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Racing Ironman Simon Willis (70-77) on his journey from BBC correspondent to extreme sportsman Also in this issue: A Life in Movies | RGS Bursaries | The Chaos of Class ’77 | Row The Tyne

Issue 102 | Spring 2018

ONA Magazine Issue 102 Spring 2018


ONA Magazine is the magazine for the Old Novocastrians’ Association Editor: Jane Medcalf All correspondence should be addressed to: The Development Office, Royal Grammar School, Eskdale Terrace, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4DX Telephone Development Office: 0191 212 8909 email: The Editor reserves the right to edit, alter or omit all submissions to the magazine. Copy may be carried over to the next edition. The Editor’s decision is final.



We are always looking for articles and news from Old Novos to include in the magazine, so send your contributions, via email (if possible) to: or to the Development Office at the school. Please include relevant pictures if possible. They will be returned as soon as the magazine has been printed.



The deadline for acceptance of copy for the Summer 2018 issue is 5 March 2018. Copy may be carried over to a future issue. Special thanks to David Goldwater (5162) for his research and contributions to the ONA Magazine, particularly on his search for A History of the RGS in Its People.

The ONA Magazine is available online Please note that the magazine is circulated in hard copy and on the ONA website shortly after circulation. By submitting an article or news for inclusion the contributor is accepting that it will be available through both formats and will also be accessible beyond the Association membership through internet search engines or any member of the public viewing the ONA website.

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Please note that the ONA Magazine content does not necessarily reflect the views of the school or the ONA and is based on personal experiences, recollections and memories of its contributors.





President’s Welcome News and Congratulations ONA Now and Then What My RGS Bursary Means to Me Racing Ironman A History of the RGS in Its Objects The Chaos of Class ’77 A Life in Movies Obituaries


Happy New Year and welcome to the 102nd issue of ONA Magazine! Perhaps it is the New Year’s resolutions resulting from festive overindulgence, but there is a bit of a fitness theme to this issue. For the third consecutive year, on 30 December players and spectators of Novos RFC and an ONA XV put down the turkey sandwiches to face each other in the John Elders Memorial Match. Also for the third consecutive year, the ONA chalked up a victory over Novos, winning the match 17-7. Fortiter Defendit Triumphans! On 10 February, deputy president of the ONA Joel Dickinson (91-01) will bring together 50 teams of up to six athletes in a landmark fundraising event as they go head-to-head to Row The Tyne. Read more about the event, and Joel’s story on page 3. We are also delighted to hear from ON and Ironman Simon Willis (70-77) about his unpredictable passion for endurance challenges. As I write this, the ONA is making the final arrangements for the forthcoming London ONA Dinner, being held this year on Friday 16 March at The East India Club in Piccadilly, where we look forward to hearing from guest speaker Max Hill QC (72-82). See back page for details. This happens to be the day before England play Ireland at Twickenham in the final weekend of the Six Nations for anyone visiting London and looking to make a weekend of it! The London dinner follows another hugely successful sell-out Newcastle dinner at the school in October. Thanks again to Rex Winter (68-78) for entertaining us! Finally, I’d like to welcome George Bilclough (02-12), Sian Copley (05-07) and Scarlett Milligan (09-11) to the ONA Committee, as elected at the AGM on 15 November 2017 and look forward to working with you all. Former President (12-14) David Westwood (95-02) and committee member Chris Calver (60-71) both stood down. I thank you for all your hard work and time that you have put into the ONA and for helping to move the Association forward.

Chris JJ Wilson (97-02) ONA President


ONA – Old Novocastrians Association Magazine Spring 2018

News and Congratulations Our congratulations go to…

Dr David Pearson

Dr David Pearson (50-60) whose wife Bess writes: ‘My husband was recently awarded the Order of Ontario, which is the highest provincial award possible here in Ontario. Dave has been a university professor at Laurentian in Sudbury, Ontario for over 40 years. Dave was nominated for this award for his lifetime achievement in science communication: first as a professor in the department of Geology. Later he was given a generous leave by Laurentian University in order to participate in a collaborative community team to build Science North, a highly innovative science centre, which is now world renowned and where he acted as its first science director. He then returned to Laurentian in order to head up a postgraduate diploma programme in science communication. I believe I am accurate in saying this is the only one of its kind in Canada. For the past 10 years Dave has simultaneously

pursued his research interests in communicating issues related to climate change to indigenous communities in the far north of Ontario (which is a herculean task, believe me, given how arduous the travel is). He has not only worked sensitively to develop relationships and build trust with these communities, but is also devoted to communicating natural history to the children of the far north. He regularly brings graduate students up to teach workshops and do science demonstrations, often out of doors. Dave always said he was profoundly influenced by the natural history museum in Newcastle (now known as Great North Museum: Hancock), which he would cycle to when he was growing up and which left a lasting impression. And, of course, the UK has its own rich history of curious naturalists who worked to expand our understanding of the natural world. He loved those stories.’

Michael Grant (81-91) who writes: ‘I was married on August Bank Holiday Monday in London; I enclose a photograph of the breaking of the glass (the last element in a Jewish wedding ceremony). My new wife, Andrea Mihail, and I have set up our household in Berlin, where I have been living since conceding a six-year dispute, in January 2016, as to which of us was going to relocate.’

Dr Bernard Trafford (08-17) previous Headmaster, who won the BBC Radio 3 Breakfast Carol Competition 2017 with his Sir Christemas. To hear Bernard’s winning entry, please tune into

Kate Waugh (10-17) on being announced in SportsAid annual Oneto-Watch Award 2017 shortlist for her achievements in triathlon.

Michael and Andrea Mihail on their wedding day


Charlie Wilson (06-17), economics undergraduate, on his competitive debut for Newcastle Falcons on Saturday 4 November in the AngloWelsh Cup against Wasps. The final result: Wasps 41, Falcons 53.

Spotted recently… Dr Will Breakey (98-03), trainee plastic surgeon, was featured in the Newcastle Chronicle talking about his own ‘ketchup obsession’ and the current range of Dr Will’s healthier sauces and ketchups – beetroot, tomato and barbecue flavours – available in over 200 outlets. Visit for further information and ordering. Ed. I would highly recommend the ketchup!

Join us on Facebook and LinkedIn There are plenty of Old Novos social media groups around, but we have our own groups. Join us by becoming a fan of the Old Novocastrians Association pages on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Helping Joel Raise Funds for Charity

Appeal for ON email addresses Where appropriate, we would like to stay in contact with you by email. Please email with a current email address where we can contact you.

Joel Dickinson (91-01) has launched an impressive charity event to raise money for The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation with the support of the RGS.

Row The Tyne will be held in the main Sports Hall at the school on Saturday 10 February 2018. The event sees 50 brave teams of up to six people compete to race the equivalent length of the Tyne, a staggering 118km, on Concept2 rowing machines.

his neck. Joel received three individual bouts of surgical treatment including Trans Oral Robotic Surgery at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. Through the expertise of internationally renowned surgeons, access to world class specialist equipment and unrivalled nursing care, Joel was lucky enough Joel was stopped in his tracks in February to be given the all clear in May 2017. 2017 with a shock diagnosis of Oropharyngeal Cancer on his tonsil and Joel was completely overwhelmed by associated spread to the lymph nodes in the quality of the treatment and care he

If you would like to donate please visit: Spectators are welcome on the day and any support is warmly received. More information at 3

ONA – Old Novocastrians Association Magazine Spring 2018

received at the Freeman Hospital, largely at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care. He wanted to launch an event to bring the CrossFit community, rowing fraternity and North East corporate network together to raise funds for The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. The foundation supports internationally significant cancer research and treatment at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care and directly benefits cancer patients from across the North East and Cumbria.

ONA Now and Then

It really is amazing to see just what a wonderfully vibrant and varied community RGS is, and this latest issue of the ONA Magazine is no exception. In what is only my second term, I have already been made to feel part of the place and it is this sense of community and belonging, which is so important and echoes through many of the articles here.


As I continue to meet more and more ONs I find the evident pride and love of what the RGS was and is to be quite palpable. It is that purpose and sense of belief that means, as is highlighted in this issue, that we should not shy away from our motto Discendo Duces. And learning can take place in so many ways and should last us our lifetimes. One of our aims is to engender a real love of learning and I hope the examples you will read here will also inspire our current students. Whether it is the pioneering work in science communication of Dr David Pearson (50-60) or the lessons learned from the school Observatory as recounted by David Goldwater (51-62) and Martin L Bell (50-61), passion and enjoyment in our learning really matters. Two things, in particular, struck me about Scarlett Milligan’s (09-11) article. Firstly, her reference to being taught to think and not just know things, which clearly delights the heart of any teacher. The second point could be the wit and humour, but in fact it is much more significant. It is the stark reminder that schools can, and perhaps should, change lives. I mentioned in the last issue the work of the Bursary Campaign and Scarlett’s piece really does epitomise why it matters. The availability of bursaries is a very tangible way in which individual lives can be touched and changed, and Scarlett’s story tells this much better than I can. I was moved to see her passion to also want to give back, and having created that lifelong affiliation which goes with the RGS, I know that so many ONs also contribute in very many ways. As 2017-2018 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Bursary Campaign it is a time to reflect on, and be thankful for, all that has been achieved and for all the support given thus far. It is also a chance to think again about our role in the community and what we, as a school, do to aid the city and the region. Giving opportunities for more students to access the school is a long-standing aim, but it is increasingly difficult to fulfil. However, we should not shy away from the challenge of our social responsibility as inclusion and diversity only strengthens the community.

Giving something back and community spirit are also evident in Joel Dickinson’s (91-01) Row The Tyne charity event. I’m sure that he and those competing would appreciate any support for such a worthy cause. I referred at the top to how amazing the people in and around the RGS can be and Joel is no exception. There is also inspiration through sporting activity in many other ways: from the John Elders Memorial Match to seeing Charlie Wilson (06-17) featuring so successfully for the Falcons. I am pleased to report that following in his wake we currently have six boys playing for the Newcastle Falcons Academy. Whilst Rowing The Tyne may be a virtual water event, there is nothing virtual about the exhausting exploits of Simon Willis (70-77) and his Ironman competitions. Simon proves that it is always possible to take on a new challenge and succeed, however daunting. That sense of initiative is also to be found in abundance in the 12year old John Dodds (65-75). As he says, I’m not sure how many 12-year olds would be allowed to do what he did now, but it is the roll call of names and films that his early initiative and persistence led him to be involved in that, will have you all green with envy. Well, I was anyway. We are all learning and it is undoubtedly a fitting tribute to Howard Baker (77-12) if we do believe in our motto: Discendo Duces. I certainly think it still resonates.

John Fern Headmaster

ONA Now and Then Ex-England Coach John Elders (57-82 and 92-96) Remembered

Alan Dickinson (58-67) refereeing 50 years on from being taught by John Elders

Spectator, Jim Lewin (47-56) proudly sporting his Colours blazer (54-55) on match day – it still fits!

The John Elders Memorial Match yet again proved to be a huge success in the ONA calendar; over 200 people attended the fixture. The game itself was in doubt after heavy snow the previous evening; the hard work of Richard Deas (57-67), Graham Ward (74-81) and our attentive ground staff, ensured that the pitch was playable.


ONA – Old Novocastrians Association Magazine Spring 2018

The game itself was a close affair, with the score creeping towards 0-0 at half time. However, the last play of the first half, saw Matthew Lowes (02-12) bundle over from close range to put the ONA 7-0 up. The ONA would have instead been chasing the game, had your match reporter managed to touch down the simplest of tries after a majestic 50-yard dribble from his own half. I somehow managed to nutmeg myself on the try line, to rapturous roars of laughter. Unfortunately, there is sequential photographic evidence of this ignominious feat, which I never wish to see again! The ONA started the second half as they finished the first, as Jamie Guy (05-12) fended off two poor tackles and galloped a try into the corner. Novos quickly hit back with a try of their own when Northumberland cap Sam Busby jinked and weaved a try from his own 22-metre line to reduce the deficit

to 12-7. Matthew Lowes had the final word when he scored his second try of the game to end the game at 17-7. Alan Dickinson (58-67) refereed his first ever Novos 1st XV game at Sutherland Park, which was made even more fitting by the fact that it had been 50 years since John Elders had taught him at RGS. A wonderful day was capped off with Nick Richardson (03-13) lifting the trophy for a third time in a row, as speeches and beer were toasted in memory of John. Neil Elders (67-78), John’s son, finished the afternoon with his now regular homage to absent friends. Thank you to all of those who played and attended; we’ll see you again in December 2018! Fortiter Defendit Triumphans. Chris Ward RGS Games Teacher Novocastrians RFC


t’s the middle of summer, so naturally the rain is torrential. I have spent the night in the grottiest hotel where the average age of the guest is 72, and where both my presence and my decline of the polite invitation to join the night’s game of bingo caused shock and consternation. Upon waking at 6am, I am desperate to get breakfast, get to Court, and get back to London. But life has other, cruel ideas. I walk out into the monsoon to find that the shops in Weymouth don’t open until 9am, thereby depriving me of my crucial morning coffee and porridge. Not yet deterred, I decide to just get a cab to Court and get on with the day. It transpires that there are no cabs available in the entirety of Dorset. A 15-minute walk in the pouring rain it is. My umbrella is of little use in the hurricane, and I swiftly look like I’ve walked into a shower whilst still in my suit. Life could be better. BANG! I turn around to inspect a loud noise, only to see that my trustworthy suitcase has permanently parted with its handle. Manually carrying the 40kg of clothes, files, legal textbooks, and my wig and gown is not the easiest task for my small frame. The umbrella is abandoned and I lift the suitcase a few waddling steps at a time, looking like an audition for The Chuckle Brothers. I arrive at Court with black streaks of mascara down my face and dripping hair. My client appears somewhat surprised to hear that I am her barrister – isn’t it abundantly obvious that I am extremely professional, suave and ready for action?

Scarlett at Temple Garden Chambers, Temple, London

What My RGS Bursary Means to Me ONA Magazine catches up with former bursary holder and barrister, Scarlett Milligan (09-11) on her career to date and the importance of the RGS bursary scheme.


It gets worse. Inside the Court room, my little old lady admits within a matter of minutes that much of her case is fabricated or exaggerated, and that our, ‘independent witness’ supporting our case is, in fact, her daughter. Surprisingly, we lost. Because this was my first big trial as a baby barrister, I had agreed to take it on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis. Thanks, Doreen.* Back to London I trot, drenched, with an almost broken back, and out of pocket by no insignificant sum. Yes, I was as surprised as you are that the life of a barrister is this glamorous. Forget the swanky offices, outfits, and sexy politics of Suits: managing Doreen and batting off seagulls on the southern coast is obviously where it’s at.

“Being an ON is a lifelong affiliation, and I will be happy if I can give back only a fraction of what the affiliation gave to me. As a bursary holder, I know that I owe a substantial amount of my success to my time at RGS, and the generosity of the donor who supported my bursary.”

Joking aside, save for the odd horrific day in Court and the occasional early hour train out of London, my job is fantastic. Let’s set the record straight on something a lot of you will be thinking (because every other person asks me this question): there are barristers and there are solicitors? You go to a solicitor if you have a legal problem, and they will advise you and deal with the legal proceedings on your behalf. When the going gets tough, and you either find yourself battling it out in the courtroom, or you simply need some more specialist advice, solicitors turn to a barrister. That’s where I come in. I swoop in at the last minute and spend my days either tearing people apart in the witness box or, when on the other side, interrupting my opponent and telling the Judge how outrageous it is that they are tearing my client apart. I make speeches and wear a wig and funny clothes (sometimes). I get paid to argue. For the few of you who may know me, you will realise how jammy this situation is. To answer the next question on your mind: I neither defend nor prosecute, because I am not a criminal barrister. I practise in civil law, and most of my work is either related to insurance fraud or government work. To give examples of the latter, I am currently a junior barrister working on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, and have previously worked with more senior barristers on large cases, including: the Supreme Court judicial review challenge to employment tribunal fees; challenges to the legality of state benefits and immigration policies; inquests investigating deaths in state custody; and a high-profile inquest concerning the death of a soldier in Afghanistan following a friendly fire incident. Where does the RGS come into all this? Well in truth I had always had good grades and been argumentative (in a good way, I like to tell myself), but I had never found how to really apply those things in a productive way. When I arrived at RGS my arguments were finally challenged by those who were more intelligent and articulate than me, forcing me to focus on the potential loopholes of my logic and to pre-empt any rebuttal. For the first time, I was not merely taught the syllabus and how to pass a particular exam, but actually taught the subject; I was taught to think broader, to go beyond the prescribed text to consider cultural and

Scarlett being called to the Bar by Sir Martin Moore-Bick (now chairing the Grenfell Tower inquiry)

“I would encourage anyone reading this, if they can, to give something, big or small, and to give another person the chance to be part of the fantastic community we find ourselves in, and to enjoy the education, friends and hobbies that we were (and still are) privileged to have.”

philosophical references, and to generally broaden my horizons. I now use these skills every day, for example, when cross-examining a witness and trying to plan several questions ahead so I can trip them up or undermine unhelpful answers, or when I am trying to find persuasive material for why a policy should be found lawful, and I need to appeal to broader philosophical, political and moral notions, all of which govern a surprising amount of our daily lives, political or otherwise. It would be a great injustice not to mention the people that make up the RGS. I attended Sixth Form, which were two of the best years of my life, and certainly the best two years of my education. I have made lifelong friends, from whom I have learnt a great deal, and I am a better person for knowing them. I am proud to read the success stories of my fellow students in the ONA Magazine, and recently joined the ONA Committee; the latter was, to a significant degree, fuelled by a desire to ensure that successful females continue to permeate the RGS and all its glorious traditions – a goal which we have almost, but not entirely, reached. Being an ON is a lifelong affiliation, and I will be happy if I can give back only a fraction of what the affiliation gave to me. As a bursary holder, I know that I owe a substantial amount of my success to my time at RGS, and the generosity of the donor who supported my bursary. I would encourage anyone reading this, if they can, to give something, big or small, and to give another person the chance to be part of the fantastic community we find ourselves in, and to enjoy the education, friends and hobbies that we were (and still are) privileged to have. Whether you can manage a financial donation (no matter what size), use your planning skills to organise a fundraising event, or simply assist the bursary awareness campaign: every bit helps, and the Bursary Campaign (contact Jane Medcalf at will always be thrilled to receive any assistance. You never know, your contribution could help produce the next Prime Minister, big cure in medicine, world-famous artist, or even have the noble outcome of persuading an intelligent person that the world does not need another argumentative lawyer… *False name used to protect the identity of a fraudulent little old lady


ONA – Old Novocastrians Association Magazine Spring 2018

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada in 2002

Racing Ironman After a career as a BBC correspondent, and now working as a freelance cameraman, Simon Willis (70-77) decided to take a triathlon challenge before turning 60. Presenting Newsnight Scotland at BBC Scotland


t my age, I really should have known better. Why did I want to return to competitive sport after 40 years, and why had I chosen an Ironman triathlon? “What are you trying to prove?” a colleague asked, “And to whom?” I struggled to find an answer. At school, I enjoyed rugby but wasn’t exceptionally good. Mind you, it’s hard to stand out when you have a future international player like Jim Pollock (66-77) on the same team. Tall for my age, in my first year I was put in the second-row of the scrum with John Parker (70-74) alongside and Richard Dalhousie Ramsay (67-77) at number eight. Then… everyone else grew. I didn’t. When I realised our previously diminutive scrum-half Jon Stoddart (67-77) was taller than me I decided, ‘I’m in the wrong game’! Competitive sport took a back seat during my career as a broadcast journalist with the BBC. Work provided more than enough danger, excitement, and cut-throat competition. Life is less turbulent now, as a freelance cameraman


and running my own production business, so perhaps that nudged me back towards sport? But it’s not the whole story. Over the years, different kinds of physical challenge have found and tempted me. In 1991 it was the urge to follow the old pilgrim trail to Santiago on what was then a new-fangled machine called a mountain bike. A decade later, I chose to walk the length of the USA following the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail through a series of stark wilderness areas, across deserts and mountain ranges. Now it was an Ironman. This long-form triathlon involves swimming two miles in open water, cycling 112 miles, and then running a 26-mile marathon. The name ‘Ironman’ is just a brand of long-distance triathlon, like Hoover is to vacuum cleaner, but that’s the box I wanted to tick. However, there was a problem. I couldn’t swim. Oh, I’d spluttered through the personal lifesaving awards in the old school swimming pool, tying knots in the legs of my pyjamas to use them as a float, but for that, breast-stroke had proved adequate. For an Ironman race, front crawl was essential. Yet when I tried to crawl, I sank. Sinking, you won’t be surprised to learn, is a serious impairment to a successful open water swim.


Two years later, after a lot of swim practice and many hours in the saddle, I completed the 2016 Maastricht Ironman in a little over 13 hours. I didn’t win my age group but I was delighted. I still cycle several times a week and compete in halfIronman distance races. Surprisingly, I have found a new passion for wild swimming, which my wife and I do year-round in Loch Sunart close to our home in the Scottish Highlands. I’ve never been able to answer that question about what I was trying to prove and to whom, but that’s because it is framed incorrectly. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone. It’s simply that, every now and then, I like to attempt a challenge where the outcome is utterly uncertain. In 1991, I had no idea whether I could cycle across the Pyrenees and follow rough tracks all the way across Spain. In 2002, countless uncertainties could have prevented us from walking from Mexico to Canada, a feat fewer than 40 people managed that year. It is the unknown that appeals. When I started Ironman training, I had never swum, biked or run those distances separately, let alone consecutively. I don’t go looking for such doubtful challenges. They seem to find me, then work away subconsciously, eventually becoming an itch I cannot ignore and have to scratch. I wonder what the next will be?

Fortunately, I developed a double Hernia. Fortunately? Well yes, because while convalescing from the rather brutal operation, and unable to run or ride my bike, I was persuaded to take proper swimming lessons, my first as an adult, complete with surface and underwater video analysis. What followed was a true ‘light-bulb’ moment. I immediately appreciated the subtle complexity, and sheer beauty, of the technique required to swim well. I’d spent a career watching myself on video, but never had it been so revealing or helpful.

Simon Willis was a BBC correspondent until 2009. He now owns Sunart Media and is the author of The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail and Day by Day on the Pacific Crest Trail. He is married and lives on Ardnamurchan in the Scottish Highlands.

Finishing Ironman Maastricht in 2016

Wild swimming in Loch Sunart close to home

ONA – Old Novocastrians Association Magazine Spring 2018

A HISTORY OF THE RGS IN ITS OBJECTS by David Goldwater (51-62) and Martin L Bell (50-61) Back in the 1950s, our knowledge of the Universe was nearer to Leonardo da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton than our vast perspective of today. But the RGS became a trailblazer when a generous gift by a local astronomer meant the school could boast an observatory to rival Greenwich or Mount Palomar. Well, almost!

The Lawrence Richardson telescope

The School Observatory The donor of this celestial gift was Laurence Richardson, a Quaker, educated at Bootham School in York, who lived in Rye Hill. He gave up an early ambition to follow a scientific career to enter the family’s leather works, Richardson’s Tannery. He had received an honorary degree from Durham University for his original work in his real interest, astronomy. A paper written for the British Astronomical Association of 1893 notes, ‘The instrument used was a 41⁄2-inch achromatic by Cooke and Sons of York’ (here was a Quaker connection, with one of Cooke’s telescopes at Bootham School). Burland Jacob (44-49 ) visited the observatory in the Rye Hill area in the 40s with Peter Rogosinski (45-51). In July 1950, Richardson’s equipment was incorporated into a brick observatory, situated between the school’s Cricket Pavilion and the Gymnasium. To most boys, this must have seemed a strange adjunct to the school’s estate, but to enthusiasts such as myself and Martin L Bell, it became a window on the universe and an opportunity to view the heavens within a small cube shaped structure, still several years before Doctor Who and his Tardis! Inside the door of the observatory, which faced east, there was the telescope, a 41⁄2-inch refractor mounted on an equatorial mount and above it a domed opening roof. There was a clockwork drive mechanism which could slowly alter the telescope’s attitude to compensate for the rotation of the Earth, so that rather than swimming across the field of view (which could happen very quickly at high magnifications), the object in view remained quite steady. The drive was powered by suspended weights, and there was an impressive clock, designed to keep sidereal time. To the left, at a small window, which faced due south was a small shelf at windowsill height with a transit instrument, used for the precise measurement of star positions as they crossed the meridian. There was also a portable refracting telescope of 3-inch aperture on a simple tripod, which accompanied ML Bell to the Eigg Survey Camp in that wonderful summer of 1959. The clear air of the Inner Hebrides offered excellent viewing conditions, and virtually unbroken daytime sunshine allowed a good plot of sunspots crossing the Sun’s disc. Extracts from The Novocastrian December 1952: Vice-Presidents (VP) listed as LM Theakstone (31-53), GW Brydon (47-67), WH Boll (24-62), and the secretary was RV Adamson (46-53), who reports that when the weather was poor, Theakstone would, ‘instruct us in the use of many of his instruments’. Louis Theakstone, a Russian émigré and brother of Anatole (25-61), also on the staff, served on the Mathematics staff and was a keen amateur astronomer. April 1953: A very descriptive report about observing the eclipse of the Moon on 29 January, with, ‘Both the 3-inch and big telescope in use’. A later meeting included a lecture on comets and meteors by one HL Goldwater. Harry (46-53) was my cousin and introduced me to astronomy around the age of eight when he had the loan of the boxed 3-inch refractor (DFG).


April 1954: WH Stephenson (53-67), a teacher of Mathematics, VP on the committee. He had a most unfortunate nickname which alluded to the lunar surface. CD Caplan (44-54) is now secretary, and writes an interesting report. Complaints (of course) about the weather, but studies reported on the craters of the Moon, Uranus, and eclipses of the moons of Jupiter, the 3-inch telescope continues to circulate ‘slowly’ around the membership. December 1956: Teacher JHRD ‘Danny’ Hirsch (55-59 ) became a VP, and a report that the telescope and fittings were ‘completely overhauled’ and that they were ‘now in better condition’ than for some time – also a ‘very encouraging’ influx of new members. April 1958: CA Robinson (51-61) is now secretary and one DF Goldwater has joined the committee. Robinson reports that, ‘The Russian artificial satellites have been seen on more than one occasion… and have proved of little interest’. I seem to recall a member from Whitley Bay recording Sputnik 1 transmitting a warbling noise on tape (DFG). December 1958: Alan Boswell (54-61) becomes Chairman, MHE Larcombe (50-60) and ML Bell join the committee. Robinson reports that the grinding of the 8-inch mirror has started and is ‘well under way’. Two large portholes were purchased from Parsons for the lens and ‘grinding tool’. Fred Hoyle’s lecture to the Astronomical Society was on 24 October 1958 and was reported in the December 1958 issue. It was he, later Sir Fred, who formulated the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis (Steady State, rejecting Big Bang). March 1959: Larcombe’s ‘radio telescope’ is described as ‘important and promising’ and ‘interesting research’ is anticipated. The ‘telescope’ was a hugely impressive wooden bench, run up at goodness knows what expense by the school, and littered with an assortment of servicesurplus electronics (and a kettle – for post-prandial coffee). It was all in a small room on the first floor of the Science block, which had access to the roof for adjusting the aerial (a large TV aerial). But the authors cannot remember any tangible results coming from it. However Mic Larcombe, who had an undoubted flair for publicity, arranged one day for the entire contraption to be shipped to the City Road studios for an appearance on the local ITV early evening news magazine! April 1960: Danny Hirsch replaced as VP by JK Lawrence (60-94). J Rowland (51-60) becomes Chairman and ML Bell secretary (inaugurating an era of rather terse reports)! During the Christmas holidays there was an early morning meeting to observe the planet Venus. Pioneering stuff! December 1960: CA Robinson seems to be back as Chairman. Reports of observations of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and Venus, now that ‘repairs to the telescope have been completed’.


ONA – Old Novocastrians Association Magazine Spring 2018

Top: The ‘Radio Telescope’. Picture by Philip Warren. Left: Headmaster OW Mitchell (48-60) with Master Louis Theakstone (31-53) and Governors at the inauguration of the new observatory – 13 July, 1950, as seen in Speech Day programme, 9 November, 1950 Right: The waxing moon taken by DF Goldwater, January 1960

March 1961: I report ‘completion of repairs’ to the telescope, ‘some remarkable photographs’ of the Moon by PS Warren (50-61) and Goldwater, and ML Bell had drawn the surface markings on Mars. Pictures were processed from plates and negatives in the foisty darkroom below the north staircase (the tiny space is still there!) Finally, after very many years of wondering what happened to the Observatory and its equipment, Howard Burchell (67-99),head of Physics department replied to a question in Issue 101: ‘I note your request in the current ONA Magazine for information about the Astronomical Society. The telescope was re-sited to allow for the construction of the new Dining Hall, but later was demolished to make way for a staff car park and finally disposed of because light pollution had made retaining it pointless, with constant traffic making its way over the Central Motorway built over the old ‘Pinfold’. Around 1993, a final decision was taken not to replace it. When the observatory was demolished, the 41⁄2inch telescope was removed to the Physics’ department’s store room, taking up a lot of room. The instrument interested an antiques dealer specialising in old scientific instruments and it was sold.’ A sad end to an interesting chapter in the RGS’s innovative history. I think we were nearer then to the eras of Galileo Galilei and Tycho Brahe than those of Tim Peake and Stephen Hawking, but friendships were forged around a common interest in outer space at a time when no one could have foreseen what was to come.

The Chaos of Class ’77

Peter Barker Here’s Peter Barker modelling one of those enormous knots. The photographer, in this case, is unknown. People in those days had far too much sense to hold their cameras at arm’s length and point them backwards.

Recently, while sorting through old stuff, Peter Barker (68-77) unearthed a remarkable – and largely forgotten – photographic record of the RGS Sixth Form common room in 1976 and 1977. Some of these photos were exhibited at the ONA Dinner in October 2017, for the enjoyment of the reunited 1977 leavers. Here is a further selection. Please feel free to write in with your comments! Photos by Peter Barker, words by Keith Jewitt (70-77).

Kevin Miles (71-77) Still on the subject of neckwear, this shot of German Essay Prize-winner Kev Miles shows the uncanny prescience, which all great portrait photographers can achieve. Kev’s facial expression brilliantly anticipates the conflicting emotions which he would (in future) experience as an NUFC supporter.

Keith Jewitt & Nick Miller (72-77) People often say that the hardest job in showbiz is stand-up comedy, because you have to make people laugh. I’ve always found it easy to make people laugh – all you need to do is show them photos of people in 70s clothing. That’s me on the left in the flares, looking part-Jackson and part-Bay City Roller, minus the good looks. The textbook view is that everyone threw away their flares after the first Sex Pistols gig – but I waited until mine were properly worn out. On the right is Nick Miller, who showed me how to tie my tie with a really gigantic knot.



Posters Sadly no-one in any of the photos is actually holding a record sleeve – but this group, including Mike Bradford (67-77) and John Thompson (70-77), shows a magnificent array of posters. These seem to have been discarded by the Virgin record shop on St Mary’s Place, which was well-known for its sexist carrier bags and funny-smelling smoke.

Dave Laing (70-77) Inevitably, when young men are herded together in confined circumstances, controlling testosterone levels is a major concern. Older generations who underwent National Service often spoke of “bromide in the tea” – but for us the main tranquilliser was “progressive rock”. This photo may show Dave Laing recovering from a Yes or Gentle Giant album.

Most of my common room time was taken up by marathon bridge sessions. This group includes Paul Thompson (67-77), Lewis Redhead (70-77), Graeme Pringle (72-77), Ian Lees (67-77), Alistair Grant (70-77), Simon Bennett (67-77) and Mark Pearson (71-77).

Dobson and Miles And finally here are Gary Dobson (70-77) and Kev Miles, reminding us that these were indeed the best years of our lives.

Mike Dodds (67-77) Back in the 70s, some educational theorists argued that introduction of girls would have a civilising effect on schools like the RGS. We now know this to be untrue, but events such as this gave the theory an air of plausibility. The senseless violence portrayed here was, almost certainly, good-natured horseplay – it would be reassuring if either Mike Dodds or the perpetrators could come forward to confirm this.

Peter Barker is a partner in Ryder Architecture. Keith Jewitt is retired and doing the things he has always dreamed of, such as writing this article.


ONA – Old Novocastrians Association Magazine Spring 2018

A Life In Movies Movies and movie making were seared into my DNA from the age of seven, with my parents, Peter and Mary, taking me on countless visits to the Jesmond Picture House. In those days each screening involved two films and there was a changeover on Thursday. Multiple titles could be covered at little cost – 2/-6d I think! We saw everything – 633 Squadron, The Yellow Rolls Royce, The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven. You name it we saw it! By John Dodds (65-75).

Michael Caine and John on Flawless



was very lucky at the RGS as I was taken under the wing of Kevin Egan-Fowler (76-13) (visiting Art teacher 69-76 and head of department from 1976) in the Art department and he supported me 100% to start up the RGS Film Society. We had some amazing seasons including Hollywood in the 50s, Contemporary French Cinema, Cinema Milestones and America, Sweden and France. It rapidly became the most successful society in the school with packed screenings every week. I decided I wanted to work in the film industry but where to begin? Newcastle was hardly the Hollywood of the North. I decided to write to directors who were shooting films in the area and ask if I could visit the set. It worked. I visited the sets of Mary Queen of Scots at Alnwick, Swallows and Amazons in the Lake District, Tommy at St Bees, The Wicker Man at Newton Stewart and Get Carter all over Newcastle. I soon made contacts and directors started inviting me to visit films in studios in London at the age of 12. The overnight bus from Newcastle became my mode of transport. I don’t think a 12-year old would be permitted to do this now, once again down to the determination of my parents for me to make it in the career I had chosen. The visits included three weeks on The Great Gatsby, The Ghoul, Adolph Hitler – My Part in His Downfall and Night Watch. In the summer holidays of 1975 I worked as the unit runner on Alfie Darling with Joan Collins and Alan Price. I had got into the industry at last. When I left school I started a 10-month job on a huge First World War movie Aces High which we shot at Booker Aerodrome at High Wycombe. I got to work with the 2nd Unit and spent many hours in a helicopter with the door off filming First World War aeroplanes.

I now badly needed my ACTT union card to officially work as 3rd assistant director but I could only achieve this if all other 40 3rd assistant directors were working. As luck would have it a film called Agatha was filming on the Yorkshire Moors and using 40 assistant directors to stop traffic and close off the moors. My application went in that day and I got my ticket to start work on Terry Gilliam’s first film Jabberwocky. It was a truly magnificent experience and I rapidly realised that Terry, who has remained a friend to this day, was going to be a mighty creative talent in the film industry. We also had a stunning cast including Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Max Wall, John Le Mesurier and there was a lot of fun to be had with them all in the Shepperton Hotel at the end of each day’s shoot. I wasn’t a 3rd assistant director for too long and became the youngest UK 2nd assistant director ever at the tender age of 23. My first film as 2nd assistant director was Beryl Bainbridge’s Sweet William with Jenny Agutter and Sam Waterston. I had always had a deep passion for contemporary music as well as film so a job on Give My Regards to Broad Street was manna from heaven. It was a six-month shoot involving Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and the music of the Beatles and Wings all recorded live on the set each day by George Martin in a huge mobile recording studio outside the set. Two more highlights were George Orwell’s 1984 with Richard Burton and John Hurt and the original Batman movie with Michael Keaton and the incorrigible Jack Nicholson as the Joker. I could never work out where Jack stopped and the Joker started! It was time to move up to 1st assistant director and I did that in 1991 on Where Angels Fear to Tread on location in San Gimignano, Florence and Rome with Helen Mirren and Helena Bonham Carter. It was on this film that my daughter Emily started coming along and playing small extra parts in the films which she loved and got paid handsomely for! I started doing equal amounts of work on high-end TV series such as Inspector Morse and Cider With Rosie as well as movies like Flawless with Michael Caine and Demi Moore and one of my favourites Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. Despite all the stories I had heard Al was a complete delight to work with – brilliant and professional at his job, a phenomenal screen actor, generous and very, very funny. In recent years I have decided I have had enough of standing in muddy fields in the pouring rain at 6am shouting at people so I am now producing films through my company OxyGene Films. We are a fledgling company and are currently producing a couple of short films first.


ONA – Old Novocastrians Association Magazine Spring 2018

Top: Al Pacino and John on the set of Merchant of Venice Left: John with John Thaw and Kevin Whately on Inspector Morse Right: Richard Burton and John Hurt on 1984

One, Retrospective is already shot and stars Charles Dance, Emilia Fox, Omid Djalili and Vincent Regan. The other, The Ghost we are about to shoot with Emilia Fox. It tells the story of John White, the Spurs player, tragically killed by a lightening bolt in the 60s when his son Rob was only months old. It explores how the eight year old Rob gets to ‘know’ his father through a trunk of his possessions he discovers in the loft. Our full length films are in early development and include The Tyburn Tree (in tandem with fellow ON John Harle (65-74)) with Ray Winstone, Mackenzie Crook, Stephen Moyer, Emilia Fox and Jeremy Irons; a black comedy about suicide called No Trees on Tiree all set on the Scottish island of Tiree; Jackpot Day, a madcap bank robbery comedy with Martin Freeman, Richard E Grant, Emilia Fox and Ray Winstone and People Die from the best selling critically acclaimed book by Kevin Wignall. So I’m still thoroughly enjoying my time in the film industry but none of this would have been achieved without the ceaseless support of my parents over the years and my wonderful Art teacher Kevin Egan-Fowler. In memory of my wonderful mother, Mary Dodds who passed away on Friday 5 January 2018, aged 99.


Dr James Francis ‘Percy’ Bell (37-42) Born 1 October 1924, died 15 January 2017, aged 92

David Thomas Allcock (39-50) Born 24 October 1931, died 3 October 2017, aged 85

David, known as “Dite” to many of his closer friends attended RGS 19391950. Like me, he was at Penrith throughout the school’s evacuation. He became a Prefect, played in the First XV, swam in the Newts team, excelled in the 800-yards (for which he donated the perpetual Allcock Trophy for the winner in the annual Sports Day), and was a sergeant in the CCF. After leaving school he played in Old Novos First XV as a lock forward.

A steady hard-working student, he moved to King’s College where he gained his degree in Agriculture. He became an adviser in plant protection with ICI, based at Cirencester then Barnstaple. He started mini rugby at his three sons’ school, with which activity he became well-known and appreciated in Devon rugby circles. In retirement, he studied antique furniture restoration, set up and ran a small business in Arundel, West Sussex. In sad circumstance, he parted from his wife Maerjele, but was later much supported by a partner, Janet. On her death three years ago, he closed his business and had only recently moved to Littlehampton. He was always very proud of his RGS roots, and occasionally travelled from the south coast to attend important events at Eskdale Terrace, and to Penrith reunions. By J Chris Allcock (40-51)

William M Darling CBE DL (45-51) Born 7 May 1934, died 12 July 2017, aged 83 Born in South Shields to the son of a pharmacist. He attended RGS before studying at Sunderland Technical College before taking over the family business in South Shields. He married Ann (daughter of Newcastle United striker Jack Allen) and had two sons, Paul and Ian. In 1973 he became Chairman of the South Tyneside Area Health Authority and went onto become the youngest president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Darling led the committee that set the childproof packaging strategy, and was appointed OBE in 1972 and CBE in 1988.


My father Percy, as he was known by his friends and colleagues, attended RGS from 1937 to 1942 although he was evacuated to Penrith during the war years. A school medal establishes that he was the winner of a 220-yards race in 1938 and in later years he regularly played on the wing for the school rugby teams. After school, Percy studied Medicine at Durham University when the medical school was based in Newcastle and graduated in 1947. While there he met his future wife Joan Skinner, a fellow medical student, although their marriage plans were interrupted by Percy’s period of National Service serving as a captain in the RAMC based in Ceylon as it was then known. On his return to the UK in 1950 they were married at St Andrew’s Church, Newcastle, in the August and remained so until Joan’s death in 2016. He and Joan spent all their working lives as doctors in partnership in a Jarrow medical practice and spent the later years of their retirement in Princess Mary Court, Jesmond. Their lives had come full circle as they both recalled training there as medical students when the building was a maternity hospital. Percy is survived by his sister Marjorie, son Nigel and grandchildren Tom, Sam and Frances. Their daughter Judy predeceased them in 2006. By Nigel Bell

Howard HH ‘HHHB’ Baker (77-12) Born 18 February 1954, died 24 September 2017, aged 63

or edict, with Head of Sixth Form. He held a remarkable number of responsibilities, including Head of Religious Studies (which had some intellectual clout: there was a stream of success into Oxbridge Theology), Head of Fifth Form (now Year 11), Director of Studies. Less noted and recorded is his appointment as Third Master, forming a triumvirate with Alister Cox (72-94) and John Born in South Shields, educated Armstrong (72-03). It is easy to in a 1950s pre-Vatican II Catholic understand why Alister Cox wanted to secondary school for boys in Sunderland, Howard graduated from bring Howard into the core: ‘an inner character of outstanding integrity and four years of ‘Greats’ at Worcester rare quality’ is how Alister defines what College, Oxford before arriving at the RGS (after a year’s PGCE in Durham) makes Howard special; James Miller refers to Howard as his moral in 1977. To the enormous benefit of compass. In his retirement interview the school, it was where he spent the for the ONA Magazine (Issue 85), 35 years of his working life, until Howard said, ‘I have no real interest in retirement in 2012. Howard will be remembered fondly structures or systems’. He was in fact as the cleverest teacher most students remarkably loyal to, and supportive of, ever encountered. Discendo Duces — both. But that is not what he cared about. There was a spiritual integrity school seems to have been that drew wholly disparate students embarrassed by its own motto in and staff to him as a wise counsellor. recent years, but Howard perfectly Beyond school, Howard was integral inhabited it. As Rory Allan (03-10) to St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral — he and Hugo Wallis (03-10) wrote in ran its choir, edited its magazine and Novo on the occasion of his was a key player in its metamorphosis. retirement: he ‘allowed his students A cold, uninviting place when I first to be intellectually intrepid’. He combined this with immense pastoral arrived in Newcastle it is now warm and vibrant. Every inch of it testifies sensitivity and concern. He was to something of Howard’s aesthetic perhaps at his most fulfilled in influence, historical engagement combining the roles of teacher of Philosophy, unconstrained by syllabus and imagination. A rare moment and unique tribute: four RGS Heads spanning 45 years (1972 to present day) attending Howard’s funeral. L-R, Bernard Trafford (08-17), John Fern, James Miller (94-08), Alister Cox (72-94).

The Bidding in the once Founder’s Service gives thanks for the devoted service of those who have taught here, for their love of sound learning, their understanding hearts, and their lasting influence on mind and character. Nobody has better epitomised that daunting ideal than Howard. It was the deepest privilege to know and work alongside Howard. His death was peaceful, but premature. His funeral was attended by four RGS Headmasters, its own unique tribute. Our deepest sympathy goes to Christine, to his daughter Harriet (01-03) and beloved grandson, Hamish. Bereft as we are, Howard’s lasting influence will go on enriching our lives. Simon Barker Head of English DJ Crawford (45-50) born 1934, died 26 July 2017, aged 83. GR Elliott (40-45) born 1928, died 27 October 2017, aged 89. GIC Falcus (46-55) born 1937, died 20 November 2017, aged 80. Arthur R Jowett (48-54) born 1937, died 23 December 2017, aged 80. Dr Alan Innes Rowe (33-42) born 1924, died 3 October 2017, aged 93. CV Scott (35-39) born 1927, died 28 October 2017, aged 90. Capt. Frank Simm, RN (36-43) born 1925, died 30 November 2017, aged 92. AGM Sinton (36-39) born 1927, died 23 November 2017, aged 90. Correction (Issue 101) Page 3. Kate (née Appleby) (06-08) and Tom Harman married on Saturday 15 July 2017, not Monday, 10 July.


ONA – Old Novocastrians Association Magazine Spring 2018

ONA Diary dates The President of the ONA, Chris Wilson The London (97-02), invites you to join him at the London Annual Dinner ONA Dinner. Friday 16 March 2018, Guest Speaker: from 6pm onwards Max Hill, QC (72-82) at The East India Club

Head of Red Lion Chambers and, since March 2017, the current independent reviewer of terrorism legislation and former leader of the South Eastern Circuit (14-16) and Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (11-12). Whilst unable to advise or appear in terrorism-related cases during his tenure as independent reviewer, Max maintains a heavy-weight crime practice, defending and prosecuting in a number of complex cases of homicide, violent crime and high value fraud and corporate crime. He also has extensive advisory experience both nationally and internationally.

Details can be found on the ONA website at http://ona.rgs.newcastle or by telephone on 0191 212 8909. Deadline for reservations is Friday 2 March 2018. The price for the dinner is £66. Subsidised tickets for undergraduates are £46. Secure a place by sending payment by cheque, made payable to Old Novocastrians Association, providing your name, address, email, years at school and dietary requirements. We can also accept a bank transfer. Please email for further details. Find our Facebook page at: Old Novocastrians Association

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RGS ONA issue 102  
RGS ONA issue 102