Tuesday, 6 January 2009

H.A. Twelves -- more

A year ago (5th January 2008) I posted an obituary piece I'd written about my sixth form French teacher at Bradford Grammar School, Mr H.A. Twelves. (To find it, click on the label ‘Twelves’ in the right hand margin.) People – ex-pupils -- have apparently found the piece by Googling Twelves, among them Tony Moore. The other day he added a Comment to that posting, as a result of which we had an email exchange. The substance of what Tony adds to his comment warrants a full posting of its own, so here it is:

"I can add a bit more. He met his wife Margaret at school: in French he was moved up a year and she messed up her exams and was moved down a year, which put them in the same class. His family were reportedly quite poor, which was I think why he went to Uni in Sheffield -- so he could live at home and avoid any boarding costs. Presumably he got all the scholarships which were on offer.

His first teaching job was at a school in Barnsley or somewhere near there. He was just about settling in when war broke out and the school decided that it didn't like employing conscientious objectors and kicked him out. I think this shook him. But he was more than happy to move to BGS, which was much more his kind of school in all sorts of ways.

Of course he never had any trouble with discipline. He kept his predecessor's (probably much used) cane in his study, but mostly as a reminder to himself of what the school had escaped. He said he never imposed a detention on any child in his entire teaching career, except when he was Second Master and boys were brought to him for punishment. He quite peerless in his power of verbal rebuke. And yet also able to wipe the slate clean: I was once summoned to his study to be told off for copying from a neighbour during a written test and I said I was sorry and that was the end of it.

HAT wrote quite a lot of articles in church magazines and a few booklets, and you might hear his voice in this one.

Mind you, where he got his accent from I don't know!

So far as I know he first went to France as a uni student, to Caen; but I don't know for how long. It was probably not a full year, as would be the case today. I don't know how good his accent was either, but I remember he was very fussy about ours -- much more than any of the other French teachers we had (getting us to chant "un bon vin blanc"). And he praised the intonation of the Loire -- he claimed that the aristocracy used to dispatch their youth from Paris to their chateaux during the summer, with the result that the local twang became received pronunciation ...or King's English.

He and Margaret spent many of their summers in France, travelling by car. He reckoned he'd been pretty much everywhere in the country. I don't think he had a favourite place, but he concentrated more on Paris and the area around Nimes for preaching purposes (Nimes is a Protestant area and generally felt by Christadelphians to be more sympathetic). Peter (his eldest) told me that in his youth he and HAT used to go on the train to some town with a couple of backpacks full of leaflets advertising a couple of public lectures, having booked a room in some local hall in advance, and they would spend a couple of days posting them through letterboxes then hope and pray some people would turn up to the lectures.

As for education, he would have been appalled at the pressing of buttons to achieve grades and the focusing on a dictated curriculum. Far better to know your stuff and then treat the exam as a minor distraction.

He was sympathetic, though, to, the scientists of former years who failed Latin and found they needed it for Oxbridge entrance; and who had to mug up on it very hard and very fast. Of course, his pass rate for this group was 100%."

Tony and I agreed, incidentally, in our surprise at how what a high proportion of the staff of the school were unimaginative and indeed incompetent. If that intake had been taught by teachers who were mainly as bright as the pupils, the sky would have been the limit.

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