Thursday, 14 November 2013

"From Chaucer to Chesterton"

I have mentioned All Hallows before, in connection with Roger Bevan, who taught us music there. Whilst I was at Ampleforth earlier this week, I leafed through Fr. Edward Corbould's copy of Christopher Bird's excellent book, The Cherry Jumpers, which looks back over 75 years since All Hallows started. One of the book's highlights (for me) was a piece Fr. Edward himself wrote detailing the headmaster, Francis Dix's sadistic teaching methods. It brought back vividly being threatened with a beating if I couldn't remember my Catechism answers correctly.

Interestingly, Bird's book doesn't quote from Auberon Waugh's autobiography, Will this do?: that lists other All Hallows horrors, though I don't remember what they were exactly: it's a while since I read it.

This photograph portrays some of those in the All Hallows Christmas 1954 entertainment. So far as my memory serves, with the parts played, they were as follows. From the left, back row: M. Bartlett (Mrs. Squeers); me (Flute the bellows-mender, playing Thisbe); David Russell (Richard II); Lewin Bowring (Guiseppe), Terence Bantock (The Duke of Plaza Toro) and Nicholas Fitzgerald (The Duchess – all from The Gondoliers); Roger Duncan (Macbeth); Gavin Poyntz-Wright (Lady Macbeth); Erik Pearse (Casilda, from The Gondoliers); Kit Barrington (Sir Oliver Surface) and Finn Fetherstonhaugh (Careless – both from The School for Scandal); Peter Pearson [he died soon after leaving Ampleforth] (a gentleman, in Get up and bar the door). In the front row: Martin Finn (Bottom the Weaver); Charles Atthill [now living in the US] (a Pope poem); P. Downey (Moses, The School for Scandal); John McEwen [Art critic] (Koko, from The Mikado); Peter Young (a Pope poem); Anthony Gilroy (Charles Surface, The School for Scandal); ?; Christopher Fletcher (Marco, from The Gondoliers); Peter Prideaux-Brune (Noah, the Chester Miracle Play); ?; and Gerald Towell [Towell and Scott] (Nicholas Nickleby).

I am indebted to the All Hallows Chronicle, 1954-56 for the details of this weirdly eclectic show. The Chronicle records even the most mundane day-to-day events in the life of the school in loving detail, an amazing legacy - no doubt created by Dix himself or possibly his wife Evelyn.

I've now learnt that Fr Edward told the book's author - too late for the book - of when he was teaching briefly at All Hallows having just left Ampleforth (we played him up no end): he remembers posting his application to join the Ampleforth novitiate in the letter-box alongside the old chapel of St James on the back lane adjoining Scouts' Wood, and thinking, "Well, there's my future sorted out until I die."

Going back to that entertainment, it's strange how things from so long ago come sharply back to mind. David Russell's Richard II excerpt was all about "graves and worms and epitaphs." And it put me off Richard II for years. In fact, until last night, when we watched the RSC live relay at our Cineworld. Magnificent!

I note that the first time I saw the play right through was with David Warner as the king in 1964; then Ian McKellen (1969) and Ian Richardson (1973) - all at the RSC. In that last production, by John Barton, David Suchet played a messenger.

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