Old Bromsgrovian Anecdotes

Please click through the pages below to access a range of anecdotes sent in by Old Bromsgrovians.

If you have any stories about your time at Bromsgrove School which you would like included on this page please email us at: oldbromsgrovians@bromsgrove-school.co.uk

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Memories of "The Phoenix" magazine, written by Chris Thomson (School 1951-1956)

Last Updated: 14/04/2014 14:34:48

Reading through my old copies of The Bromsgrovian, it reminded me of a prank that David Idwal Jones (also 1951-1956) and I got up to during our last year at School.

I was Editor of "The Bromsgrovian" at the time and in my Editorial of April 1956 expressed with great and intentional pomposity grave misgivings about an "underground" magazine called "The Phoenix" which was circulating around School House and bewailing the fact that it had 30 page issues containing contributions from many members of School House whereas the official School Magazine had far fewer.

"The Phoenix" was in fact a magazine that David and I produced entirely by ourselves and for which we were the sole contributors. We managed to persuade the Headmaster’s Secretary that it had official status and she innocently used the School paper to duplicate 100 copies of each issue. These we sold to fellow students at a shilling an issue; it was a sell-out!

We only produced two issues before the Headmaster discovered where his duplicating paper was disappearing and it folded. So "The Phoenix" belied its name.

Provided by Chris Thomson (School 1951-1956)

Memories of Schooldays, written by Graham Robson (59-65 E)

Last Updated: 14/04/2014 14:33:06

I had an experience recently that just goes to show the hidden benefits, when out in the Wide World, of having been to a Good School. [You may have spotted the A A Milne use of capital letters there.]

One was a sadly undistinguished and wholly forgettable member of the school, leaving in about 1966 [Elmshurst] with a small clutch of O levels to disappear almost without trace into the bowels of industry. However, certain aspects of the Public School Experience have stayed with me throughout life. The fear of walking on grass in public places has been one [memories of joy unconfined at Commem. when you could walk uninhibited on The Green] . . . the tortured strains of the CCF band desperately aiming to get the high notes somewhere near the bull but generally just clipping the outer . . . and then, recently, one absolute corker of a nugget that struggled its way to the surface.

My wife and I are, of course, members of the National Trust . . . kind of goes with the Good School territory, somehow, along with liking Elgar and muesli. On a recent foray to Glorious Devon, my wife and I visited Salcombe, and, pitched some height above the bay is the NT property Overbeck’s. This is the house of the scientist, Otto Overbeck, pioneer of electro-therapy.

In one of the rooms, on the wall, was mounted a crest. The enthusiastic guide referred to this, and threw out the challenge to any of the visitors to name the heraldic bird device thereupon. This was met (as usual, apparently) by a stunned silence. A little later, within earshot of the guide, I mused to my wife as to whether they might indeed be martlets.

Well, you’d have thought I’d told him I’d found his long-lost brother from Australia.

He broke off from a conversation with some other people and bounded across the room with something of the same speed that a waitress at a Thai restaurant achieved once [too late, it turned out] to tell me not to eat the leaves the meal was wrapped in.

He announced happily that that was indeed what they were and proclaim how thrilled he was that someone had identified them.

Apparently the only other people ever to have done so were from a cricket club in Basildon or similar.

So – there you have it. The time at Elmshurst under Guy Jarrett, with headmaster Mr Carey, Geography master Jacques Hedley, the excellent Pete Fielden for Biology and so forth . . . . wasn’t wasted.

Provided by Graham Robson (59-65 E)

Recollections of Nigel Sisson (1946-1950 School)

Last Updated: 14/04/2014 14:32:29

Recollections of Nigel Sisson, School 1946-1950 of his time in Pakistan as General Manager of Oxford University Press in 1968-1969 during martial law. Nigel attended Bromsgrove ((School House) from 1946-1950 and went on to Sandhurst. He served in the Middle East and Germany from 1952-1957. Nigel followed a career in publishing from 1958-1991.


Excerpts from an email Nigel Sisson wrote to OUP Pakistan about his time spent there:
I was blessed with a fine team in Karachi, the head office, but we were separated as you know from the subsidiary branches in Lahore and Dacca, then East Pakistan. Communication with Wajid in Lahore was relatively easy but all mail and documents to/from Dacca had to be sent by secure air courier on flights which could not overfly India so went round the bottom via Colombo. Every cheque for my signature had to come and go this way – imagine that! But it worked.

The key right-hand man for me in Karachi was of course Ignatius Fernandes, whose managerial and financial skills steered us all along through the most difficult periods, e.g. the Martial Law Constitution, which contained as I remember at least fourteen clauses which carried Capital Punishment! You can imagine why our printer felt unable to continue printing our local edition of ‘The Myth of Independence’ by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. I met Bhutto several times and also his family, including Benazir, then a girl in pigtails. During his imprisonment I was under constant pressure from his wife to go ahead with publishing his book. We were certain our telephones were tapped and we are under scrutiny, and I had to make several visits to the Interior Ministry in Islamabad to keep things in order. It was not easy.

Another person I remember well was ‘Manu’ who was a perfect guardian on the downstairs front door when necessary – I think he was a rather warlike Pathan, though I may be wrong, and he produced disgusting mugs of tea with various foreign bodies floating on top when I had visitors I wanted to get rid of quickly.

Unwanted American publishers, who called in transit and popped in out of curiosity, were especially given the Manu tea treatment, and they seldom stayed long.

One of my favourite memories of Manu was asking him to go to the police and pay a speeding fine for me, following my capture the previous day in a notorious speed trap on the road out to Clifton. This was a mile or so of open desert road between the city and the Clifton suburb where I (and incidentally Z.A. Bhutto) was living. I was trapped among many others by a mobile court, hidden under a palm tree, where there was no escape. A very large judge and a team of armed police carried out summary justice. There was some negotiation about the actual speed I was doing and the acceptable fine was agreed, but there was no question of paying by cheque, as I suggested. It was a ‘cash only’ transaction. I carried no cash so surrendered my driving licence on a promise to send Manu round next morning. The driver behind me in the queue, who also lived at Clifton, was similarly fined but had no cash and no licence to leave as security. So guess what – he had to leave his wife, Mrs Mary Bush, behind while he went to get enough cash from the bank, of which he was the local manager! Mrs B. was not amused!


We continued to publish the very successful ‘Ahmad & Rehana’ series in my time, and I had an excellent friendly relationship with Pat Clements. I have copies here in my file of Ahmad and Rehana Middle School Reader A and the Workbook A and would gladly send them to anyone if they might be useful in your archive. Just let me know.

Pat Clements earned useful royalties, of course, on her books and she needed to remit this income to the UK. At the time there was very strict control of hard currency exports and we were required to get advance permission (from Islamabad) in detail for any publishing project which would involve foreign currency remittance.

In Pat’s case, I remember, I had a series of meetings about this issue, during the course of which the official concerned (whom I liked but cannot remember his name) asked me what authority I had to commit these funds. I stated that as General Manager I was authorised by the Oxford University Press in London, where John Brown was Publisher. But then I was asked who gave him the authority to give me my power of attorney! So I wrote to the Publisher (then John Brown) and asked for help. He had worked pre-war in India and had some experience of the ways and means on the Sub-Continent! Several weeks later a large envelope arrived on my desk, with a short note from John Brown saying ‘I think this is what you want’. With it was a facsimile copy of an important looking document, which I took to my next meeting, and handed over. ‘This is what you need’ I said ‘It shows where Mr Brown’s authority starts. Have a look at it’. I saw when he first opened it he had it upside down, and then turned it round and tried to read it through. Which was obviously difficult because it was in Latin. It was the original charter, or equivalent, of the authority under which the University Press printed the Bible from I think the 15th Century! After a few minutes, my friendly official looked at me across the table over his glasses. ‘Nigel’ he said ‘you are a clever fellow. This is good enough for me!’ So we had a good lunch and I got the signature I need for Pat.

I was with the Press for over fifteen years, and then moved into all sorts of differing commercial publishing jobs, with lots of overseas work and travel and many new contacts, but the Press was a vital start to my career, which ended as a director of the Penguin UK Group.

End of excerpt

In September, 2012, a team from OUP Pakistan visited Nigel at his home in Norfolk to interview him about his recollections of his time in Pakistan. He was able to provide valuable historical information to help them recreate the history of OUP Pakistan. You can visit the OUP Pakistan website at http://museum.oup.com.pk. Upon entering the site please click the 'History of OUPP' or 'Gallery' links for further details.

Recollections of Dr. Lionel Carey, written by Anthony Walters (1952-1955 S)

Last Updated: 14/04/2014 14:26:14

At a Bromsgrove School reunion held in Washington D.C. a couple of years ago, the subject of a previous headmaster, Dr. Lionel Carey, emerged. Apparently, he was not the most highly regarded head, following one of the most beloved heads of Bromsgrove, the Rev, D.J. Walters, who saw the School through the war years, and beyond. I think it is important to recognize the differences between these two headmasters, as I perceived them.

D.J. Walters was perhaps the last of the "Traditional" style of headmaster. Frank Middlemass who played the headmaster, Algie Herries, of Bamfylde School, in the TV version of R.F, Delderfields book, "To Serve Them All My Days" reminded me very much of D.J. - Fatherly, kindly yet astute, very knowledgeable and shrewd. He knew all the tricks and both the staff and the students who liked and respected him.

On the other hand. Dr. Lionel Carey came in not as a new broom, but rather more like a tornado. He took the whole School by storm. A modern educator with modern ideas, he shook Bromsgrove like a terrier shaking a stuffed toy! It was probably exactly what the School needed and his tenure set the stage to develop Bromsgrove into the modern and so very successful learning institute that is is today. Of course the staff reacted exactly as one would expect, and it did not take long before the fall out began, and Dr. Carey started to surround himself with like-minded teaching staff.

I have one observation and one story I would like to relate, as I was one of the few people still around, who were pupils at Bromsgrove under the aegis of both D.J. Walters and Dr. Carey.

My father, Bernhardt Walters, attended School with Dr. Routh as Headmaster, while my two brothers Brian and Barry, attended under Rev. D.J. Walters.

My academic record prior to Bromsgrove was bad to poor. I failed the eleven plus, and to this day, I don't think I actually passed the Common Entrance Exam, but was accepted into the School, by virtue of family history and my father's ability to pay the fees!

Thus, on arrival at School, I was assigned to the Lower IVth. After an extraordinary academic year in which I garnered at least four Cs, I was in the following year assigned to the Purgatory Class, known as "Remove" where the flotsam and jetsam of the School floated along until either through age or parents resignation to their sons inability to learn caused them to leave the hallowed halls with at least "a Public School education".

Enter Dr. Lionel Carey. At the beginning of my third year at Bromsgrove. This was to be my last year at Bromsgrove, but Dr. Carey had other ideas. Scarcely had School started in September 1954 (?) when the gaunt figure of Dr.Carey stormed into the class. Calling us a bunch of "Hum... Lazy Lizards", he outlined a course of action that would, if we worked hard, garner some "O" Levels, and, if we attained three "O" Levels, we would be promoted next year into the VIth Form and wear the coveted plain cream boater! To this end, the hated "Remove" was abolished and we were now known as Vth D, Fifth Formers no less!

So for the rest of the year, we studied a limited number of subjects each and every day. At the end of the year we sat our "O" Levels, and I proudly passed three out of the six. Not spectacular, but, it gained my father’s grudging acceptance to let me stay at School for one more term and be in the VIth Form! I proudly wore the cream straw boater handed down to me from my eldest brother Brian. So one final term in the Sixth and one more "O" Level later, I left Bromsgrove.

That was December 1955. How I retired at age 58 from the banking industry and how I became a Vice President and Group Manager of First Union/Wachovia Bank, is directly attributable to the intervention of Dr. Carey into my life at Bromsgrove. I will always be grateful to him for giving me the incentive to reach out and up.

Now for the second part. This is a true story that I was able to authenticate by one of the participants, all of whom have by now probably passed on to the Great Public School in the sky.

Sam Darby, the Housemaster of School House, who lived in what is now I believe Hazeldene House, in conjunction with several of the teaching staff members and the then Bursar of Bromsgrove, had all chipped in and purchased a barrel of wine from France. At the appropriate time the wine was shipped over from France and was delivered to and put into the cool confines of Sam Darby's cellar, there it reposed in quiet maturity until it was properly rested and ready for bottling.

It so happened by accident or by design that the new and not widely liked headmaster Dr. Lionel Carey, was away from the School for a few days, possibly attending the annual Headmasters' Conference. The time was set; the bottles prepared and like a clandestine gathering of a secret society, the various and sundry participants gathered on the appointed evening around the about-to-be-broached barrel. The barrel was indeed tapped and the wine flowed freely. Bottles were filled and much tasting took place. It did not take too long apparently for the whole consortium to become well and truly influenced by the fruit of the vine!

Sometime around midnight, the boys in the dormitory next to what was then the headmaster's house, were woken up to raucous chanting outside. On opening the dorm windows, they were surprised to see and hear about five or six people dancing round in a circle singing "Down with Carey, Down with Carey".

News of this event was whispered about the next day, although quickly suppressed by the School House Monitors who, I have no doubt, were urged by Sam Darby to keep it quiet! But the "cat was out of the bag" so to speak. However nothing more was said and by then the Summer Holidays were upon us, and by the next term all had been forgotten.

Some ten years later, my wife and I were invited to dinner in Chelsea, by an old friend of my parents, Frank Davies. "Uncle Frank" had been around since I can remember and had stayed in our house many times. He was the Bursar at Bromsgrove at the time of the wine bottling.

After a few drinks, I asked "Uncle” Frank about the dance by the somewhat inebriated masters. It took a while but "Uncle" Frank did in fact confirm that the incident took place. I was also able to ascertain who else was in the bottling party, but the years have blunted my memory, and less I slander an innocent party, those names shall remain locked in my memory. If anyone else has any recall of this I would like to have confirmation.

Editor's Note: The Rev. D.J. Walters and the writer, Anthony Walters, are not related.

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