The Prescotian Webzine

Keith Mackiln [PgS42-48] journalist, broadcaster and a senior member of the staff of Red Rose Radio was principal Speaker at the Reunion Dinner when he told us


In the past few years, I have sat amongst you on these occasions and enjoyed and admired speeches full of nostalgia, wit and the wisdom of tears. Now, I find myself faced with the dilemma of Elizabeth Taylor's eighth husband on their wedding night: 1 know what to do - but how do I make it interesting? Hence the provocative title.

Needless to say, the title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, though members of my family at the time when I contemplated leaving school at 16 did not see journalism as a secure and reputable profession, They wanted me to become a librarian or a colliery manager. However, 1 was determined to follow the way of life that, so it seemed and has proved, would enable me to follow and indulge my twin passions, the English language and sport: passions which were fanned and fed at P.G.S. by the gentleman who sits at this same table tonight, Geoffrey Dixon. For that and for them I am in his debt. Gratitude is due too to Jack Smith who sustained my love and interest in English language and literature once I left the Dixonian womb.

My obsession with sport led to my only memorable achievement at Prescot Grammar School, that of being in the right place at the right time at Anfield football ground in the year of our Lord, 1946. I headed the winning goal for the Junior XI against Holt High School and thus achieved two things. I escaped a caning under the threat of which I had played the match and I had survived another caning with the aid of six pairs of football shorts. Thereby, I was given a weapon with which to silence all critics of my footballing knowledge. Indeed, I have the weapon to silence, when needed, the criticism of one of the legendary football plavers and managers of our time. I refer to Kenny Dalglish of Liverpool FC and now Blackburn Rovers FC. As part of my duties with Red Rose Radio, I attend a weekly press conference given by Dalglish - and I long for the time to come when, after I have asked him a particularly troublesome question, he says with an attempt at sarcasm, "Andw\hat do you know about footbahh?" I shall then whip out my team photo from The Prescotian and say triumphantly, "Kenny, 1 have achieved something you have done I have scored a goal at Anfield."

But, back to school-davs; not exactly the happiest days of one's life but, in retrospect, full of memorable moments. Not least, the devious and cunning way in which I won my place in the School Junior XI. The trials were conducted by the games master, Mr Eyton-Jones, Ikey Jake as, for some obscure reason, he was nicknamed. There were about forty would-be trialists and room for only twenty-two, two XI's to play the match. Mr Eyton Jones asked us to line up, in the positions of our choice, from goalkeeper to outside right. To my horror. 1 noticed no fewer than seven lined up for my position - inside right. Seven for two positions. No chance .......... but then I saw that one one boy stood in the outside right line. If I moved backwards into the outside right line, I was sure of a trial. My deviousness paid off the other lad was a worse outside right than I was and I got into the team. Thus, via S.F.X., Quarry Bank and the Collegiate to an Anfield Final with Holt. The rest is history.

Now, what about those canings avoided by my winning goal ? Well, at that time we had a master, the Rev R.K. Leigh who was a kindly and sincere man; one who held fast to an ancient Christian principle that to spare the rod was to spoil the child. This sensible precept is now outlawed to the detriment of school discipline and eventual good citizenship. I had committed some misdemeanour in Mr Leigh's class and he gave me an ultimatum. Two days later came the Anfield final; if we lost, or if I did not score a goal, a caning would be administered. The threat alone was enough and you are the first audience to know the real truth about that winning goal at Anfield. And the second caning. I forgot who was to administer this but it happened within a week of the Anfield game. What a momentous week - a cup final and two punishments! I prepared for six of the best by canvassing five of my team-mates who duly lent me their football shorts and I turned up bravely at the appointed hour. Never has upper lip been so stiff as I bent down and received six strokes. However, instead of a healthy, crisp thwack of cane against quivering buttock, there was a series of dull thuds. I feared the worst but the master (would that 1 could recall his name) allowed me to get away with it. Another cup bonus!

You may gather by now that I have a calculating, devious and pragmatic nature. It helps in the competitive, round-the-clock, unpredictable world of journalism.

I earned my first professional fees through sharp practice when I was eighteen and doing my National Service at West Kirby. In my section there were twenty-four young airmen. A national newspaper, The News Chronicle, now sadly defunct, ran a back-page competition for football fans. A fee of two guineas, a reasonable sum in 1950. would be paid for the best letter couched in two hundred words or less written by a fan about his favourite team. With the co-operation of my twenyv-three section colleagues who, between them, supported twenty-three different teams from Torquay to Partick Thistle, I composed twenty-four letters (some were about teams 1 had never seen) including my own about Liverpool. There went off to The News Chronicle, twenty-four letters from twenty-four different names and addresses. All twenty-four letters were published. I gave half the proceeds, a guinea each, to my mates and pocketed twenty-four guineas myself. So much for journalistic integrity.

Back again to P.G.S. and, just as a change from academic memoirs, some reflections on so-called corporal punishment from one who has had his share. I don't think I was especially delinquent, just foolish. At school I was punished justifiably for talking in class. How odd to be punished for something for which I have since beeti rewarded professionally. Once, without knowing it, I jawned loudly in class and this stopped Mr Robinson in his tracks when he was chalking something on the board. After he had recovered his composure he applied the blackboard duster to my knuckles.

Every master had his own technique of administering condign punishment. Robbie was a board duster man. Fanny and Dicko applied it across the bottom. The knuckles hurt worst - they turned blue and you slowly rose from the soles of your feet to the tips of our toes. Geoffrey Dixon, I recall, gave a brief lecture on the error of your ways as he delivered each stroke with a gym shoe. The piece de resistance was being caned by the headmaster, Robert Spencer Briggs; a truly tragi-comic experience, part salutary, part funny. Mr Briggs who was always held in respect, indeed awe, by my generation, had his own idiosyncratic style. Rather than stand squarely on his feet and deliver his six strokes, he would jump up six inches off the ground and swish the cane with a staccato upward movement. The result was that, of every six jumps and swishes, two would miss the mark by centimetres, two would flick the trousers and only two would hit the mark. But my friends, those two stung!

All this talk of punishment must not, I hasten to point out, indicate that Prescot was like Stephen Dedalus' school in James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist Young Man nor does it indicate that I spent my schooldays in constant rascality and mischief.

I was a normally healthy youth who occasionally became over-boisterous and P.G.S. was staffed by dedicated teachers who cared about their profession and their subject and understandably became frustrated at times with tlte boorish insensitivity of youth. 1 did not resent being punished: I knew 1 was in the wrong and the punishment was deserved. The sting was short-lived; respect for the master increased temporarily at least and I was far better behaved and more attentive for the experience. This is why, to wax polemical for a few brief seconds, 1 have no time for the quack ideologues, well meaning but living in their own special cloud-cuckoo land in organisations like STOPP who would have us believe that physical punishment, justifiably and fairly administered, make brutes and sadists out of normal youngsters. What nonsense. Neither I nor any of my generation has shown abnormalities of personality; nor have we become psychopaths or child beaters because we had been properly and rightly punished in the most salutary way at school. However, there are two points of view on this subject and it is neither my desire nor my brief to be controversial on this convivial evening.

So to end my allotted span before reaching your boredom threshold and, as a journalist, may I concede a point to another profession on its imaginative writing skills. The best example of words in sequence came recently in an exchange of letters between two solicitors who were erstwhile friends and partners. One solicitor, sadly, felt he had to take action against the other and wrote the following letter;

"Dear Sir: 1 have recently received information and witness reports that lead me to believe that you were recently seen in a motor-car with my wife and that the circumstances allow of no other conclusion that adultery was taking place. I would like to arrange a meeting at 2.15pm next Tuesday at which we may discuss the matter...................."

The reply read; "Dear Sir: Thank you for your circular letter. Unfortunately, professional commitments prevent me from attending your meeting. However, should it come to a vote, 1 am prepared to abide by the wishes of the majority."

It may now be the wish of the majiority that I sit down. Thankyou.

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