Despair at another enforced move - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Despair at another enforced move


This is what turned out to be my last ever school photograph - although at the time it was taken in June/July 1952 I had no idea of that. Indeed I already had a confirmed place in the 6th Form and was quite convinced I was staying on to study music. I am 3rd from the left on the front seated row - now with an outrageous hair style that looks for all the world like a wig (but wasn't!)

I came across a curious entry in my diary recently. It seems I had made a bet in summer 1951 with my Form Master and English Master, Mr RAL Whitaker (who is on the extreme right of the middle row in the 1952 photo above) that I would get 70% or more in the 1951 end-of-term Geography exam – my second worst subject (Biology was the worst of all). I really enjoyed the geography lessons but in spite of lots of work I had never done very well at that subject. Looking back, I simply cannot believe that I dared to have a bet with Mr Whitaker or that he accepted and subsequently honoured the bet. Even more surprising is that I refused to accept the pay-out although 2s 6d (half a crown in old money, 12.5p in current money) was a not insignificant amount for a poor 15 year old like me.

At the time the photograph above was taken I was in the final stages of preparing for the GCE examinations which were scheduled for 2 to 27 June. It was the first proper year for the General Certificate of Education which had replaced the old School Certificate. In 1951 the new GCE system had been trialled but our teachers had been given only outline details of the way the 1952 examinations would be conducted and precisely what the syllabi contained. In common with all the other boys that year, I was permitted to sit only six subjects (which included geography). When I asked to add a couple more subjects the Head Master told me that the limit of six was a rule laid down by the education authorities but we pupils suspected that it was for financial reasons: we'd discovered that schools had to pay a fee for every subject they entered a pupil for.

Throughout June the prospect of having to change grammar school yet again hung over me but I seem to have put that little problem to the back of my mind while the examinations were in progress. Indeed it was so far back in my mind that neither I nor my parents told anyone at school, staff or fellow pupils, that a move was pending. 18 July was the end of term at Salford Grammar School and, unknown to me at the time, it turned out to be my very last day as a schoolboy. My end of term school report was excellent and I was awarded the school Music Prize which made my parents very proud.

As we broke up for the Summer Holidays, the Head Master, Mr E G Simm, wished me well for the 6th Form although the GCE results had still not been published. Dr Jones was absolutely delighted that I wanted to study music in the 6th Form; I would be his only student. He told me about all the exciting things we would be doing together and how my progress would be dramatic with the one-to-one relationship. The Head Master had given his approval for this arrangement because he was very keen on the Arts and as far as I can recall no-one at SGS had ever before studied music in the 6th Form.

In the third week of the summer holidays I called back at the school, along with my fellow classmates, to collect our GCE results. I had passed in the six subjects that I had been allowed to sit: English Language, Latin, French, Geography, Mathematics (which included separate papers on different days on arithmetic, geometry, trigonometry and basic Calculus), and Music. The results were no surprise to me because I had not expected to fail any. There were no grades or marks; we were simply given a certificate from the Northern Universities' Examinations Board which indicated whether we had passed or failed. Dr Jones, who had invigilated both the oral and written Music examinations, told me that I had got "virtually 100%" and the Latin teacher, Mr Cavanagh, told me that I had got 99%, having made just one silly error. I felt very proud.

(Below is the bottom part of what turned out to be my last ever school report.)

A few days later, on a date not recorded in my diary, the school learned that I might be moving from Salford back to Wakefield. I think I must have accidentally spilled the beans to one of my friends, or one of the Masters, when I went to collect my examination results. Dad still did not have a date for the move, not even a tentative date, because we were awaiting the allocation of a house in a small new estate in Wrenthorpe, about two miles from Wakefield Prison, which was being built exclusively for prison officers' families.

I can understand why Mr Simm was angry when the news filtered through to him via school gossip rather than formally from my father - or me. He'd probably gone out on a limb with the local Education Authority when he had agreed to let Dr Jones run a 6th Form course in music for a single student. Dr Jones was sent to our house to talk to me and my parents. Dad explained the problem about timing. Dr Jones told us that the Head Master would not let me start in the 6th Form unless I was going to complete the full 2-year course.

Dr Jones knew that I was desperately keen to continue my music studies so he suggested that my parents should start looking for suitable student accommodation for me in Salford so that I could move into that whenever the rest of my family moved to Wakefield. That seemed quite an exciting idea to me but, unsurprisingly, my parents would not hear of it. Apart from not wanting me to live away from home at such a tender age, there was no way they could afford the cost of boarding me in private accommodation.

A few days later I went with my father to see the Head Master. Dad told him that unless I could start my 6th Form studies at SGS on schedule, I would have to leave school immediately and then join a 6th Form in Wakefield when we had completed the move. Mr Simm was in no mood to be dictated to by a parent. I remember him saying to my father, "Do you realise how much time I and my staff have expended in arranging a special timetable for your son and Dr Jones?"

There was nothing more to be said and so we left. I could have cried with frustration and embarrassment - but I didn't. A few days later I had my 50th and final violin lesson with Mr Cunliffe.

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