Fifties Reminiscenses Reflections on English Masters at Dynevor in the 1950s

John L. Davies (1952-59)

English was never really a spectacular subject at Dynevor. It did not involve outdoor explorations as Geography or Geology did involving frenetic assaults on fossil bearing rocks or getting lost in the mists of Cribarth (see TOD 17). Nor did it display the mysteries of Gregorian chemical reactions and intriguing odours drifting across the yard. It had neither the impenetrable (to me, at least!) complications of Physics, nor the knockabout abandon of Art, Music and Woodwork. “Knock-about” had a special connotation with Sandy, of course! What it did offer, on the other hand, was a reflection on human nature, philosophy and a deep contemplation of things sensitive –and some, of course, remarkable teachers. I had the pleasure of sitting at the feet of Ossie Morris, John Bennett and Bryn Cox, during my seven years at Dynevor. Sam Bassett also taught English, but my experience of Sam, a gentle amiable giant, was in his capacity of coach of the first year Rugby XV, where the entire team spent ten minutes in Budgie’s Gym during training, trying, unsuccessfully, to bring him down! It was thus left to the other three to attempt to make English interesting and hopefully inspiring, and this, they certainly did. There was English Language –and what a service they rendered in making us literate in one of life’s necessary skills, (often a serious deficiency in the present age) and stretching our creative capacity in writing essays. There was also English Literature, in which some of the glories of our civilisation were unpacked and our imaginations and evolving souls stimulated, usually in a most enjoyable manner.

Ossie was a kindly inspiration (he also looked after the School Library) and his forte was enabling us to get into the heart of plays by casting boys as characters forreadingpurposes –to their evident enjoyment. These were punctuated by periodic insightful explanations by Ossie. For reasons I did not comprehend, I was cast as the monster (Caliban) in Shakespeare’s “Tempest” (“a devil, a born devil upon whose nature, nurture can never stick”) on which casting, 4D were all agreed was highly appropriate. Sucha pedagogic method created scope for us all for unlimited “hamming up”, which Ossie happily not only tolerated, but warmly encouraged.

He was not especially interested in iambic pentameters which, however, greatly fascinated John Bennett, the impresario behind the Hobbies exhibitions (see TOD 15) and erstwhile drinking buddy of Dylan Thomas (or so he said). John Bennett was brilliant at penetrating the deeper meanings of poetry, especially Milton and Wordsworth, and was undeniably narked when Bryn Cox steadfastly refused to concede that Dylan Thomas was “proper poetry”. I owe John Bennett a huge gratitude for his explorations of Chaucer in its medieval context, the majesty of “Paradise Lost” and the pastoral peregrinations of Wordsworth, all of which provided much enjoyment in later life.

Bryn Cox, who sang a vigorous tenor line in School assemblies and Porky’s choir, was far sighted in his commitment to exposing budding literati to RSC Stratford for some epic performances (Laurence Olivier in “Coriolanus” and Paul Robeson in “Othello”). The visit provided unforeseen and distinctly non-literary discourses with scholars from Chelmsford Girls Grammar School, sharing the same youth hostel. BC’s midnight patrols were interesting to behold! From time to time, however, he was a little adjacent to reality, notably, when after a term and a half’s dedicated analysis of “Macbeth” for A Level English, he suddenly discovered the set book was actually “Twelfth Night”! The term “speed reading” was thus invented in March 1959. And here, Dave Tovey and I have a confession to make. In 1958 –59, the bomb damage by Herr Hitler on the main building was being rectified and a new floor being built on top. The builders had inserted bung holes at intervals and one just happened to be positioned immediately above BC’s desk in U. vi. Arts room. For some nefarious reason, Dave and I decided during registration to pour some gravel down the bung-hole atop BC’s pate. Chris Edwards later volunteered that he’d never seen BC move so fast. The identity of the perpetrators of this heinous crime visited upon the Head of English has remained a mystery to this day.

Collectively, they inspired some of us to literary action. Chris Edwards was moved to write sonnets of a particularly haunting nature, of which JB enthusiastically approved (JB never did anything unenthusiastically). A small group of budding thespians, including Dave Tovey, Alan Goodwin, Barry Harrison and myself, put on an abridged performance of a Sheridan play in a Hobbies exhibition, which we think bore a reasonable passing resemblance to the author’s original intent. Flushed with dramatic triumph, we then wrote and produced an epic melodrama called “The Black Terror”. This was performed over three days in Budgie’s Upper Gym in the middle of term, without anyone’s permission. Classes were invited to come and partake of this literary extravaganza and they came –with masters! How we were not severely disciplined is still a source of profound mystery to us. To our considerable disappointment, however, the script was rejected by the BBC. What a sad loss to the nation. I attribute most of the BBC’s subsequent problems to this decision!

We were fortunate to sit at the feet of such splendid sages. To inform, motivate and inspire sceptical boys is a tall order for any teacher. They did it.