Headmaster, staff, distinguished guests and especially that select group of old, old St Peter’s old boys assembled here this evening: Greetings!
I almost didn’t make it! I went to see The King’s Speech earlier this week which left me with a shocking vocal impediment ...
How gratifying it is for me to be back to St Peters for the school‘s 75th Anniversary. I remember most vividly the exact spot, beneath a tall fir tree, for years a St Peter’s icon as it were, which stood in front of the main entrance, where my mother handed me over to Arthur Frances Brookes Broadhurst back in 1936. “I am sure your son will be happy here” AFB assured my mother. “I am not here to discuss my son’s happiness” she replied. “The boy needs discipline. Have I made myself perfectly clear, Mr Broadhurst?”
Having given him the once over, this imposing gent reminded me of portly English actor, Charles Laughton, who played Captain Bligh so convincingly in Mutiny on the Bounty - the first version - not the one with Marlon Brando! He spoke kind of different like, not like anyone I knew in Wellsford up in the Far North: 400 population; no electricity, no running water, not even a septic tank. To earn sufficient pocket money for the Saturday night flick I was required to dig a hole in the back yard because the village couldn’t afford a ‘night-soil’ man. I attended a two-room school. The Maori kids used to call me 'Whitey'. Suddenly finding myself at St Peter’s back in 1936 threw me headfirst into what is now referred to as 'culture shock'.
My first impression of AFB was the strange aroma which emanated from his person. Whereas my father relied on Q-tol to heal cuts from his cut-throat razor and Lifebuoy soap for BO protection, Arthur reeked of only the finest ‘By Appointment’ British toiletries favoured by none other than King George V.
With fewer than fifty boys enrolled that first year, AFB could not afford to be too choosy about those he signed up. I was not every mother’s dream of a son she could put on display. Why, she asked herself, could I have not been more like the Head Boy of the day?
The doctor who checked me over beforehand declared I suffered from malnutrition and would require ‘building up’. I breathed through my mouth instead of my nose and my wheezing served as a sort of locator beacon revealing at all times my whereabouts. The eyes were not aligned. Warts covered both knees which, as an added bonus, were knocked. The feet were not splayed at the correct 45-degree angle. My stance was so out of kilter that I was once singled out during gym class as an outstanding example of POOR POSTURE! So it was not all negative! Had I been an animal I would probably have been ‘put down’. Later in life I was to discover my parents had actually talked this over.
During my childhood it was considered normal for children to be seen but not heard. At age nine I had never dared utter a single thought of my own. By the end of 1936, my first year, AFB had pried me out of my shell sufficiently to hand me the lead-role in the first-ever, end-of-year school play, The Reluctant Dragon - a far cry from the yearly musical extravaganzas put on by the school today. You could say I was the school’s very first ’star’. I played ‘The Boy’. Due to the impact my acting debut had on the audience, I seriously thought about making the stage my career. With Broady’s encouragement, I saw myself playing Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.
Once a week, every Sunday, we were required to write a one-page letter home. Arthur perused these before posting - not just to check for anything libellous but rather to reassure parents they were getting value for their buck when it came to learning us how to punchewate and spell proper. On one occasion he suggested I soft-peddle the bit about cocoa and freshly-baked date scones for morning break, not having to make my bed, and concentrate more on cold showers, icy classrooms in winter with the windows wide open - deemed necessary by progressive masters to kick-start the brain - and the dawn, mid-winter route march to The Lodge and back with cap-in-hand to practise ‘raising’ ("Good morning, Sir!") while the master, stationed at the point of return, ticked each one of us off his list. It was important, he said, to reassure my mother that St Peter’s boys did not have it soft! Nothing disturbs a headmaster more than having to cope with a boy’s mother whose feathers have been ruffled!
I have been warned the attention span of many of you is limited so I shall endeavour to keep this ramble short and sweet. Listening discretion is strongly advised as some of what I am about to say could cause offence.
Broadhurst must have been a damn good orator because, at age 10, I can recall every single remark he made at that very first, end-of-year gathering of parents. (Remember he was a novice when it came to the teaching game having been a big wig in the rag trade in Manchester before that, albeit at the very top end. Queen Victoria, it is said, always insisted on a Tootal Broadhurst ‘Pyramid’- brand hankie to dab her eyes while mourning the loss of her beloved husband, Prince Albert.) Because of its newness, St Peter’s lacked anything by way of tradition - “vital to a school if it were ever to make a name for itself”, he informed parents who were coughing up 5 guineas a term for each offspring, an OUTRAGEOUS sum in those days. (Southwell School in Hamilton were not quite so upmarket - they charged in pounds, shilling and pence. Southwell students had built their own chapel, brick by brick from clay they had moulded using their bare hands whereas St Peter‘s had hired a registered builder for the job). My mother insisted she had to go without new shoes for years in order to send me here.
Permit me to tell you about one such tradition Broadhurst had in mind. He felt it would be ennobling for boys to regard with compassion those less fortunate than themselves. A special Christmas service would be held in the chapel to which the poor children of Cambridge would be invited. Remember, Kiwis were only just getting over The Great Depression. Not everyone in Cambridge during those days bred race horses in the back yard! So AFB’s side-kick during that first year, the Reverend Jimmy Beaufort, was handed the task of rounding up the local under- privileged. Not one of AFB’s better ideas! Broadhurst was aghast by their unruly behaviour. He later referred to them as “a bunch of feral gutter snipes”. AFB, although kindly by nature, was not big on ‘Suffer Little Children’. They charged into the chapel, leapt over the altar railing, attempted to yank the knobs out of the organ, swung on the bell rope and even went so far as to relieve themselves in the pews. For weeks afterwards, instead of the sweet wafting aroma of extinguished altar candles following evensong, the chapel reeked of Jeyes Fluid, Lysol, carbolic sandsoap - you name it! Finally, the windows were sealed over and the interior fumigated ... I embellish slightly but you get the picture. One tradition which, I regret to say, failed to get off the ground!
There was yet another attempt at tradition that first year. St Peter’s would present to the rest of the country a Guy Fawkes spectacular like no other. Broadhurst himself ignited the conflagration - gingerly holding a two-foot long wax taper he had swiped from the chapel. Matron could easily have been lobotomized when an errant rocket sped past one ear singeing her veil in the process. Miss Talbot, who taught violin, narrowly escaped being wiped out by a Whiz-Bang which struck her fair and square between the eyes.
Despite the afore-mentioned chapel fiasco, the seed of compassion for the less fortunate, sown into my fertile receptive young brain at the tender age of ten, continues to remain with me even to this very day. I recall being in India and stumbling across one of their less fortunate - a truly pathetic fellow squatting at the side of the road with one spindly arm outstretched, begging as many Indians are wont. Rags of muted pastel shades were draped in a most artistic fashion over his sparse frame. The eyes were watery and bespoke of hunger, the talon-like fingers more bird-like than human . As a visual statement this sad skeletal creature proved the epitome of the perfect character study awaiting my lens, the sort of image destined to give any camera club enthusiast a photographic orgasm. Whenever I have shown this masterpiece to camera club types , I am invariably asked what I gave him. Well, it is impossible for me to remember exactly. I think it was probably around 1/100-of-a-second at f11. (Those of you who have switched to digital will be wondering what on earth I am on about. That’s their problem, not mine!) Yes, that seed of compassion for those less fortunate, tossed into the receptive brain of a nine-year-old boy all those years ago has remained with me to this very day. When someone approaches me on the street asking if I have change for a coffee I am always polite and thank them for their concern. “How very thoughtful of you to ask,” I assure them.
Magazine photography is basically what I did for a living coupled with a fair amount of writing - not one of the more acceptable professions I admit when compared with brain surgery. Where did it all begin? Alongside the bell rope in the chapel there’s a memorial plaque for Keith Hancock, a master who was killed when his ‘Tiger Moth’ crashed on take-off at Granity in the South Island. I have visited the exact spot on what was once the racecourse to see where it happened. On that fateful day I had awaited his arrival at Hood Aerodrome in Masterton. His wartime job was to travel the country, encouraging high school leavers to think about joining the Air Force. It was the first occasion for me to have to deal with the death of someone I regarded as special. It was Keith who started me off on photography, instructing me how to develop film the ‘see-saw’ tray method in what is now the copy room at the entrance to what was Broadhurst’s private enclave. When I left St Peter’s. Broadhurst loaned me his German Rolleiflex, the finest precision camera of that era. On the wall of his study was a photograph he himself had taken of the entrance to Malta harbour, obviously a favourite. I was struck by how he had managed to capture the mood of a foggy morning. A few years later, up in Canada, in the early days of colour photography, I began developing my own colour film. Being a perfectionist when it came to photography, thanks to Keith, I didn’t trust others to do the job. As a freelance photographer I managed to get my efforts published, on the odd occasion, in such magazines as Time, Life and National Geographic. Eventually, I landed a staff job as a roaming writer/photographer for the Montreal Star’s Weekend Magazine billed as the ‘Biggest Single Selling Force in Canada’ with a paid weekly circulation of close to 3 million paid copies, appearing in newspapers every Saturday across the nation. I was big in those days – (“better to be a has-been than a never-was!”). My efforts seem so outdated now but at the time I was considered amongst the best of Canadian photojournalists. One of the qualities Broadhurst instilled in me was modesty, as you will have noted. AFB suggested journalism as a career because of my innate ability to “meddle with the truth”. My essays, he enthused, did show some degree of promise.
Now to tell you about one of life’s lucky breaks - a perfect example of serendipity. One day, while strolling along the main corridor, no doubt memorizing Latin declensions, (passing that hypnotic master clock with its ticking innards we all used to gaze at zombie-like), I spotted Broady approaching in the opposite direction. His demeanour displayed a certain jauntiness. Over one shoulder were slung his leather flying helmet and goggles. Instantly, It became apparent to me how he intended to pass the afternoon. “Please, please Sir, can I come too?” I pleaded. “It is customary, Moss, for one to be asked; it is considered most ill-mannered for one to invite oneself,” he replied. “However, since you have displayed a certain degree of initiative, a quality I admire ... LONG PAUSE ... get yourself a pullover - it could be quite chilly up there.” And so I had my very first-ever plane ride. I sat up front in an open cockpit while AFB fiddled the controls from behind. In order to hear each other above the roar of the engine, we communicated via a ‘speaking tube’, a rubber hose attached to a mask. “Hold on tight” he warned as we sped down the grass runway. From that moment on I was hooked on flying for life. Was Broadhurst a suitable role model when it came to aviation? Ask yourself, “Would someone who loaded up his plane with tennis balls, intent on bombing the school, qualify? I think not! Those of us who watched him, with our arms outstretched, zoom overhead within inches of the roof, shall never forget that day when AFB dropped his balls in the Quad!
Up in Canada I had my own Cessna 172 (Oscar - Whiskey - Lima - OWL), flying myself all over North America while on assignment. My final solo flight at the age of 83 was a 45-minute dash in a brand-new microlight worth $130 thousand, a grand gesture on the part of my instructor for me to call it quits! But back in my heyday, any photo feature involving aviation was always handed to me. Various assignments took me virtually all over the world: the inaugural Qantas flight across the Pacific; the same with South African Airways from New York to Cape Town. I covered the making of the Battle of Britain film in both Spain and at Duxford, just out of London. In Canada, flying alongside in a Lockheed T-Bird jet, I photographed the Air Force’s aerobatic team going through their manoeuvres, flying a line-up of Golden Hawk Sabres off the coast of Newfoundland. I had the good fortune to be sent to Vietnam and spent time on the giant US aircraft carrier ‘INDEPENDENCE’ somewhere out in the South China Sea. When the time came to return to Da Nang, I was catapulted off the deck and recall thinking to myself, ‘If only old Broady could see me now!’
A lifelong passion for photography, flying and music - all three were ignited at St Peters. Arthur used to invite me to sit alongside and turn the pages while he played the voluntary at evensong. Once again he had me totally hooked! Just this past October I was in Bavaria blasting forth on one of the world’s most prestigious organs at the historic Basilica at Ottobeuren - NOT that I am any good - my journalistic instincts had simply given me the cheek to ask if I could play. In what must surely be one of the most over-the-top baroque churches anywhere, the final chord reverberated amongst the angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven for at least six full seconds after my hands had left the keys, an awesome moment in my life! Practising the organ and piano in old age is, I believe, a big help when it comes to battling brain loss. At 85 I am still trying to sound like Glenn Gould when it comes to Bach’s ‘Two Part Inventions’. My theatre rendering of Now That The Ball Is Over could strike some as being a bit on the maudlin side.
At St Peter’s we were each allotted a number. Mine was 47. It is not true that such identification was tattooed on our flesh - just etched on the brain. I continue to use the numeral 47 as part of my banking log-in and, on occasion, when purchasing lottery tickets. When driving past a 50-mile-zone I automatically slow down to 47 kilometers per hour - can’t do otherwise - it’s been embedded in the psyche! ‘My Tree’ was numbered 47. Back in the forties, magnificent silver birches lined both side of the driveway. Mine stood out from the rest: it was deformed! The trunk split into two halfway up. Matron said it suited my personality which she considered ‘split’. Others said it signified an inability to make up one’s mind and display some purpose in life - that I lacked direction and showed little desire to keep to the straight and narrow. AFB used to inspect the base of each tree to ensure weeding had been carried out as part of the character-building process. Broadhurst promoted child labour long before China invented it. On one occasion he hauled me out-of-line at noon assembly to proclaim, “Your tree, Number 47, is a disgrace to the entire school. Any trust I may have had in your ability to carry out a simple task has been betrayed.” He used to talk like that when trying to get a point across.
I was once invited to dinner with a St Peter’s Old Boy who was addicted to writing letters to the editor of the New Zealand Herald. How come this voluminous body of literary expertise inevitably failed to make the printed page? Could it be, I ask myself, because they were all in Latin? Following the meal his wife leant over and whispered to me, in English, (she being less scholarly than her husband) “One of these days I am going down to Cambridge and chop down his bloody tree.” Perhaps, one of you would be so kind as to elucidate me later as to what she was actually getting at?
I saw Arthur twice after he had returned to England when he was living in a grace-and-favour apartment alongside Litchfield Cathedral. His hearing had obviously deteriorated over the years. When showing off his state-of-the-art gramophone during MUSICAL APPRECIATION, he informed me he could detect the scratch of the cello bow on the string before the actual note sounded - and that was before anyone had invented hi-fi! I have no reason to doubt the latter - he could hear two boys in conversation after lights-out from halfway to Cambridge! This gramophone I mentioned was one of only two in existence, it’s twin being at Broadcasting House, the BBC Headquarters in London. AFB used to get his 78’s direct from the factory in England. They were shipped in wooden crates protected by sweet-smelling curly pine shavings and packed personally by none other than the Managing Director of His Master’s Voice so he would have us believe! To play each side one first had to trim a triangular bamboo ‘needle’ using a tailored scissor-like cutting device. The pieces I was introduced to at ‘musical appreciation’ are on my Walkman and made driving up from Stratford earlier in the week far less arduous.
Musically, the Bevan Cup was what everyone musically inclined wanted to get their paws on. I was teamed up with the school’s top violinist of the day. Here we had Kreisler on violin, Heifitz if you prefer, and Gerald Moore, the most distinguished and sought-after accompanist in all Europe, on piano ... ME! Our piece was Love’s Labour Lost which I am sure you are all familiar with. Success was such a sure thing that the staff refused to make bets on the outcome. The fellow who came first was, in my humble opinion, musically inept. He sawed away on a cello, one string at a time, playing a dreadful dirge by some Russian called Chanson Triste (‘Sad Song’ for those of you not ‘au fait’ with French). Even now I feel like throwing up whenever I recall his pathetic effort. The entire school went into shock when it was announced I and my partner had not won! Broadhurst attempted to ease my distress by telling me that failure was often a blessing in disguise, made one a better person and was ultimately beneficial for the soul. “One should never resort to bitterness or bear a grudge but instead learn to accept defeat with grace,” was all he could offer by way of consolation. Well I‘ve got news for you, AFB! I can only surmise, in my twilight years, that the learned professor of music from Auckland, hired to judge the competition, permitted his palm to be greased by the mother of the boy who won. That is the only conclusion I can come up with. My co-artist, now a distinguished surgeon and medical examiner for Air New Zealand pilots, agrees with me wholeheartedly! “Bruce, we was robbed” he confided just the other day. Some of you may be asking yourselves how two oldies could remain so bitter about an injustice which happened over 60 years ago. My answer to this is, ‘We are both a product of the early years of St Peter’s before the school got its act together!”
Allow me to wind up this spiel by telling you what happened after AFB died. I happened to be in London shortly afterwards and had invited his nephew, who was looking after AFB’s affairs, to have lunch with me. He was working for a Japanese Bank beneath the shadow of St Paul’s. I WAS PAYING! (When in London my advice is never eat at a restaurant, especially if you’re the host, where the tables have glass tops, chrome chairs and the waiters wearing pantaloons. (One lousy shrimp on a solitary lettuce leaf covered with a squirt of chocolate sauce - ‘nouvelle cuisine’ I think they called it - 25 quid each and that‘s not counting the over-priced house-wine to wash it down!) His nephew mentioned in passing he was about to drive up to Litchfield to clean out his uncle’s flat and attend to the disposal of his ashes. I enquired if I would be intruding if I were to accompany him to what I assumed would be a private family service. “No one will be there except me,” he replied. And so it came to pass I stood alone alongside the sexton at the edge of the path leading to the cathedral. (His nephew had, at the last moment, decided to rush off to Arthur’s ‘grace-and-favour’ to finish his tidying-up before heading back to London. ) I asked the sexton, very formal in top hat and black cloak, holding Arthur’s remains tucked beneath one arm, if it would be in order for me to help place some earth over the urn containing AFB’s ashes. He handed me a silver trowel and, my eyes misty with emotion, I took my time covering what was left of Arthur, ever so carefully. Then, to wind up what had turned out to be a most fitting and unexpected privilege, I strolled over to the cathedral itself and played the old boy a tune on the organ - a Welsh hymn which you would probably all know as All Through The Night. I like to think Arthur would have been highly bemused.
As time marches on and we all get a bit more dotty, Arthur’s gift of music to so many of us becomes even more meaningful. With failing eyesight, books may be more difficult to read but we can always sit back in our dotage and be inspired by the music which AFB made such an important part of our lives.
My thanks to all of you for tagging along most patiently on what has been a somewhat rambling meander down memory lane - a pleasure for me and I trust equally so for each of you. Thank you, Headmaster, for granting me the opportunity to be part of St Peter’s 75th anniversary celebrations.