Marlborough Memories from the 1950s by Richard Podger (A1/B1:1952-6)
In the early hours recently, I lay awake with vivid memories of my Marlborough years vividly flowing through my mind.
Having been quite a successful chorister at King’s, Cambridge, I was immediately recruited into the choir. Mark Santer (later Bishop of Birmingham) was often at the organ and very good too. I started off as an alto before sinking to tenor where I stuck. The chaplain was a Revd Miller, who when faced with our class having piled furniture almost to the ceiling before he arrived to take a scripture lesson, entered and simply smiled, shaking his head: “Oh you wicked people!” I was brought up as a small boy by my devout high church mother, so I would occasionally present myself to Mr Miller for Confession before this gentle saintly man. This upbringing led to an early sense of a vocation to the priesthood
Daily chapel was also influential and important for all of us, but there was often a sport beforehand, delaying until the last second before the single strike of the bell by which time one must be inside the chapel railings with prefects looking on and glowering. If caught, a punishment could be creative and enlightened: learning by heart a Shakespeare sonnet. Once inside, one memory is of the Master – T.R. Garnett – reading Genesis 1 so movingly in his rich dark voice.
I was academically usually near the bottom of the class, but I did excel in music. In A House, I trained the whole house for the House Singing competition (“House Shout”). We sang a rousing piece about pirates: “Up with the Jolly Roger Boys, and off we go to sea!” and we won! This was history, a junior house winning this! At one of the annual music competitions, Herbert Howells was the distinguished adjudicator. In pronouncing one of his judgements, he referred to the “ubiquitous Podger” because I kept on appearing in various classes. Woodwind was one of them, having taken up the flute in my first term, taught by an ex -Army band master who could teach anything you blow from piccolo to bass tuba. (Name? please help!) A remarkable man who set me up so well I used to get up before breakfast to practice. But a regret remains when I was later persistently invited to join the excellent jazz band on the saxophone (fingering is very similar to the flute.), but as I was an insufferable musical snob with my chorister background, I equally persistently refused.
I formed a five strong close harmony group to succeed a similar group called the “Bandoleros.” We performed Yale Songs, and I was actually instrumental in getting the volume of “The Yale Song Book” Imported from the USA. We were quite good, but listening later to a recording, I was horrified by the exaggeration of the dynamics and the teenage over-enthusiasm. But it was good fun. Two of the members are now sadly deceased with whom I kept in touch all these years, one being Charles Cain, my dear old chorister and choral scholar contemporary, and the excellent Peter Addenbrooke.
Returning to Marlborough for a Reunion some 25 years ago (?), I was impressed how several contemporaries came up to me to say how they remembered my music and how they caught some of my enthusiasm. Such chaps were included in a Carol Singing group for extra-mural appearances shortly before Christmas.
Mr Hylton Stewart was the director of music when I first arrived (1952) (related to the church music composer). He would fall asleep while giving me piano lessons: poor man, he was so ripe for retirement. Our nickname for him, appositely but not unkindly, was Hagger-Stagger. He was succeeded by the young and dynamic Peter Godfrey (deceased after an amazing later career in new Zealand about 3 years ago(?) brimming with enthusiasm and initiative. He turned round the school music completely, and we musicians particularly were very lucky with him. He became a real friend: I used to help in his garden (he was impressed by my ability to be destructive when required). These gardening sessions would conclude with a slap up tea with is lovely wife and small children.
There was an elite staff/pupil Music Society which met occasionally to make music in somebody’s sitting room. I became the Secretary, and would enjoy writing up the ‘minutes’ of our meetings, sitting in the wonderful Adderley library (C House) at one of those beautiful great Georgian windows looking out over the Master’s garden.
Peter Godfrey coached me for my King’s Choral Scholarship trial (1956). He was well qualified for this, having also been himself a chorister and choral scholar there.
In my last year, Michael Davies (libretto) and Anthony Smith masters (music) composed a school opera: “Circe” based on the Greek classical myth. I was one of the leads as Comus, and apparently, my performance only took off at the very last rehearsal. This even reached the London Illustrated News: I still have the relevant page of brown photos, one of them from the finale with me crowned by a magnificent papier-mache hogshead, (having been appropriately turned into a swine), sitting at the feet of the treble, Circe, ‘herself’. Nicholas Hinton, (deceased) still a treble was Lalage. (He, another long term friend, became a godfather to my son, Julian).
One more musical memory is an invitation to a few of us by a beak to his rooms to listen to Tchaikowsky “Pathetique” symphony (one of those kind gestures, typical of the beaks then). I was memorable and deeply moved by the music.
It was only my tenor voice which got me back into Cambridge and King’s. Having felt I had a vocation to be ordained, in the 5 + 6th form, I opted for Classics to prepare for New Testament studies. (This was not a good idea, especially as in my first year’s report, Mr Milford [the international racquets player] had written: “Podger is frightful at Latin” – his very words!) Mr Knight, a pleasant and patient gentleman and housemaster of C1 tried unsuccessfully to teach me, and I failed my ‘A’ levels. However, Boris Ord of King’s wanted me, but I was told to study anything but Classics. (So I opted for History Pt. 1 and Theology Pt. 2, the latter with the unique Alec Vidler, but again far from distinguished myself academically.)
Public school age is of course just the age when the sex hormones naturally kick in. I fell in love twice with juniors. In the second case, I was appropriately and effectively repulsed when attempting a little hug in B house basement. One evening after lights out in a dorm of about 8 of us, we composed together an alphabet of erotic words. ‘A’ for…etc. You can imagine much chortling.
My only really sad memory is of the CCF. My father being a serving RN Captain, I got myself into the naval section. We had to bull our boots for ever, etc. but we did learn some interesting nautical facts. Before an annual big parade, (can’t remember what it was called) our boy commander was so desperately keen that he dismissed us just ten minutes before afternoon lessons at 4.50 pm. Rebelliously, I did not hurry frantically, and so arrived late for an English lesson and told the beak why. This obviously got back to the cadet boss concerned, for at the inspection before going on parade on the big day, he found a tiny thread on my uniform, and used this to send me off. I was particularly devastated as my Dad in his uniform had by my suggestion specially come to witness the Parade. He in turn afterwards was wonderfully understanding which did something to salve the wound, but I’ve ever since found it difficult to forgive that event. However the one thing I liked about the CCF was the band “beating the retreat” down the lime trees double row in court, impressively led by our ex -army bandmaster (see above).
H.O.B. (House out of bounds 2-4 pm daily)
I sometimes used this opportunity well by careering on my sit-up-and-beg ancient cycle down the tracks in Savernake Forest. My only other claim to being a sportsman was in long distance running, Four Mile Clump being the apex of effort. One young beak joined us one afternoon, but having kept upwith us descending a steep slo-e at speed (no knee problems then!) he vomited spectacularly at the bottom. We all felt compassionate towards him. Running through the wonderful Marlborough countryside was a joy as well as a sweat. I quite enjoyed rugger as a forward, but only managed to score a try once, and this was only because I completely lost my temper and charged furiously for the line. Nothing and nobody could have stopped me. Physical exercise of the pleasantest kind was the “Late Dip” just before bed in the Summer dusk in that swimming pool built out of the moat to the Mound.
Certain beaks were never to be forgotten. Mr Halliday with the northern accent: Mr Halliday for Biology and experiments passing an electric current through a live frog, watching the kick gradually and sadly lessen. Science with the unkindly nicknamed “Bummer” Harling; Carpentry with Batey B. (name forgotten, please help). I still have a huge wood-turned bowl and a still useful small coffee table with beautifully mortised joints.
Certain other beaks are remembered well. Hugh Weldon (name?) who told us it is “It’s Sex which makes the world go round”. He never looked at one directly, but rather lifted his eyes to heaven. He taught us “Macbeth” which we enjoyed, out of class adopting a form of insulting each other as “Thou cream faced loon!”
Reaching the 6th form, I so enjoyed the privilege of carrying an umbrella, and so loved it when it rained which it often did, (as it probably still does).
One more romantic memory to end with: Summer evenings accompanying a friend fishing in the Kennet. Did he ever catch a trout? No matter: what counted was the beauty of that environment, the warm dusk, the gentle flow of that delightful, humble stream.
My Marlborough years – one of the many blessings in my life. Thank you, dear parents, for sending me there (and paying!).
Richard Podger (A1/B1:1952-56)