The Prescotian Webzine


I would like to start by reminding you of what was happening in 1968. It was the Year of the gunning down of Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee; of Enoch Powell's 'rivers of blood' speech; and of the Fosbury Flop and Bob Beaman's leap into the history books at the Mexico Olympics. But most significantly for my theme tonight, it was the year of educational turmoil with the French student riots and the sit-ins at several British universities.

It was also a time of great educational turmoil at P.G.S. Although we 'Newts' did not know it as we timidly entered the black gates on September 4th.1968, and as at recess, in line with long-standing custom, we had our heads ducked in the outside toilets by the sixth-form, we were to represent the last era of Prescot as a pure Grammar School. Under the new headmaster, John Weeks, there were several obvious and immediate changes. The saying of the School Prayer and hymn singing at assemblies were abandoned; the wearing of caps for all but the first years was abolished; we were taught not in House groups or in sets but as IP, IQ, IR and IS. In the next few years we were to witness the of the abolition of the selected prefectorial system, the splitting of assemblies so that the Whole School met only on Monday mornings, the abolition of prizes except for fifth and sixth formers and ultimately the abolition of school uniform for the sixth form.

I am also sad to report that during our era, school societies virtually disappeared. At the end of our second year them were numerous ranging from the Natural History Society through the Subbuteo Club to the infamous Omnibus, Trolleybus and Tram Appreciation Society. By the date of our departure only the Chess Club and the Dramatic Society remained.

But as the old traditions were killed off so new ones rose to take place like the phoenix from the ashes. White Hart House at Dent in the Yorkshire Dales was bought by the Foundation Governors as a field study centre and pro vided the first tastes of country life for many pupils. Indeed, the George and Dragon and the Sun became and remain second homes to many staff and senior pupils alike. The Tuck Shop (which perhaps ironically started life in Room 1, formerly the prefects' quote domain) was set up to provide refreshment for the masses at recess and dinner time and also provided very generous financial rewards for the entrepreneurial tearn charged to run it. Indeed it has been rumoured that Earnest Saunders learned everything h e knew from a day with the Tuck Shop mafia.

While traditional inter-house sports continued to thrive during our era, a new one was instigated in March 1975; the inter-house Ale-ing Competition which took place at the Victoria Hotel in Prescot. Each team comprised three competitors and to avoid to avoid spillage or other more subtle forms of cheating a neutral referee was assigned to each team's table. Indeed as no-one had the nerve to announce the result in school assembly as a follow-on to the weekends football and hockey results. I can now make history by announcing in an assembly of Prescotians the result of the one and only inter-house Ale-ing Competition. I am glad to say that it was a victory for Alpha house with 52 pints, closely followed by Kappa house with 51 pints, Lambda with 40 and Omega with 32 pints. (In perfect sequence. Ed). Victor Ludorum went to Michael Hornby (Kappa) with an incredible 19 1/2 pints. Of course, ultimate victor was Joe Apter, landlord of the 'Vic' who was able happily to retire down south on the profits from that memorable lunchtime.

It was our Year that started the Sixth Form Pantomime with the most original version of Cinderella that you are ever likely to encounter. Perhaps the highlight was the big audience participation song which was set to the tune of "The Sun Has Got His Hat On" and involved skits on the masters. The favourite for most people was that on Ces "Splint" Davies, who I am sad to hear died recently. For those of you who may not remember. Ces used to speak in a rather sergeant-major voice, the words getting lost at the back of his throat. His favourite phrase was "sort of business" and he also during our era became rather possessive of the school minibus. So the verse went:

"Wah wah wah wah wah wah wah,
Wah wah wah wah wah waah.
Wah wah wah sort of business,
And the minibus is mine!"

Of course, any school is made by its staff and we were very fortunate to have some excellent teachers and some great characters such as "I mention no names, but follow eyes", Charlie Middlehurst, master of that highest form of wit, sarcasm. How many of us learned to conjugate our verbs following, "Mmm, fifty verbs, little boy." One of the other things that Charlie used to do was to pick on the boy to read aloud in class, who would always get his words mixed up, his sentences in the wrong order and get into a real flap. Charlie would sit through this fiasco and at the end he would always say, "Little boy, you read like a boiled egg." And what about this from the Sayings of the Year in the late sixties;

Boy with hand up, "Sir, may I go to the toilet, Please."
Charlie, "Can't you wait?"
Boy "No. Sir!"
Charlie, "Well. sit down and we'll see who's right"

Then there was Gilbert Burrows, "Bugsy" the Latin master. Latin was such fun in the first year, wasn't it ? It was all about "Vipera in herba est" or "Longa vipera in herba est" or even "Longa vipera in longa herba est" And we learned rhymes;

"Use an ablative with de,
cum, coram, ab and e,
sine, tenus, pro and prae,
in and sub when the verb's not one of motion."

But by the fifth form it was much less fun. The translations from Latin to English were fiendishly difficult and some boys' attempts at them were pretty feeble. So, Bugsy would say; "What have you got for the next sentence, Thomas ?" Thomas would reply, " I'm not sure that this is right, Sir, but I've got, "Oh. barbarian, the ramparts having been attacked with arrows since childhood. and dolphins lying in the grass whence they came". To which. Mr. Burrows' comment would always be. Thomas, if that's the best you can do, then you can stew in your own horrible juice."

In our era there was also Mike Harvey; that most eccentric and yet kind-hearted of teachers. The tales about Mike Harvey are legion. I will just pick out one which I think epitomises him. It occurred one afternoon as I was walking home from school. I h eard this almighty screeching of brakes and looked across the road to see a car had stopped dead about a hundred yards ahead and had caused a virtual pile-up of several cars behind. "Burrows, would you care for a lift "' shouted Mr. Harvey, head sticking out of the window of the front car and completely oblivious of the trouble he had caused. He was also the only soccer referee I have known who would whistle and shout, "Penalty, indirect though." And from theSayings of theYear l970; "These Zulus would run forty miles in a day - incredible feat". And Ted the goundsman, who only knew five words of English, "Get off those bloody pitches !"

Thinking of the masters set me pondering on nick-names. Some didn't have nicknames so we simply used their surnames, Gornall, Gray, Hardwick. Others were known by their Christian names eg Des (Roberts). Roy Taylor was R.T. Some were given a final "y"; Scotty, Fordy. Getting more interesting were those masters nicknamed in line with their appearance, Lobbo (Fred Webster) , Beak (Mike Harvey) but I think the only vaguely subtle example was for E. Fielding Kirk, that most magnificent music master whom we all knew as Joe - after Joe Loss.

Of incidents from our era I will pick out but three. Firstly, The infamous 'urinating in the showers' incident. I apologise to the ladies present but we all remember that toilet facilities in the gym changing rooms were non-existent and it had become commonplace for some boys to urinate in the showers. But the important thing was to get your timing right You did not do it when a master was around and most certainly you did not do it when the showers had been scrubbed spotlessly clean for the annual inspection by the governors and headmaster. What you also did not do was to be accompanied by the class idiot carrying a piece of chalk and who would write in big letters with an arrow just in case the governors might have missed it, "B****** peed hem." Needless to say there was all hell to pay the day after this incident.

Secondly, "Th Afros Are Coming". The Afros was a gang from Paddington Comprehensive school in Liverpool which had the reputation of having gone into other schools and smashed them up. One Wednesday, the rumour went around P.G.S. that the Afros were coming. Every single boy s eemed to get to hear of this and by the end of lunchtime virtually the whole School had assembled on the playground equipped with various makeshift weapons such as compasses and rulers wherewith to defend our heritage. My abiding memory is of the then de p uty headmaster, Mr. Elmer, standing on the steps of Room 1 telling the School to return to the classrooms and that the rumour had no foundation and was ridiculous when, to tumultuous applause. Roy Taylor. the biology master, appeared on the steps beside him wielding above his head the most lethal weapon of all - the huge jagged sword-fish that normally hung on the wall of Room 9.

Finally, there was Alfie Baxter. Mr Baxter was one of the most mild-mannered and nicest blokes you could ever hope to meet and whose passions in life were history and cricket. Sadly, he passed away in December 1973 and a mernorial service attended by the whole school was held in Prescot Parish Church. No boy knew that he had an identical twin brother. I have never seen so m anv faces turn white as........... when Alfie Baxter's twin brother walked down the aisle of Prescot Church!

To conclude, despite the changes that went on, P.G.S. gave me a good education, a passport to Brasenose College. seven years of great fun and the best friend s I have ever had. In short, I feel privileged and proud to have been, and to remain, a Prescotian.

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