Scrap Book Project – The Dunsmore School Annual Show and a Very Short Career in Acting

Dunsmore School Henry V

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.

David Howe

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.

Henry V

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19 responses to “Scrap Book Project – The Dunsmore School Annual Show and a Very Short Career in Acting

  1. Our maths teacher was our school bully, he was really obnoxious, unless you were good at his subject, which I wasn’t. He also took us for games and took great delight in inflicting abject misery upon us more timid souls. Another great read Andrew.

    • I think I mentioned before that we also had a games master called Wyn Morris who was a sadistic bully who got his kicks by slippering at least two boys every gym lesson. He used to carry it around like a truncheon and kept slapping it into the palm of his hand just so we didn’t forget that it was there. With roughly 30 boys in a lesson you had about a one in fifteen chance of getting the treatment.

  2. OMG What damage these people could inflict!

    I went to an all girls’ school, with all women teachers (ouch!). There was one teacher Mrs Bilton who particularly frightened me as she was always handing out lines and detention like cherries……..and calling me (and a few others, though I don’t remember who) stupid. I coped in the end by preparing lessons before hand with my aunt ( home coaching), which helped my never having to talk to Mrs Bilton too often and to avoid contact with her. I felt forever sick about going to school because of her. I knew she did n’t like me as she was too ready to snarl and call me ‘Garrrl’; the chosen ones had a name!

    It was years later when my son was just a baby in a pram and we were going to mother and baby swim sessions at the local swimming baths that I saw her again. She was apparently in charge of the volunteer coffee shop by the pool side viewing area. She appeared quieter, smaller than I remembered so it occurred to me I may have been genuinely stupid back then and overly super sensitive and deserving of her treatment and that there might just be a nicer side to her now, with school over.

    Older, perhaps wiser, for one second, I considered saying hello to her! But she never looked up, even if she recognized me, so, I did n’t say hello! Instead I simply started to weigh her up, glad to fuss over the baby from one of the tables where I could drink the coffee she had slopped at me.

    And it did n’t take long for her to show more of her colours when she turned suddenly and loudly on the young woman helping her behind the coffee counter. Mrs Bilton began to question everything the poor woman did and she began snarling and calling her a Stupid Garrrl! (it was like hearing a broken record) over something to do with the teapot.

    Mrs B. did n’t hand out a detention to the woman just then but I know she wished she could …… happy days eh?

  3. Ughhh as a retired teacher reading this, I feel sick.

  4. I have minor in Am/Br literature. I was the Pied Piper in third grade play but my career went no further. Thanks visit my blog.

  5. Mick Self.
    The man was a complete perverted psychopath. An ex stock-car driver, he for some reason considered teaching and somehow blagged his way into the profession. He was also a serial peadophile but this was never talked about in those days. This Welshman’s coup de grace was to steal and sell the schools instruments for which he was charged and convicted. I had a friend in the school who was sexually molested and buggered by this piece of human excrement. I am sure that by now, this a******e is in the ground…..best place for him/it!

  6. Well Andrew….reading your piece…..memories flood back…….Pete Sissons, the nasty good looking bully and bodybuilder english teacher who eloped with another good looking teacher from the school (her name escapes me but she was as we say…. ‘fit’)….that little affair was well hushed up back then. What about the worst and most boring teacher that ever lived, I refer of course to DOC Childs, the French teacher, whose only trip to France was Dunkirk! I remember that he drove a mid blue Rover 90, blue like the colour of the back of the grey jacket he always wore as we ‘strafed’ it with the blue ‘Quink’ ink from our fountain pens every time he had his back to us. Then there was ‘Carrot’ Tringham, the ginger headed maths teacher who during a school trip to Cambridge couldn’t control his bowels let alone his pupils!
    You mention Wynn Morris who left imprints on young arses from a size 14 running shoe that he kept especially to hand to enable him to terrorise and beat the s**t out of us in the name of education. He was another sadistic bollix wasn’t he? And we won’t even mention that sick sad b*******d Leeson.

    The only guiding light in that place was….Mr Bernard Dunning – a great woodwork teacher and along with ‘Plod’ Barker (who dealt with 1st & 2nd year misdemeanors), he meted out the punishments for the 3rd & 4th years for the dreaded report book. Mr Dunning would always listen to your side and was always fair. He was the only understanding, decent, bloke out of the whole useless bunch of arrogant idiots. If you cared….so did he, he was strict, but a top man and a great teacher. He helped me and made a big difference to my life. He was retiring back then, he is gone now but ‘oft I think of him’….I still have a piece that he helped me make all those years ago. RIP Bernard, and thanks.

    I’m getting on for 60 now, and I have many memories of Dunsmore. But oh, how that place, its regime and it’s so called teaching professionals scarred my youth!!!

  7. Ahhh yes…..’Pluto’. He would have looked well in an SS uniform with jodphurs, boots and a Luger, to me, he just had that look about him. He was surely a most tedious un-interesting insignificant little man who was unfortunately born without a personality. Anyway Andrew, they’re probably all gone to that ‘secondary modern’ in the sky now.
    I lived in Brandon village way back then so I had to get a Midland Red (No 586) to the middle of Rugby and then another bus out to Hillmorten to school every day for years. I had to leave at 7-30am every morning. Imagine travelling that distance there and back just to be locked up in that asylum for seven hours a day! I went on to do an apprenticeship in Coventry and worked in the UK for a while. I left the Midlands in 1977 to travel the world. I now live in the West of Ireland and have done so for many years….I live a very fortunate and gifted life in this fabulous country! I often tell my 3 sons who are 15 – 18 years old about ‘Stalag Dunsmore’ and how lucky they are to go to school here in Ireland. Their school is 200 yards from a 4 mile long beach with the Atlantic blowing in…..they think they have it tough….If they only knew!
    Good Luck M8….keep the ‘auld’ blog going, it’s a good read!
    Regards
    Danny

  8. I got up this morning and read all the way down to “this” story, and just realized that I should have been clicking LIKE all along, but was so caught up in your journey through this scrapbooking project that I got lost in it. I loved it! You are an amazing writer. You made me feel as if I was experiencing the journey as well. I was born in May of 1957, so it was interesting to feel a part of the era. I loved looking back with you, a Wonder Years kind of trip. Feeling the same things as a kid. The indignant teachers, the not so stellar report cards, and now as an adult being able to wander through the memories with you was GREAT reading! Thank you for sharing! I especially needed the break of a good read!

    • I have my dad to thank for all of the material. The scrapbook, photographs, certificates and newspaper cuttings. I hope my blog will serve the same purpose for my own children. Thanks for reading!

  9. Reading your blog and the comments about the teachers , two more could be entered in to the Hall of Fame , Harris and Higginbotham, I now realise where my deep seated contempt for the establishment first took route.Being a council house boy I always felt second class The bullying and the fear that I endured , often feigning sickness on Wednesday so I would not have to face Geography and Higginbotham.
    My only positive moment was in my last few days in this hell hole. I and a few others had daubed the staff cars with comments in tennis white, The whole class were to be punished if the perpotraters did not own up. I , Dave Beanland and Malc Field did the honorable thing.We were marched into Hodgsons office where we were told that six strokes of the cane was our punishment and he would deign to give us a reference .Dave and Malc needed this reference to go on to Art Scool so had no choice but to take the punishment. I had already been offered a apprenticeship at the English Electric, so I told Hodgson to stick his kane were the sun did not shine ,not exactly my words.It was probably the first and may be the last time one of the pupils actually stood up to him. His face went scarlet and his piggy eyes nearly popped out his head , he totally lost it , screaming at me, smashing the cane against the desk, finally screaming at me to get out of his school. So I was expelled.
    That experience has lived with all my life and untill this day , I am 69 next month, I will not take bullying from anyone . But the negatives I have dragged with me from those awful days at Dunsmore have done me far more harm than good.
    I endured Dunsmore from 1958 to 1962. I now live in Germany . I have a 13 year old son who loves school and it is a joy to see him smile when he leaves for school.Instead of the fear I felt.

    Robert Brown

  10. Andrew, oft I return to your blog, keep it up old chap!

  11. Nobody’s mentioned Bill Buxton yet! Mad as a box of frogs but fostered my interest in languages, Mr Bird and Doc Armitage weren’t too bad’if’ you were clever (I wasn’t). But ‘Mad Dan’ McLeish bawled out a nervous boy actualually during his GCE metalwork practical!
    I did count coup on Mick Self once though. As a member of the Fisher Avenue Jiu Jitsu club I was lucky enough to beat Graham Carter his protege, in a Judo competition arranged by the great man himself.
    Life was difficult for some time afterwards but it was worth it!

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