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Old Skinners’ Society Newsletter May 2017


EDITORIAL AU REVOIR After seven years at Skinners‘, it's time for me to move on... As you can see from the striking re-design, the Newsletter is in the safe hands of Richard Mosley. Many of you will know Richard from his Facebook posts and articles reminding us of the rich heritage of Skinners'. His passion to ensure that the achievements and bravery of past Skinners' are not forgotten is testament to that intangible 'thing' that makes Skinners' unique as a School. The friendships that are forged in the classroom remain in place for a lifetime - as do the grammar and Latin lessons! It has been a privilege to be part of your community and I wish you all the very best for the future. Floreat Sodalitas Camilla

EDITORIAL DEBUT As both an Old Boy (1975-82) and parent of a second generation Leopard I will do my best to reach out to both Young and Old Skinners’, and emulate Camilla’s magnificent contribution to the Society over the last few years. Please let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see more of in the Newsletter and I will also do my best to add and amend to make it as a good a read as I can. If you’d like to get in touch with feedback or suggestions for the next newsletter please email: Richard Mosley


IN THIS ISSUE A Subscription Reminder from Nick Myers A word from the Old Skinners’ President Barry Tester The Headmaster’s Report Visiting Old Boys at Sandhurst The Remarkable Thomas Balding (Skinners 1887-1891)

Farewell to Actor Alec McCowan (Skinners 1936-42)

Farewell to Philip Winter (Skinners 1927-34)

Congratulations to England Sevens Winner Will Edwards (Skinners 2007-2014) Congratulations to Best Indie Feature Film Nominee Tom Sands (Skinners 2001-2008)

History of the Old Skinners’ Society Part 2 Barry Tester

Final Farewells: David Tompsett, Tony Francis and Walter Hodder


SUBSCRIPTION REMINDER Dear Old Skinner, We wrote to you in October last year notifying you of the changes we have made to Society Membership at the AGM in June, and inviting you to kindly update your Standing Orders to the minimum £20 per annum to bring the subscription level back in line with inflation (the first rise in 24 years).


On behalf of the Committee and The School, I would like to extend my thanks to all Leopards who have already done this, and increased their subscriptions to £20 or more since we wrote to you in October. We have been monitoring the Standing Orders coming in since that date and report that a considerable number of you have done this, and I thank you for taking the time to do so. A REMINDER

I am writing to you to remind you that if you haven’t done so already to please increase your subscription amount to ensure you receive all the benefits of being a Full Member of the Old Skinners’ Society. It is particularly important we hear from you and receive your updated subscription and contact details, as the way in which the Leopard Magazine is issued is changing. Due to budgetary constraints from the School, they can no longer afford the full print run of the Leopard Magazine, some 1,900 copies last year (875 of these as free issue to the Society to mail to our Members). DIGITAL LEOPARDS

This year all Members of the Society will receive an electronic copy of the Leopard UNLESS they have already increased their subscription AND

specifically requested a hard copy of the Leopard magazine. The Society will have to pay for the printing of each individual Leopard magazine and postage to you, and in order to do that we will need to know numbers ahead of the print run for Summer 2017. UPDATING MEMBERSHIP DETAILS

I would therefore ask you to please update your membership details and standing orders now to ensure we have your up to date contact details and updated subscription amount, and to make sure you receive your Leopard, if you want it as a hard copy. We would encourage you to update your subscriptions now, but you can of course choose the Standing Order commencement date if you have recently paid your existing subscription. All of you who receive electronic copies of the Leopard and Newsletters, greatly help to reduce costs of the Society, and this ultimately benefits the School. All membership details can be found on the website and any queries can be directed to Thank you once again for your support, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Nick Myers, Membership Secretary.


OLD SKINNERS’ PRESIDENT You will perhaps notice from this publication that we have a new Newsletter Editor in Richard Mosley. Richard, who has considerable writing experience, replaces Camilla Nichols who has done a first class job producing our newsletters for a number of years. I’m sure you will be looking forwards to receiving Society news and articles from Richard and will also join me in thanking Camilla for her highly successful tenure regarding both content and presentation.



We have been busy implementing the changes to our membership structure and rates of subscription agreed at the last AGM. Again I must thank Camilla for masterminding the completion of the transference of all our membership data into the new database known as “Raisers’ Edge”. Larry Hardcastle is now familiar with operating this new system, particularly with regard to entering and monitoring all subscription information.

We have a small group of younger members willing to serve on the committee. It is hoped that their knowledge and familiarity of social networking will help us to expand our reach to ever more members. IDEAS WELCOME

Finally, if you have any further ideas for improving the work of the committee please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


Best regards to you all.

Thanks to the many of you so far who have responded positively to the request for an increased subscription. Since the due date for subscriptions is spread across the whole year, further reminders will continue to be sent as your month becomes due. So please take action when your renewal payment is due, or better still make that amendment at any time online and post-date it.

Barry Tester


HEADMASTER’S REPORT I enjoy the term that follows the mid-February break. The days are perceptibly longer (no more going to school in the dark), there is a tangible warmth in the sun (when it comes out), and as teachers we start to see the student body mature and raise its sights. There are a few hiccups on the way of course, but you get my gist.



There is a certain wake up amongst exam cohorts as the prospect of A levels and GCSEs becomes a definite reality. This year the Upper Sixth will be sitting terminal exams, a searching examination of two years’ work: there have been no AS level modules. This is a throwback to the shape of the A level curriculum pre-2000 and a reminder of how A levels were for many of you reading this newsletter. It is part of the search for greater rigour that dates back to Michael Gove’s reforms in the Coalition Government. Likewise Year 11 (Fifth Form of old) will sit reformed GCSEs in Maths and English: bigger, trickier and graded from 9 (excellent) to 1 (awful) instead of A*- G. The stakes have been raised again.

When considering academic achievement I must also mention Ed Faught (U6th) who managed the highest score in the country in the Kangaroo round of the UK Mathematics Olympiad.


Nevertheless pupils at Skinners’ remain well equipped to meet the challenge and continue to do so with humour, a positive attitude and a sense of ambition. The U6th sit on 10 Oxbridge offers and half a dozen medical offers and the university destinations amongst the whole year group are of the highest quality. They remain definitely attracted by the academic rigour (and the lifestyle) of going to a top university. None have this year fallen for the temptation of high quality apprenticeships.


Meanwhile the winter trips away gone well: junior skiers to Passo Tonale in Italy and an older group trekking in Finland, the only casualty in the snow being a twisted knee for Nigel Hubbard. Preparations are advanced for the Junior Cricket tour to Dubai at Easter and the Senior Rugby tour to South Africa in July. The Sevens season (another sign of Spring) has seen plenty of success, the highlights being the U13 Seven winning the Brentwood tournament and the U16 Seven winning both the St Olave’s tournament and the Kent Sevens. ALWAYS WELCOME

With best wishes to all Old Skinners and a reminder that you are always welcome to return to visit the school.

Edward Wesson



In response to an invitation from Major James Cackett, RE (Skinners 1990-97), a Company Commander and instructor at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, two other more recent OS (Rob Phillips and Archie Wells), together with myself and a group of 10 current pupils visited RMA in December to attend the final rehearsal for the Sovereign’s Parade, due to take place two days later in the presence of the Duchess of Cornwall, at which officer cadets finally pass out as fully fledged 2 Lieutenants, as the culmination of their gruelling 44 week course. GLADSTONE AND POWDERHAM Of particular interest this time was the fact that amongst those passing out was former school captain, Tom Gladstone (2005-12) and the Intermediate Company – due to pass out in April – contained Simon Powderham (2004-11).

Tom has now joined the Royal Artillery and Simon will be commissioned into the Royal Engineers on completion of his course. James Cackett finishes at Sandhurst in April and is hoping for further promotion and a command appointment. SOVEREIGN’S PARADE

The parade itself was a most impressive affair lasting over an hour, second only in spectacle to Trooping the Colour, with around 300 students marching past with the Sovereign’s Colour in slow and quick time, accompanied by the band of the Household Cavalry. Afterwards James had managed to release Tom and Simon from their duties for a photocall and the chance for them to talk with the boys and recount their own experiences of life at Sandhurst, so concluding a fascinating and well worthwhile visit.

Tony Holding




Among the first 50 boys who attended Skinners’ School when it opened in 1887 were three brothers, William, Frank and Thomas Balding. All three played for the 1st XI football and cricket team. Frank was a particularly deadly bowler. In Skinners’ first match against Judd in 1881, which he almost appears to have won single-handed, Frank took 6 wickets in 5 overs for no runs.

Following a visit to China on undisclosed military business in 1902, the wanderlustful Thomas was next seconded to train the Sultan of Morocco’s cavalry (with the additional support of the French).


However, it was William and Thomas who went on to seek glory of a different kind, joining the Royal Hussars (cavalry). In 1900 during the Boer War, Thomas was among the first cavalry units to enter Ladysmith, freeing his besieged brother William who was among the relieved cavalry defenders. By the time he returned to visit the Old Skinners in 1901 Thomas was the toast of the school.

The picture above shows the cloaked and turbaned Thomas Balding on parade front left with sword at the ready, with Sultan Abdul Aziz on horseback. COUP D’ETAT Following this picture etched in 1908, things didn’t turn out so well for the Sultan as his brother staged a successful coup. Fortunately Thomas proved a good deal more loyal than the Sultan’s brother as the letter overleaf explains.



In August 1908, Thomas Balding writes: “On August 19th we marched out of our camp, 28 miles from Marrakesh, to fight some of Mulai Hafid’s people [the Sultan’s brother]. The battle commenced about five o’clock. A panic resulted, and everybody ran back to camp. I saw the Sultan returning and he told me to get back to camp as quickly as possible. This I did, and got some machine guns to work, but the panic was so great I could only get 200 men to keep the enemy away, which we managed to do until the Sultan had left at least half an hour. Then I ran to the place where I had left my horse, only to find it gone. So I had to go on foot, crossing the river twice in my top-boots. I had most wonderful escapes, four men being shot close to me. When the river was crossed, I had to run for about an hour and a half, after which one of the Sultan’s slaves gave me a ride behind him on his horse. Half an hour later I saw his Majesty, who gave me a horse. After going 100 miles in about six hours, I arrived at a friendly village and the local Kaid brought me along in safety. Otherwise I am afraid I would not be writing this or anything else. A French artillery lieutenant, with two Algerians, stuck to their guns splendidly. It is a mercy all the Europeans arrived here safely.


In 1916 Thomas was awarded the Legion of Honour by France and in 1920 retired on a generous pension from the Moroccan government, living out a long and peaceful retirement back in the UK until his death in 1950..

Everything I had is gone and I am penniless, but luckily I found one of the mules, which I sold, and so supplied myself with funds for a few days. I never believed anything could be so bad, and I was really frightened, as I know if I was caught I should not be spared.” RETURN TO POWER

Having stuck by his man, Thomas was honoured by the Sultan with full command of his royal guard (and polo team) when he returned to power some time later. He continued to command the Sultan’s Shereefian Cavalry for the next 12 years, helping the Moroccans and the French keep the Germans at bay through WW1.

What a life! Richard Mosley

ALEC MCCOWEN 1925-2017 Actor. OBE. CBE. Skinners School (1936-42) Alexander Duncan McCowen was born in Tunbridge Wells on May 26 1925, and attended Skinners between the age of 11 and 16. He went on to forge a celebrated career on the stage, in TV and film. Following his death in February, his life was celebrated in the Times, Guardian, Telegraph, New York Times and Washington Post.


Alec gave a vivid account of his early years in his book Young Gemini (1979). While his father, who ran a pram-shop on Monson Road, was a staunch Christian, he also displayed a strong exhibitionist streak, including the ability to fart God Save the King at the dinner table. His mother had been a teenage soprano and his paternal grandfather a Christian evangelist. Acting, however, was still regarded with suspicion. Soon after joining Skinners’ in 1936, and performing as Buttercup in the school production of HMS Pinafore, Alec wrote in his diary: “I know Mum and Dad do not want me to act on films or stage and think that I won’t. SORRY BUT I WILL.” LONDON STAGE DEBUT

Like many actors it took Alec many years of hard graft in regional theatre before he first appeared on the London stage in 1950. Following a succession of theatrical roles at the Arts and the Lyric, Hammersmith, he crossed the Atlantic to join the Laurence Olivier-Vivien Leigh Company on Broadway in 1952 appearing in Antony and Cleopatra and Caesar and Cleopatra. However, he did not really make a major impact until he played the Fool to Paul Scofield’s Lear in Peter Brook’s 1962 RSC production.

BROADWAY In 1968 he took London and Broadway by storm in his portrait of a venomously mischievous, chain-smoking pontiff in Hadrian the Seventh, winning his first of three Evening Standard Awards for the London production and a Tony nomination in the US. Although he was hailed in a 1973 Sunday Telegraph review as “the unchallenged heir apparent to Olivier”, he took a somewhat expected path through the next decade.



In his own words Alec was “thrown completely off track” in the 1970s when he decided to learn St Mark’s Gospel (in the King James version) by heart – a feat which took 16 months – then spent some 20 years touring with it when he might have been playing major classical roles. His revelatory performance of Holy Writ took him all over the world, from the West End and Broadway to Jimmy Carter’s White House for a Thanksgiving Eve performance. FILM CAREER

Nor was McCowen ever attracted to a career in Hollywood. As he explained with characteristic humility: “I don’t really think I’m a film actor. You need a great face to be a great film actor… I don’t think I have a great face.” Nevertheless he appeared in several major films including The Cruel Sea, starring Jack Hawkins, Denholm Elliott and Stanley Baker. He played opposite the legendary Maggie Smith in Travels With My Aunt directed by the equally legendary George Cukor. He played the sleuth in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy, and ‘Q’ in the Bond film Never Say Never Again opposite Sean Connery. While Skinners’ is rightly proud to be named as a leading school for science, how magnificent that we can also claim a ‘Q’ as one of our own.


However, his best known work remains his solo performances Alongside his famous performances of St. Mark’s gospel, he played Kipling (Mermaid, 1984), which he also took to Broadway, and Shakespeare, Cole and Co, which he took on a tour of the United Kingdom in 1988 and which allowed him to play all the Shakespeare roles he had always wanted to play. When asked why he appeared in so many oneman shows, McCowen replied: “I guess it’s vanity. I wanted to be an entertainer, not an actor, when I was young. I wanted to be Jack Benny, and I’m still dazzled, still fascinated, by the audacity of a Judy Garland or a Lena Horne or a Frank Sinatra going out there all by themselves and holding an audience’s attention.’’ While Alec never regarded himself as famous, he lived a rich and storied life full of famous friends. One of the stories he recounted to the Guardian journalist who wrote his obituary concerned the evening he shared on a back-stage couch with an intelligent young lady who also turned out to be an actress looking for a break. Her name was Marilyn Monroe. Not bad for a Skinners’ boy from Monson Road!

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PHILIP WINTER 1917-2016 RAF Pilot and Civil Servant Skinners School (1927-34) Philip (‘Pip’) Winter was born in Herne Hill, but came to school in Tunbridge Wells with his brother, where they lived with his publican grandfather above the Compasses. SCHOOL DAYS

Philip enjoyed his days at Skinners. He played for the 1st XI in cricket and for the rugby 1st XV for four seasons (quite a player!) leading the team as Captain in 1933/34. He was also appointed School Captain in his final year. BOMBER COMMAND

After leaving school Philip joined the Civil Service. He also joined the RAF Voluntary Reserve and learned how to fly, having been inspired by a flying circus that had visited TWells when he was a boy. As he recounted: “My grandfather pulled out a ten bob note. The barmaids took us down to the field, and I had my first flight ever. From then on all I wanted was to fly”.

He was immediately called up when war was declared in 1939. After a brief spell training to be a fighter pilot, he decided to join Bomber Command, flying Whitleys. He flew a number of sorties over enemy territory, but on his 3rd mission caught a lump of shrapnel that cut a hole straight through his left ankle. It took him 18 months to get back into action and was the end of his sporting career. Following the Invasion of France he trained resistance operatives (SOE). This involved low level night flying, training bomb-aimers to map read - not to a town or village, but to the corner of a field to enable them to drop supplies for people. LOVE IS IN THE AIR

It was during the war that he met and married his wife Joan, an occasion that was celebrated

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with a front page in a popular newspaper of the time, the Sunday Pictorial, under the headline: “It all happened on the 13th”. The reason being Philip and Joan were due to marry on the 8th of July, but he caught the shrapnel on the 13th of June and was laid up in hospital. While he couldn’t get out on the 8th, he said: “We’ll kill that superstition about the 13th. Let me get out of here, and we’ll get married on the next 13th”. They did – marrying on the 13th of July – and he was right, they remained happily married for 75 years. VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM

At the end of the war, Philip returned to the Department of Education, joining the Victoria & Albert Museum (then under the DoE). At the V&A he was soon promoted to general manager, a post he held for many years. Before he retired he moved back into a central departmental role at the DoE, heading up museum staffing across the whole of the UK, before he finally retired in 1975. Through this time and for the next 40 years Philip remained a devoted Old Skinner. As Barry Tester recounts: “I first met Philip who by then had already been a member of the Executive Committee for a number of years serving time as Secretary and then President in 1972.

Last year the Society celebrated its 125th Anniversary and the Committee had no hesitation in agreeing that our oldest Old Boy, Philip, should be awarded the top accolade of “Leopard of the Year”. A fitting tribute to a life long friend of the school and a remarkable man. Rest in peace.

When I first became a junior member on the Committee Philip was approximately twice my and indeed old enough to be my father. This meant that our relationship started at a somewhat respectful distance, but as the years passed this 25 year chasm quickly eroded into irrelevance resulting in a very close and extremely rewarding and long lasting friendship. I remember about 9 or 10 years ago when he and I teamed up to support the then exceptional School 1st XV. He had turned 90 but this proved no impediment to journeying to the School’s playing field and in all weathers supporting from the touch line most of the home matches and the more important away matches.


CONGRATULATIONS TO WILL EDWARDS Congratulations to ex Skinners 1st XV player Will Edwards (pictured centre) who scored a try on his debut for the England Sevens team against the world champions Fiji during the semi-finals of the resent Vancouver Sevens, and went on to help England beat South Africa in the final.

CONGRATULATIONS TO TOM SANDS The Holly Kane Experiment, a film directed by Old Skinner Tom Sand’s has been nominated for an Award for Best Feature Film at Independent Days International Film Fest 2017 taking place April 5th to 9th in Berlin. Britflicks describes the film as a disturbing, sexy, cerebral thriller about a controversial young psychologist (Kirsty Averton) who gains funding and research facilities from a respected benefactor (Nicky Henson) but slowly finds herself the subject of her own mind control experiment. Check out the trailer on YouTube: vYg



The first Annual Dinner was held in 1895. A menu card for the 3rd Dinner held at the Clarendon Hotel in 1898 priced the event at 4s (20p) each for which there was a surprisingly full menu. Toasts were somewhat similar to today but music was clearly a more important part of the programme with a musical interlude between each toast. Dinners were mostly held in Tunbridge Wells hotels , with the school first used in 1968 and not again until 2007. RUGBY WORLD CUP DINNER

The 2007 dinner took place during the Rugby World Cup with England reaching the final on the day of the dinner. In order to ensure attendance a large screen was provided as a back drop to show the televised match.

The second occasion was the 72nd Dinner in 1980. The Skinners’ Company offered use of the Hall to mark the Presidency of Cecil Beeby (Headmaster 1953-1975).. The Society had already held its traditional Annual Dinner in November 1990, but early in 1991 plans were laid for a Centenary Dinner at Skinners’ Hall which was held in May. Twenty two past presidents attended. The fourth dinner, to mark the 125th Anniversary of the Society, was held in 2015. A superb multicolour souvenir brochure was produced and this helped ensure that the event was a sell-out of members, and at 170 clearly making it the biggest gathering of Old Skinners ever.

The following year was the 100th Annual Dinner held at the School - as have all dinners since – attracting what was then a record attendance in topping 140. SKINNERS’ HALL DINNERS

Four dinners stand out since these have been held at Skinners’ Hall. There were no celebrations for either of the 25th and 50th Anniversaries since they both fell in war time. The first was in 1965 to mark the 75th Anniversary. The Leopards’ Grace was first published in this dinner menu card. At the dinner the tune was played first, but because of the complete unfamiliarity with the diners it was felt prudent for the words to be spoken rather than sung. This continued for the next couple of years until finally a core of Old Boys had conquered the rather bewitching tune.



The first of these, alongside the 125th Anniversary Dinner have in my opinion been the most memorable events staged by the Society. To mark the Centenary of the School in 1987, the President of the Year suggested a dinner for all past presidents and their partners. Using an old boy contact, this was held at Hever Castle and we were all encouraged to attend in Tudor costume. Pictures of the Headmaster and his wife illustrate the spirit of the occasion! This started a tradition with a Past Presidents’ Dinner being held every year since – needless to say not again at Hever. We have now completed 28 consecutive dinners.


FINAL FAREWELLS DAVID TOMPSETT (ATWELL 1965-1972) David Tompsett died at Willen Hospice, Milton Keynes, after a long illness. He was 62.

He leaves a wife, two daughters, and two grandchildren.

At Skinners’ David was prominent in amateur dramatics, playing the teacher Billings in ‘The Happiest Days of Your Life’ and Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’. He also played the tuba and was active in church youth groups. He took A-levels in French, German, Latin and Ancient History before taking a BA in French at Grey College, Durham, where he met Ruth. They married in 1977. David trained for the Anglican ministry at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and served as a curate in Bradford from 1979 to 1982. He returned to Tunbridge Wells in 1982 and, in a career change, started work at Post Office headquarters in London. He relocated with them to Milton Keynes in 1990. David, who retired in 2005, then devoted much of his time to Morris dancing, bridge, creative writing and Newport Pagnell United Reformed Church, where a funeral service was held in November .


FINAL FAREWELLS TONY FRANCIS (KNOTT 1957--1961) Tony Francis died after a short illness one day after his 70th birthday, on Friday 9th September last year at his home in Hazelmere, Buckinghamshire. Having moved home with his parents as a teenager from Tunbridge Wells to North Kent, he finished his school days at Gravesend Grammar School, before reading music at Goldsmith’s College, London, where he became a virtuoso player of the violin, viola and guitar. Tony then joined the RAF as a musician and served with the RAF Salon Orchestra and leader of their band ‘The Squadronaires’ until his retirement in 1985. He was also lead guitarist and vocalist in a smaller RAF band called ‘Shindig’ which played at many smaller functions. He returned to Tunbridge Wells to join Holmewood House Preparatory School as Assistant Director of Music, producing plays and concerts where he was instrumental in the success of their junior pop group ‘First Impression’, touring France, Spain and Majorca until retirement in 1998.

He moved to Hazelmere where he became the Rugby coach and unofficial fund raiser for Beaconsfield under 9’s mini rugby. He leaves a wife and two sons from his first marriage. WALTER HODDER (Skinners late 1940s) Walter Hodder died on 1st March after a short illness. In his youth, Walter was a keen footballer and an avid follower of Brighton and Hove Albion. He was also chairman and president of Wadhurst Bowls Club, still playing well until last season, and was honoured to play bowls for the county on two occasions. In August 1944, Walter witnessed a doodlebug bomb hit his school in Tidebrook. Miraculously the head teacher, her assistant and all children were unhurt. In 2014, Walter was delighted to be part of a school survivors' reunion. In 1954, he married Beryl and the couple spent the rest of their lives in Wadhurst where he ran the family building firm. He is survived by his brother Colin, son Clive, daughter Vivienne, five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.


Newsletter March 2017  
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