Chapter V

William Sheafield Dramatic Society, Etc.


SOON AFTER the first World War the William Sheafield Dramatic Society was founded.

Any Old Boy of Leeds Grammar School, any Old Girl of the High School and any member of either staff could join. It was a great success and caused endless fun and enjoyment. Our first performance was She Stoops to Conquer which we gave in the High School gymnasium. I did not take part, as I was the first secretary and had my hands full with other jobs. I remember Mr. Tough’s valuable help in arranging the seating. I felt distinctly nervous, and my tongue got mixed, as it often does in times of stress. More than once I offered to ‘sow people to their sheets’. Some obstinate people settled themselves in the wrong row, namely row ‘L’. The rightful owners of these seats arrived and the first people refused to move, saying they were in row ‘K’, in spite of all my arguing. They went as meekly as lambs when I said loudly and indignantly: “Excuse me, but you are in ‘L’!” Mr. Hilton produced this play, which was repeated at various places; once, instead of Dr. T. Elmer, he took the part of Tony Lumpkin.

We raised a good deal of money by that first show. Later we were not so lucky; we got rather too ambitious and gave too many shows. I was jeered at by most of the committee as the ‘Geddes Axe’ when I suggested cutting down the shows. We had another excellent producer, Ruth Bolton, and under her we put on Mr. Pim Passes By, The Romantic Age, The Admirable Crichton, and many more. So successful were the plays that we ‘toured’ with them to Halton, Cross Gates, Tadcaster, Boston Spa, and many other places where we raised funds for local charities. I took the part of ‘Tweenie’ in The Admirable Crichton which was performed at the Little Theatre. In that I had to do two things simultaneously, and both made me very nervous. In a scene when we were on the island, I had to start the scene alone on the stage, by singing and by plucking a fowl. On the third night I thought to myself, “I won’t be nervous—this shall be really good”. As I was plucking the fowl, it all came undone and blood spurted out at me! It was very unnerving. As I handed the bird to Mr. Serpell (Lord Loan), I said “Look out, it is coming undone.” Later I complained to the producer. Her reply was: “Yes, I know dear; the rats had been at it in the night, but I didn’t tell you as I thought you might refuse to touch it.”

OUR VICE-PRESIDENTS (Canon Wynne-Edwards and Doctor Lowe) were wonderful as helpers and supporters, and their constant presence at our shows cheered us all very much. Now, 1951, I am pleased to report that the Society has been re-started. I wish it every success.

The Head once told me that my forte was low comedy when he saw me as the old woman in The Bathroom Door.

I hope I may be excused for telling this very amusing tale about him. On one of my visits to Kirklington, in the fairly early days of broadcasting, Mrs. Wynne-Edwards remarked that it would be very nice to have a wireless set. The Head did not think so. He had lately heard someone whom he knew quite well, and the voice was most unlike the real voice; in fact, a ‘garbled version’. Mrs. Wynne-Edwards said: “Well, you must own that wireless sets are very marvellous things.” “Yes, my dear, they are—so are fleas—but I don’t want fleas!” Later, of course, he had a set, and was as keen as most people; never missing the 9 o’clock news. I never had the temerity to remind him of his saying; he always told me I had too good a memory, and I believe he rather thought I invented things. I solemnly vow there is no invention in this book. Everything I tell is true.

HOW HELPFUL were the Head and many of the masters in giving beginners a hand over the early fences of teaching and of discipline; things were not always easy and one made mistakes and was duly rebuked. During an inspection of the school, when a French lesson of mine was being inspected, and I was terribly nervous and frightened, the Head called me out of the form room to ask me how I was getting on with the inspectors! He used sometimes to take a lesson for me and show how things should be done. But a headmaster has one big advantage—he never has any trouble with discipline.

Then there were the light touches: the jokes and howlers repeated, the visits to one’s form-room of masters, specially Mr. Kent, who came in and made jokes and enlivened the proceedings, even though wasting a little time. One howler I was told, dating back to Mr. Matthews’ time and repeated by him: “What is an osier?” Silence; then a scholarship boy’s hand went up, “Please, sir, an osier is an aberdasher.”

For many years I taught Latin, and we covered a tremendous lot of ground in one year. Once, foolishly, I left on my board the sentence ‘Non sum fera’. That was seen by a certain master, a great compiler of verses. He handed me a note:

Her manners were not in the least
Like those of a very wild beast,
But so grim was her reputation,
That her form were in consternation,
And to save them from fainting with terror
She wrote on her board ‘Non sum fera’.

On another occasion—still Latin—I had asked for a translation of ‘The bull wounds the stag with its feet’. This for the simple reason that the boys had learnt ‘pes’ but not ‘cornu’. The sentence was seen by Mr. T. R. Dawes, then headmaster of Castleford Secondary School. He drifted in unexpectedly. He did not hide his amusement and sent me the following, very quaintly illustrated:

Oh, the horrible, horrible Bull
In the Field above the Wharfe.
Is Hilda afraid of the Bull?
Yes, Hilda is—Not half!
And yet that Bull is a sportsman true;
He uses his horns as a Bull should do.

But the horrible, horrible Bull
That Hilda tells of in school—
He tosses the poor little Stag,
But still the Bull seems a fool.
For he don’t use his hom as is surely meet,
He tosses—the fool—the Stag with his feet!

FOR MANY YEARS I was form-mistress of Junior 3b, and Mr. Johnson had the parallel form Junior 3a. He was about 20 years older than I. Once he was telling his form of the days when he was a little boy at Leeds Grammar School. At the end of his reminiscences there was an enquiry: “Did Miss Christie teach you when you were at school?” I have been asked, too, if I used to teach Canon Roberts, who is also older than I. On another occasion I told my form of something that had happened when I came to the school ‘16 years ago’. An innocent question: “Did you say 60 years ago?” One gets used to this sort of thing, and realises that if one is prematurely grey, as I was, one is about 60 from the start.

In January, 1952, the Lord Mayor paid a visit to the school to distribute certificates. The Junior School heard the proceedings relayed in the dining-room. The Lord Mayor told us how it was 92 years ago since his father came to the Grammar School. Afterwards, as I was walking over the Moor with two youngsters, one asked, quite innocently, if I had taught the said father! To have done that, I should have had to be at least 114 years old!

IN THE DAYS when my younger cousin was in my form—I remember that form as one of the most delightful I have ever had—the form ran a magazine. For boys of 10 they were very enterprising, they cyclostyled the magazine and had competitions, jokes, rhymes, tips about cricket and stamp collecting, characters of the form—all well worth reading. I still have a copy of that magazine.

There was one boy, quite good looking, who when he was in my form did his hair decently. I taught him French when he was in the second form, and then he began to brush his hair straight back, really spoiling his looks. I nicknamed him ‘Fritz’ and used to enquire from Fritz about ‘G.R.’ He entered into the fun and used to give me news about himself. One day he came with his hair properly brushed so I greeted ‘G.R.’ as an old friend and told him how I had missed him. During the lesson there was a shout from the boys: “Please, Fritz has come back again”. The blighter had a comb in his pocket, and had once more transformed himself.

Some boys I remember for what they said or did when they were quite new boys. There was a boy who came new into Junior 2. On the first day he told his mother: “I don’t like that school, I LOVE it. I love that school so much that I want to kiss it.” This same boy had a perfect passion for Mr. A. L. Warr, an Oxford double blue; he said he was the greatest footballer he knew, and he did so much want to see a real footballer close to. I managed to arrange this for him; the boy got Mr. Warr’s autograph, took all cuttings about him from the papers, and generally followed his every movement.

In contrast to the above, there was the boy in Junior 1 who disliked school next to going to bed. He had various reasons for hating all lessons, specially arithmetic, because the sums were too easy! The second contrast, the boy, also in Junior 1, was quite bewildered by the size of the school and told his mother that he did not think much of whoever was in charge of that school; boys were dashing all over the place both ways. (It was soon after that that one-way traffic was introduced!) The same boy also took the news home: “Miss Christie teaches us conjuring. She calls it Science but it is really conjuring.”

One boy, who had had an unhealthy time when he was younger, laid himself open to mild bullying. If a boy went near him and raised a hand, Geoffrey (I think that was his Christian name) would let out the weirdest yell. Boys, being boys, did tease him, chiefly to see what he would say or do. He really was a coward at first. I soon found out he was brilliant at arithmetic. In those days the school list was generally pinned up on every form notice board. One day my form told me that Geoffrey could tell the particulars of every boy in the school. I said I did not believe that, and I was told to ‘test him’. I picked out three or four surnames at random and Geoffrey told me, absolutely correctly, each boy’s initials, house and school number. That marvellous gift was his salvation. The teasing stopped and Geoffrey was subjected to daily questioning about numbers, houses, etc. When this boy left school he went to the City Library, where he must have been invaluable.


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