Simon Raven’s Younger Brother: Myles Raven, the Terror of Tormore School

October 14th, 2011 by admin

The famous ‘Desert Boot’ was invented by Nathan Clark, who died on 23 June 2011. According to the obituaries, he was inspired by the rough suede boots, knocked up in the Cairo bazaar, that had been sported by officers of the Eighth Army during the war.

His design was not immediately appreciated by the stuffy directors of his family firm, James Clark and Sons. They ‘felt that there was something louche about suede as footwear. It was for bohemian and essentially unreliable characters.’

What, then, was one to make of Myles Raven, the legendary Latin and Maths master at Tormore School (my alma mater in Kent), and terror of generations of small boys? Raven, known as ‘Bird’, was reputed to possess forty pairs of suede boots. They lined the skirting board of his bed-sitting-room at the Old House, like soldiers on parade.

It was the horror of having Raven permanently on hand, as much as the lack of plumbing, that made the Old House the most unpopular boarding house at Tormore. As Bird lurched from his room of a morning, to shave from a bowl of boiling water on the landing, one saw far more of his flabby, six-foot-three-inch frame than was palatable. He was quite naked, apart from a white towel that hung precariously from his waist.

If I stole a glance past Raven in the direction of his fetid room, where the curtains seemed to be permanently drawn, it was only to verify the tales I had heard of his suede shoes – he certainly never wore anything else. Raven was dangerously unpredictable. He was prone to terrible, uncontrollable rages, in which his florid face would metamorphose into a livid purple. These were frequently triggered by the failure of individual pupils or an entire form to understand a particular lesson (such as ‘ut’ plus the subjunctive).

As they lined up at his desk to have him mark their work, boy after boy would offer proof of his incomprehension. Bird was like a simmering volcano. Suddenly, he would erupt, scoring his red Bic biro deep into the exercise book of the nearest boy. Others would have their books cast unceremoniously through the open French doors into the garden of the Court House, where they would invariably land in a muddy flower bed or a puddle.

Mercifully, the bell would eventually sound to mark the end of the lesson (potentially a long wait, if it was a ‘double’). Ashen faced, the released boys would alert the incoming form as to what was in store. ‘Birdie’s in a bait,’ they would mutter as they scurried away, leaving the trembling new arrivals to their doom.

A further ordeal was to be placed on Bird’s table at mealtimes. There were about a dozen tables in the school dining room and a further three in the adjacent library, where Bird presided. Each dining set, made up of boys of all ages, would progress weekly between tables, in an anti-clockwise direction. All of us dreaded the three weeks when we would be in the same room as Bird, and particularly the whole week that we would have to spend on his table.

It was particularly distressing to see him devour a substantial cooked breakfast on a daily basis, while we were permanently on short rations. (We were told, unconvincingly, that it was something to do with his diabetes.) He was also prone to revolting coughing fits and, when in one of his moods, was far from pleasant company.

It struck no one as odd that Bird should habitually chain-smoke during his lessons. He was a workmanlike teacher, who believed in learning by rote. Latin tenses and declensions were drummed into us (‘dominus, domine, dominum, domini, domino, domino’; ‘bellum, bellum, bellum, belli, bello, bello’ etc.). I doubt that he found his work rewarding. The hour devoted to ‘prep’ on winter evenings was an unpleasant enough experience, as the form-rooms were unheated. Under Bird’s supervision, it could be considerably worse. Heedless of our discomfort, he would sit outside the 4th Form in his green Sunbeam Rapier, turn the engine on and warm himself by the car’s heater, whilst leaving the door of the form-room wide open so that he could keep an eye on us.

My brother tells another story which illustrates Bird’s remarkable lack of consideration for his charges. The First XI, with my brother as scorer, were conveyed to a fixture at Milner Court in the masters’ cars. It was a pleasant summer’s day and, on the way back, with numerous sweaty boys crammed into the Sunbeam, Bird spotted a stall selling fresh strawberries in a lay-by (my brother passed the spot recently and recognised it at once – it is between Howe Barracks and Littlebourne). Bird hauled himself out of the car, bought two punnets, and proceeded to consume the entire contents in front of the ravenous boys.

Bird’s antics have made more sense to me since I read Michael Barber’s book The Captain, a frank and entertaining biography of his elder brother, the writer Simon Raven. An extravagant, amoral hedonist, sacked from Charterhouse and the army (he had served in Kenya as a Captain in the King’s Own Shropshire Light Infantry), a distracted Simon had been exiled to Deal by his publisher (‘Leave London, or leave my employ’). In my day, he lived in a tiny clapboard cottage across the road from the ‘Admiral Keppel’, which was conveniently positioned only a few doors down from the Old House.

The Raven brothers were both avowed homosexuals, yet Myles had once been engaged – to one of the under-matrons – and Simon had been briefly married. According to Barber, an anguished telegram from his abandoned wife – ‘WIFE AND BABY STARVING SEND MONEY SOONEST’ – had prompted a characteristic reply – ‘SORRY NO MONEY SUGGEST EAT BABY’. His reputation at Tormore was as the author of ‘dirty books’, which some boys’ fathers had read. Shortly after leaving Tormore I read one myself and it was, indeed, utterly filthy. (A typical line of dialogue, from a colonel addressing his mess: ‘I’ve f*****d women from every continent and most animals, but I’ve never had a woman like that!’) I remember the boys of my house, ‘Tanks’, being taken on a school treat to the cinema at Deal, to see On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Michael Webb briefed us beforehand that all the wittiest lines in the film had been written by Simon, whose name duly flashed up on the screen. Simon also scripted The Pallisers and Edward and Mrs Simpson for television, but it was only after the publication of The Roses of Picardie in 1980 that I became aware of his literary eminence.

The occasional sighting of the caddish Simon caused a certain frisson – usually striding past the school, clad like his brother in a tweed jacket and desert boots, with the same snub nose, prominent eyebrows and florid complexion and the furtive look of a mischievous faun. I have no recollection of ever seeing him on school premises, and wonder if he had been banned (as he was from the Royal St George’s Golf Club). However, my brother assures me that he came into the school regularly to watch our cricket matches, and at one time he wrote witty reviews of them for The School Record.

Simon used to hold court at the ‘Admiral Keppel’, where most of the masters seemed to spend their evenings. Worldy, erudite and amusing, he was, I believe, a strong and, in many ways, beneficial influence on the younger staff, men like Michael Webb and Michael Strevens. I suspect they picked up many of their odder expressions and ideas from him, including – I rather fear – their habit of referring to us boys by rather surprising terms of endearment, including ‘dear heart’ and ‘duckie’.

According to Strevens – the dashing, aloof ‘Strev’ – Myles would consume four or five pints between nine o’clock and closing time and then would stagger home with a further four pints in a jug. He is said to have suffered from appalling flatulence and smelly feet, and also, occasionally, to have wet his bed, but was immune to any form of hangover. He also never wore underpants, a legacy of his own, very peculiar prep school, where they were banned. I have a feeling that we were aware of this surprising detail at the time, but shudder to think how we can have known it. One instinctively shunned him as one would an electric eel. However, I never heard of him touching any boy. Strevens told Barber that Bird had once made a botched attempt at doing so. It had been a humiliating experience and was never repeated.

Myles Raven, described by a school contemporary as ‘the idlest Scholar elected to Charterhouse in living recollection’, must have been frustrated in many ways, but schoolmastering made few demands on him and gave him limitless opportunites to indulge his obsession with cricket, not to mention his illicit fantasies about little boys. I have a vivid memory of his enquiring of us, in a Latin lesson, what part of speech ‘Eheu’ was. No one knew. ‘It’s an ejaculation!’ he said, with relish. He seemed distinctly out of place on his rare trips to London – ‘a big lump who smelt strongly of pubs’, according to one of Simon’s smarter friends. He fell down dead in 1976, at the age of 46.

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  1. Simon Willoughby says:

    Another one of his traits: picking out his earwax using his Bic biro top and then eating it.

    On another occasion, while at breakfast in the library, he went out for some reason, warning us to remain silent in his absence. Terrified, no one uttered a word, yet suddenly, without any one doing or saying anything, the F G Turner memorial clock mounted on the wall behind Myles’s chair suddenly fell off and smashed to bits on the floor! I need not go into further detail about the rage that ensued upon his return.

  2. Alan Michels says:

    I was at Tormore from 1957 to 1963. Like you, the school made an enduring and overwhelmingly positive impression and me. Even allowing for any enchantment that distance might lend I can’t recall an unpleasant memory of the five years I spent there. Any school tends to be a reflection of its head, and I was fortunate to be there at the time of the Spurriers, who managed to create a kind learning environment which allowed many boys to flourish. The principle of kindness, in my opinion, is underrated as an essential component of a good school. ‘How kind is this school?, is an excellent question to ask when choosing where to send one’s own children.

    Where I disagree with your entertaining piece, however, is your impression of Myles Raven. The case for the defence of the reputation of this fundamentally kind man must now be put. As others I hope will agree, he was much more than a ‘workmanlike’ Latin teacher. I recall him as enthusiastic, painstaking, paying attention to individual progress. Even his famed ‘baits’, could charitably be forgiven as frustration. A lesser teacher would have been happy to let things go unlearnt. His lessons on his beloved subjunctive mood were to stand me in good stead for Spanish and Italian that I learned later. He also taught Geography engagingly.

    But it is for his enthusiasm as a sports master and coach that I will best remember him. He was a football and cricket man, and had little time for the notion that rugby was a serious game. For this alone he should be commended. He had coaching and motivation talents far in excess of most school masters, choosing his team with some tactical insight and even writing imaginative reports of his first X1 in terms of knights, bishops and castles of a chess board. In the summer I remember him mowing the cricket square with a manual mower while happily discussing the selection of the England team. He was only too happy to bowl to boys in the nets, and would invariably offer technical advice.The somewhat dissolute bumptiousness of your portrait is not something I remember. or something he should be remembered for.. As for the ‘avowed homosexual’ aspersion, I was never aware of any predelictions of this kind. His brother Simon, seems to have been remarkably unfussy in his tastes, but who knows about Myles? It was, after all, ‘another country’, then.

    All the teachers at Tormore were impressive in different ways. I was to experience educational mediocrity at my more famous Public School where the Headmaster was a Canon of the church, setting the tone for a bleak and austere atmosphere, where survival became the objective of the pupils. Things thankfully improved latterly, when the Canon gave way to a more enlightened era, but without the base from Tormore, I am would never have gone to university.

  3. admin says:

    Thank you so much for your comments, which are most welcome. I am pleased to hear of Myles Raven’s better side. I am quite prepared to accept that he was, at heart, a kind and gentle man, but you must allow for the possibility that his eccentricities and excesses had become more pronounced in the ten years since you left the school. To call him a ‘workmanlike’ teacher was intended as a compliment: he was undoubtedly effective. Unfortunately I never saw him in a relaxed and congenial mood, in or out of the pub, so cannot claim to have presented a rounded portrait. Amongst the boys, it was probably the gifted games-players who saw him at his best. I have no ill feelings towards him whatever and indeed am very glad to have known him. Tormore was, as you say, a benign and impressive institution, but there was much about it (and prep schools generally at the time) that, with hindsight, seems almost incredible.

  4. d1n05aur says:

    What memories this brought back! I was at Tormore from 1973 to 1977 and well remember Myles Raven. I recall that he was an excellent teacher and motivator. He was frightening and as well as sticking his red biro into our excercise books he had a tendency to use it as a weapon of considerable pain – on many occasions he rammed the biro into my ribs and occasionally my cranium!
    You are quite right about meal times. Being on Bird’s table was something to be dreaded. His coughing and sneezing fits were inevitably accompanied by copious quantities of “bogey” which invariably ended up in the rice pudding or semolina only to be stirred in to form part of the culinary experience!
    The suade shoes and Bird’s room in Old House remain vivid memories as does the site of Bird with only a towel around his waist to hide his modesty. I recall the Old House boarders being invited to Bird’s room to watch the Brazil vs Holland 1974 World Cup semi final which was a convivial experience.
    I have no recollection of Bird ever doing anything to justify the description of him as avowedly homosexual. I was in Old House on two occasions and apart from some unprepossessing habits he never showed any interest in any of the boys.
    I look back on Bird with great affection and I remember being saddened when he died of a brain haemorrage back in 1976.
    They certainly don’t make them like that any more!
    Where I am in complete agreement is that Tormore was a little like being incarcerated. It was a hard existence and when I went to Westminster which was its complete antithesis I struggled to cope. At Tormore the decision making process was very much taken out of your hands with the result that it was addedly difficult to adapt to a more liberal academic environment.

  5. admin says:

    Fascinating Christopher: great to hear from you. I hope I have not been too hard on ‘Bird’. I also remember him with affection, though I struggle to think of anything really positive to say about him. The evidence of his homosexuality is in Simon Raven’s well very informed biography. I certainly never heard of any ‘incidents’ myself. Perhaps he found us all rather unappealing.

    Do you remember the terrifying fire drills we had at the Old House, when we all had to climb out of an upstairs window, coaxed by the masters?

  6. d1n05aur says:

    I do indeed remember the fire drills! These involved a rope ladder or, if you were unfortunate enough to be in the smaller dorm a rope! I was well built even then and this ordeal was frightful! As I mentioned previously I don’t think Tormore did me much in the way of favours in preparing me for Westminster. The school was too regimented and there was little scope for using one’s own initiative. That said I was sorry when it closed (in 1980?) and when I drive past the site as I often do it brings back many memories. How about a reunion in the Admiral Keppel?

  7. Roderick Thorp says:

    I did enjoy reading the two items about Tormore. I was there 52-57, contemporary with Tony Willoughby (and I still have a photo of him playing cricket on the beach at Sandwich Bay!). I remember a younger Myles Raven, very strict (the pass mark for a test on Latin prep was 10 out of 10; any mistake and you failed), but he wasn’t then the Terror of later years. The Terror in the early 50’s was FGT’s wife MOST (her names were Mary Olivia Sophia Turner). She was diminutive in height, with a distinctive gait, and the sound of her shoes click-clacking along the corridor struck panic into all of us. She played the piano for hymn-singing on a Sunday evening, when one boy from each class could choose a hymn. I remember trying to find hymns with music in very difficult keys so that her piano skill was tested to the limit – she always refused to play number 296, and once someone chose number 707 (The National Anthem) and was told not to be so ‘utterly futile’ – a typical phrase of hers.

    The teacher I held in most affection was Mr Taylor, who ran a second-hand book business specialising in children’s literature. He taught me Scripture in the second form (I still remember being enthralled by the old testament stories of Esther and Daniel, and he it was who taught me the doggerel verse about Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh). He taught maths to the sixth form, and required high standards of mental arithmetic (useful today in the numbers part of ‘Countdown’) He played the piano for daily prayers in the Mem Room and also at prize-giving for the School Song and the Pay Day Song (does anyone remember this? ‘It’s Pay Day, it’s Pay Day! How jolly for us, it’s Pay Day! And every debt we’ll soon forget for Pay Day is a gay day!’)

    I also wonder if anyone still remembers the standard lines known as ‘Few things” Usually writing lines meant something like ‘I must always respect my Latin teacher’. But the ‘normal’ line at Tormore in my time was (wait for it!): Few things are more distressing to a well-regulated mind than to see a boy who ought to know better disporting himself at improper moments. I once had to write that 100 times in 24 hours for some horrendously heinous offence which I cannot for the life of me remember!

  8. admin says:

    Priceless memories, very much appreciated. I, too, remember being entranced by the Old Testament stories, though not by Taylor, who must have been long gone. I love the Pay Day Song – which I have never heard – and the standard ‘line’.

    I do recall, as the prefect in charge of sounding the school bell, having to ask permission to leave the lesson in Latin. ‘Posse me tintinabulum sonare?’, I would ask, glibly.

    The masters were paid the most exiguous stipend, so I am not sure that Pay Day was quite so gay.

  9. Roderick Thorp says:

    You may be even more amused by the rest of the Pay Day Song. The chorus continues:
    We’re packed up, and backed up
    With journey money galore;
    So we’ll cut a dash, and spend our cash
    For it’s Pay Day once more!

    Then comes the verse, so typical of the kind of school that Tormore was:

    Tomorrow we shall lie in bed till ten a.m. or later;
    Though Father may get rather red, it won’t upset the mater.
    It will be nice to have a rest imbibing luscious cocoa;
    As someone said it: “dulce est dissipere in loco”.

    The song was sung by the boys at Prize-giving on the last full day of term. Pocket money (I think of 12 shillings a term) was handed in to the headmaster’s wife at the beginning of term. If a boy wanted something in particular he would write a letter asking her to buy it for him. At the end of term any remaining money was given back, with a full account of how the money had been spent, hence the name ‘Pay Day’.

    In the item about time at The Vyne, I was interested in what was said about the food at Tormore. In the 1950’s it was still spartan, and I could write a book about it. One of the masters whom I met again many years later said that the main factor contributing to his leaving the school was the awfulness of the food! One of the good things that happened after Paul Spurrier became headmaster was that his wife started a ‘Catering Committee’ which consisted of one boy from each table, and we were able to comment on things we did or didn’t like. The food took a turn for the better. Nobody ever dared to admit to being ill, because food in the Sick Room was known as ‘Sick Room Soup’ and was a thin bovril concoction.

  10. bmccrae says:

    How excellent to catch up with these memories from our youth. I remember Roderick Thorp well, being by one year his junior at Tormore. But I remember Myles Raven even better. He was, I fear, always a figure of terror for me as I had then, as now, not the least interest in, or ability at, games. Consequently I saw him only in the class-room where he simmered as a volcano. Fortunately I excelled at Maths and I could usually outrun Myles in dealing with problems in Geometry. And by the way, there was in my day a Geometry competition for most of the school each year: I have still the books I won for that. I seem also to have had a good eye for shooting and Myles dealt with that in the Gymnasium as we ‘pinged’ old air-rifles towards a metal trap, while lying on some prickly coconut matting. The cup for that was a welcome exchange for no medals at all from my team games.
    Myles Raven was socially an awkward character and I wonder how his colleagues found him in his early days at the school. I did hear from David Tarrant that Myles came to Tormore after a fall from grace at another Prep School in the West Country: Fidge Turner had taken him on with the condition that he tidy up his act. Sadly, this did not extend to his more gross behaviour at the table. In the class-room I can remember some scenes which would have drawn alarmed comment: Myles once impressed the need for accurate learning of the Passive Infinitives in Latin by putting my head between his knees and jabbing my rear end with the spike of the board compasses. Happy days.
    My real fear was reserved however for the young French teacher called Alexander de Ostrakov: I may well have misspelled his name. If anyone could kill enthusiasm for French while hammering home the grammar better than he, I have yet to hear of it. We studied the driest book of all, Somerville’s French Grammar, and learnt lists of pointless vocabulary for innumerable tests. The vocabulary lists had been composed, we were told, by Alexander’s sainted mother, which did not make them any more palatable. We never spoke French for enjoyment: I was regularly in ‘Returns’ for irregular verbs each Wednesday and Saturday.
    How many of my contemporaries will remember the ‘Bridgewater Incident’? From the windows of Clive dormitory near the end of one summer term, Myles was observed out in the yard warmly embracing Miss Bridgewater, a jolly under-matron. This put quite a different aspect on our view of the Bird for a while.
    Roderick’s note about the Sick Room brings back recollections from the dark. Once confined, you were not allowed to leave the room until you recovered. So ‘evacuations’ were conducted behind a linen screen on Victorian commodes. In my first term, while at the Yews, I caught chicken pox and German measles consecutively so the watery soup that we lived on was horribly familiar. At the same time, some food in the 1950s was great. I have never in my life eaten sausages as good as the ones we had at Tormore and I we developed a taste for seed-cake and bread-and-dripping. And what about Campbell’s Leg, a wonderful suet roll that came out as a change from the prunes and custard? (The reference to Campbell is explained by his eczema and the currents in the suet).
    It’s marvellous to see the words of the Pay Day Song again. But what about the School Song? Only faint echoes remain in my memory: ‘We boys are the soldiers who fight side by side, our masters are Captains and Majors’, and then something about the ‘Old Boys are jolly Old Stagers’. Fidge once showed me a version he had turned into acceptable Latin Elegiacs.

  11. Roderick Thorp says:

    How nice to read Bruce McCrae’s memories. I remember him well (and the way he taught us to spell his name correctly: M, little c, big C, r,a,e). I too was hopeless at sport, and he and I also shared music in common. I remember the first time he played the hymn for Sunday evening prayers – O God, our help in ages past.

    His description of food brought back other memories. Sausages were the treat for Sunday breakfast (in retrospect I think breakfast was the best meal of the day). I remember Campbell’s Leg. I wonder if anyone remembers Treacle Mount Everest? This was so good that I described it in detail to my mother so that she could make it at home – it was sponge pudding with a golden syrup base and sprinkled with icing sugar so that when it was well-risen it looked like a snow-covered mountain.

    I also remember the Bridgewater incident, as well as other names of assistant matrons, whom we were always trying to marry off to one or other of the masters. Mr de Ostrikoff (I don’t know the spelling either) I remember chiefly because he was Roman Catholic and arrived late for Sunday breakfast because of going to early mass.

    As well as the Sick Room as a deterrent for being ill, there were various medicines doled out if you were ill. The revolting bitterness of cinnamon and quinine was enough to stop anyone from claiming to have a cold!

    I remember the School Song, but not the words, alas. But my brother-in-law who was there in the 1940’s can remember most of them. He tells me he visited The Vyne once and on the grand piano in the drawing room was a copy of the music.

    I wonder if Bruce remembers Mr Roberts, the local church orgainst, who taught piano. His predecessor, Alan Ridout, left in the middle of a term; I think he had some kind of breakdown, but later went on to a career as a successful church music composer – and he has an entry in my Oxford Dictionary of Music. In my last year I learnt a movement of a Mozart Piano Concerto and Mr Roberts took me to the church where he played the orchestral part on the organ, I played the piano part and the whole thing was recorded (on huge tape spools) to be played as part of the end-of-term concert.

    Like Bruce, I still have one or two books which I won as prizes at Tormore. I got the impression that we were rewarded not with books we would like, but with books ‘they’ thought it would be good for us to read – I have things like A Tale of Two Cities and some Rudyard Kipling.

  12. d1n05aur says:

    I was driving through Deal recently and drove past the site of the old school. Reading these amazing memories got me thinking more about the four remarkable years I spent at Tormore which had certain similarities to being in prison. I visited Deal Castle for the first time on my recent visit and I can truthfully say I probably knew as little about the town of Deal on the day I left Tormore in 1977 as I did on the day I arrived back in September 1973. Tormore was a community itself – being allowed out of the gates did not happen often and when it did it was for a specific and sometimes unpleasant reason such as a cross country run.
    Apart from “Bird”, there were various other “highlights” that will remain with me until the day I die.
    Miss Gardiner (or MG as she was affectionately known) was not like any matron I had ever come across before, or indeed since. She too was prone to bad moods and doled out punishment on a fairly liberal basis. Punishment consisted of being “wacked” on the bare backside – three wacks on the first occasion, then six, nine and so on. Fortunately I avoided being wacked but most were not so lucky!
    Washing on MG’s wing was a frightful experience involving a wash basin, flannel and the dreaded post wash inspection which involved the painful pulling of legs and arms. There was a weekly bath in about two inches of luke warm water which was accompanied by a scrubbing administered by MG who used to bellow “are you a man or a mouse boy” should there be any sign of complaint. The brushes used were the old fashioned scrubbing brushes from a bygone era that one usually associates with scullary maids and the like from series such as “Upstairs Downstairs” or “Downton Abbey”.
    Bedtime at Tormore was 7.15pm for younger boys and 7.45pm for older boys. Lights went out at 8.30pm and talking was not allowed after 9.00pm. MG would prowl her wing enforcing this rule with a dreaded wacking! This rule was never eased, not even at weekends!
    Should one escape the ire of MG there was always Adrian Rawlings, “Plug” to his friends, to cope with. Plug tought science and had a brutal temper, made worse by the fact that he seemed to have eyes in the back of his head. Those unfortunate souls who were not concentrating would have the board rubber thrown at their heads – Plug seldom missed! Plug’s other party trick was to roam the science lab when we were doing written work to check who had been concentrating. Anyone daydreaming would have the stool they were sitting on kicked from under them.
    At games time Plug was invariably placed in charge of the boys with little or no aptitude for sport which unfortunately included me. To amuse himself Plug would organise two teams and would himself play for one invariably scoring a hatload of goals and leaving innumerable bruised shins in his wake. Plug believed that boys should be tough – he detested anyone who he felt did not try or was “namby pamby”. Fortunately Plug seemed to have a grudging respect for my efforts both in the classroom and on the pitch.
    Michael Webb (“Maggie” to his fiends after the Latin “Maggister” for teacher) was one of the finest teachers I ever had but was also the one with the shortest fuse. His temper was legendary and I used to dread his maths and latin classes. Like Bird he would become suffused with rage and frustration with his charges probably because he could not comprehend how we could be so stupid when faced with the simplicity itself that is triganometry!
    Happy memories indeed!

  13. Duck says:

    73-77. I was never in Old House but I heard the stories… a place of nightmares. Bird ate his meals in the library. He would put a huge amount of salt onto his food and was permanently red.

    I remember that MG used to have Thursdays off. On those nights we were looked after by the Scandinavian under-matrons who would kiss us goodnight. They had names like Stella and Maretta(?) and they smelled of heaven I think Plug became quite friendly with one of them.

    Every Wednesday we had ‘Continental Breakfast’. An iron-crusted bread roll that was almost entirely hollow but still managed to be the best meal of the week.

    Maggie still lives in Deal. He is retired now. Can still see his face as he would re-enact the scene from the Odyssey in which Polyphemus bit the heads off sailors. Best teacher there ever was.

  14. steven franks says:

    Pull your garters up Franks! was a regular shout i received walking down the corridor, not pleasant. I had the misfortune of being in the first batch of day boys in 1968! This created divisions between the other boys and the teachers, it took a while to overcome or resolve. But the memories of those heady days in the late 1960’s have become more pleasant as time moves on,rapidly i’m afraid. Mr Blee was the head, and his wife whom always appeared to have a cold. I found them always friendly to me. If i remember write, they had a small child which was not very well at the time. Myles Raven (bird) was a formidable character to say the least, frightening to a ten year old boy. he always appeared dishevelled and tied his trousers up with a tie! A real character from a bygone age and century, i was pleased , looking back that is, to have briefly known him. I often wonder what happened to Michael Strevens, my surname was a source of great pleasure to him, and he constantly altered it and broadcasted it out to the class! His weekly french tests were worrying and detention often resulted the poor result! Michael Webb i remember, and daily sports, i hated, was not very able never made the first eleven! the fixture list for the day was posted on the notice board. Standing on the sidelines on a saturday afternoon cheering the side, happy days! Mr.Culver who was the caretaker at the time was a friendly face Though the picnics and film shows were fun, and the school play ha ha! It all seems such along time ago a different world, all in all happy days with plenty of memories stored.

  15. admin says:

    Rupert’s description of Myles Raven brings back many memories. I thought I would share a few more with you.
    First of all let me say I was at Tormore from 1955 – 60. Myles Raven was then a bit younger and (here I agree with other comments above) in my view not so frightening as he obviously became, but still a man to be feared. I remember him once lifting two boys vertically upwards by the scruffs of their necks with his arms outstretched, one to each side. We had what he called ‘Practical Maths’ or ‘Practical Latin’ every now and again, which meant rolling the cricket pitch on a hot summer day instead of a classroom lesson inside. And yes, the glasses or biro to clean the wax out of his ears. And the punishment with two rulers, one metal, one wood, placed either side of your ears which he then flicked together.
    Then there was Mr de Ostrikoff, forever seen in his tweed jacket with his Quaker Porridge Oats box full of French dictionaries. And on Sundays some older boys who were either partial to sweets or classical music or possibly both were allowed to listen to classical music in his room at rest time. He was of course a white Russian which always sounded rather romantic.
    Talking of sweets, or ‘tuck’ as we called it, there were the thrice weekly lines outside the dining room, usually in alphabetical order, to collect the long-awaited items in one’s open and inevitably rather dirty handkerchief. (Some naughty, and it seemed very brave, boys amongst us supplemented these on one or two occasions by secret raids on the tuck cupboard at night!)
    On Sundays there were the dreadfully boring , and in winter very cold, walks – down to the seafront, past the slag heaps of Betteshanger Colliery and the endless cabbage patches of East Kent. In summer there was of course swimming. The water was either freezing or dirty. Just as soon as it had warmed up to a tolerable level the order was given to clean the pool and change the water. This was not a very enjoyable job but always attracted enough volunteers. And beyond the pool was the long grass where dens were made and ‘gangs’ were formed.
    What of other staff? There was of course the headmaster – during my time two in fact, FGT and PKS. The former nicknamed Fidge and the latter Spud. There was Mr Taylor, a white-haired old man who taught scripture. This always began with his hand-drawn blackboard map of Palestine and the river Jordan. And then there were a few other more minor players who came and went. But there was an old boy on the non-teaching staff who was probably there until the day he died – the diminutive and very hunchbacked Stanley Prisgrove (I’ve still got his autograph somewhere) who looked after and polished all our shoes. His first job with every new boy was to hammer nails into the soles of one’s shoes with one’s school number – a number never to be forgotten – and there were of course many different shoes one had to have: black shoes for Sundays, everyday shoes, ‘Cambridge’ shoes for indoors and football boots at the very least.
    The biggest breath of fresh air as far as staff were concerned in the years I was there was of course the arrival of Jonathan Quick (JKQ). Yes, he ultimately came to a very sticky end – and this is perhaps not the moment to dwell on that – but he inspired us all hugely. His Greek Bingo taught us the Greek irregular verbs in a way that no other means could. And we swung around the gym like monkeys. A few of us were also treated to Kenneth McKellar, Nina and Frederick and Tom Lehrer in the privacy of his room – the latter raising a few eyebrows with our parents and indeed the headmaster too. And he taught us to play Jacks.
    Finally there were the days out when our parents came down (or that old-fashioned expression ‘your people’ as Mrs Spurrier used to call them). Nice as it was to see our parents, these days out were also quite painful, particularly in winter when one could not go off for picnics. One was then forced to have lunch in the Royal Hotel, Deal, or some similar location, in a dining room full of other boys and their parents and sometimes younger sisters, all of which was very embarrassing and conversation very strained.
    I might end this brief resumé with a little story against myself, an incident some may remember. FGT was teaching us scripture in the 5th Form (above the yard) and we had obviously been reading a particular passage in the Bible when he asked me: “Garton, who betrayed Jesus?” I had clearly not been paying attention as I had no idea. As it was near the end of the lesson he said “Find out before the next lesson and tell me then.” Well, someone had obviously recently been studying Portuguese explorers because the first person I asked afterwards said “Bartholomew Diaz”, and the word spread. Everyone thereafter seemed to say “Bartholomew Diaz”. One I remember said St Peter (so I clearly wasn’t the only ignorant one!) but Bartholomew Diaz seemed to be the clear winner. So when the next lesson came that was my answer. I had never seen FGT laugh so much either before or ever again. Anyway I got the usual hundred lines and have never forgotten Judas Iscariot ever since!

    Let’s try and have a reunion?

    Michael Garton

  16. admin says:

    Antony Steele has kindly written (3 March 2024):

    Hello Rupert,

    A short line to thank you for your posts regarding Tormore School that you shared back in 2011.

    My father and his brother went to Tormore (approx 1955), and I was there between 1978 and 1980, and I had 2 years at Northbourne when Tormore closed.

    Many of the contributing blog comments resonated with my time there, especially the strict and occasionally violent matron! I have had a sleepless night trying to remember all that I can, and in trying to put a face to Myles Raven – which I have failed to do. I do remember my Latin teacher, but I don’t think it was Myles. My Latin reports were signed by DVN, no idea of the name.

    I remember a black haired reasonably young fellow who would invite boys back to his room to play the floor game Twister – and whilst I remember being wary of his intentions, nothing untoward ever happened. I do recall this Latin teacher knocking a boy unconscious from his desk to the floor due to a high velocity blackboard eraser striking his forehead. The eraser was actually for a different student who ducked. Anyway, the poor student was taken away in an ambulance. I don’t recall what happened to the student or teacher following that incident, I guess we just got on with things.

    I can clearly remember the French teacher Captain Burke, who had multiple ink flicks across the back of his trench coat (sometimes over extending across his bald head too), and that he had a small sausage dog at his heel.

    David Bailey the music teacher restored pianos in his spare time and had us help, and John Budden who was my house master in the 1st year’s lodgings, and held English. I remember him entertaining us by commentating on fictitious horse racing, and have today learned that he left schooling to pursue that passion and sadly died in 2022 aged 83.

    Keith Johnson was my science teacher, and I remember our headmaster John Hare too.

    John Hare burst into a class and pointed at three students telling them that they had failed their Common Entrance exam and that the rest of us had barely passed, and he then stormed off.

    I know that Northbourne Park was after your time. I remember as a border there having a key to the science block and making simple explosives over the weekends, plus making the swimming pool oil heater run continuously to support our midnight swims. I am sure you would say that Tormore didn’t need a pool heater and the kids were getting soft once Northbourne opened.

    Lots more stories have come to mind too. I was unable to add comments to your blog, so hope you don’t mind my email and sharing with you directly.

    I have found a few photographs of Tormore online, and I still have their prospectus booklet from 1978 – and Northbourne Park from 1980, and all my school reports from both – which were shockingly bad and quite brutal.

    Incidentally, I found myself in Basingstoke from 1987, until I moved to Australia in 1998.

    Best regards,

    Antony Steele