On January 5th, 1981, when I was just 18 years old, I was offered my first teaching job. I had ostensibly been recruited to the small Oxfordshire prep school of St Hugh’s as a ‘gap student’ to help with boarding duties, laundry and occasional sports coaching. Within 10 minutes of arriving at the school, I was called into Mr Hayes’ office. He was the rather austere Headmaster, with a penchant for music. He said he had noticed, on my application form, that I had a musical background. The Director of Music hadn’t returned after the Christmas holidays (I never found out why!): would I like the job? Being too polite to refuse, I found myself in charge of the music department in the school’s 75th anniversary year. Amongst three important musical events that had already been booked was the centrepiece 75th anniversary concert.
At that time, one of the fathers at the school was George Martin, The Beatles’ legendary producer. The Headmaster thought it would be a good idea to commission a piece by him for the concert, so, star-struck and somewhat nervous, I was duly invited to Sunday lunch with the Martin family. After lunch, George whisked me off to his state-of-the-art recording studio. He took the words of ‘The Prayer of St Francis’ and produced a melody line in just 20 minutes. He then asked me to take it away to add in the harmonies. Too polite to refuse, I agreed. I then sweated for a week on the task of harmonising a piece of music for one of the most famous record producers in the world before plucking up the courage to phone him and tell him I felt it would be better if he did it. It secured me another Sunday lunch and trip to the recording studio, but I slept easier knowing that a complete work was now available. A week or two later, I received a call from George. He said his friend Paul (McCartney) had agreed to let the tiny St Hugh’s Prep School choir do a world premiere performance of ‘The Frog Chorus’ which he had written for the animated film: Rupert the Bear. It was turning out to be a very special concert!
On Tuesday, over 36 years later, I was invited back to an evening concert at St Hugh’s. I donated a hand written original manuscript of The Frog Chorus to the school, having met the Head of Pre-Prep whilst on inspection and been invited to visit her at the school. At the concert, a rewritten version of the score was performed in which I was invited to sing. Afterwards, I was introduced to George Martin’s grand daughter, Alice, whose dad, Giles, I had taught all those years ago. It was a very poignant occasion and a reminder that a window of opportunity had opened to me 36 years ago not because I had actively sought it, but because I had been too polite to refuse it!
As the rate of change and development in the world accelerates, the number of opportunities will increase in tandem. A well-known Chinese proverb says: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’. It is my belief that, as much as Bickley Park should be providing opportunities for its boys, it is teaching them to have the mindset to seek out and seize opportunities themselves that will serve them best of all. Then they won’t need to be like the Headmaster, at 18, and accept an opportunity out of politeness!
P.S.: St Hugh’s was founded in Bickley before moving to rural Oxfordshire in 1945. Part of my purpose in visiting the school was to explore a centenary year reunion in Bickley. Interestingly, one of St Hugh’s four Houses is called Bickley!