Farnborough Grammar School

Prospect Avenue, Farnborough, Hampshire

Telephone : Farnborough 539
John Treble (Memories) - 1958 to 1965
John’s web page

There seems to be a controversy brewing on your website over the virtues and vices of Dr. J. S. N. Sewell, great-nephew of Anna of that ilk. Peter Benlow (who was a great friend of mine at school) is particularly scathing, describing him as “a complete and utter shit”. I can remember Sewell, who taught Maths, picking on Peter in exactly the way he describes. I also remember the alcohol on his breath and his sudden disappearance from the scene. Nonetheless, he was one of the few teachers at Farnborough Grammar School who I can remember having taught me anything of lasting use.

I suppose that Nuncs’ drilling Latin into us was useful in an indirect sort of way. He made us shuffle seats as we got correct or incorrect answers so as to sort us into an order of excellence. Digory Warren always got the right answers to everything and so was always in Seat No. 1. A question asked of seat No. 2, if answered incorrectly, would be offered to 3 and 4 until it was answered correctly. He who got it right would then move to seat 2, and all those who had got it wrong would shuffle back one seat.

All I can remember of Eltringham is the day he tried to put out a sodium fire with water. This incident was solely responsible for my decision to stop Chemistry lessons with him as soon as possible, so I suppose that was useful as well.

I also remember D. M. Booy, and the production of ‘A Man for All Seasons’ that Peter recollects. He was Thomas More, and I was Archbishop Cranmer, with three lines to deliver. Booy, like Sewell, was an author. He had been a radio operator in the Navy and had spent part of his service on the island of Tristan da Cunha. His book is an account of his time there, and is probably very informative about all sorts of sociological, historical and geographical matters. Our only interest was in whether he got to shag young Emily or not. There is an OCR’d version of the book available on the web. Try to decode Chapter 19.

J. A. Bourne I remember as a complete idiot. It was he, I suppose, who dreamt up the scheme under which 30 or so of his charges were picked out to take ‘O’ Levels after four years instead of the customary five. This might have been sensible if it had led to an early opportunity to take ‘A’ Levels and get out of the Grammar School and start earning (or our degrees). But that wasn’t it. Instead, we were expected to do more ‘O’ Levels. (I think I wound up with 11. I know I failed History twice and Economic History once. I’ve made up for the latter failure by publishing in the Journal of Economic History and the Economic History Review.)

As if all these ‘O’ Levels were not enough, Bourne once got it into his head that the 6th form could do with some extra tuition in Philosophy. To broaden our minds, I suppose. He swept in late to the first lesson, wearing his gown as usual, and posed his first philosophical question: “Which would you rather be, an unhappy man or a happy pig?” When all present had declared a preference for happiness over humanity, he was so surprised that he had nothing much more to say. That first session of ‘Philosophy’ was also the last.

My failure to learn anything about History, Economic or otherwise I attribute to the tender mercies of Boggy Bishop, who would regularly appear in a plum-coloured tracksuit, since he taught Sports as well. He failed to inspire any interest in Sports in me, either.

From Joe Thomas I learned that military organisations are nasty, and attract nasty people to run them. I have forgotten who was involved in the minor insurrection over the C.C.F. as well as myself. (Was it Peter Benlow and Fritz Leishman?) We decided to hide in the library and study Latin instead. The outcome was that Thomas got furious when we were discovered. But a minor victory was won. I (and I think Fritz) were appointed Privates in Charge of Bicycle Checking, and spent our Friday afternoons inspected brakes and tyres in the bicycle sheds, instead of all that tedious parading. (I noticed from the website that the inspection one year was carried out by someone from the army called Rambo! Can this really be true? He observed several lads who had not blancoed their belts.)

So I may have learned things from this motley cast of characters, but most of them were negative. Steer clear of the army, for instance. Don’t pay any attention to idiots, even if they are in positions of authority. But Sewell, by introducing me to Euclid, taught me the value of rigour, and the way in which effective argument works. I used to try to understand a theorem a day, and was delighted by the idea that there may be more than one way to prove the same thing. I remember also that once he had derived the formula for the solution to a quadratic equation (by completing the square) he said that we should “engrave it on our souls”. I can still recite it, and still use it occasionally. He also provided a mnemonic that I used only yesterday in estimating how many shingles I should order to repair a shed roof: “Some People Have Curly Brown Hair Til Painted Black”. (Sine=Perpendicular/Hypotenuse; Cosine=Base/Hypotenuse; Tangent=Perpendicular/Base.)

Nonetheless, he was not a nice man. When our ‘O’ Level results were posted in the cloisters, he happened to be there looking at them when I arrived to see how I had done. His comment on my ‘A’ grade in Pure Maths was: “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.” I think that was the last time I saw him.

John Treble : July 2010

I understand John’s point about Dr. J.S.N. Sewell; he was an ‘intellectual’ who thought he was wasting his time teaching small boys arithmetic. He was just bored with us on an intellectual level . I remember the day that class 1U (Upton) encountered Dr. Sewell for their first maths lessons. He seemed relaxed and friendly and said to us as a class “I can’t help my face, it’s the one my mother gave me”. One of us; Alan Mowat; piped up “She must have hit it with a hammer”. The wings of Beelzebub darkened the room. Alan was given a thousand lines, as I recall.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think D. Miles Booy had much to do with A Man for all Seasons. The director was Mr. ‘Norman’ Styles who pretty well made me play the part his way. I didn’t enjoy it, though I have happy memories of pre-performance snacks at John Treble’s house, courtesy his Mum. Incidentally the way we got out of Combined Cadet Force duties was to create and then belong to a First Aid Squad.

Pete Benlow

I fear we may be doing Eli an injustice as he pulled that sodium and water trick four years earlier in my class. Maybe it was his way of imprinting the faux-pas in our memories - or maybe he was as dim as he sometimes appeared to be and never learned from his mistakes. Nevertheless I have fond memories of Eli and he did get me through ‘A’ Level so couldn’t have been all that bad.

Malcolm Knight

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