I'm an Old Colfeian, I remember Norman Wilson's music teaching well.
Colfe's School, Lewisham, South London can trace its history back
to the charity of one Richard Walker in 1494 - this duly disbanded under Henry VIII.
The school re-established under one John Glynn in 1568, and receiving a Royal Charter from Elizabeth I in 1574.
Rev Abraham Colfe [MA, Oxon], the only vicar of Lewisham ever to have served a prison
sentence* [leastwise, certainly so until I left in 1981] became a Governor of the school in 1613.
The school was refounded a final time in 1652, bearing his name.
It re-joined the independent sector in 1977 following the anti-Grammar School
apartheid of the 1970s, when the Sixth-Form became co-ed.
The whole school went co-ed in 1997.
Looking back on my education and subsequent career in the classroom, he was probably one of the worst teachers I encountered.
One boy out of 92 in my year took O Level music - I was not that boy - for all that, many years later, I completed a
graduate-level Diploma in Music, and am now [as I approach 49] trying to complete an MA in Music, Technology and Education.
I see past issues of COMPOTUS suggest he started at DGS in 1958. The descriptions on your 'Staff' page had me smiling.
A little web research seems to indicate that he was connected with Morley College, London between 1946 and up to [at least] 1951. Whether this was as student or lecturer is not clear. [My guess, from the career history in one of the attachments, is that he worked there part-time, perhaps teaching evening classes, whilst both an undergraduate.] An article in their Autumn 1950 magazine has a wonderful title: "The cult of the mediocre".
He was no better at Colfe's in the 70's. [It seems Colfe's was foolish enough to appoint him after he left Downer.] Seems the man didn't change his ways. I imagine that, to him, was rather like his requests for an essay on "the inside of a ping-pong ball" was to us. [When a boy dared ask what he was supposed to write, the inside of the ball being empty, Wilson's reply was that this was so similar to the boy's head, there should be no difficulty encountered, and the boy should just get on and write. I remember the lad was quite upset when Wilson later took almost an hour's creative writing, in which the lad had expressed significant imagination, and simply tore it up in front of him.
I recall at least one choir rehearsal when he did the 'piano lid onto his thumbs' routine - clearly not one to learn from experience.
My mother well recalls an orchestral performance of the Hava Nagila during which, apart from Wilson's trousers
slowly gliding downwards as the tempo increased [to the point that he was almost mooning at the audience
before such acts were fashionable], the orchestra had reached the maximum speed at which they could play just
before the final round of the piece, such that, when he attempted to increase the tempo further, the result was
that he actually finished conducting almost a full two bars before the orchestra finished playing.
I don't know how Norman's first name became common parlance at Colfe's though - he was known as Old Norman or just plain Norman among the boys when I arrived in '74. If any boy even dared use the "N" initial, let alone "Norman" in his earshot, he had a tendency to wind the lad's side-burns/other turf of hair around his finger until their feet left the ground. It was fun the last time he tried it on me - at a time when I had somewhat exceeded his height!
In the late 1970s, it didn't go unnoticed among my year at Colfe's that NF Wilson also bore some semblance to a rather dischordant far-right political group at the time.
Which reminds me - he also taught Divinity [RE] to the first-years - which was so inspiring and such fun - lesson after lesson writing down his point of view on the subject, as it was dictated to us. Starting with something about the creation story in Genesis being sufficient to satisfy the demands of simple minds... and he had some expertise in having a little dig at the odd Jewish lad in the class - without quite giving them enough ammunition for a complaint. [Actually, Dictator is something of an appropriate label. A mini-Karajan - both on the rostrum and politically.]
It is interesting [though not entirely surprising] that Wilson was such a failure: this was the same man who, after I suffered near-fatal head injuries in a car accident in 1978, signed the Christmas card from the boys in my year [and most of the staff] with the inscription "I hope they put your brain right".
I note Compotus, summer '62, Page 8 makes reference to "the patience of Mr Wilson" - one wonders whether the truth was actually more "the patience of [pupils and the English/drama staff with] Mr Wilson"
Over the last year (2016) or so, I have found myself back in contact with a former teacher (at Colfe's) whose career there started before their appointment of Wilson, and continued long after his departure. In fact, dear old Stan (the Latin Man) served for more than 50 years, both teaching Latin, and, in his younger years, running the U15 cricket squad to great effect.
Stan Wolfson's description of Wilson learning how to play it is eyewateringly funny:
- Tony Seaton, 2017