1968 – The great Dunsmore School Hymn Book Robbery.
At school it must have come as something of a relief to my parents that there was a little bit of improvement and a glimmer of hope because although I finished the third form in July 1968 still rooted in the fourth stream when I returned in August for the fourth year I unexpectedly found myself promoted to the third stream.
This surely was a sign that I wasn’t a complete no hoper after all and significantly it meant that I might be allowed to take a few GCE ‘o’ levels in a couple of years time. I was pleased with this because it meant that I didn’t have to do the manual stuff like woodwork and metalwork and Engineering Drawing. These were lessons for the boys who were going to be working in factories quite soon and at which I was completely hopeless because the only things I ever completed were a wonky wooden tray with loose dovetail joints and a bent metal fire poker that was completely useless for its intended purpose unless you wanted to poke the fire from around corners.
It wasn’t all plain sailing however, I was still a ‘back of the class’ sort of kid who liked getting into mischief and enjoyed larking about and in 1968 I nearly went just that little bit too far and put my new soaring academic status at risk.
This is what happened: every morning the school had an assembly and as we trooped in to the main hall we would collect a hymn book from a cardboard box and on the way out we were supposed to put it back again. Apart from the members of the school Christian Society no one really liked going to morning assembly and some of us hatched a plan to close it down.
The plan was brilliant and simple, if the three of us (me, Michael Kowel and Simon Howells) didn’t actually return our hymn books each day then eventually there wouldn’t be any to hand out in the first place and that would put an end to assembly!
Actually I have now revisited the plot and the thinking behind it and I have to say that it was most unlikely to have ever been successful, not least because there must have been something like a thousand hymn books and at the rate of one each per day for the three conspirators this would have taken two complete school years to achieve and during this time someone would have been sure to notice.
Actually they noticed a lot sooner than we gave them credit for and after a week or two, maybe a month, our stash of books was discovered in our desks and we were called to see the headmaster to explain ourselves. Someone, one of the teachers I expect, must have been snooping in our desks and I am certain that would now be seen as an invasion of privacy and an infringement of our human rights but this was 1968 so none of that liberal tosh applied back then.
He really made a terrible fuss about it and I remember thinking at the time that in my opinion he seemed to be unnecessarily over reacting to what was after all only a silly prank. For a while it was touch and go, mum and dad were called in as well and expulsion seemed on the cards but I put up a decent defence and my punishment was commuted to no worse than six of the best from Frank Hodgson’s garden cane and the sentence was carried out the following day, which gave me time to take the appropriate steps to lessen the pain by wearing triple underpants and thick trousers that morning.
It turned out that at the same time as our hymn book heist quite a lot of other school property was going missing as well and turning up in second hand shops all over the town and the headmaster suspected me of being the criminal mastermind behind the thefts. Most of the school orchestra’s musical instruments went missing and eventually the finger of suspicion turned towards the Welsh music teacher, a nasty aggressive bully called Mick Self. Soon after he was caught for this and other things (apparently his organ fetish spread to teenage boys) and he was charged he spent some time sewing mailbags at her Majesty’s pleasure at Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight. I believe he is dead now – good riddance!
The face of a Master Criminal – Baby Face Petcher…