From Sir Peter Graham (SH 47-52).
“In the 67 years since I left St Bees I think I have made only one contribution to the Bulletin and that was an obituary for my very old friend Chris Mason (who died some years ago in Australia). I was stirred to write by the contribution of Sam Ashton in the last Bulletin and by the references to Bill Frankland and by the piece from Duncan Merrin, who was a contemporary of mine in Grindal, whom I never knew but whose experience seems to have been very different from mine; and finally by the passing of my 85th birthday.
I was very fortunate to go to St Bees. As a result of the bankruptcy of my grandfather, my father set about digging the family out of relative poverty. During the war I went to our very good local elementary school. My birthday is in January and I was in a class where everyone but myself would be 11 before the end of the calendar year. As a result I could not take the entrance examination for the grammar school and my father was told I would have to stay and do ‘the same year’ again. He was not having that. In addition to his job as an industrial chemist, he had already been teaching at night school and occasionally singing humorous songs in Music Halls. He went to see the Headmaster of the main preparatory school in our home town and decided he could just about afford the fees for my three years from 11, 12 and 13. As an amusing side line to this, the Headmaster contacted my father’s employer to ask if he felt my father could afford the fees. His employer replied ‘yes, and one day Douglas Graham will run this town’. This was almost true, as he subsequently became Mayor, Alderman and eventually was given the freedom of the Borough. Returning to my own life, the prep. school, St David’s, gave me an excellent education and entered me for the scholarship examination to St Bees and another, ‘rather inferior’, boarding school. My father threatened me with the latter if I did not get some kind of scholarship to St Bees. So, no pressure then. As it turned out I won the main scholarship to St Bees which, in the year of my entry, paid half the fees. Really, I had Mr. Reekie, the then Headmaster, to thank for that because he decided that he wanted to raise the academic standards of St Bees (which was of course already well known and feared for its prowess at rugby).
I was put straight into 5A and I fagged for a brilliant rugby player and senior prefect (M.T). He treated me extremely well and I certainly learned how to wash football shorts. The intention was that I would take school certificate at the end of my first year. I had never done chemistry or physics at my prep. school so had to pack three years’ work into one but, on the other hand, I had very good standards of French, Latin, English Language and Arithmetic from St David’s. In the end I got two distinctions and seven credits and moved into the lower sixth arts. I could never have achieved those results but for the excellent teaching I received in that first year. This no doubt gives the impression of my being a complete ‘swot’ but I had begun playing, and enjoying playing, rugby, also cricket, fives and badminton.
During the next three and half years at St Bees, I moved to the upper sixth arts – just four of us. Here we were again very well taught. I recall that, each week, I had to translate the fourth leader in The Times into Latin. Mr Wykes was now Headmaster and he thought I should try in the Spring for a ‘Hastings scholarship’ to a group of Oxford colleges. It was also decided that I should, for a trial run, try for a scholarship to St John’s Cambridge, because their exam was in November. To my surprise, after the written exam, I was called back to Cambridge for one of the most incisive oral interviews I have ever faced. Two days before Christmas 1951 and a fortnight before my 18th birthday I received a letter offering me an Open Exhibition to St John’s. Much rejoicing in the Graham household. But this was not the end of what St Bees did for me.
Shortly after my birthday I received my ‘call-up’ papers, but I wanted to stay at school to the end of the school year to play rugby and cricket, for both of which I had second team colours. The school agreed that I could work by correspondence course for what was now Russian GCE. The oral part of the examination was given me by a lecturer from Leeds University, who had to make the long train journey to St Bees. Fortunately I passed. During this time I also decided that I wanted something more interesting than the army and replied to an advertisement for alternative service as a pilot or observer in the Fleet Air Arm. After lots of tests, physical and mental and reaction time etc, I was accepted for pilot training and at the same time I was appointed captain of the school 2nd XV. In the navy, I had the enormous pleasure of flying many hours behind the famous R.R. Griffon engine and doing deck landings (and take-offs!). I finally ‘retired’ from the navy as a lieutenant and returned to the cocoon of Cambridge.
The rest of the story has little to do with St Bees except that it was the school which gave me the springboard to a 1st Class Hons. degree in Law, fifth place in the Bar exam, superb Chambers in Lincoln’s Inn, a Counsel, a KCB and, above all, the invitation to present the prizes one Speech Day long ago. Oh yes, and final retirement at the age of 80. Thank you, St Bees.
Yes, and Dr Frankland? My first wife was a senior nurse at St Mary’s Paddington and, as I had always suffered from hayfever, she arranged for me to be seen by Dr Frankland as a ‘staff patient’. The first time I saw him he was wearing the OSB tie; so, for my next visit, was I.”