Paul Richards remembers…

Many thanks to Paul Richards, now residing in Australia for his excellent memories at Xaverian and St Anne’s Prep. If there is anyone else out there who has memories to add, email me at bcweb01@billbl


I was there from 1956-63, when Bro. David (rather unkindly known as ‘Chimp’) was headmaster– he twice administered 6 of the best to my rear end, and judging by the fearsome look on his face at the time, he thoroughly enjoyed it! Then Bro. Cyril became head for my last 2 years – although I had met him at St Anne’s Prep School where he taught maths.

Now much as we all admired Bro. Cyril as headmaster, I have one memory from St Anne’s that may show him in a slightly different light. If he thought he did not have your undivided attention, he had the habit of waving one of those 12” wooden rulers to and fro horizontally such that the ruler made contact with the tip of your nose on each of its swings, all the while speaking to you in that quiet voice – which, more often than not, served to claim your attention.

Despite thus tantalising my nose on more than one occasion he was kind enough to make me Cuthbert’s House captain when I was in the 6th form at the College, an onerous responsibility for the shy/retiring sort I was then.

As far as the teachers are concerned, I remember them thus:

Bro. Aidan – PE (or was it Bro. Adrian?) Most of us used to hate PE, especially trying to climb up those hanging ropes. He also used to send us on runs around Victoria Park. I wasn’t the only one who took short cuts and then simulated heavy breathing on re-entering the gym to give the impression of dedicated and honest athletic toil.

Bro. Pius: spoke with decidedly plummy tones – I recall once, on his entry to a rather hot and stuffy class room, he declaimed in a booming voice: “There’s a distinct smell of boy in here”.

Bro. Gerald: I can’t remember what he taught but recall him murmuring approvingly “Well played, Richards” after I’d scored 75 in a cricket House match.

Mr. Connolly: English. Tall, imposing bloke, wasn’t he?

We had a visiting American brother, whose name escapes me, but in typical American fashion would regularly set us short tests on the subject matter. Whenever the fatal words “I have prepared a series of questions” were uttered by him, a collective groan arose from the class.

‘Chuck’ Sellars, our music teacher: We had classes in a ground floor room in Marylands, overlooking the lawn. We did a lot of singing and he arranged the class according to voice i.e. sopranos, tenors, bass etc. In my first lesson I was in the sopranos and, about 8 bars into the first song, his ears seemed to prick up and he stopped playing the piano. Looking in my direction, he said “Richards, move to the tenors”. That sore throat I’d had wasn’t the onset of a cold but was my voice breaking. He also came for lessons at St Anne’s where we sung lots of jolly Cecil Sharp-type folk songs – “The Lincolnshire Poacher” sticks in my mind for some reason.

‘Lippy’ Marsden, chemistry: he had a speech impediment caused by a protruding lower lip and was unable to pronounce his Rs. There was much unkind sniggering when he spoke about “copper pywites”.

Dapper ‘Dan’ Mallan, history: a popular teacher whose life was tragically cut short.

‘Tom’ Arkless, maths: irascible, and I never really liked the way he taught maths. He paced across the front of class, hands grasped behind his back, dictating geometry theorems and algebraic solutions. It was all a bit too ‘learn by rote’.

‘Jock’ Burns, physics: He frightened me to death. Enough said.

‘Larry’ Halstead, French: I remember his waspish, sarcastic comments. He was once the target of an air pistol shot from the upstairs window of the 6th Form building (Sunbury) – which fortunately missed. He threw me out of his French class for incompetence (probably why I recall his acerbic comments.). [The air pistol shooting incident I have mentioned elsewhere. This account varies from what my brother Bernard Cummings told me and illustrates how easily events can be changed over the years. According to Bernard, the shooter was stood next to him in assembly and caught Mr Halstead in the back of the neck. Alas, Bernard passed away in 2013 so I can’t cross check if my memory of what he told me is faulty. if anyone else has a perspective on this I would love to hear it. BC]

Mr Dever, history and British Government: my favourite teacher who treated 6th formers as adults and soon-to-be University attendees, and always made his lessons involving and interesting.

Mr ‘Underpants’ (I know, not very original was it?) Underwood, Eng Lit: another favourite teacher who illuminated Alexander Pope, John Milton and William Gibbon. One lunchtime, with English as the first post-lunch lesson, someone thought it would be a wizard wheeze to write “Fartbreak Hotel” on the blackboard. ‘Undies’ was not amused when he entered the class and proceeded to make us feel very small with a brilliantly judged tirade against childishness (correctly so, especiauncturelly for so-called adults!)

Mr ‘Pug’ Diamond, Latin and RE: he was regularly distraught and practically in tears over our murdering of his beloved Virgil. I presume it was an RE lesson when I received the only ‘official’ sex education at Xavs from ‘Pug’, when, forewarning us of the perils of the Sodom and Gomorrah which awaited us at Manchester University Union, he came out with the immortal line: “Beware of the men with the little rubber bags (!)” He used to enjoy pointing out that my name – Paulus – was Latin for ‘little fellow’ (I’m only 5′ 7″) [I was never taught by Pug Diamond but another of my brother’s stories was that he once dragged a boy out of his class onto the fire escape, still sat in his desk. Apparently the dinner time venue of choice was The Clarence which is quite probably a curry restaurant now – I will check the next time I am in the vicinity of Wilmslow Road. BC]

We had woodwork lessons in a room above the cricket pavilion – I can’t recall the teacher’s name [Mr Swallow? I think the building referred to was once a racquets court from what I remember my father telling me.  BC]- but he continually bemoaned our inability to perfectly reproduce the mortice-tenon and tongue-groove joints he demonstrated for us.

(From St Anne’s I also remember Mr Curtis, a ginger headed and bearded art teacher – and a crack shot with a piece of chalk if he caught you giving less than 100% attention.) [Yes, Mr Curtis – ‘Redbeard’ – used to set a test for new boys to see if they had artistic potential. Failure to produce a Rembrandt or similar meant woodwork instead – I inevitably ended up making a bad job of the aforementioned mortice-tenon joints BC]

We also had a Tuck shop, situated in the back yard behind Marylands – a big favourite was baked beans in a balm cake. I think the Tuck Shop was discontinued.

Some contemporaries I remember – John Heffernan, Tony Keigher, Tony Blackburn, Tony O’Malley (a lot of Tonys), Gerald Higginbottom, Kelvin Humphries, Tony Conduit, Kenneth Lee, Philip O’Grady (a seriously mad fellow – yes, it was he who – allegedly – was in command of the aforementioned air pistol which discharged in the direction of ‘Larry’ Halstead, and who also took delight in igniting the gas outlets in the chemistry lab – without attaching any Bunsen burners – thus causing a roaring flame to shoot horizontally across the lab bench) , Michael Denton, David Howell, Charlie Lomas, John Kind, David Ansbro, Roger Macnaughton, Peter Quinn and Kevin Skerrit. [I remember Peter Quinn – I think he went on to be head boy. I remember he used to go to Old Trafford for net practice which I thought very impressive at the time. David Ansbro – another head boy? BC ]

Now Kevin Skerrit had a unique talent – he could make brilliant farting noises – dry ones and wet ones – with his hands. This intrigued me no end and I practiced endlessly until I was almost, but not quite, his equal – at the cost of seriously aching finger/hand joints and hours of unfulfilled frustration. It’s a skill that I still sometimes exercise on special occasions. But Kevin – he was definitely The Man when it came to hand farts. He had blonde hair and a rather pale complexion (hence his ‘Milky’ nickname.) He also had long, thin fingers, undoubtedly adapted under evolutionary pressure for maximum hand farting prowess.

Ward hall lunches – what can you say? I wish Jamie Oliver had been around then to put pressure on the cooking staff. My memory is of greasy, fatty stew, over cooked chips and veg and ‘sweets’ which included rhubarb and custard, tapioca and the aptly named rock cakes. The main utility of the latter was to serve as a missile when the not infrequent ‘bombing’ missions broke out amongst the various tables of lunch attendees. And I remember the fish cakes and the ever-present odour of burnt chip fat.

One day that will stay with me forever was that of the Munich disaster. The sense of shock and incredulity in the school yard was palpable as people drifted into school that the morning. I have been a lifelong City supporter but there was no division that day.

Memories, memories… and I haven’t mentioned the hours spent at Central Ref, studying and being incredibly cool with the girls from Loreto and The Hollies in the basement coffee bar, and enjoying a pint or two – on breaks from the Ref – at Willoughby’s just off St Peter’s Square, and buying my first ‘proper’ bike from Johnnie Berry’s cycle shop on Wilmslow Road, and wondering innocently what it was like inside the reputedly decadent Temperance Billiard Hall, and playing “shuffle table tennis” at lunchtime, using textbooks as bats … etc., etc.

Regards from Down Under

Paul Richards

6 thoughts on “Paul Richards remembers…”

  1. Thanks Paul – you brought back lots of memories. I had Pug for Latin and I remember, with heavy reference to a good dictionary, we constructed the filthiest dog latin diatribe, including comments about Pug, we could dream up and wrote it on the board before a lesson. We expected Pug to be outraged, but he walked in, carefully read our work and then proceeded to correct the grammar. Not another word was said. I was seriously impressed.

    Jock Burns – I remember he would slap a meter rule onto a worktop in the lab to get silence. (Yes I think we were all terrified.) And if asked a question he would inevitably respond with “Maybe perhaps and maybe per-not-haps’.

    I remember being given nonsensical choices of lesson subjects at various times. Woodwork or Art. Then Art or Music. Then Music or Chemistry. Chuck Sellars saw me as a musician of some sort – school choir, orchestra, etc and never spoke to me again after I chose Chemistry.

    And Mr Curtis – who ran over my dog with his motorbike. Probably not his fault, but I could never enjoy Art after that.

    Yes those school lunches – the tapioca was nicknamed ‘antigravity’ because you could hold the plate upside down and it would never fall off. As soon as feasible, we used to sneak off to the chippy on Wilmslow Road- strictly out of bounds, but they had a warm back dining room and the steak pie with gravy and chips was excellent. On one occasion we had to make off down the alley when a teacher was spotted buying his lunch.

    In the Chemistry labs, someone discovered that mixing ammonium with another chemical (I can’t remember which) produced a gunge which, when dry would spontaneously explode (in a fairly small way – but small things amuse small minds). At one time we had Chemistry (in the lab) immediately before Geography and would bring the gunge back to our classroom on filter papers and plaster it on the big old cast iron radiators. Of course when the heat was on, it would go off at random times, producing great amusement, but seemingly never disturbing Mr Crotty from his strange reality.
    This only encouraged us to greater abuse of his tolerance. While his back was to us as he wrote on the blackboard, desks would be moved around noisily and pupils relocated around the classroom at random. He never seemed to notice. It was always mayhem. I believe a desk may even have been heaved out of a window on one occasion.
    The upshot was that when the O level Geography results came in, of 31 pupils in the class, there were 28 grade Fs – less than 20% and the lowest mark possible. The other 3 were all taking resits from the year before and had some vague knowledge of the subject from another teacher.

    Why do I remember only the ‘bad’ things?

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  2. I well remember Mr Newton… ex army with a bizarre concept of what elements of torture could be incorporated into a PE lesson. The whole of Ward Hall… 90 first year kids… were forced to do army drills, burpees, star jumps and that horrible exercise where arms were fully extended sideways and rotations were made…. until you could make no more. At any point of failure, the ‘victim’ was then made to hang from the wall bars, making sure that their feet were dangling so all the weight was on hands, wrists and arms. The drills continued until everyone was hanging, or falling from, the wall bars. At this point Newton would parade round the gym with a gym shoe in hand and administer beatings to anyone who was hanging… or used it as encoragement to those who had fallen off the bars.
    After a few weeks of this I noticed that a kid called Saunders was sitting on the stage throughout… missing the ordeal. When I asked him why, he showed me his veruka with a patch of purple splashed across it… I knew we had a bottle of Tincture of Iodine at home that my mother had used on my own verukas in the past, so the next week I joined Saunders on the stage. Within a month the plague of verukas had spread… strangely, only to all my close friends John ‘Toddy’ Sweeney, Carr, Jordan, Flynn, Nipper Brown etc… we all had a purple patch on our feet, until the bottle ran out and we had to think up more creative excuses.
    Football was another exercise in how to disinterest your pupils… again, all 90 of the kids in the year group would trail off to the mud bath at Wilbraham Road?… players from Man U would turn up to coach… the best 20 or so players were taken over to the dry pitch for coaching by the likes of Dennis Viollet or Bobby Charlton whilst the remaining 60 or so were divided into two teams, given a sodden casey, and left to their own devices on the ‘wet’ pitch. Again, it wasn’t long before the exodus began and I remember spending most of those sports afternoons having a fag in the billiard hall less that 200m from the school gates.
    It’s ironic that I did very little PE, athletics, football, cricket or any other sport at Xavs, but in later life became a very active sportsman competing as an agegrouper in World Championships at Duathlon & Triathlon and winning medals at UK Vets championships. I remember hiding in the air raid shelters next to the cricket pavillion having a fag with Toddy during school sports day… we had a kid called Stefan Cwiklinski in our form who was a great runner… but he was soundly beaten in a mile race that day by a six former who broke the school record with 5mins 2secs. I took up running at 28 and eventually ran 4.36 for a mile at 43… so what could I have achieved at 16 had my potential been revealed? Both Toddy and myself later became good marathon runners and I’m still competing in Triathlons today.
    This lack of connection between the staff and pupils was evident all across the curriculum… if I get time, I’ll expand on how bad the other subject teachers were… my fellow pupils were great and I always enjoyed myself, but as an educational institution I’m afraid Xavs had a lot to answer for… I found that out when I later took up teaching myself.

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  3. HI Jim

    Your recollections of PE with Mr Newton brings it all back – especially the hanging on the wall bars. I still occasionally rotate my arms in ever decreasing circles. I always thought that if I was ever detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, it would be a perfect method for increasing my arms and upper body strength from the comfort of my cell.

    Most of the names are familiar me – I think Jordan played the clarinet and had a bit of a jazz group going. Sweeney Todd I became friendly with after I left Xavs. He once spent a night in my garden shed and possibly in a bus shelter at Blackpool. So pleased (not to say surprised) to discover what an athlete you became – brilliant.

    The only thing I might have to disagree with you on is your spelling of the Polish boy who was such a good runner. I always thought his name began with a ‘Z’. Any more memories, just email me and I will give you your own post.

    Bob Cummings

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    • Hi Bob…. was in a nostalgic mood this morning and suddenly thought there might be an old Xavs site… and lo & behold there is! Thanks for getting back to me…. my sister was married to Chris Clarke who sent me the pdfs attached, so please feel free to display them on the site… I also have the full school photograph from 1961… can you remember where you were on that pic? John & myself went to the last ever Xavs Old Boys meeting a few years ago and Brother Cyril was there! As for the spelling of ‘shiverklinski’, I’m pretty sure I got it right ‘cos every time he gave his name to a teacher… he had to spell it out… and it stuck in my brain somewhere…. I have to do the same with P H E L A N … Jim

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  4. Bro “Aidan” was in fact Bro Adrian, generally known as Jack. Also taught geography.
    Tom Arkless once stated in a Xavier’s house meeting, as part of his regular berating of us when we came second to Bernadine’s – remember the house points board in the window of the main building by the door – that you can’t buy loyalty. After the meeting a second year, by the name of Fenlon who had rather prominent ears and who in later life became an Oxford academic, was seen outside shouting “loyalty for sale, buy your loyalty here”. Unfortunately Arkless heard the shouts and took great pleasure in propelling the said Fenlon by means of a grip on one of his ears, all the way to retribution dished out by the Chimp.
    Mr Swallow taught woodwork. An ex Anglican monk, he married late in life. Told my parents I would never amount to anything as I talked too much. I retired comfortably at about the age he started teaching at Xav’s having spent a short working life first in sales, later in conference organisation and management. Talking got me a rather comfortable life style.
    Mr Curtis had a lisp and was given to getting red in the face. Commonly known as Wufus.
    David Ansboro did become Head Boy. Inevitable as his dad was head of the governors.
    There was Bro Guy from the USA, in fact from the town of Erie which he called the mistake on the lake. I’ve been there – he was right. There was Bro Larkin, a crew cut bully who had previously taught in the Bronx and thought Rusholme was the Manchester equivalent and we were all gang members. Used to throw threepenny bits to keep order. Hated him as he insisted on calling me Philly boy.
    Bro Ignatius was a totally different American. Taught RI to our sixth form. Had a massive hang up about sex and told us he became a brother to keep out of hell where women would have led him. Said we should take a phone book with us on a night out in case a girl had to sit on our knee in the back of a car. Back seat of a 161 bus more like! He died young back in the States mountaineering but not before he had impressed us with the righteousness of civil rights and the wrongfulness of the nascent Vietnam war.

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