Borodin con Brio
Does anyone else remember the amazing lecture on Borodin, given by Professor A.J.B. Hutchings of Durham University. The professor certainly knew how to entertain a hall full of bored schoolboys. I remember pages flying as he threw away the ‘boring’ bits of his talk so we could get to the interesting stuff. Here is the report published in Schola Regia
Wee Mac – a great wee guy as teachers went
I remember the head of Geography in my senior school days (1959 to 1965) was one “wee Mac”. Cannot remember his first name, but the surname was MacDonald. It was too early for any connotations to the fast food store, and it was definitely because of his diminutive size. He was a great wee guy as teachers went, and if you could get him started talking about his exploits in WW11, you would miss a whole period of Geography!!
Mr Somerville is feeling poorly today
Another was a history teacher “Dave” Somerville, who when the colds and flu season came around, was always seriously afflicted. He used to sit at his desk and after blowing his nose throw the soiled tissues over his shoulder towards (but seldom in) his waste paper basket!! His room in front of the class, after a forty minute period, would look a very strange sight indeed! Otherwise he would stand by the fireplace, (he had a room in one of the houses in Regent Terrace) drape his arm over the mantelpiece in dramatic pose, and waft his other arm about in the air, whilst (in a colded accent) saying things like “I don’t feel so good today boys, just read to yourselves!”.
Naughty David Robb
Also – what about Mr Godin, one of our maths teachers who when riled by some wayward lad, would walk over to him, stare at him from a few inches and shout “do your work boy!”. I had the misfortune (although he was one of my best pals) to sit beside David Robb, (the now TV and stage actor) who would regularly drop me in it by throwing his voice in some way, and I always got the blame!
There was also the head of classics “Fred” Scott who used to stalk around the playground at lunch and breaktimes looking seriously evil, and taking every chance to belittle some boy with his razor sharp vocabulary and searing wit (or so he thought!)
…anyway – I hope these stir some memories for some of the site visitors – I enjoyed my visit…….!
Director Struan Resources Ltd,
Happy Days – Gillespies, Geography Trips and Taggart
Glenn Chandler was in my year. He created Taggart. When at school in
1966 he organised a review along the lines of ‘That was the Week It was’ and
we made a film which was shown at the review. It was called ‘Art de
Nigel’ and was a spoof on the awful Art Appreciation films that we were shown. It
had Lewis ?????? and Peter Finlay Hammond who were the year above you. The
whole review was held for the Aberfan Fund. The review ended with Glenn dressed as Bailie T singing a
satirical song to a tune from the Sound of Music Edelweiss. The photo on the right links to the films.
I remember Glenn spent all his time writing strange stories and in Physics, Cook, father of Robin
Cook, caught him, as he administered the usual punishment he said “Chandler
you’ll never get anywhere writing these silly stories”. In an episode of
Taggart set in school, Glenn wrote a piece about the common room being above
the science labs and he took the part of the RE teacher.
My year also had Ian Charleson, the Chariots of Fire actor and Tom
Dawson, now Lord Dawson the judge, he should be seeing some of his old FPs on a
professional basis and probably a few staff if they were still vertical.
The Royal High would have had its own database on the sex offender’s
register. Just think if the Internet had existed then, the Royal High
would have kept operation Ore going for years.
The Card twins were in my year Simon you have on file, Stuart I last saw at Heriot Watt where he was
Bowie Slips Up
I remember Fifi took a dislike to me on the first day and kept it up
for six years. I failed O grade French three times. Fred Scott told me my
contribution to the Latin class was to sit by the fire and put the coal
I remember Bowie and what a real obnoxious person he was. The day
he slipped on the ice at lunchtime as he returned from his lunch at
Darlings Hotel and went his full length outside the staffroom there was not a
sound heard until he went inside and a tremendous roar went up.
Charlie Dickens was another French Teacher. There was a rumour he was an ex commando
so his classes were quiet and well behaved.
Minnie Minck was another teacher
who got a lot of stick. Her classes were a riot unfortunately she was just
through the wooden partition from Fifi so that usually involved her
coming through and sorting things out. Minnie returned to Gillespies around
1966 where she had been Dux when a pupil. She would have had a quieter time
if all the girls had not kept asking her about us and naming all the
Panic from St. Andrews House
When Hector the head of English passed away we lowered the
school flag to half mast for a picture for the inside cover of Schola
Regia, someone from St Andrew’s House phoned in a panic thinking that some
minor royal must have expired and they knew nothing about it.
Wee Mac the head of Geography would always ask me how my elder brother
was getting on. I was an only child and the said person was a distant
relative. I told him this. After the 300 time of saying this I
decided it was easier just to say he was doing fine.
I often wonder if after teaching us Jim Noble decided to do something easier like lion taming or fire
I remember Miss Whiteside the Biology teacher. There were some very
strange animals in these cages around her room. I often wonder if this was the
start of cloning experiments. She seemed to have an unhealthy attachment to
rats, just like the girls at Gillespies (though they picked the human
kind) and the room smelt like a stable. You had to pass through it to the
centre science room.
There was Beneden the old physics teacher who looked and
acted like the prototype for Corporal Jones. In a lesson Ronnie the
technician spent the whole time setting up a complicated set of
pulleys, Beneden pulled the string too hard and the whole thing collapsed. He
turned to Ronnie and said “Ron you’ll need to start again” just in time to see
Ronnie diappearing out the door mouthing the sort of words they use on
There was the Mekon, a man who was the nearest thing to an
example of Christianity that there could ever be. In spite of
presiding over a near riot every period, he turned up every day and tried to
instil some sense of decency and the odd bit of religion in the class. When
finally you went beyond mark you were told to go and see Weedy Graham
and ask him to belt you. You stood outside Weedy’s door for a few minutes
listening to the route directions for taking a Dormobile up the
Jungfrau then went back holding both your hands and looking hurt. If you did it
really realistically the Mekon would say how sorry he was that you had
been hurt in this way. His sex education lessons including the films he
showed the first year can’t be written about since it is difficult to type
with shaking shoulders and tears flooding the keyboard. Suffice it to say
most seem to have managed to form reasonable relationships, some with women
or other things with less than four legs and some even with girls who had
not been to Gillespies.
Weedy Graham’s fun before Health and Safety
In 1965, 66, 67 Weedy Graham ran a geography trip to Bonskeid House on
Loch Tummel in the summer term. We all piled in to a 12 seater Bedford
Minibus and headed up there for a week of geography field work, and illegal
drinking. This was way ahead of what is done now in schools. He was
far seeing, just a pity his classes did not always stay with the syllabus.
If the Higher had been ‘travelling Europe in a Dormobile Motor Caravan’ we
would have all got A passes.
On the 1965 trip we travelled everywhere with the front sliding doors
open, it was fun before Health and Safety. When returning to Bonskeid House
we met a bus coming the other way, Weedy’s driving was always a triumph
of confidence over reality and as we tried for the gap the wall on the
nearside moved out to meet us. The nearside door acted as a scoop and sent
rocks scattering into the van. The rest of the wall remodelled the door with
a trendy groove. The bus had a damage excess and the school treasurer
was Fred Scott so the conversation when they got back would have been worth
In 1966 they billeted us in a wooden bungalow out the back since the
house was full of girls from a school outside London. At night we took the
ladders from the stables and climbed up to their rooms, all went well
until one of their teachers found the ladders, Weedy was his usual laid back
self and asked us not to get caught. Each night we would have a run ashore
in Pitlochry, Fishers Hotel and all the other pubs suddenly found their
profits going up. At the return time Weedy would appear and drive us all back.
He remarked that while he didn’t mind the smell of drink, he couldn’t
stand the polo mint fumes.
I made a film called Tourist Town. Pretty rubbish when looked at now.
Gavin Booth – Brodie the Musical
If you look back old school magazines around 1961 there were satirical
contributions from Gavin Booth. He now edits Classic Bus magazine and
writes musicals. His version of Brodie, about Deacon Brodie, first
performed in 1996 is being performed this spring in Edinburgh. He
married Jennifer Booth the school secretary. Speaking of school secretaries
there was Maras who joined the school in 1966. If you believed popular
rumour she went out with the whole sixth year but only Ian Allen in my year was
actually seen at a dance with her.
In 1967 under Taylor the head of Physics, Brian Welsh, George Macmorran
and I entered for the Science Fair run by the BBC. We did a project on
sound insulation. We compared the sound insulation of an old school, the
Royal High, with a new school, the new Gillespies, (any excuse) and spent
time there causing havoc. We had a great time and got through to the
Scottish final where we were up against Allan Glens and a girl’s school from
Helensburgh. Compared to Allen Glens our project was Mickey Mouse so
we realised we were not going to win. During the recording we noticed
there was a bunch of flowers in the corner of the studio. When we asked the
floor manager what they were for, he told us they were presented to the
winner. We suggested to him that neither the lads of Allan Glens or ourselves
would appreciate the gesture and he explained that all the other regional
heats had been held and there was a shortage of girl’s schools. This was our
first example of the integrity of the media.
Inspector Free Zone
Looking back I don’t ever remember the Schools Inspectors ever
appearing the school, perhaps they knew what it was like and decided that not
visiting was safer.
There had been inspection visits when I was at the primary, the
inspector would sit at the back of the class and the teacher would try to be
human and not actually physically or verbally assault anyone. I remember Mrs
Swanston telling us all in primary P4 that she never belted anyone in the first
week. I added the comment “That’ll be right” or words to that effect and her
record was broken.
Beacon of Beauty
I also remember Miss Morrison who in a world of
aging spinsters and war damaged male teachers was beacon of beauty and
loveliness. It was then that our P6 discovered there was an opposite sex. Ian
Duncanson sent her a Valentine and got one back but disappointingly it had been
made by W J Watson our class teacher.
The Dedicated Miss Barnett and Miss Hamilton
In 1981 they held a 50th anniversary of the opening of the Junior
School and Miss Barnett and Miss Hamilton were invited. They had started in 1927 at the school and taught all the P3 for years up until 1965. You don’t get that sort of dedication now.
In 1961 there were a lot of protests about the Polaris submarines and
protesters laid down outside the US Consulate House 3. The staff asked
the police to move them, but they just said wait. The bell for morning
break sounded and House 4 was full of the first year. Now if you remember
there was always a queue for morning milk so speed was essential. The first
year came out of House 4 in a swarm and trampled straight over the
protesters. There were never any more sit down protests outside the US Consulate.
Sixth Year Skivers
In our sixth year it was compulsory to do two periods of english per
By that time a few of us had realised that if you didn’t go on the
first day then you weren’t on the register. This gave two more periods a week to
do private study of pool, smoking etc. All went well until the exam when
even fewer turned up. Jocky appeared in the Prefect’s Room and caught us
He marched us down to the exam in House 1 and as we were going into the
room at the back of the house we noticed the toilet so a few of us crammed
in there and waited till he went. This meant that we did not have to
attend while all those who had turned up for the exam were on the register for
the rest of the year.
I always felt that a Royal High education was suitable for a career as
a dodgy politician, used car salesman, estate agent selling houses with
subsidence, media personality, alcoholic, professional gambler or if
Campbell the careers teacher (that title would be removed under the
Trades Description Act) had his way, Chartered Accountant or Surveyor. It
always amazes me when I meet FPs who are solvent, not on the sex offenders
register, employed and married (often many times).
I have been back to the old building a few times and there is a touch
of nostalgia when you walk up the playground. The big hall is completely
different but there is a strange feeling when you enter the building.
On 1 May 1997 the BBC decided to cover the whole election night for Radio
Scotland from there. Due to the fact that all of the soon to be ex
Tory MPs either were in their constituencies hearing how badly they had been
stuffed or knew there was a disaster about to unfold, I was the party spokesman
for the radio. I spent the whole night listening to each of the MPs losing
their seat and upbeat spin from all the other parties. Finally as the true
result of the disaster became apparent, Lesley Riddoch who was the presenter
for the night came over and said to me on air “Surely this is a complete
disaster you are having here tonight?”. I was able to reply that I had
spent six years in the place and had much worse days than this.
Everyone cracked up, even the crew were laughing. The thing is they don’t know
how true it was.
Happy Days – Dave Somerville and the ATC
Suave Dave’s Secret
I spent 4 years in the school ATC. This gave me a close insight into
how to teach the Dave Somerville way. That guy was absolutely magic. ATC
camp was a joy to behold, the chance to fly in all sorts of RAF machinery, some
of it actually airworthy, nights out in the local pub. Passing the Officer’s
Mess and seeing Dave inside having a light refreshment after a hard day.
The secret of his teaching was delegation and large chalk drawings of
Big Dave ‘taught’ me history for three years and he was the Ft Lt of
the ATC so I had quite a lot to do with him. His dad ran G A Somerville
the big ironmonger in Broughton Street and Dave was pretty financially secure.
He ran an immaculate Rover 90. He used to take the ATC rifle shooting to
a rifle range situated under the Playhouse cinema. He must have been a
member there as he had keys. He moved to Broughton after he was passed over
for Dept Head after Jocky retired in 67. He was dept head there for years
and Martin Bryden from my year ended up as his deputy. Two of my cousins
were at Broughton so they kept me informed of his laid back style. He must
be one of the few left around. Vealy Cochrane lived round the corner from
me but he moved to the great staffroom in the sky some years ago. I think
Jim Noble is now a dep head out in Pencuik.
Happy Days – The Sixties – Dancing with Fifi
Fifi’s Body Armour
Some months before the school dance rehearsals would be held in the
Grubby after 3.30pm. The tables which each weighed about the same as a tank
were moved out of the way to create a dance space. There were three types
of partners, your mates, Fifi and other female staff or girls from
Gillespies who arrived at the front gate and were escorted up the playground to
the Grubby by Prefects to make sure they were not molested by any hopeful
3rd and 4th years. If you knew anyone at Gillespies you tried to persuade
them to attend otherwise it was the desperate, the girth challenged and
those who had made a bad hair day a 365/year fact.
The normal procedure was that you would dance in pairs and if Fifi did
not think you were doing it properly she would intervene and take over.
She would command that you held her closer as the normal reaction was to
grip her delicately with your fingertips. This would bring you into contact
with her clothing which appeared to be covering some sort sheet steel
undergarment of the sort perused by the 1st year in the various female clothing shop
windows in Leith Street and it would also endanger your health from
passive smoke intake as when not teaching the ladies’ staff room was filled to
the floor with a thick smoke. Various country dances were also taught
which seemed to consist of tramping about as if trying to stamp out a fire or
dancing round in circles holding hands like a bunch of drunk druids.
The actual dance itself was a relief, held in the primary school hall
with its pristine floor, all the girls had to wear plastic caps, issued at
the door, on their stillettos. The dance was supervised by various members
of staff, some there to ogle the young girls (or boys), some smelling of
drink and being almost friendly. The most dangerous moment was when a member
of staff lumbered over and asked to dance with your girlfriend. Usually
after the dance your girlfriend would make some disparaging remark about said
member of staff which suggested that the younger female generation was
not enamoured with the older charms.
In return there were invites to similar functions at the girl’s
The staff there that attended were all female, single and old with a
personality that made Rosa Klebb look friendly. Get too close and a
tweed clad missile would head in your direction and suggest to the girl
concerned that being a lady meant not getting that close.
I would really like to meet the far thinking educationist who thought
that placing teenagers in single sex schools were a good idea.