Over the past 70 years or so there have been a number of memorable dinners held at the School, some which were marking special occasions and some which just turned out to be highly enjoyable for no special reason. The Old Boys’ Association, formed in 1933, immediately began organising Annual Dinners until the War intervened in 1939. When the Association was revived in 1947 the Annual Dinner was undoubtedly the high spot of the Association year. Its attraction has waned in recent years for a number of reasons, but perhaps it will undergo a resurgence following the School’s 75th Anniversary Dinner held on the 5th October. This was a truly memorable occasion which has put all previous dinners held at the School very much into the shade and demands our deep appreciation and admiration for the host of people responsible for its organization. This was a combined School/Old Boys function with the major organisation being undertaken by the School and parents. Neil Ockenden and Michael Thelwell acted for the Old Boys, for which warm thanks are given. Of the parents involved, two ladies in particular shouldered the lion’s responsibility, and on the night were presented with bouquets in recognition for their sterling work. The ladies were Mel Gillam and Helen Mackenzie and they most certainly deserve our congratulations and thanks. Many thanks are also due to members of the 6th form who acted as car-park guides and provided general stewarding.
The Dinner was held in the School’s brand-new magnificent Sports Hall, which had been transformed for the event. The wooden floor had been completely covered with an underlay and a carpet on top, the cost of which must have been eye-bulging. There were tasteful decorations in the School colours around the walls, balloons galore, and flowers everywhere. At one end were displays of photographs of bygone days featuring the School and The Old Boys including a section showing the various sites that had served as the School Chapel prior to the present fine building.
When not in use as a restaurant, the Sports Hall provides three full-size Basket-Ball pitches and can accommodate virtually all sports, including Badminton and Indoor Cricket. The School, which is now designated as a Sports College by the Department of Education, is obliged to allow the Sports Hall to be used by the local community, and this it does by welcoming the local Catholic Primary Schools to enjoy its facilities, with a Member of Staff on hand to provide all the necessary coaching.
It was good to see Bishop Howard Tripp, an Old Boy, of course, obviously thoroughly enjoying the evening and welcoming us all as he introduced Grace. It was a very good meal and we were provided with ample time to digest one course before the next was placed before us.
I have no doubt that one of the reasons for the declining in the attraction of the Association Dinners in recent years has been because of certain speakers who have used the occasion to demonstrate their lack of affection for the School and, in effect, have taken the opportunity to settle old scores. There was no risk of this happening on the 5th February when one glanced at the list – thoughtfully short – of speakers:- Professor Jack Scarisbrick (Old Boy), Jim Buttress (Old Boy) and the Head Master, Jack Scarisbrick brought to life those masters of the early years whose eccentricities, foibles and famous sayings have passed into history, including Father McCarthy, (Lousy), Father Duprez (Dippy), Father Compson (Compo) and, of course, J.H.B., Father Byrne. All was recounted with great affection and a sense of gratitude. James Buttress regaled us with an account of his interview for admission with the Canon which made us wonder how he ever got into the School. He described how his love of Mother Earth was first awakened by the many times when a master, to gain some relief from James’s non-scholastic activities in class, would despatch him to the playing field to fill in the holes made in the turf by shot-putters and javelin throwers. From such humble beginnings to Superintendent of the Royal Parks. Robin Gregory dwelt on the successes and achievements of the School, stressing how the traditions of the School played a significant part in determining its welfare, progress and success. They were three speeches which I could have happily listened to all over again.
There have been so far two major events which have been arranged to celebrate the School’s 75th Anniversary: The concelebrated Mass at St George’s Cathedral on the 3rd October, and the Anniversary Dinner at the School on the 5th February. Both these occasions have been most successful and significant in recognising the School’s Jubilee.