Girls Blazer Badge Boys Blazer Badge

Gem's Gems

Mr Gem - Practical Joker Sublime

By Several Contributors

Eleven+ Marking - LCGS Style

Peter Gem

OLD men shouldn't prattle on but I will indulge myself and you in one tale now. It concerns the marking of the 11+ papers for the ESCC Education Department, when all our boys had the day off and we poor slaves had to mark, and mark, and mark … This was a considerable bore not made any easier by the minions and flunkies from the education department (please note absence of capital letters) wittering on telling us that the Girls' School, or somewhere-or-other had done more than we had after the first hour ... - bla - bla - bla.

This was exasperating enough but what really penetrated right up our schoolmasterly nostrils was their refusal to accept perfectly good answers. I can recall one which was 'Complete the following sayings' (actually, of course, worn out clichés):' As black as . . . . .' The answer was pitch: not tar, nor coal, nor the director of education's mind, nor even as was suggested by someone in the Math's Department (guess who) 'as black as a . . . . . .'s arse' (how desperately non p-c!). We were outraged and said we would use our own discretion, and I can remember the English Department in particular becoming incandescent. We made it clear that we would mark the wretched thing our way. This threw the minions into a collective frenzy of administrative despair and rage, so they went off to NRB to try to 'restore discipline', which he refused to do.

Next year we decided on our revenge and we all turned up in fancy dress. Harry Pett came in shorts in a pukka sahib outfit, Keith Herbert in full mountaineer's rig, Derek Ives as Senior Scout Master in shorts, someone else in drag, and someone as a Bedouin Chief, etc. I was decked out as Archbishop Makarios -- a rascally cleric-politician from Cyprus -- chanting and swinging a lavatory chain before me as I made my way into the hall.

The minions went berserk and rushed off hysterically to NRB to complain. At that moment Brian Richards, decked out as Archbishop Antimos - another Cypriot rogue, was standing in the corner playing 'The Church is one foundation' deliberately badly on his violin while we were lobbing coins at him as he had a cap out in front to collect donations.

Enter NRB, trying desperately to contain his face, unseen by Brian, walking slowly towards our fiddler colleague. In due course there was more or less silence. NRB “I suppose you realise Richards that you're making a damned fool of yourself in front of all these outsiders”. NRB didn't wait for a reply but retired rapidly not to be seen or heard for the rest of the day. He never mentioned this episode later at all !

We were never forgiven by the minions and were 'punished' (hurrah!) by not being allowed to mark ever again! We did not have a collective nervous breakdown over this lack of prospect but it was a great shame as we had already planned for the next year's fun and games. I think it was Dick Page who hit on the idea of buying some sheep down in Lewes market in the morning, having them transported asap to the School, and releasing them into the hall where we would have been 'working'. We were already enjoying the thought of the minions having to tiptoe round the offerings left by the admirable Sussex woollies.

Alas it never came to pass, and more's the pity. Happy days - anyway for us: it wouldn't happen now, Gentlemen, but tell your grandchildren how it was !

The Presentation

Martyn Relf (60-67)

Peter Gem was a teacher who will feature in the memory of many 1960s staff and boys. The bearded, gangly history teacher was held in much affection. He also taught Scripture and conducted the chapel services.

Peter Gem An early memory of him for me was the history trip to Hadrians's wall. The party included a bunch of squeaky second year boys trying to be very grown up, including me, (I think I might have smoked my first fags on that trip!). I remember John Franklin, Simon Lewin and Baz Knight in that bunch. The rest of the party comprised a sixth form group of big and important people some of whom even had to shave. Somehow Peter Gem managed keep us younger ones out of the pubs, while he and the sixth formers sneaked out of the youth hostel to sample the local ale.

I don't remember being aware of Mr Gem's reputation as a practical joker but someone managed a last laugh on him. I guess it was a staff arranged stunt. It was his last assembly - July 1966 - the end of the summer term and he was leaving the school to take up the headmastership at Oswestry School. After the usual appreciations and plaudits, the moment came for the presentation . . .

Picture the assembly hall with staff in gowns and Mr Fanner presiding. The hall is packed as the whole school gathers. Suddenly, the left hand door opens and in staggers the smallest boy in the school carrying a huge television. With some difficulty he begins to make his way up the steps onto the stage. At the top of the steps the diminutive figure staggers, stumbles, wobbles, 'trips' and the television crashes to the hall floor in front of the stage, shattering into smithereens.

There's a sharp intake of breath and a shocked hush that seems to last for ever but as reality dawns, the hall erupts in laughter - Peter Gem's among the loudest. Even Mr Fanner manages a smile. It had all happened so quickly, we did not have time to digest the incongruity of this charade or the fact that the telly looked decidedly second-hand !

When order had been restored the presentation proper took place. As I remember Mr Gem received an Aldis slide projector. I don't know who organised this stunt, it was almost certainly a member of staff, but it was brilliantly executed. And who, I wonder, was the child actor who played his part with such faultless timing ?

[Later: Peter Loughran believes that the small boy was Hollands. He is the small boy just right of centre at the front of the photo Second Form Urchins 1962. David Morling suggested that John Davey produced and stage managed this stunt. John has confessed and also sent an account of another of Gem's pranks.]

[John Davey: Yes, it was me that was responsible for the 'mock' presentation of the TV set to Peter, and it was Hollands who I 'trained' to struggle in with it - and then drop it! So, well done, David for remembering! ]

[Mr Gem recalls :-
I had made it abundantly clear for years to many forms that anyone who had or watched TV was a total moron and would soon have their wits turned, and that those who talked about last night's programmes were the ultimate bores. Hence you can imagine my feelings when I saw this object being carried to me! I gather one of my colleagues had been designated to grab my gown from behind and stop me if I had made a lunge to save the wretched thing.

John Davey et al had gone down to the local TV shop and asked for all their scrap bulbs, and valves, etc. and had come back laden. They then undid the back of the set and tipped the whole lot in willy-nilly and then very loosely screwed the cover back down again. A small boy who was in the Lab at the time said to him in great wonder “Sir, is that how a TV set's made ?” ]

The Candidate

John Davey

Peter Gem was well known in the staff room for his practical jokes. The best, by far, was when interviews were taking place for NRB's successor as headmaster in 1960. Staff had become accustomed to their lessons being interrupted as candidates were being shown around the school. There followed lively coffee break discussions as to the relative merits or otherwise of the day's batch of candidates.

The 'Candidate' On one memorable day Peter Gem knocked on each classroom door to introduce to us an incredibly rough and ready chap wearing a cloth cap and clad in a dirty old raincoat. In a most uneducated accent, he asked the most inane questions like, 'wot d'you teach the boys in Chemistry, then?' and ( to one of the class) 'wot's water made of then, lad?'

Needless to say, we were horrified at the prospect of this man being appointed to take over from the revered NRB, and later that day the staff room was alive with indignant 'how dare they . . . ' comments, when the door suddenly opened and in walked Peter Gem with the 'candidate', who pulled off his cap, scarf and coat to reveal the familiar face of dear old Spud Tayler ! ! !

Spud Tayler Hugh was an accomplished amateur actor, he had appeared in many of the earlier school plays, and had been most skilfully made up. He managed to go unrecognised even by those who had worked with him for the best part of 30 years! I do remember that he had padded his cheeks with balls of cotton wool - yuk, can you imagine what that must have been like as he was shown round the school? The name he was given has slipped my mind. A photograph of him in his disguise was framed and hung over his locker in the staff room throughout the time that I was there. If only a copy had survived . . .

[ Later: Well, a copy did survive ! Mel Tayler, Spud's daughter, found the very photo that John refers to among her father's collection that she inherited and we have now reproduced it above. The original is mounted on a card with the Latin title MORIBUNDI FLOREANT and underneath "The one that got away".]

Peter Gem's Account of the "Headmaster" Hoax

John Davey remembers the hoax very well indeed but I must add one or two points to this spoof affair to fill in the gaps.

The day before this debacle, a quite impossible man - at least to look at - who was indeed a genuine candidate had turned up to be shown round: he looked like a bankrupt bookmaker who had wandered down from the racecourse and got lost.

As Hugh and I discussed this miserable specimen, the plot was hatched. The subtlety of it was that Hugh himself never ever wore glasses, nor a cap, nor a British Warm coat. He also had a discernable neck rather than looking like the Piltdown Man (if you remember, he was a hoax). As a matter of historical fact (historian that I am supposed to be), we called our candidate Mr Rudyard, Headmaster of Newton Abbot Grammar School.

We started down the end at Room 2 and worked our way east up to Room 11 and then up by the science labs. I have to tell you that I have seldom ever had to exercise such self control as Mr Rudyard clucked, puffed, and bumbled his way round: it was completely unrehearsed. I even managed to make reasonably discreet eyebrow-raising faces as if to indicate to my colleagues 'you won't credit this creature, but I'm only doing what I've been asked to do …'

In fact we were discovered by the Upper Sixth Latin group. I took him in to his own room (Room 9) on the way back and asked where Mr Tayler was only to be told that he had set some work and gone off 20 minutes ago. It was then that I saw a look of utter incredulity shading to delight on Mick Sadler's face as he rumbled us and the penny dropped rapidly and joyously.

When we unmasked our candidate in the Common Room, there was general hilarity but one or two (they shall remain nameless!) were, like Queen Victoria, not amused; it was they who had leapt to their feet calling Hugh "Sir", and had been generally, shall we say, ingratiating themselves to the potential new boss!

I took the photograph you see above there and then, later giving a copy to HFT which his wife Kathleen and Mel vastly enjoyed and, thankfully, kept.

I'll bet NRB got to hear of this and had a quiet chuckle but he never said a word to anyone, on the excellent principle that there were times when the best policy was "know nowt, say nowt".

Happy days: I fear I can't see this happening in the grey world of Education today.