When I first wrote this piece I said ‘I am writing this narrative more than 42 years after I started at St. Joe’s and about 36 years after I left. It is not complete and may in some places not be correct. Memory is a strange thing. It tends to retain details of exceptional events but not everyday occurrences and it fills in gaps with details which are imagined. However, if anyone wants to make corrections, comments or provide additional information please do contact me at’ How right I was about memory. I have now had comments from Peter Manning, Peter McCarthy, Noel Mara and others as well as the opportunity to read other personal memories so here is the second edition.

I would like to express my thanks to Roy Anthony, John Gregson, and Steve Olive for reviewing the drafts of version and adding a few amusing episodes as well as David Parker and Peter Dunn for filling out the details of how we boarders lived. For version 2, special thanks are due to Noel Mara.


I joined St. Joe’s in the second year. I was a boarder for the first three years and then became a dayboy. My overall impression of the years I spent at St. Joe’s was that I was almost always happy, but there were same tough times during my first couple of terms as a boarder which is why I remember them in more detail that those that followed.

This was for a number of reasons: firstly, as the school controlled what I did every hour of every day. I really did feel like I was in prison especially as there was a lot of gym and sport on the programme, which I regarded at the time as hard labour rather than fun! Secondly, no one had prepared me for the changes which puberty brings. Thirdly, the strap and other forms of corporal punishment were used much more freely than in the schools I had previously attended. 

Although I got off rather lightly compared to some of my contemporaries (never more than two strokes), in my first year there I developed a totally irrational fear of being strapped which bothered me much more than the pain of the strap itself. (Yes it stung but it didn’t bring tears to your eyes). As this fear had worn off by the time I got to the third form, I don’t think the strap or the fear of it left any psychological scars on me.

I value the time I spent at St. Joe’s as I got a good education which has served me well. Most of all I enjoyed the company of the other lads in my dorm and my class and opportunities for Music and Drama which the school offered. If I have any regrets, it is that I was always a ‘good’ boy. I really could have had more fun if I had been more rebellious and adventurous even if this meant getting the odd ‘six of the best’.

There were five outstanding teachers who influenced my future development: They are: Mr Critchley, who taught me Chemistry in years two and three, ran the chemistry club, and introduced me to the subject I was later to study at University; WX Ryan, who not only taught me Chemistry in first year sixth, but also persuaded me to apply for a place at Oxford - something I would have never thought of doing; Mr. McCarthy who continued W X Ryan's work and tried to teach me to think like an adult. Outside my specialist subject, thanks are due to Mr. David Podd, who nurtured my talent for, and interest in, Music, giving up his own time to teach me O Level Music while I was in the 6th Form do so, and to Peter Gaffney, who managed to arouse in a scientific and rather one-track mind, a life long interest in literature.

Getting to university enabled me to start a career in the City, first in Accountancy and then in Computer Audit, so, financially, life has been good to me. Playing and composing Music is still my main hobby. My other major leisure activity is going to the gym and keeping fit (I run 12 miles a week!) something St. Joe’s never managed to interest me in while I was there!

Chapter 1 - September 1966 - My life as an Inmate of the Jailhouse Begins

How I got to St. Joe’s

My mother came from a large but poor family in Northern Ireland and was a devout Catholic. Like many Irish people she believed that the way out of poverty was education, so I got sent to school every day, unless I was actually suffering from a notifiable disease.

My father was in the RAF. Moving about from base to base does not provide a stable education - in my first year in ‘senior’ school I went to three schools, one in Gibraltar, one Dungannon NI and one in Forres near RAF Kinloss in Scotland. However, the RAF paid for airmen's’ children to go to boarding school. So my mother came up with the idea of sending me to a boarding school and my parents set about finding one.

St. Joe’s was chosen for two reasons: firstly, it was near Fleetwood where Dad had spent his childhood, and he intended to retire there. (He left school at 14 to work as a radio operator on a trawler and joined the RAF before the war. His operator licence number was 257 – it was a new relatively new profession in 1931!). Secondly, his brother, my uncle Bob, still lived Fleetwood in a large house on Mount Road with his wife my auntie Ilide, my cousins Rosalia, Maria and Michael and my uncle Stan so I would be able to stay with relatives if the half term breaks were to short to make the journey to Kinloss.

My parents contacted the school and arrangements were made. They got a very long list of the clothing and kit required. This consisted of, among other things, of one change of clothing (two pairs of underpants, two school ties, two shirts, two pairs of socks, two pairs of school trousers, and so on. They came to visit my uncle and went shopping to get everything. (The rugby kit they got second hand).

Day One

So on the appointed day in September 1965, my parents and I went to the school. I was then a relatively fat boy with no interest in sport who wore heavy-framed spectacles.

The first task was to be interviewed by ‘Spike’ Mulligan, the then headmaster, in a reception room in the old house where the Brothers lived. He arbitrarily decided, in true St. Joe’s fashion, that I would be placed in class 2B. If I did well at the end of the first term I could go ‘up’ to 2A and if not ‘down’ to 2C. I was not consulted about this and spent my time looking at the paintings on the ceiling in what was a very beautiful room.

After that we were conducted to the third floor of the adjoining building. For those of you who were not boarders or joined the school after the boarding department had been closed, now is the time to explain exactly what used to be on the top floor of the old building. As you got to the top of the stairs, you faced a corridor leading to the old house. On the left of the corridor there was one room where four 6th Form boarders had their study bedroom, then the general washroom, the 6th form bathroom and finally, in the turret of the old building, another toilet. On the right hand side, there was another study bedroom for 6th Formers, a washroom and a shower room.

If you faced right at the top of the stairs the first door on the right led to Brother McGovern’s study and adjoining bedroom which took up two of the windows in the picture below. Facing you was the door to the junior dorm which housed boys from prep one to year two. On the opposite side was the senior dorm for years three to five and Brother O’Sullivan’s study and bedroom.

Within each dorm there were a series of windowed partitions which divided the room into cubicles with two or three beds and two or three chests of drawers. I went with my parents to my allotted cubicle (by the third window from the right below) made my bed and put away my things and then said goodbye to them until half term.


It was on that day, I had my first encounter with Brother O’Brien, who was capable of having temper tantrums worthy of a two-year old. He was on a talent spotting and interested to see if I had a singing voice. When he found it was broken he predicted I would be a ‘basso profundo’. As in most things he was wrong - I ended up with a tenor voice!

The day drew to a close and it was time to go to bed. Talking after lights-out was forbidden and Brother O’Sullivan assured us all that there were microphones in the ceiling so we were sure to be caught out. Brought up to believe that a man of the cloth could do no wrong, I believed him - how naďve was that?

Week One

I found myself among a mixed group of people. There was only one person I knew, John Madden, whose father like mine, was stationed at Kinloss. The boy who slept next to me was a weekly boarder from Preston called Andy Pilkington. Opposite were Nicolas Owens a weekly boarder from Maryport and a lad called Dickinson. We had the sons of the Army officers, (Peter 'Ozzie' Denham, Fred Marrow, Chris Howard, the Witting brothers and Charlie Parker), sons of the RAF (Steve Olive, myself, John Madden, and the three Mara brothers), sons of civil servants, Brian Wake, Kevin Donnelly, and Dilip Choudry and a variety of other people such as Stan Klimek and Peter Dunn, all of whose parents had decided that they needed to be at a boarding school.

Extract from School Photo 1967: Dayboys:. Top row from left to right James England, Dave Charles, Peter Morris (Moz), Peter Howe Dayboys and me - I don’t look at all happy do I?

Extract from School Photo 1967. Boarders: David (Charlie) Parker, John (Fred) Marrow, Peter (Ozzie ) Denham, John Madden, Brian Wake, Paul Mara, and Steve Olive.


Extract from School Photo 1967: Boarders: Noel Paul, Tim Mara, the Wittings, Peter Dunn and Chris Howard.

Ozzie Denham was a Londoner and fanatical West Ham supporter; the Witting brothers came from Norfolk and had strange accents; Charlie Parker took up boxing; Brian Wake, whose his parents lived in Layton Hill (Hong Kong), was half Chinese; Stan Klimek, whose mother had been imprisoned in Auschwitz, was a talented pianist. Chris Howard was a very able gymnast.

In my first week something scary happened. Some of you will remember the fire escape for the senior dormitory. It hung in the air above the playground and was activated by somebody stepping on it. There was no corresponding fire escape for the junior dormitory. Instead, at the end of the building facing Newton Drive, there was a window with a harness attached to a rope on the inside wall. If a fire broke out, each boarder would have to get into the harness and be lowered to the ground and the harness sent back up for the next boy. Just to make sure it worked Brother O’Sullivan carried out an exercise one evening, and the whole dorm had to get into the harness one by one and be lowered to the ground. It was a terrifying experience and the harness would never have got everybody out in time in a real fire.

Chapter 2 - Second Year - Impressions of being a Boarder

The heating in the dormitory was provided by a thick hotwater pipe which ran round the edge of the room at floor level. It was no match for the cold of the Blackpool winters and I frequently found myself putting my dressing gown over my bed in an effort to keep warm.

It was the duty of the Brothers to ensure that order was maintained in the dormitories after lights out and they sometime used to patrol by torchlight. If you left the dorm after lights out to go to the toilet you had to knock on Brother McGovern’s door and ask permission (this was always ajar so he could hear the dorm door opening and there would be a light on in the study). I found this humiliating.

Except for lunch on schooldays, boarders’ meals were served in the boarders’ dining room on the ground floor underneath the prep school classrooms. For some reason, this room had some stained glass windows facing Newton drive. The serving hatch was on the left as you came into the room, and there were tables with plastic seats each of which seated about eight people. The cups and saucers were all made out of pearly Pyrex. The teapots were huge aluminium affairs with two handles and were very hard to lift. We always got a cooked breakfast which was a much better meal than school lunch! However, it usually included some very rubbery porridge. Tea consisted of something light like eggs or baked beans on toast and lots of tea, bread and jam. I cannot remember ever being hungry but during my three years as a boarder I got taller and thinner. Whether this was just due to my growth spurt or the quality of the food I cannot say.

The boarder’s weekday routine was monotonous in the extreme. Get up at seven, wash, dress, down to breakfast by eight, clean teeth, go to class. After school we were free until five thirty then tea. After tea, compulsory homework from six until about eight in the ground floor rooms just to the left of the entrance shown above. (If you finished your homework early you still had to stay in the room and read). The there was supper (cocoa and biscuits). If you were in the junior dorm there followed compulsory games of ‘pirates’ in the gym until about 8.45 p.m. then bed at nine or so, otherwise it was a cross country run, watch TV, and bed at ten. (I really envied Chris Howard because he could climb up ropes like a monkey and I couldn’t climb a rope to save my life. He was a very lively lad, and game for anything, which often got him into trouble.)

Weekends were almost as monotonous but we were allowed to wear our own clothes for part of the time. Saturday mornings were compulsory study. Before lunch, pocket money was doled out by Brother O’Sullivan. (Your parents gave him a sum of money at the beginning of term and he gave you your weekly amount). In my case this was 7 shillings and sixpence or 35p. In the afternoon we were allowed out and supposed to go to Stanley Park but many of us would go to the cinema to watch James Bond films, an activity which was specifically forbidden. In the evening we were free to go to the boarder’s common room play games or snooker or watch TV. There was also a wooden hut outside the dining room where there were things like Meccano sets to play with.

The Hut (From an engraving of the school made in 1925).

Showers were twice a week supervised by Brother O’Sullivan or Brother McGovern and watched by the mysterious lady mentioned by Eoin O’Sullivan. While rumour had it that she was there to inspect your member, I suspect she was looking for signs of physical or sexual abuse, and at the same time, acting as a chaperone to protect supervising brother from accusations of improper conduct. Depending on which rota you were on, they were Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays. Given the small number of showers and the large number of boys, the time of each shower was relatively short. This, taken together with the fact that we did gym or cross-country run every weekday night, only changed our underwear once a week and no one used deodorant, must have meant that we stank a lot!!

Sundays was Mass in the morning, then compulsory letter writing or reading till lunch. After lunch there was compulsory sport until teatime. After tea we were allowed to watch television in the boarders, common room, which was directly under the chapel. Sometimes there was even a film shown in the assembly hall.

In addition, there was a whole cottage industry surrounding us boarders - Laundry was collected once a week and returned in individual parcels. A seamstress came once a week (I think) to repair any torn clothing and had a room on the second floor of the old building, as did the nurse who came every day and was available after breakfast just before the start of school.

For someone who regarded gym or sport as hard labour it was a really boring life and I often felt like I really was in a prison. So I sometimes got permission to spend the weekend at my Uncle’s.

On the other hand there was a well-stocked library and courtesy of W X Ryan, shelves full of the ‘Scientific American’ magazine, which I read avidly. I can remember that the library came in very useful when we had a visit and talk from the astronomer Patrick Moore. He had once written a couple of science fiction books and I had read one of them. I asked him whether he had plans to write any more and he was a little embarrassed.

Chapter 3 - Second Year - Impressions of School Life


I immediately got the feeling that I could not win at St. Joe’s. The some younger other boarders made fun of me because of my weight and my clumsiness during evening gym and I could not run fast enough to catch them an give them a clip round the ear. During my first PE lesson with Hickey, I had to hang from the wall bars because my pumps had not got enough pump whitener on. During my first history lesson with him he dictated notes with a complicated system of alphabetic and numbered headings. After he had taken in my jotter it was returned with a note “Please see me”. What had I done wrong? - I had not indented and underlined the headings as required! How was I supposed to know that?

As a border I was expected to be an altar boy and serve at the early morning mass in the chapel which was attended by the Brothers, who were usually slumped in their pews as if asleep. After several rehearsals for this important role, I was woken at six in the morning to get dressed up for my first ‘performance’. I was dog tired and got stage fright. When I failed to ring the bells at the right time during consecration, Brother O’Brien propelled himself down the aisle at great speed and gave me a clip round the ear. I think the priest was more shocked than I was.

In sport I was a failure at rugby, a game I’d never played before, and so was relegated to the league of cross-country runners. I was always hopeless at PE but I am a tryer. To be fair to Hickey, his end of term reports used to say 'gives of his best' or something similar.

When I first came to the school I was assigned to play the violin in the string department of the orchestral class. After several hopeless weeks trying to play the thing, I told them I could play the flute and was put into the wind department and eventually played in the school orchestra. (Why they hadn’t asked me in the first place whether I could play an instrument)? –This was just another example of the stupidity which typified St. Joe’s.)

To top it all, I had to suffer another of Brother O’Brien’s tantrums. We were having a music lesson or singing or some such on the stage in the assembly hall. I combed my hair - He flew into a rage, snatched the comb from my hands and tried to destroy it by repeatedly twisting it out of shape, failed and threw it on floor. After he had gone, I went back to retrieve it. Being made out of rubber, it was fairly indestructible.

The most disconcerting event of the year came in the second term. My parents had never explained the ‘facts of life’ to me so I was sexually naďve and totally unprepared for the changes that puberty was bringing. My voice had broken, my pubic hair had grown but my underarms were still smooth. Like 13% of boys, I experienced my first ejaculation as a nocturnal emission and thought I had wet my bed. In addition, the content of the accompanying dream shocked me. There was no one to ask about it except Brother McGovern and given the Christian Brothers’ attitude that the body was a source of sin, I didn’t dare do so. The dreams kept recurring.

Sometime afterwards, I think at Christmas in the third year, I found incontrovertible evidence, in the form of a book in the bottom draw of a dresser at home, that my parents had wanted to tell me something. It was about how to tell your children about sex and I sped through it from cover to cover. Reading between the lines in one particular section, I set up, and successfully tested in a truly scientific way, a hypothesis about the manner in which the other 87% of boys had achieved their first ejaculation. Subsequently, the frequency of these unwelcome nocturnal emissions decreased.



What struck me almost immediately on arriving in form 2B was how often and randomly the strap and other forms of corporal punishment were used at St. Joe’s. compared to other schools I attended.   

I already knew what a strap was and what it felt like to be on the receiving end of one. It had been used in Bishop Fitzgerald’s School in Gibraltar where I’d spent the last four terms of junior school before taking the 11 plus. I got two strokes on the same hand from my form master for not being able to spell the word ‘Queue’ and two strokes and once from the headmaster for defacing a book. 

It was used at the Christian Brother’s Grammar school there, where I’d spent the first two terms of year one and got strapped once - two strokes on the same hand for pronouncing the ‘t’ in the French word ‘Port’.

It was also used at St. Patrick’s Boys Academy in Dungannon, Northern Ireland, where I spent the summer term before coming to St. Joe’s. This school was run by the Presentation Brothers’ Order (like the Christian Brothers it was founded by Edmund Rice but unlike them was renowned for the quality of education - even though it was a day school, you had to return to the school after going home for tea and do your homework there.) During that term only one boy in our class was ever strapped, and that was done in private in the corridor. The boys there called the strap the ‘Blackjack’.

While at all these places the strap was used for encouraging you to learn, it seemed to be used much more frequently at St Joes. Instead of getting strapped every second term as in my previous schools, it seemed to me that I was getting strapped every second week and I couldn’t work out where I was going wrong. 

Brother McGovern, our maths teacher, would strap for no reason at all if he felt in the mood. I remember a boy called Mick Atkinson who was always getting fours and sixes and I felt very sorry for him. Sometimes to prolong the agony he would send Atkinson to another class to borrow a strap (from Spike Mulligan I think). Even a bright boy like me did not escape Guffie’s wrath.

Our form teacher in 2B, Mr. Carrington, had apparently promised his wife that he would not use a Christian Brothers’ strap. That did not stop him from conducting mass strappings on the hand with the plimsoll (‘pump’) during French tests. I can remember being a victim more than once - sometimes he used to hit me even if I got the answers right - to be fair to the others! (As he always hit you with a smile on his face this seemed more like a game than a punishment.)

Mr. Johns, the biology teacher, used a length of high pressure rubber tubing to hit boys across the palm. When I got it, it felt rather different from the strap, but it still hurt.

If boys misbehaved in the Gym, Hickey would, as a first resort, slap them hard on the back. I particularly remember my fellow boarder Ken Newton getting this treatment. His other favourite was the pump on the backside. I once saw him cane someone (Phillip Dowling) with a cricket stump. (Apart from having to hang on the wall bars a few times, I got away scot-free.)

To top it all, the classroom walls were so thin that you could hear the sound of the strap coming from the class next door.

Things did not improve when I moved to form 2A either. Our form teacher, Mr. Smailes was new to the school and wanted to make his reputation with the Headmaster. As form 2A occupied the classroom just outside the Headmaster’s office he chose to do so by demonstrating his power to control a class by ensuring that boys did not talk between lessons when there was no teacher present. He also possessed a particularly thick, wide and painful strap, which was the envy of other teachers in the school.

Accordingly, he had appointed a boy named Jonathan Toase, (top of the class and chief swot), as ‘talk monitor’. He had bucked teeth which made him sound as if he had a lisp when he talked, and was a nasty piece of work. He used to sit at the desk in front of me in class and the lid of which had a hole in it. Once he stuck one arm of a compass though the hole and pushed my hand down on it, and skewered my hand. I am not a violent person but I should really have given him a slap, as we say in London.

(Now is probably the time to apologise to the only person I ever did assault at St. Joe’s. Sorry for picking a fight with you Steve Olive, but we were on second sittings in the dining room and my blood sugar level was low! In case you want to know, it was a draw folks and as Steve say he has forgotten it altogether, I can’t have been that violent.)

To resume, Toase was supposed to write down in a register those who had talked between lessons and how many times they did so. However, he was selective in his entries - he wrote down the names of those boys who were least likely to harm him when he grassed them up. So on the ‘day of reckoning’ that took place every two weeks Mr. S. would look though the register and call out the names for those to be punished. The usual list of suspects included Andrew Noblett, Tim Gibbon, Nick Clark and me.

Nick Clarke, Andrew Noblett and Tim Gribbon?

The first time it was my turn, Smailes came to my desk and told me to put out my hand. I only got one stroke. My hand went completely numb for 10 seconds and then a powerful sting developed and seemed to take ages to fade away. (At least he spared me the ordeal of walking up to the front of the class and then walking back to my desk with everyone looking at me.)

Theoretically there was a relationship between how many times your name appeared in the register and how many strokes you got. The maximum he ever gave was two - any more with that strap would have been superfluous. He was not a sadist so sometimes a boy got called out and he performed the ritual of the ‘sign of shame’ and just stroked a boy’s hand with the strap.

For the first half of the summer term he did not go through the ritual of the day of reckoning. The register said I was due for four hot ones and there was always the possibility that Mr. S. would break his usual rule and give me the full dose to make an example of me. I worried about this over half term. When I returned there were no more days of reckoning. I suspect he had cottoned on to what was going on with Toase.

In fact, that first stroke from Smailes was the one of only two occasions I can actually remember why I got the strap in any detail - The other was my last. One day in year 4, I went up to the dorm to fetch something from a wardrobe, and a new, very young, Christian Brother found me and was convinced I was up to no good. He did not look too certain of himself but obviously thought he should use the strap, told me to put out my hand and gave me two on one hand, which I hardly felt. I don’t know who was the more embarrassed him or me.

Although, I got it from both O’Sullivan and McGovern more than once outside the classroom context, I can’t remember why or how painful it was. I didn’t mind getting it from O’Sullivan because he was easy to get along with. He seemed to take a real interest in each of us boarders and was relaxed when dealing with us. McGovern, on the other hand, just barked orders at you and strapped quite hard! If I had to guess, I would say that I was beaten fewer than fifteen times at St. Joe’s. Unfortunately, as far as I can remember, most of these beatings took place during my first two terms.

I did have a close shave with Les Charles who did not like two high-flown words in the first essay I wrote for him. I had tried my best to impress and was surprised when he told me off. I was absolutely terrified when he flipped open his briefcase to show me his long strap and gave me the choice of two strokes or 200 lines. I chose the lines but felt a complete coward for not choosing the strap. While this did nothing for my ‘street cred’, given what Malcolm Crane says about Mr. C’s strap, this was probably the right decision.

Everybody swore that the strap did not hurt and took their punishment like a man. As I never saw my self as being particularly ‘hard’ I became afraid that one day I would get six of the best from someone or other, not be able to take it. I had never experienced this fear in my previous schools, and it dented my self-confidence severely. During the third year this fear gradually diminished and I felt confident again.

However, from reading through the memories of other people, I think the use of the strap had declined by the time I arrived. For example, the Les Charles that I knew, while he still threw your homework at you, did not conduct mass strappings for bad marks any more. In fact I can’t ever remember him using it. I was surprised to find out that Wes Waring and Hickey owned straps. The further I went up the school the less it seemed to be used. I also seem to remember that when WXR became headmaster, if you were sent to him you were more likely to get detention than the strap.

Having exorcised in this section the demons which have been plaguing my subconscious for 40 or so years by putting them onto paper, we move on to happier recollections.

Chapter Four - Second Year- Happy Memories

The first time I went into the science block I was struck by the radioactive sign on the cupboard under the staircase. Below it was an impressive list of the radioactive compounds stored inside, an indication that in this building serious science took place.

The good news was that I got a desk at the back of the class next to the wall that separated the classroom from the Headmaster’s office so I was as far from the beady eye of the teachers as possible. The bad news was that as we were always addressed by our surnames, so every time a teacher said “right” to begin a sentence, I though he meant me. The boys in 2A were a very friendly bunch.

On the windowsill behind my desk, I stored a tin box of bits and bobs mostly electrical. Brother Livingstone once inspected it, just to see if there was something inside it he could strap me for. There was not much privacy at St. Joe’s!

In the summer term, I decided to play a trick on the teachers. (Over the years I was to gain the reputation among my class of being a mad genius - mad possibly - genius no. If I did well in exams, it was because I was blessed with a good memory and, as a boarder, had plenty of time to learn things by heart. But I lacked the insight and inspiration which makes for true genius.)

I had got hold of a metal box which had once held a Christmas present, and looked like a book. Using an old transformer from a train set that I had in my box, together with a battery and a doorbell, I made a device that would deliver an electric shock if somebody lifted the ‘book’ up. Everybody in the class was in on the act. So the device was left on the teacher’s desk before the first lesson of the morning. The first intended victim noticed that there were sparks coming out of it and was not fooled. However, a few quick adjustments were made, and, hey presto, the next two teachers fell for it. They took it with good grace. Then it was break time. There were no more victims after that because word had had got round the staff room. (At this point I have to ask myself was this the act of a boy with low self-confidence and a fear of the strap?)

Smailes had a dry sense of humour. Once, Tim Gribbon was walking back to his desk showing how red his strapped hand was, when Smailes called out “Come out here again lad and I’ll give you scars to be proud of.” Members of the class could be equally droll. Whenever Mr. S. was telling someone off, Nick Clarke would say: “Flog him Sir! Flog him!” I think this might have saved one or two people from a strapping.

Other pleasurable memories were Mr. Hassett teaching us the Geography of Australia and New Zealand and how to draw maps of them for the exam; Mr. McKenna and his Latin lessons throwing his chalk missile, Fred, at us, and Mr. Taylor ‘Sutch’ introducing us to George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Mr. Priestley’s speech-training lessons. He did mention his ‘rubber solution’ but I thought he meant ‘copydex’!

I also had the first of many musical experiences at St. Joe’s. I watched a performance of the pirates of Penzance, where John Gregson played the role of Edith. I also attended the dress rehearsal and was surprised to find that not only did some of the pirates have pipes, but they smoked them too!

At the end of term I used to travel home by steam train with John Madden from Blackpool to Kinloss near Inverness where our fathers were based. The RAF paid for travel warrants. The Highland glens at Kingussie and Aviemore were a wonderful sight.

The best thing of all for me that year was coming top of the class in the end of term exams and knocking Jonathan Toase out of pole position.

Revenge is sweet!

Chapter Five - Third Form - The Escape Begins

Escape from the Junior Dorm

As I arrived back at school in September 1966, I was looking forward to going into the senior dorm because you got to go to bed later and did not have to do compulsory gym -you could use the boarders’ common room instead and watch television or play snooker. I looked at the bed plan for my name and could not find it! I was mortified to find I was still in the junior dorm. Brother O’Sullivan explained that I was to be a Prefect in the junior dorm and top help to keep order after lights out. (He obviously knew management material when he saw it!). I did not have to go to the evening gym though. I was given the bed at the very end of the dorm where fire escape harness was located.

The job had its advantages. When she knew what my job was, one the mothers of a new arrival made my bed for me! However, I did not like it at all -I was cut of from friends in the senior dorm. I stuck it out for some time - more than one term I think - until one night I had had enough. Instead of telling those boys talking after lights out to shut up as I usually did, I told them they could do what they liked. Pretty soon there was something like a riot and a noise loud enough to attract the attention of Brother McGovern. He came into the dorm and asked what was going on and why the dorm was so noisy. I told him, in very polite terms, where he could stick his bloody job and why.

He was shocked - too shocked to do the obvious and give me six of the best. By the end of the week a place was found for me in the senior dorm and I got to go to bed an hour later. I had learned that I could fight against the system and win!

I was allocated a bed in the blind corner between Brian Wake and Kevin Byrne and opposite Roland Bird. Collectively they finished my sexual education explaining the function of a ‘rubber jonnie’, what shape an erect penis was supposed to be (I was worried about mine - it was bent not straight!), and many other things that every 14-year old pubescent boy needs to know, which the Brothers would have disapproved of, and which embarrassment forbids me from mentioning.

Moving to the senior dorm did mean, however, that I was exposed to the not so tender mercies of Brother McGovern. He did not have much understanding of adolescent boys or the intelligence to persuade them to do what he wanted, so he used the strap instead. To intimidate us, he used sometimes to keep his strap leant against the wall outside his study.

Escape Once a Week

In the third form the conductor of the school orchestra, Mr. Thomas, who also ran Blackpool Youth Orchestra, suggested I should join it and the school could hardly refuse. Not only did I get to play more music, I also got to leave the school for an evening during the week! Things were beginning to look up!

Things also looked up when David Podd arrived to replace Atherton as music teacher. The music room in the basement was equipped with a brand new stereo record player, and there was even a record of a man stepping up and down to demonstrate the stereo effect. David was an outstanding Music teacher who made the subject so much more interesting than Mr. Atherton. Using the new record player, he introduced us to a wide variety of styles of music.

He arranged the music for the Wizard of Oz for a small band (I think all the actors were from Mr. McGrahan’s Junior class but I can’t be sure). Francis (Frank) Gregson (RIP) played the role of the Lion. I played flute and tubular bells. The way in which Mr. McGrahan arranged the stage effect by which the wicked witch dissolved was especially impressive. This was the first of many musical events which Mr. Podd organised, of which more later.

In addition, the school acquired a Spanish teacher Mr. Mills. As I had learnt some Spanish in Gibraltar this was an opportunity to improve it.

Escape at the Weekends

During this year I began to go to my Uncle’s house in Fleetwood more and more. This got me out of the most boring part of being a boarder and I could escape from the Jailhouse for two whole days. It was particularly welcome when we had cricket coaching on Sunday afternoons – I could not play cricket at all well. As time went on I did this more and more often until eventually I became more or less a weekly boarder. It was there that I got to taste alcohol for the first time - Aunty Ilide, from Friuli in Italy, believed that children should learn to drink responsibly at an early age and I regularly got half a pint of cider to drink but was not allowed beer or wine.

A Lucky Escape

In the chemistry club and I began a project, the objective of which was to produce pigments. Why? I don’t know - another crazy idea. I had an assistant, Tony O’Brien who was a dayboy whom I sometimes visited at weekends. My first experiment involved producing chromium oxide from another chromium salt. The beauty of the experiment was that all you did was to set fire to the first salt, it fizzed like a roman candle, and you were left with the emerald green oxide. I produced other pigments from cobalt, copper, vanadium and many other elements. My proposal to produce mercuric oxide by heating mercury in a stream of oxygen was turned down on the grounds that mercury vapour was deadly poisonous.

However, one of my experiments, which was not judged dangerous, very nearly ended my career as a budding scientist. It involved boiling something or other in a viscous solution of concentrated sodium hydroxide. The proper way to boil viscous solutions is to use anti-bumping granules which enable the solution to form small bubbles thus avoiding ‘bumping’. But I didn’t know about bumping so I didn’t use them.

I heated the solution and nothing much happened until it ‘bumped’, that is, exploded in a single large bubble and squirted out of the apparatus into my face. It was only my prescription glasses that prevented it from going into my eyes and blinding me. I quickly poured water over my face and everywhere else to get rid of the stuff. The chemistry teacher decided that he needed to dab my face with dilute hydrochloric acid to neutralise the alkali, which, as I had lost the surface of my skin, was extremely painful.

The next day I visited the nurse and my face looked beetroot red and raw. I was given some Vaseline. Nowadays all experiments in schools are conducted with safety goggles but they weren’t then. It did not stop me from continuing with my project though. At the end of the project a sample of each pigment, sealed in a test tube was hung on the wall in the chemistry lab. It was still there when I left the school.

Other Events

The third year brought us a new pupil in the shape of Craig Holman, an American. Initially, there was some friction between him and Mr. Mills. Mr. M. was dismissive of the American course material that Craig bought into show him and Craig did not always say ‘Sir’ as expected. There were also a few linguistic misunderstandings. I once asked him if I could borrow his rubber and he looked very puzzled. The American word is ‘eraser’, rubber being the word for ‘condom’.

Year three also brought a mission to the school. It lasted for about two weeks, and as far as I can remember, was held in the evening and so exclusively for boarders. There was much meditation and prayer, and lectures on growing up. The priests involved were a little more understanding about puberty and the usual sins of adolescent boys than the Brothers or the local priest were. They wanted to discover if any of us had a vocation for the priesthood. I did think seriously about this - nothing would have pleased my mother more than to have a priest in the family - but in the end decided that God was not calling me.

Chapter Six - Fourth Form - At the end of which I get out of Jail!


The new school year brought a change of supervising brothers. Brother Cronin took over the Junior dorm and Brother O’Keefe the senior dorm. O’Keefe was a lot more approachable than O’Sullivan - Noel Mara has told me that he let the sixth form boarders go out until ten on Saturday nights and I remember that at the end of the year. When I had slept badly on the night before ‘O’ level maths, he let me have a lie in!

I got a new place in dorm next to a window in a cubicle I shared with the one of the few boys in our year to have asthma, called Martin I think. This complaint was much less common in those days and he was excused PE and Games. My mate Fred Marrow slept in the next cubicle. Puberty was now complete and I was now an adolescent. I now shaved every day. (I had started sometime during the third year.)

My father had been posted to RAF Gan in the Maldives for a year. Unfortunately, there were no married quarters there, so, unlike the Mara brothers, I never got to have a nice sunny holiday courtesy of the RAF. Instead, my mother and my sisters were given a house in Atcherley Close at RAF Hack Green outside Nantwich. This base consisted of two small streets occupied by RAF wives in the same situation as my mother plus one man. He was a married sergeant whose job it was to look after the hangar and the families. I did not see my father until the summer but home was now so close to Blackpool that it was possible to go there for the odd weekend.


Since the list of our teachers for the fourth year did not to include any that used corporal punishment in any form except Brother Liddane, who was not ‘strap happy’, I began to feel rather relaxed.

We had Brother Liddane for Maths and as a form teacher. He was not the best Maths teacher in the world and I was not the best Maths pupil. I got a grade 3 when we took the exam at the end of the year - not promising for someone who would one day go to university to study science and become a Chartered Accountant. Nevertheless, we all liked him and gave him a present of pipe tobacco at the end of the year.

If the class was noisy sometimes Brother Clay would come in, wave his strap and threaten to give somebody a tuppenny one, a fourpenny one or a sixpenny one - but no one took this too seriously. He once stood in for an absent teacher for the first lesson of the day and someone came in late. Brother Clay asked him why and he replied that the bus had not come. Brother C. asked where he lived and the lad answered. Brother C. then says: ‘But you could have walked from there in twenty minutes’. The lad answers: ‘But the bus takes twenty minutes Sir’. Brother C’s reply: ‘But the bus stops boy!’

This was the year when you had to make a choice between Art, Biology, Music or Spanish. It was not clear to me what I was going to study at ‘A’ level. I liked French and Spanish and was good at them. (I have since done a Diploma in German and am studying Serbian - I’m thinking of buying a retirement property in Montenegro.) I liked Chemistry but not Physics which I could do well but found boring. So rather than take Biology, the obvious choice for somebody who was going to study sciences, I opted for Spanish! As usual in the St. Joe’s system there was nobody to advise you. It meant giving up studying Music for ‘O’ level - but not forever as you will see. (The class still got general music lessons.)

The class embarked on the courses for ‘O’ Level. We had Hickey for History, Gaffney for English, Waring for French, Mills for Spanish, and McKenna for Latin. We had a new chemistry teacher who had worked in industry but retrained - Mr. Johns. I have no idea who we had for Geography or Physics.

Music and Drama

The highlights of the year for me were in the areas of music and drama.

Firstly, David Podd arranged a concert consisting among other things of the Bach double violin concerto (played by Peter Howe and Nick Brennan with David doing the orchestral part on piano); Wahnhall’s clarinet sonata performed by Colin Touch who played in the National Youth Orchestra, and a Victorian piece called Hark, Hark the Lark, which was a duet for flute (me), Clarinet (Colin) with piano (Podd).

Secondly, David Podd took myself, Peter Howe and the rest of the small ‘O’ level Music class to Manchester for a concert. It was the first time I had heard a professional orchestra live. As we had time to spare before the concert he bought us beers. (It was my first time in a pub. As I didn’t know what bitter was but didn’t like the sound of it, I asked for mild instead.) He also ordered pies but suddenly realised there would not be time to eat them and we had to sneak out the back! It was a children’s concert and the two pieces I can remember were Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra and Percy Grainger’s overture Over the hills and far away (a variation on twinkle, twinkle little star.)

Thirdly, Jim McGrahan staged the thwarting of Baron Bolligrew by Robert Boult. This was a tale of long ago, when dragons were still common. The Duke and his Knights, having slain the last dragon in the Dukedom, are looking forward to a nice period of inactivity. Sir Oblong Fitz Oblong, however, declares they must go elsewhere to do further good works. To avoid this, he is sent on a one-man mission to overcome the dragon in the Bolligrew Islands. There he meets the wicked 15th Baron and his blundering Squire Blackheart and others. After passing through many fantastic adventures, he at last encounters the Dragon. I played the Duke.

The dragon had to give the illusion of emitting smoke. This special effect was in the capable hands of Roy Anthony and was achieved by using a vacuum cleaner, a long hose, and talcum powder. During the dress rehearsal somebody had put a double charge in the apparatus and the ensuing puff of smoke had the entire cast coughing.

Other Things

There was no longer a school magazine when I arrived at St. Joes. (There had probably been previous ones which had fallen into oblivion.) A new pupil-written magazine, Yer Tiz came into existence. The main instigators were Brian Orrell and Mr. Carrington. Brian was in the year below me, exceedingly tall, and interested in amateur dramatics. He thought up the title, which came from a sign on a pub toilet in the west country - the translation being ‘here it is’. He wrote an article for the first edition on postboxes. I devised a crossword puzzle and wrote a poem about the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

During this year I spent most weekends and all half terms away from school. However, this did have its disadvantages. I missed the weekend when Brother O’Keefe went into the dorm and strapped Chris Howard on the arse so hard you could see the imprint of the curved end of them leather and its stitches for a week. I also missed the half term which saw the cockfight between John Madden and the very well endowed Richard M. I must stress at this point that no cruelty to animals took place. The activity involved some sort of fencing!

However, I was in school on the day when Howard Fletcher threw a javelin that went though Chris Howard’s thigh and pinned him to the ground - he did recover fully. (Chris had been running in front of the target to put Fletcher off).

Chris Howard and Howard Fletcher

Finally, I think it was this year when, during one of our cross-country runs round the Newton Drive circuit, I learned that a more senior boy in the school, Frank Humber had collapsed and died while running. Since all boys seem to think that they are immortal, this shocked everyone.

Freedom at Last (Or at least Day Release)

During the summer holidays my family got a council house in Fleetwood, and my life as a boarder came to an end. Next school year I would make the trip from to Layton Square on the number 14 bus with Steve Doherty, Clifford Scott and many others. My evenings and weekend were now entirely my own. My father had by then returned to Kinloss but drove home for the weekend.

Out of school I joined a folk group led by David Charles which was based at St. Wulstan’s youth club and had a great time writing and arranging songs and playing the flute. The group used to play folk masses in St. Wulstan’s. John Gregson tells me that he also to sing in it at a later date.

Chapter Seven - Fifth Form

An Unfortunate Series of Events

For ‘O’ level Hickey was teaching us European History 1789 to 1870. He often started a class, gave us something to read and left to make an important telephone call. I didn’t know it at the time but these were to do with his work as a boxing coach. He was also our form teacher and took us for gym.

It was in the gym that an event occurred which changed his attitude to me forever. I had forgotten to bring in my pumps and, to avoid a fate worse than death - would it be the plimsoll or the cricket stump? – I borrowed a pair from Brian Orrell. It was a rainy day so we were precluded from doing games outside. So Mr. H. decided that we would play a game of murderball. This involved two teams in what was basically a large rugby scrum trying to get a heavy medicine ball to their end of the gym. I began to feel dizzy and fell to the ground. He said: "Are you all right?" I wanted to say "Yes Sir" but couldn’t. My head was spinning and I had a pain as though somebody was using an electric drill inside my skull. I thought: "Please God let me pass out. I can’t stand this pain" and I did. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was having a grand mal epileptic fit. When I came to, I was lying down and thought for a minute I was back in the dorm, but realised that I wasn’t. Both Ted Schools and Hickey were there. I asked what time it was and the look of relief on Hickey’s face was unbelievable.

They sent me to hospital in an ambulance. The doctor asked me what had happened. I said I had fainted - how was I supposed to know that I had a fit? - I was unconscious at the time! I had to wait for an ambulance to take me home because they would not let me go by myself. I arrived home at lunchtime, my mother saw the ambulance and was very worried. I had a splitting headache in the afternoon but by evening felt well enough to go to Blackpool Youth Orchestra. Peter Howe and Mr. Thomas were just arriving as I got there and looked as if they had just seen a ghost. Thanks to a lad called Kelly, the class gave me a new nickname ‘Twitch’. Hickey was always very careful about what I did in the gym after that.

Our physics teacher gave us some memorable demonstrations using a Van de Graaff generator which made people’s hair literally stand on end, and a pendulum whose swing was brought to a standstill when an electromagnet was activated. Unfortunately, he vanished from the school just before the summer term, leaving our class without a physics teacher in the term before ‘O’ Level. Instead of physics periods, a teacher came in to supervise us while we read the set physics textbook. It was disgraceful

The silliest moment of the year was provided by in true Christian Brother fashion by ‘Spike’ Mulligan. Although there was a prescribed uniform, you could wear whatever sort of coat you wanted. Spike had got it into his head that he would inspect all coats in the school for signs of deviancy. So he marched into our classroom during a lesson, inspected the coats hung on the rack at the side of the classroom and found one that had a fur collar - a sure sign of effeminacy. After picking it up and making fun of it, he asked who it belonged to. Then he asked the unfortunate owner why he had bought a coat like that ‘I didn’t buy it Sir. My parents bought it for me’. Spike, not being the sharpest knife in the box, could not think of a response.

At the end of the year the boarding department was closed so it was just as well I had become a dayboy! However, this meant losing touch with Charlie Parker, Steve Olive, Roland Bird and many others who I had got to know as a boarder.

The School Play

In the meantime, Mr. Gaffney was preparing us for ‘O’ level English. This involved Keats’ St. Agnes Eve, Ode to Autumn, Ode to a Grecian Urn, Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge and Shakespeare’s MacBeth. Mr McGrahan directed the play which we performed in time honoured fashion. For some on the scenes Mr. Podd provided atmospheric music from the third movement of Bartok’s Music for string percussion and harp.

Brian Wake played Macbeth, Peter Howe played a doddery King Duncan, and Jennings played the drunken porter in a most realistic way. Roy Anthony, Stuart Gibson, Geoff Beaumont and myself played the Scottish lords. Cliff Smith played the English doctor in the style of Uriah Heap. Fred Marrow was MacDuff and I think it was Jeff Ormrod who drew the short straw and played Lady McBeth.

Here are the Scottish lords left to right Geoff Beaumont, ‘Woody’ Millar, Roy Anthony, Nick Clarke, myself and Stuart Gibson.

A Sporting Triumph (Sort of)

School Sports Day was drawing near and Hickey approached me of all people and told me I was to run for School House in the 400 metre race. I gave him a “you cannot be serious” look and told him I thought I would come last and he accused me of moral cowardice. There were six runners in the race and I gave it my all. I was in the lead for the first hundred metres or so, and then people began to pass me one by one. However, I did manage to beat Nick Barker who was a much better runner than me and so did not come last. Nick was exhausted because he had just run the 200 metre race!

Nick Barker 1966

Chapter Eight - The Sixth Form


There were about 15 people who made it to the science sixth form in my year. Names that I can remember are David Charles, Roy Anthony, Kevin Hennessy, Peter Morris, Clifford Smith, Paul Lamont, James England, Paul Davies, John Rooney, and Fred Pacini. We all got on very well and didn’t take life too seriously. We got treated like adults, even if we did not always behave like them.

In lower sixth, I became head librarian and had the duty of going round the classrooms in my free period chasing up books which had not been returned on time. I also had the pleasure of making a trip to Manchester with Mr. Gaffney and the other librarians to a huge academic bookshop which took up the whole of what had once been a mill. We spent the whole day looking at books and they gave us lunch. I got to know Mr. Gaffney much better and he turned out not to be the dry crusty old stick that many people think. In fact he had a very dry sense of humour and sometimes in class he would perform his party trick of wriggling his ears. At the end of the day our order was given in and sometime later the books arrived to be catalogued and put in the library.

David Charles passed his driving test in second year sixth. He gave Moz and myself lifts to school and we made a contribution to the petrol cost. No more queuing for the bus any more!

On the day of the election of prefects and head boy, I had phoned the school to say that I would be coming in very late because I would be visiting my father who had just had a heart attack. However, in the event I arrived just in time for the election, and crept in from the back of the hall. I was surprised to find that there were a fair number of people suggesting I should be head boy. WX Ryan, who was by then headmaster, did not notice I was there, and pointed out that I did so many other things like the library, the magazine and helping out at musical events that I would not have enough time carry out the role of head boy. Thank God he did, because, even if I had given up all these activities, I did not have the force of personality to be head boy. I was elected prefect. The only thing I can remember about my duties was that I had to supervise detentions on Fridays, which made me as late home as the detainees.

Entry into the sixth form brought two privileges – you could leave the school at lunchtime and smoke in the sixth form hut. Although ever since the second year when I had tried one of Uncle Stan’s pipes on the sly, and I had smoked a pipe from time to time, I was not a regular smoker so did not visit the sixth formers’ hut very often except on Fridays when I brought my own lunch to avoid the terrible chips produced by Ma Coakley's team . (I’m pretty sure that almost no one knew I smoked. When of the Thurman brothers saw me buying tobacco he said "But I though you were a good boy". In addition, I never had the chutzpah to go drinking in the Blue Rooms at lunchtime. This may have made me seem unsociable but I was in some ways quite shy.

While some lads had regular girlfriends and others took advantage of the hoards of girls who visited the beach in summer (to quote one of my fellow classmates after we had just started in the upper sixth. "The sex I’ve had this summer - I only wish I could do it as fast as a dog") I was still regarded as very wet behind the ears by my peers because I had no overt sexual relationships and I never swore.

Outside of school, with certain obvious exceptions, I did what everybody else did and went drinking with my mates at the Euston in Fleetwood.


We got a new physics teacher. He was a Liverpuddlian called Mr. Duke who tried to disguise part of his accent – the Liverpool ‘thuhr’ for ‘there’. Instead of pronouncing ‘Area’ as ‘Uhria’ he would pronounce it ‘Aria’ which was even funnier. He was very ambitious and wanted to get into teaching administration. When he found out what everybody’s ‘O’ level grade in Physics was, he announced that he would not normally teach a class with such poor results - not a very encouraging start.

On taking possession of his new physics classroom in the mansard of the science block, he opened the trap door that led to a space under the floor that was about four feet tall. We climbed down in it and found all sorts of equipment still in its boxes which had obviously been ordered by Joe Snow in his dotage but never used.

He worked us very hard and got results. As we were nearing ‘A’ levels, the exam papers were locked in the physics lab. The class was in the chemistry room when Roy Anthony thought it would be fun to open the trap door and put me into the space under the floor. The class did this and somebody stood on the trapdoor so I could not get out. Then everything suddenly went quiet. I kicked the trap door open, it flew into the air and I popped up, only to find Mr. Duke standing there. He suspected that I had been sent to steal the papers from the physics lab in order to cheat. It took a long time for everybody to convince him otherwise.


We had Mr. Armitage for Maths. He was a keen chess player and could play chess with eight boys simultaneously and still win. He improved my Maths immensely and after mocks predicted I would get a ‘C’. In the event, I spent a lot of time learning by heart how to do all the 13 types of simultaneous equations they could throw at you in the exam and came out with a ‘B’.


WX Ryan took us for Chemistry in the lower sixth. He dispensed with the blackboard and took great pleasure in using the overhead projector. He knew his stuff and the class responded accordingly. Early in the first term he broached the idea that Fred Pacini and I should try and gain a place at Oxford University by doing the entrance exam in first term of the upper sixth. (I would never have considered applying to Oxford by myself.) He had been sending a steady stream of people there, Bob Ainsworth had preceded me and Tony Taig would follow me.

Accordingly, we were given extra work and coaching in Chemistry and Physics over the summer. We took the entrance exam in the following November and passed. Shortly afterwards we found ourselves catching a train from Blackpool to Oxford for the interview. We had to get to Oxford by noon and I seem to remember, to catch the train we had to get up at a 6.00 a.m. We made our way to Keble College where the interviews were being held in alphabetical order. I had time on my hands and went for a walk to Magdalen College and bought a record of some of Handel’s Concerti Grossi from a shop belonging to the late Robert Maxwell. . My interview was at 6.00 p.m. - I did as best I could but I was exhausted. They asked a question about free energy, and I replied that I could answer the question but was too tired to do so. I got an offer of two ‘C’s and a ‘D’. Poor Fred did not get an offer. Mr. McCarthy took over from WXR when the latter became headmaster. He was also an excellent teacher and also good at getting me to think as an adult.

The windows at the back of the chemistry classroom overlooked the girls’ school next door. Once, during the summer; we hung a fishing rod out of the sixth form window near the Collegiate fence with a large wire hook on it and tried to hook any female attire that may have been discarded while the girls were sunbathing against the fence. I don’t recall any success but do remember we had to hastily reel the line in and hide everything under the floor, including ourselves, when WXR came racing up the stairs having seen the hook near the fence.


I did not study economics, but did have great fun one day disrupting an economics class by placing sodium sulphide behind on the windowsills. The resulting stink led to the classroom being evacuated. I did own up to this and was given a telling off by Mr. McCarthy who said that hydrogen sulphide was as poisonous as carbon monoxide.

General Studies

We had Mr. Waring for general studies and he always tried to broaden our horizons and educate us in what would be now called citizenship studies. He used to teach us in the sixth form chemistry room. I once created an interesting diversion by filling a crucible with some glycerine and potassium permanganate and leaving it on a windowsill. About ten minutes into the lesson it burst into flames. This sparked a wave of research among the class aimed at achieving the same result in different ways such as using sawdust and nitric acid.

Music and Drama

David Podd taught me in his own time and I got ‘O’ level Music at the same time as my ‘A’ levels. He also looked at my compositions, which were mostly bad, and gave me advice. He lived in Fleetwood as I did so I often went to his house to listen to and discuss Music. I will always be grateful to him. He was to leave St. Joe’s at the same time that I did, and go to Oxford where I kept in touch with him. He then went on to do great things in London at the London Girls’ Collegiate School. The last concert given by Blackpool Youth Orchestra which I can remember included the Rachmaninov no 2 Piano Concerto played by Peter Howe who was in my form and also Dvořak’s New World’ Symphony.

The last play I took part in was Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus which was a joint production with St. Mary’s and performed there. Doctor Faustus, a well respected scholar, grows dissatisfied with the limits of traditional forms of knowledge, decides that he wants to learn to practice magic and summons up Mephastophiles, a devil. Faustus tells the devil to return to his master, Lucifer, with an offer of Faustus’ soul in exchange for twenty-four years of service from Mephastophiles. Armed with his new powers and attended by Mephastophiles, Faustus begins to travel. He goes to the Pope’s court in Rome, makes himself invisible, and plays a series of tricks. He disrupts the Pope’s banquet by stealing food and boxing the Pope’s ears.

I played the Pope (I had put on weight) and am ashamed to say I do not remember who played any of the other parts. In my first scene, I was carried on a litter from the back of the hall to the stage sprinkling holy water on the audience to the sound of the ‘Sanctus’ from Mozart’s Coronation Mass. (I had chosen the Music myself). Pope: “Cast down our footstool”. Raymond “Saxon Bruno, stoop, whilst on thy back his Holiness ascends, Saint Peter's chair and state pontifical”. I don’t know who played Bruno - it might have been Brian Kirby - but the poor lad had me stepping on his back!

My last carol service at St. Joe’s was a memorable one. Not, however, for its artistic merits. One of our number had researched the properties on nitrogen triiodide. This is an explosive which is stable when wet but when it is dry can be detonated by the touch of a feather. (I was not the only mad scientist at St. Joe’s.) Class members were given some triiodide paste to spread onto the heating pipes, radiators and floors of the main hall. I did the radiator near the top of the stairs next to the stage. As the service began, it started to crackle and bang. Teachers ran over to find out what was making the noise. WX Ryan was not amused but for some reason did not suspect us!!

Trips and other Activities

The school was changing and gave us opportunities to interact with the outside world. During the lower sixth we had a trip to Shotton steelworks in north Wales to see how steel was made. We were told that in the old days steel workers had an allowance of eight pints of beer a day to keep them hydrated.

Shotton Steel Works

In the upper six we had a trip to Lancaster University and heard a lecture on electro-conductive plastics. We also had to undertake social work, which usually means helping old age pensioners one afternoon of the school week. I have memories of going round then town with Roy Anthony on his motorbike. We also had a joint event with Saint Mary’s at the convent where trade unionists explained the purpose of their movement. They kept eyeing me suspiciously because they thought I was making notes. What I was doing was copying out by hand the flute parts for Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony for a rehearsal of Blackpool Youth Orchestra. (As we had six flutes, there were never enough parts to go round).

The End of My Time at St. Joe’s

‘A’ levels seemed to come very quickly. We took the exams and then had to come back to the school to collects the results. (Paul Rooney had contracted jaundice and special arrangement had to be made for him to take the exam.) I celebrated the results with Dave Charles and Moz in the ‘Durban’ in Cleveleys.

After the results had come, Dave, Moz, myself, Paul Lamont and a couple of other lads went for a camping holiday together. It was mid June and did not get dark till after ten o’clock. They conspired to get me drunk in a pub by putting double vodkas in my beer, and succeeded - I was quite literally legless. This meant they had to carry me back from the pub to the camping site. However, the chemist’s brain was still in full working order. I knew that sucrose would help get rid of the alcohol - but where to get sucrose from? We had brought food supplies with us among which was a can of peaches. I shouted at the top of my voice that I wanted it and eventually got it.

We walked on the fells and had a good time. One day we were climbing a scree slope and the stones were slipping underfoot when Moz, a school prize athlete and rugby team player, announced he could go no further. He surprised us all by saying that he suffered from a fear of heights and wanted to go back down, but the rest if us wanted him to continue to climb because climbing down scree is harder than climbing up. In the end, despite all our coaxing, we had to descend the slope and help him down. We reminisced about our early years at St. Joe’s and everybody agreed that Mr. Smailes’ strap was the most painful they had ever experienced. It was a nice way to round off our time at St. Joe’s.

Then we all went to university. I saw Charles, Moz and Peter Howe a couple of times during the vacations, but then we all went our separate ways and lost touch with one another. I feel a sense of nostalgia and loss for the school and sorrow that the buildings which were my home for three years no longer exist.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Afterword – The Dark Side of St. Joes

Firstly, if you were academically bright or good at sport then you were generally well treated. If you happened to be in a ‘C’ form you were regarded as ‘thick’ and tended to be written off by teachers which, given that the ‘11 plus’ creamed of the top 25% of boys, was a remarkably stupid idea.

Secondly, like all other boys, about 3% of the boys at St. Joe’s were homosexual. However, St. Joe’s was not a gay friendly environment. (Queer was the term we used then). Any boy suspected of any homosexual tendencies would be teased unmercifully. In year two, Tim Gribbon was teased just because of his physique and the way that he walked. In year three, John ‘Fred’ Marrow had a spontaneous erection during our evening showers and was joshed for weeks afterwards. Once, in the 6th form, as I was visiting a class to collect overdue books, Mr Duke teacher was saying to a pupil who was suspected of being gay. ‘What do you want to be when you grow up T. – a flower arranger?’ ‘No Sir, a male prostitute’. He had courage did T.!

Curiously enough, the only teacher who ever discussed homosexuality was Hickey of all people. (He discussed all manner of things when he was our form teacher in 5A). He said that it was possible for two men to love one another and have a sexual relationship.

Thirdly, in my naivety, I used to believe that there was no sexual abuse going on when I was at the school. I had forgotten the visits by Joe Snow to the showers after gym, where he would feel boys’ thighs to determine "whether they would make good rugby players". At the time I think I regarded it as the eccentricity of old age and it did not seem at all frightening as you were with other boys. However, I have since learned from some contemporaries of mine that Brother O’Brien made a habit of grooming boys by whispering them the answers to tests. Subsequently they would be invited for individual tuition to the History room. So I suspect that on his visit to the junior dorm, he was not just looking for vocal talent.

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