Friday, 6 January 2012

The Secrets Of Wildlife

David Attenborough, the nation’s expert on wildlife, appeared on BBC4 last night in a programme about Grammar Schools only to remind me of other kinds of wild life he may prefer to forget. There was an eerie moment at the beginning when an old photograph was shown of a sports pavilion in front of which was a rugger team.

David was one of them and as the photograph is clearly one of the school team then David must have been good enough to be selected. As some of the Wyggeston School team in Leicester went on to play in the 1st XV’s of a number of decent local sides as well as The Tigers, then an invitation team, and for the county then David would need to be able to play at that level.

David’s father, Frederick, was then Principal of the Leicester University College, a respected academic establishment with high standards, on the same site as the school. It is likely that Frederick would have been hard pushed, despite his position, to pay for a public school education for his three sons and two adopted daughters.

Because Frederick had begun his career as an Elementary School Teacher and had made a good career by long personal study and application. Before then his family were of ordinary Midlands working stock. By one of those strange twists he was in teaching in Liverpool in 1911 just round the corner from Alois Hitler, the elder brother of Adolf. I wonder if Frederick was ever waited on by him in the café?

The University College was founded in 1921 by local patronage and the school was one of the many decayed old grammar schools that were revived at the end of the 19th Century. By the 1930’s new buildings had given it facilities well beyond those of many secondary schools notably the creation of a strong science department. The City had grown rapidly and needed a secondary educated class.

Many of the boys were from the City’s professional, commercial, office and business families but there was a decent intake from the Elementary Schools in the mix. Most would go on to that kind of work at 16 via part time study and only a minority would have entered the Sixth Form to go to University.

It would give David a breadth of experience, contact, variety and interest lost to those who went off to boarding schools. It was a much more adult environment and the world of work and its realities were all about him. Also, as well as working hard, they liked to play hard and Leicester was a rugger town for all classes.

And David was a rugger man as a teenager. The school was adjacent to Victoria Park, then home to several local rugby clubs with the Old Wyggestonians somewhere else. They intermingled a great deal. Some of those in the school at David’s time who stayed in Leicester later went on a memorable rugby tour of Lancashire.

A few years later, one of David’s immediate contemporaries at school, Michael Green, who was a few months younger, wrote “The Art Of Coarse Rugby” as well as a series of articles about these very teams. Looking at it now, even accepting that it told less than half the tale and all of them had been in the armed services, there was some roistering behaviour that makes the Bullingdon look like a lot of maiden aunts.

But then you had to be there, but why did David give up the game for other wildlife?

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