Every year at Dunsmore (now Ashlawn) School in Rugby there was a school production which ran for several nights and parents and family used to come along to watch.
As far as I can remember for several years while I was in the lower forms this would be in the form of a variety show and boys and staff would put on a performance for two hours or so of sketches and musical interludes. These shows were organised directed and choreographed by the school music teacher Mick Self.
Mick Self was an odious man, a Welsh bully who would have been more at home in the forward line of his local rugby football club punching members of the opposition, gouging their eyes or biting their ears off than being a school teacher. In the 1960s bullying and punishment were all part of the curriculum at Dunsmore; you expected to get a slippering of your bare backside at gym now and again, a blackboard rubber in the back of the head if you didn’t pay attention in class, detention for no good reason at all except the teacher just didn’t like you or six strokes of the cane for even the most trivial misdemeanour but Self took bullying to an even higher level.
All of this seemed quite normal, after all this was Rugby and we had all read ‘Tom Brown’s School days” and at Dunsmore even the older boys, the Prefects, were allowed to hand out punishments without any sort of vetting for this level of behaviour enforcement responsibility.
I used to dread music lessons. Self never taught us a single thing. He had absolutely no teaching skills whatsoever. If you could already play an instrument like my friends Rod Bull and Tony Gibbard then you would be fine and you were guaranteed a spot in the annual show but there was zero chance of anyone else ever getting an opportunity to learn anything useful.
The man was a psychopath. I remember one time that he made us sit in the school hall for a double lesson (an hour and a half) absolutely still with our arms folded with a warning that if we moved a muscle then we would be punished. He was an obnoxious evil man. Another time in another lesson he told us to write a four page essay about Beethoven and that we couldn’t go home until it was finished. I mean how can you write a four page essay about Beethoven without any sort of warning? My response to this unreasonable challenge was to drag up what little knowledge I had about the German composer and then write it down using huge letters and to drag each word out across the page as far as I possibly could. As it turned out I needn’t have gone to the trouble because he didn’t bother to read them anyway so I could have written about anything I liked just to fill up the pages.
Anyway, one year, 1969 I think, Self was preparing as usual for the end of term Christmas show when there was an announcement that this year we would do something different and the English teacher David Howe (above) would be producing a Shakespeare play – Henry V. Henry V was on the ‘o’ level English Literature syllabus that year so we were all fairly familiar with it. Self was livid but I imagine there had been some staff room intrigue because even the other teachers didn’t like him, the decision was made and casting began.
I auditioned but was not successful in securing a speaking part but was compensated with not one, but two roles as an extra. My first part was rather important as I was the servant who carried on the casket of tennis balls that is presented to King Henry by the French Ambassador in Act 1 Scene 2 and then I had to make a hasty costume change to become one of the English army, first at the siege of Harfleur in Act 3 scene 1 and then at the battle of Agincourt in Act 4 scene 1.
The play was performed four times that week and on the final night on Saturday Mick Self turned up in a drunken rage and stomped through the corridors looking for trouble. I think he would have murdered David Howe if he had found him but luckily for David he didn’t.
A few weeks later Mick Self just seemed to mysteriously evaporate. It turned out that as well as being a bully he was up to all sorts of no good and although nothing was said, no announcements were made everyone knew that he spent some time sewing mailbags at her Majesty’s pleasure at Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight.
The failure to get a part in the play was a bit of a personal setback for me and I never auditioned for a part in the school play or any other sort of play ever again but I have to admit that this was no great loss to the theatrical profession.