Fancy Boy

Fancy Boy

Every year I write a feature about a high profile Old  Clayesmorian. Previous subjects have been illustrator Edward Ardizzonne,  Beatle manager Brian Epstein, theatre directors George Devine and Stephen Joseph and TV artist Tony Hart. This year the subject is Julian Rathbone the author of 40 books who was short listed for the Booker Prize  twice. Twenty years after publication The Last English King is still in print. Rathbone was at the school 1948-53.

Like many he had a love/hate with his old school. A scholarship boy who won  what prizes were on offer he was involved in  many school activities. Never the less as  a left leaning writer he  didn’t approve of public school ,major or minor. He wasn’t  flattering about his time at Cambridge University.

Like most writers his life appeared many times in his books.  Whatever, a few years before his untimely death in 2008 he felt warm enough to come back to the School to give a very successful after OC Dinner speech.

This blog looks at is his partial accusation of John Appelby  the second and house master at Clayesmore  for thirty years.

A major source of information about Rathbone is a published interview he had with fellow author Bernard Cornwall. Their friendship came from their mutual fascination with Wellington and his Wars. Cornwall asks ,did you have any inspirational teachers?

“Yes, I had one fairly inspirational teacher, in English. He took a fancy to me, something that would have got him into all sorts of trouble these days. But he did take me on three trips, to the theatre and so on, which my parents couldn’t have afforded. That was a big boost. I won prizes for writing.”  In the autobiographical Blame Hitler,Rathbone goes further,

“Ever since a school teacher who was a touch besotted with me when I was an attractive 14 year old gave me Arthur Bryant’s Age of Elegance(Victory) and Philip Guedalla’s The Duke, I have suffered from an obsession with the Duke of Wellington-three related books Joseph, Wellingtons War and A Very English Agent followed. Mr Appleby,Uncle Apples,  was in love with me. Not the only one,it was not a case who’s a pretty boy as whose pretty boy. They wooed me with books and holidays but I never surrendered my virtue.”

So Appelby had favourites. He chose well in  Rathbone who turned down Winchester and Lancing because Clayesmore gave a  more generous scholarship. Most school teachers have favourites usually those who  respond best to teaching. Looks always have an effect on how we respond to others. Not only did Rathbone win writing prizes but he eventually became one of Appelby’s prefects. The only A level Rathbone achieved was English. For the record Rathbone who spent many years as a teacher married an ex student 18 years his junior!

Appelby taking a fancy?, Rathbone doesn’t mention any physical contact which is crucial. In a more restricted time when  we were locked up for three months at a time with almost no break, a major perk was the trips that masters gave their favourites. Other masters took boys out on trips Alistair Kaye,Nicholas Zelle, Humphrey Moore and David Spinney come to mind. No one can deny that these bachelor teachers enjoyed the  company of young men ,some more than others.

I once interviewed the composer Sir Harrison Birtwhistle who once taught at Clayesmore and he commented on the coven of bachelor head and housemasters creating “ something of a dark cloud of corruption about the school”.

My feeling is that Rathbone is legitimately as a writer egging his story. Turning a close relationship into something more exciting, what writer doesn’t turn the every day into something more dramatic. Appleby was a lovely man, ten years after Rathbone he also taught me.  Through the Arts Club  and his English teaching Appelby very much led the arties of the school against the hearties. The fact he inspired Rathbone among others is to his credit(and his job). The fact that he favoured a bright boy is typical. Brian Epstein was at the school only three terms. Enough for Appelby to have spotted his potential and  treasure some juvenile paintings Epstein created. These he showed when the Beatles broke through in the early sixties.

The trouble is , in this time of hysteria about kiddy fiddling and worse ,Rathbone’s remarks could be taken out of context. Appelby was a delightful ,twinkling man ,an inspirational teacher who along with others devoted his life to the education of young men. At a time of single sex schools, corporal punishment, Spartan living conditions, when boys beat boys, fagging was normal, bullying everyday, mild homosexuality prevalent, Appelby was a benign not a malign influence. He was of a generation of public school teachers who went from their schools,to Oxbridge, some to the Services and then back to school. That is they spent their lives in male, hierarchical organisations. Time is the longest distance between two points.

Since 1970 Clayesmore has not had bachelor house masters and has been co-ed. It has recently appointed a female head.  I was there 1959-64. The school flourishes, when I was there it was 220 strong it now has 700 students. As I have said before , the only thing the present school shares with my Alma Mater is its address.

PS Some months after writing this I was in contact with Rathbone’s widow,Alayne Pullen who told me that not only did Rathbone have fond memories of the school but that he and  Appelby lunched several times in the 1970s and that those meetings meant “a lot to both of them”. The kind of meeting which makes teaching such a worthwhile profession.

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3 Responses to Fancy Boy

  1. David of Bedchester says:

    I remember when as a member of the oC Committee I contacted JB to speak at our Dinner. In those days it was held at the splendid traditional feasting rooms of Simpson in the Strand. He surprised me that his favourite teacher was not Spinney, who taught us History and gave many of us a life time love of the subject, but “Apples”. For those who recall these things the Daily Telegraph (then it must be right) in their obituary gave John Appleby the soubriquet Clayesmore’s Mr Chipps.

  2. says:

    Hi Hugh, A very accurate sketch, which mirrored my experience at the time , (even when I was in your dorm!). I was a member of The Arts Society and eventually became a prefect of Appleby’s. He was a benign and beneficial influence in my experience. I think that Harrison Birtwistle’s observation you quote is probably well judged!

    Your blog remains a good read covering a really catholic and eclectic variety of topics.

    Best wishes.

    Peter Drapk

  3. Jojan Van Dijk says:

    An interesting post, as usual.

    I remember English lessons in JA’s study and reading into a microphone with tape spools turning – a poem usually – and the unspoken but noticeably critical gaze on your performance of reading out.

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