrison Road Infants’ School and use the old prefab classrooms there for certain lessons. The desks were ancient rickety wooden things. I got a tap on my shoulder from the boy behind, asking if there was any loose paper in my desk. There was, and I passed it back. I noticed others doing the same. Shortly afterwards, there came the smell of burning. McGregor’s desk was on fire. We all had to evacuate. “Gregory” (as Smudge used to call him) was not in Smudge’s good books, that day!
It was much later, following a parent-teacher meeting, that I learnt from my dad that poor old Smudge had had a really bad time in a Japanese POW camp; moreover, he wasn’t a fraction of the age I thought he was. I shared this with the other two musketeers; we all felt a bit guilty about it, and I think we rather distanced ourselves from any further taunting of Smudge.
From my recollection, Price’s seemed a very sports-orientated school. I may be wrong, but I don’t recall art or music having any significant profile at Price’s, notwithstanding the dedicated music rooms and instruments, including a superb Bechstein concert grand and four other quite decent pianos. In any case, I took the Music O-Level, as did Kadleck and Holroyd. There were only seven of us in the class – we were a very select group!
Initially, music lessons were in the ‘old school house’. In those days, only the back of the house was still in use. The front was supposed to be dangerous and was out-of-bounds. We got in there once and had a look around: nothing much to see; just big empty rooms with peeling paintwork. The music room - 17C - was on the top floor at the back, and contained an old but serviceable upright piano. The room itself was very small; hardly enough room for the piano, Mr Boote and the seven of us. At the time, the tuck shop was also at the back of this building, immediately below, on the ground floor. There, you could spend your pocket money on ‘Wagon Wheels’, ‘Bingos’ and other such delights. Unfortunately, when we returned for the new term, we were told that the piano from 17C on the top floor had decided to visit the tuck shop on the ground floor, taking with it all the semi-rotten intermediate floors, on its way. There were no more lessons in the ‘old house’ after that: the piano didn’t survive the fall either!
We all liked Mr Boote. He did his best with us, but I don’t think he rated any of us very highly, although to his credit, I think we all passed music O-level. Whenever I hear the Hebrides overture, Dido & Aeneas or Le Tombeau de Couperin, it still takes me right back to those days. We could sometimes avoid work in the lessons by encouraging Mr Boote to play for us on the piano. In truth, he was a very accomplished pianist, and generally amenable to displaying his virtuosity with some complicated piece of Debussy or Ravel, when the mood took him. He was wise to the trick, however, and we couldn’t get away with it too often.
Personally, I had an odd relationship with Mr Boote: I think he was somewhat disappointed by my rather poor progress as a pianist. Perhaps he saw something in me, but he most probably thought I was lazy and didn’t push myself enough – which was quite true. I had a private piano teacher outside of school, who probably didn’t help matters much either. Like Schroder in the ‘Peanuts’ cartoons, I was really into Beethoven at that time, but I struggled to perform music of that standard properly. No doubt Mr Boote could see that, but perhaps knowing I had a private teacher, he felt he should not interfere. For whatever reason, as far as piano was concerned, he generally left me mostly to my own devices.
In general, boys were allowed to use the pianos in any practice room that was free, plus the brand-new rosewood grand in the main music room, if that room was not otherwise in use. But the big Bechstein concert grand on the stage was totally out-of-bounds. I think it was technically a detention to even touch it. But it wasn’t locked, and I couldn’t resist playing it. Its tone and dynamic range were absolutely fantastic. Sometimes I would listen and think “Wow, that sounds great!” and it was hard to believe it was actually myself playing! One lunchtime, I was at the Bechstein, playing a movement of some Beethoven sonata – I forget which – but I heard footsteps and became aware that Mr Boote had stopped quite close behind me; I could see his reflection in the lacquered fallboard. I continued playing; there was nothing to lose now. He drew up a chair, and sat there for several minutes while I played. There was no mention of either permission or detention. After a while, he got up and left. After that, I knew I had tacit permission to play the Bechstein whenever I liked.
It’s no exaggeration to say that that instrument was the reason I persevered with playing the piano. I so loved that piano that I set my heart on one day having one like it. Ten years ago, I finally achieved that goal, and I now have a (slightly smaller) Bechstein in my home today.
There was another lad – Bayliss - who was in a higher form, and rather better than me at the piano; he also played the French horn. Bayliss used to play the morning hymns. Mr Boote one day persuaded me that I should do them as well, to give Bayliss a bit of a break. I didn’t have much time to prepare them properly, and hymn music is a little bit strange to play, as it is generally written for organ rather than piano. As my bus didn’t get into Fareham until just gone nine o’clock, it also meant I had to catch the earlier bus – in fact a whole hour earlier. I think I gave up after a week.
About the time of the mock o-levels, Mr Boote asked for a copy of my Piano Grade V certificate, this being necessary to gain exemption from one paper of the music O-Level. This was a surprise to me, as I had only passed Grade II at that time. Looking back, he did seem to assume a lot! I discussed this with my piano teacher at home. Unfortunately, in spite of the time constraint, she insisted I do Grade IV as well as Grade V, using the Grade IV as exam practice; but the only way I could do this within four months was to learn all the scales and pieces for both grades concurrently. In the event, I did pass both grades, and just in time to give the paperwork to Mr Boote, before the exam deadline.
Piano was useful in another way. Although many people knew I played, nobody actually knew when my lessons were, and it meant I could come into school at almost any time in the morning. I was never good with mornings, and often missed the Hants and Dorset No 69 bus, whose timing could be quite erratic, by the time it reached Waltham Chase. The next bus got me in at ten o’clock. By that time, there were no longer any prefects on duty waiting to catch late-comers; it was also the time of the change from first period to second period. Also, as the register was taken after lunch every day (except Friday, for some reason), I could come in late with impunity from Monday to Thursday, and in the unlikely event of a prefect or Master spotting me, I’d just wave my late pass and say I’d had a piano lesson! I dread to think how many lessons I missed that way. In the early years, I used to get off the bus at Old Turnpike and walk the short distance into school via the Harrison Road entrance. For some reason they stopped that, and later I was faced with either coming up from the bus station (which got me in about ten minutes late) or getting off at the bottom of North Hill, about the same distance to walk, but only five minutes late. That was actually what my ‘late pass’ was for – not the piano lesson.
In the summer term, I sometimes rode to school on my bike if the weather was fine. It was eight miles, and used to take me best part of an hour - not exactly an impressive average speed – but then I did have to traverse the Hamble, Meon and Wallingford valleys on the way, and my old steel-framed BSA roadster with its Sturmey-Archer three speed, was not exactly a performance bike, either.
In the third form, we began CCF, and as my dad was ex-RAF, I got into the RAF section. Dad was quite chuffed; however, I quickly became bored with the CCF. All that square bashing, recognition of long-obsolete aircraft types from books, plus the heavy serge battledress uniform was uncomfortable and hot in the summer. To my eyes, the only good thing about CCF was a flight in a ‘Chipmunk’ from RAF Hamble one Saturday – never repeated. Although I was personally quite proud of the uniform, I also felt a teeny bit self-conscious on Wednesdays for the half-hour bus ride to and from school, in battledress. The only other Price’s boy who travelled on my bus was Chris Lee (“Wee Lee” because he was a lot smaller than (Robert) Leigh), but he was in the orchestra, instead of CCF, and therefore wore normal school uniform on the bus. Kadleck and Kendall were also in the orchestra, and I was suddenly rather envious of them.
One Wednesday lunchtime, I was playing the big piano on the stage, and the orchestra boys began to assemble in front of it. I would have been still in my CCF uniform at that time. Mr Boote obviously noticed me but initially said nothing. Then, just as they were all ready to start (I think it was probably the Haydn/Mozart Toy Symphony?), Mr Boote came over and put in front of me a variety of orchestral parts (there being no actual piano part). I picked out of it what I could, and stayed to the end of the afternoon; nobody in CCF seemed to miss me. Same thing happened the next week. After a few weeks, I stopped wearing the CCF uniform; still nothing said. A few weeks later Mr Briscoe approached me and simply asked me to return the CCF battledress. I guessed I was now formally a member of the orchestra; presumably Mr Boote must have squared it, but I never heard anything officially.
I enjoyed the school orchestra – although it did bring me the most embarrassing moment of my life (to date). It was the school concert of December 1968. I wasn’t playing any solos: I suffered somewhat from performance nerves on big occasions, and had firmly resisted Mr Boote’s persuasion to play any solo pieces in the concert. All the gang were there – Holroyd, Kadleck and Kendall in the percussion section - with me at the piano, up on the stage above, ready for the first item on the programme – the March from Bizet’s Carmen. The hall was packed full of expectant parents and pupils, and I sat at the big Bechstein grand, waiting for Mr Boote to raise his baton to start the show. But instead, he looked directly at me, and appeared to be mouthing something which was, however, quite inaudible to me. He then repeated this strange silent pantomime – several times - in an increasingly exaggerated way, then someone near me whispered “National Anthem!” Now this might seem rather unpatriotic, but I didn’t actually know it. Even if the music had been available – which it was not - I would not have had the confidence to sight-read it, and any attempt at improvisation would surely be neither successful nor appreciated! I turned beetroot red. Fortunately, waiting in the wings were Robert Gilbert and Francis Thomas. They were both Old Boys who had returned to perform in the concert (and no doubt improve the standard!). I think both were excellent pianists, and one of them (I forget which) gallantly stepped out to save the day. As ‘God Save the Queen’ was not really long enough to warrant my leaving the stage, I had to suffer the ignominy of standing there, in front of everybody, silently cursing Mr Boote for dropping me in it like that. As I remarked earlier; he seemed to take a lot for granted!
Many of my friends, including Holroyd and Kadleck, sang in the two G&S productions that Price’s did with St Anne’s School – Mikado and Iolanthe. My voice was not the best, although I did do some early rehearsals for Iolanthe. However, I learnt most of the accompaniments – fudging the bits I was too lazy to learn properly - and we all spent much time in the piano practice rooms, doing impromptu G&S concerts in the lunch hours – even after the respective shows were over. These tended to start off with just a few of us, but sometimes ended up with the room full of the chorus members, some singing the girl’s parts, too.
Hanging round the stage area as much as we did, one day, quite by accident, I discovered that there was an unlocked hinged panel on the wall of the stairwell leading up to the back of the stage from the music room corridor. The panel allowed access to the space under the stage. It was totally dark inside, but leaving the panel slightly open, and when my eyes became accustomed to the dim light that filtered in, I discovered the large storage space under the stage. At that time, it was used to store an enormous number of old desks, tables and chairs, stacked one above the other, leaving only small corridors through the middle, leading from the door which opened from the piano practice rooms’ corridor. By this door was the light switch, but due to the sheer volume of furniture stacked in there, it cast only a dim light in the vicinity of the doorway.
This became the venue for our illegal ‘under-the-stage’ club. Although the principal culprits were Kadleck, Holroyd and myself, others knew about it too and joined us from time to time. We rearranged some of the furniture to provide a table and chairs near the light (and the door). We spent much of our lunch times there playing cards – German Whist and Solo were the favourites, although there were probably other games, too. When so many people knew of it, I suppose it was inevitable that someone ratted on us eventually – perhaps someone we left out, annoyed or otherwise offended? One day there was a rattle of the key in the lock, and a master and several prefects burst in. There was just enough time to flee into the labyrinths of stored desks, and I found a really good hiding place, right in the far corner. All the rest were caught, one by one, but I sat tight despite the prefects calling “Leedham, we know you’re in there: we can see you”. I knew full well that they couldn’t, although having caught Kadleck and Holroyd, it was obviously highly likely that I was there too, as we were seldom found apart. Eventually they left, locking the door behind them. Finally, I crept out via the swinging panel in the stairwell, and fortunately, no-one was waiting outside to pounce. Perhaps they didn’t know about that? It was a long time before we dared use it again, this time being more careful, and keeping the ‘club’ to a more select few.
At some time, Tom Hilton (I think) was trying to encourage extra-curricular activities and clubs to get going. Buzz Ellis came up with the idea that we might buy those little train-spotter’s books and collect locomotive engine numbers. This had at very lukewarm reaction with us. We pointed out there were not too many trains near the school – the station was some distance away. Buzz gave this some thought and suggested that we might instead collect bus numbers; all the buses carried unique serial number plates on the rear, and the bus station was much more accessible. We thought this had more merit and decided to give it a try. Within a few weeks, I had collected nearly a dozen of these numbers, some Southdown but mainly Hants & Dorset; they were, as we quickly ascertained, only held on with four self-tapping screws.
I distinctly remember that fateful assembly morning when Eric Poyner - with bushy brows, black as thunder - read out the detailed complaint from the bus company, who by this time, had begun to notice the lack of ID plates on their buses, and lectured us on the evilness of our ways. The bus company must actually have been quite keen to recover them, because there was an amnesty declared for the plates to be handed in. I didn’t trust the amnesty, and left mine in a bag in the waiting room at the bus station. All, that is, except for Hants and Dorset No 556, which is now proudly fixed to one of the wooden joists in my man-cave!
I detested football, and rugby and hockey even more. Twenty-odd blokes fighting in mud over possession of a single ball never made much sense to me; surely there would have been enough funds to supply them with one each, should they so wish?
I did enjoy cricket though, and was a reasonable leg-spin bowler, but because the year started in September with winter sports, by the time it got round to summer and cricket, the sporty types were all well established, and I don’t think anyone could believe that someone like me, who was so useless at football, rugby and hockey, could possibly be any good at cricket, so I never really got established in a team. There was always total amazement and shock from everyone on the field whenever I finally managed to get a bowl (usually right at the end of the innings) and often took a wicket or two! It was inevitably put down to luck! I even remember one batsman, who I won’t name, being quite ratty with me, because he had seemingly lost credibility by losing his wicket to me “of all people”. To compensate for this spark of genius, and restore normality, I was pretty useless with the bat; the team’s amazement at my only boundary (off a thick edge) being only exceeded by my own.
Mr Tuck actually took me to task for the way I spun the ball - using the wrist - saying it was all wrong. He briefly tried to teach me finger-spinning, but I never managed to master that. At the time, it seemed he must be right, because I never saw Derek Underwood or any other professional spin the ball the way I did – at least, not until a guy called Shane Warne arrived on the scene, a few years later!
However, we did invent our own sport. It was generally played in the lunch hour, down on the sports field lower boundary, by Harrison Road. It was called Boggit. The name came from a mythical character invented by Michael Bentine on his TV show – “It’s a Square World” (although this was of no practical relevance to our game – we just liked the name). The game was broadly based on rounders, but required a suitable stick (usually a small pine branch), as a bat for the batter, and a fir cone, which for some elusive reason was referred to as the ‘dung-ball’. This was delivered by the ‘bowler’ (who probably had a special silly name, but I can’t recall it now), after ceremonially ‘steeping’ it in a smelly pile of cut grass (‘dung’) and performing various other strange rituals, dances, and incantations, and usually a highly convoluted run-up (around trees and suchlike). The scoring was imaginative to say the least, and the number of competitors didn’t really matter either. There was invariably the gang of Holroyd, Kadleck and myself, but at times we had up to twenty people playing, none of whom really understood what was going on, or when it was over, what had happened or why. Only I had the Rule Book, and rather like “Mornington Crescent”, I was apt to announce some exotic rule-change in the middle of a game, if it suited me. Once a group of older boys tried to muscle in and join the game; they went away shaking their heads, very puzzled. Steve Holroyd said recently that we were definitely a “Scoobie Gang” and regarded as being ‘a little weird’ by our contemporaries.
I used to spend a lot of time in the library at Price’s. Francis Chichester and Alec Rose were in the news at that time, and I would avidly read anything I found on sailing, from Swallows and Amazons to round-the-world adventures and biographies. I wanted a part of it. At the age of thirteen, I’d got my family into dinghy sailing by the simple expedient of making an appointment by telephone to see a sailing dinghy advertised in the local “Echo”, then telling my parents what I’d arranged, when they came home from work. They bought it. I’d also built a plywood rowing / sailing boat of my own, which I later sold to Barry Kadleck. Stephen Holroyd’s dad owned a ‘National 12’ racing dinghy. This gave us three boats. With Swallows and Amazons vaguely in mind, we planned a couple of expeditions with these boats on the upper reaches of the Hamble River. The most successful of these was (a very cold) Easter 1969, when we took all three boats and our tents, and camped for eight days on the riverbank. Nicky Retzler was with us for this, although he had to cycle home daily to feed his chickens. This was in the run-up to the O-levels, and amongst all the sailing, rowing and frequent visits to the local ale-houses, my dairy for the period records that we also managed to get in quite a lot of exam revision as well, particularly whilst waiting for the tides.
Another by-product of our interest in Swallows and Amazons (actually ‘Pigeon Post’) was an unhealthy interest in ‘Aqua Regia’ – a combination of Hydrochloric and Nitric acids that will dissolve gold. One day, we produced a fair quantity of this in the first-floor lab which overlooked the cycle park, opposite the master’s study. Not having thought through what we were going to do with this dangerous product at the end of the lesson, and as we were all sitting at the window overlooking the cycle park, and thus far from any convenient sink, we disposed of it by pouring it down one of the tiny drains in the window sill. The next morning in assembly, Mr Poyner read out a notice requesting any information on alleged vandalism to someone’s bicycle seat. If it was your bike, I can only say I’m really sorry!
I recall the O-Level exams started around the same time as Wimbledon. Ann Haydon Jones won the ladies that year, and we were following the matches on a transistor radio, smuggled into school. Suitably inspired, Holroyd, Kadleck and myself brought our tennis rackets to school, and spent much of the time we should have been revising, on the tennis courts, across the road. We were actually getting pretty good by the time the last of the exams were over - although Holroyd invariably won. I might occasionally break his service game, but I never took a set off him. Kadleck and I were more evenly matched, and had some much closer games.
By this time I had already decided I wanted to go into the Merchant Navy, and had had an interview with P&O, sometime in the previous autumn, just before the ‘mocks’. I had been provisionally accepted for officer cadet training, provided I got at least 4 O-levels, including English Maths and Physics. I remember Tom Hilton then doing the obligatory one-to-one ‘career guidance’ interviews. When it came to my turn, he asked me what I was thinking of doing, and what subjects I wanted to study for A-level. As soon as I mentioned the Merchant Service, he just said “Next, please!” Obviously, I was not going to contribute to Price’s university entrance stats!
At the start of the fifth form, I had sunk to the “D” stream for physics, which came as a bit of a blow, as my partners in crime were at least still in the “C” stream. My physics mock mark was also uncomfortably low, and I needed it for the Merchant Navy officer cadet entrance, and there were only a few months to go. I can’t remember the physics master’s name, but I went to discuss it with him. He was very helpful. Basically, he said I just needed to memorise everything on the summary page of each chapter in the text book, and if I couldn’t see how to answer a question, I should just write down all the formulae I could remember that were conceivably relevant to it. It worked. In the final exams, physics was among my highest passes.
The ‘mocks’ were generally a bit of a wake-up call for me. I could not get my head around the Corn Laws and other such stuff, and so had deliberately flunked history to get more revision time for other subjects; I think Kadleck did exactly the same. The strategy worked, and I managed to pass all the remaining O-levels.
Throughout my life, I always felt that I was a below-average pupil at Price’s. I was generally “C” stream for most of the streamed subjects, with only one “A” stream subject (French), and I struggled to maintain that. It was therefore with some surprise to recently see the 1969 O-Level results on the SOP website, and to see that I didn’t do too badly overall.
I do remember being very disappointed that the grades were not marked on the (Oxford) O-Level certificates we eventually received. I distinctly recall that when we first joined the school, Mr Poyner had addressed us all and declared that from our year onwards, the school would be taking a new direction, and instead of – as in former years – going for a large number of pass-grade O-Levels, the school would concentrate on us studying fewer subjects but achieving higher grades; this was apparently what the universities and employers wanted. So to have no grades on the final certificate after all that was a bit of a blow. As I recall, the only document which had my grades was the little hand-written self-addressed postcard, sent to me just before I left the school (which I no longer have).
None of the ‘three musketeers’ stayed on for sixth form at Price’s. Barry Kadleck took an apprenticeship with Plessey, and Stephen Holroyd went on to sixth form in Wales.
Although I didn’t stay for A levels, I did get eventually into university (Southampton) as a ‘mature’ student on the basis of the Ordinary National Diploma (OND) course I did as a Cadet Officer at Warsash School of Navigation. By then I was 20 and it was a bit of a shock going back into the first year of an engineering degree, after four years away from ‘proper’ school and without the underpinning A-Levels – especially in maths. I did struggle on through, and eventually came out with a 2:1. I then went back to sea as a Navigating Officer rising to Chief Mate (Second in Command) before ‘swallowing the anchor’ and returning to civvy street. I continued to work with ships and cargo, becoming firstly a marine surveyor, then setting up my own company in 1992 to concentrate on maritime safety and navigational work. My work has since taken me into navigational auditing and on-board (and some shore-based) navigational training. I never thought I’d end up as a teacher! I then developed the system for modern on-board navigational assessments and training, which resulted in my being elected as a Fellow of both the Nautical Institute and the Royal Institute of Navigation. I am now fast approaching retirement, but still keeping my hands in the salt water with a little consultancy work from time to time.
I have rambled on at length, but I hope that this brings back happy memories to those who were at Price’s between ’64 and ’69, and particularly those in our form who knew us. I hope it will also give those from other eras an insight into our times and our sometimes crazy world. Although not perhaps perfect, we have so much to thank Price’s for, and I for one am very appreciative of all it did for me. I’m not at all sure I would have survived a modern comprehensive?
Best wishes to all Old Priceans, wherever you are.