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Old Tauntonians' 99th Annual Reunion Dinner

Jeff White
The Dinner Chairman, Jeff White and his wife Margaret

The 2009 Reunion Dinner was held at the Southampton Park Hotel on 7 November 2009, when 95 Old Tauntonians and their guests were present.

The Chairman of the Dinner was Jeff White (1942-1951) who was accompanied by his wife, Margaret. The guests at the top table were Councillor Brian Parnell, Ms Ann Rogan, Alice Wrighton (Principal, Taunton's College), John Davis (Old Bournemouthians), Maurice Rowles (Old Edwardians) and Mike Conlan (Old Symondians) Old Tauntonians accompanying our guests at the table were Martin Rowe (Secretary, Dinner Committee), Ron Allison (MC and Toastmaster) and Bernie Thomason (Proposer of the toast to The College). Guests from the College Staff were Matt Atkinson, Annelise Miller and Jane Higgins.

The hotel's public address system did not work from the start! Given this was the second year in succession that this had happened, a parody on Oscar Wilde's words on parentage seems appropriate; 'To lose the pa system once may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose it twice looks like carelessness'. Fortunately, the ability of the evening's speakers to 'project' combined with the slightly lesser number in attendance (thus bringing them nearer the front) made light of a potential problem.

Before the start of the evening's proceedings Roger Parsons, Chairman of the OTA and of The Dinner Committee spoke of the Annual Reunion Dinner of 2010. He confirmed the announcement made in the OT newsletter and in the 'flyer' enclosed with the evening's programme that the 2010 Reunion Dinner will be held at The Guidhall, Southampton. The year would be a very special one as it marked the 250th anniversary of the founding of Taunton's School, the 100th Annual Dinner and the 90th Birthday of the doyen of Taunton's, Ted Colenutt (Taunton's schoolboy, Taunton's schoolmaster, Taunton's Second Master and President of the Old Tauntonians' Association) Roger urged ALL Old Tauntonians to consider personally attending the event and also to gather together their Taunton's contemporaries in order to celebrate in style an occasion the like of which would not be repeated.

Ron Allison (1942-50) opened with a general welcome to those present and, for those attending for the first time, explained the format for the evening. He particularly mentioned the absence of John Martin, Immediate past Chairman of the OTA, who was recovering from Swine Flu. There had been some hopes he would be able to attend, in which event an isolated table had been made available for him! One innovation was to be the use, after dinner and at the top table, of a Hoggit Port Decanter. The decanter had been purchased from a bequest made by Ken Carmichael and was engraved with the Taunton's crest and the words :

"Remembering a devoted Old Tauntonian. Ken Carmichael - at Taunton's School 1927-1934"

Table Shot

It is customary during the meal for the Chairman of the Dinner to 'take wine' with individuals or groups of his choice. On this occasion the Chairman twice took wine. The first was with 'All Hockey Players', which brought a goodly number of diners to their feet. The second was with 'All those who were evacuated to Bournemouth during the Second World War.' The response to this was also well 'supported', including many who had stood for the previous call.

Traditionally, the first part of the evening ends with three toasts, taken in succession; The Loyal Toast, The Memory of Alderman Taunton and The Memory of The Fallen. The Memorial Window is, of course, in Tauntons College. However, we have an excellent and realistic large facsimile of it, which, illuminated and with the rest of the room darkened, reproduces well the scene as it used to be at Taunton's School and the College. We stand in silence, Last Post is played and, afterwards, the Chairman speaks the well-known verse from Binyon's poem. It is, as ever, a very solemn and moving few moments.

After the interval came the Toast to Absent Friends - for which Steve White was specifically mentioned - and the speeches. At that point, because of the failed microphones, the MC invited those at the back of the room to come forward. This proved to be an excellent and practical idea that somehow made the addresses much more intimate and friendly.

Bernie Thomason (1955-60) was the 'First Speaker' of the evening. On the programme the speech is shown as a toast to The College. In fact it has several functions. At its end comes that toast but beforehand the speaker must welcome the guests and, perhaps more difficult, 'warm up the audience' for what is to come. Bernie made it look easy! Relaxed and effortlessly he welcomed and complimented the Civic and Staff guests before referring to those less fortunate individuals representing the Old Bournemouthians, Old Edwardians and Old Symondians! We were then treated - and it was a treat - to some very humorous reminiscences of his schooldays and one story involving playing for the OT Cricket Club. During a match he was hit with a cricket ball in quite the wrong part of his anatomy. He was mistakenly treated with Ralgex with the consequence that he was one of very few people whose voice had broken at age 13 and again at age 29! Bernie's concluding remarks included commiseration to Alice Wrighton for the disappointment concerning the withdrawal of funding for the building of a new college. Despite that he was certain that the College would go forward to greater success.

Alice Wrighton responded by proposing the health of The Old Tauntonians' Association. She has the ability to quickly establish a rapport between herself and her listeners and then to hold their attention. There are no frills or airs in that she just stands up and delivers, directly, with humour and with a natural charm. Coming to Taunton's had been the best thing she'd ever done - and she loved it! Although - as an ex-Girls Grammar School girl it was like coming home, it was not to a cosy world but to somewhere that presented challenges and where there is scope for improvement and development.

She had known that at the College there was an excellent and highly committed team of staff to support her - and she still had them! She was also grateful for the moral support given to her by the Old Tauntonians. She mentioned particularly the work done by David Defty as a College Governor and that by Ted Colenutt, 'regular visitor to the College, a great friend and link-person'. The past year, to quote Dickens, had been 'the best of times and the worst of times'.

The worst had included:

  • - the impact of draconian funding cuts and pressures affecting staff morale
  • - tough competition from other colleges and from schools trying to set up their own 6th Forms
  • - the total collapse of the National Further Education capital building programme and the loss of any prospect of a new building. A loss of £800,000 on planning and reorganisation costs, with no recompense for the broken promise, had to be absorbed into the accounts.

'What a fiasco, what a missed opportunity, what a waste!'

But there were the best of times - reasons to celebrate:

  • Strong morale
  • Good Summer results 30 student with 3 or more Grade As at A Level : 3 students to Oxbridge and others to Durham, Warwick, Bristol and Southampton Universities
  • More than 160 more students from Southampton schools than in 2008
  • Continued sporting success
    • Hampshire Colleges Football Cup : an England under 19 football international: a representative in the British Colleges national team: the Hampshire Under 19 Table Tennis champion: the Hampshire Table Tennis Team champions
  • Local, National and International Community Service including
    • a production of Cosi Fan Tutte at the Nuffield Theatre
    • drama students working with terminally ill children at Naomi House Hospice
    • overseas voluntary work in Tanzania and Romania
    • the winner of the Channel 4 Countdown Champion of Champions Award, Steve Briers!

Table Shot

Alice reminded us of her expressed determination, in last year's address, to arrest the pointless drift of young people travelling daily by bus and train out of Southampton for their education. Mission accomplished! There was increased September recruitment, up by 15% - one of only two Sixth Form Colleges in the country to grow by more than 10%. This meant an increase of 200 compared to the previous year, 160 of them from Southampton schools. Currently there are enquiries from students who are still making the daily journey to Winchester who wish to transfer, mid-year, to Taunton's College. 'So far, so good, but we need your support in encouraging friends and family who are hesitating to give us a SERIOUS look before joining the queues of traffic that I pass every day!'

Of the future Alice owned to having to accept more modest buildings, raising money themselves and exploiting all potential additional sources of income. She was drawn back to the vestibule portrait of Richard Taunton (with his ships in the background) and the source of funding the new school back in 1760 - with wagonloads of silver and gold seized from the French. 'We need some more such wagon loads, so if any of you know anyone with a share of the Euromillions lottery, please pass their name to me or any one of my colleagues!'

Alice confirmed the College were looking forward to the 250th anniversary of Taunton's, in 2010. Exciting plans were in place. Glenda Gardiner, Jane Higgins and Annelise Miller (the last two described as Taunton's Legends) were working with the Old Tauntonians on certain events. Ideas included a Summer Garden Party, sports events and a Dragon's Den type of Business Competition. The BBC had been invited to broadcast a programme from the College - possibly Any Questions? or Question Time. College events will have a special anniversary flavour - including the Annual Art Exhibition and the Choral Concert. The latter will be at the Guildhall and will include a work written by OT Dominic Muldowney (Composer in Residence, National Theatre) in which the soloist will be OT Karla Powell (oboist).

Alice concluded as she did last year, on an upbeat note. 'I'm sure we will have a great year together. It's a case of 'Onward, ever onward', making Taunton's more and more irresistible and building on what we have. We'll be a college passionate about learning and about achieving success: famous in and beyond Southampton for providing the very best for a very wide range of young people - but also proud of its history and heritage. This brings me, very neatly, back to you, for you are very much part of the College - of its past and of its future.'

The speech received generous and enthusiastic applause from the audience while Ron Allison, when congratulating Alice, suggested that financially it might help if the College presented itself to the government as a bank!

Introducing Jeff White, Ron commented on the number of years that Jeff was at Taunton's School - nine, in fact! He had been so young when he started that he remained in Form 1 for two years - the first time the school had a creche! Jeff had been a member of the Association ever since he left school, had played hockey for it and was currently the OT Membership Secretary, the OT Website Manager and heavily involved in the production of News & Views. It was not hard to realize that this was almost a full time job, 'although Jeff very quietly just gets on with it!' Illustrating the lasting nature of Tauntonian friendships, Ron said that Jeff was a member of the 1952 OT Hockey Team that played against the Limburg Hockey Team at the Sports Centre. The team included four people who, nearly sixty years later, now serve together on the Dinner Committee - Ted Colenutt, Jeff, Johnny Bathurst and himself. Ron also paid tribute to Jeff's father, George White, who was the Sports Editor of the Southern Daily Echo for over 30 years. George White had helped Ron as a young journalist just as Percy Allison had helped the young Jeff at the school.

Table Shot

Jeff White thanked the Dinner Committee for being accorded the honour of being the evening's Chairman and those present for attending and sharing the occasion with Margaret and him. He recalled that the current year was the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II and the evacuation of Taunton's to Bournemouth. He was sure that many at the dinner could recall the evocative photo of Doc. King leading a crocodile of Taunton's boy down the hill to the Central Station. Some at the dinner would have been part of that crocodile. He said, 'Tonight we have John Davis as our guest from the Old Bournemouthians' Association and I would like to take this opportunity, through him, of thanking Bournemouth School and the people of Bournemouth for their generous hospitality and care for the Taunton evacuees. I would also like to thank the OBA for the very warm welcome they give to the band of OTs that they kindly invite to join them at their Dinner each year.'

Referring to this particular dinner, Jeff said the 99 Not Out sounded good to him and was some achievement.'We must be doing something right! Let us all make sure that we greet our century, next year, in a FULL Guildhall, with a standing ovation.'

At this year's Summer Lunch Ken East had said that the OT spirit in evidence was down to the Staff of Taunton's School. Jeff was sure that was true. He believed that the ethos of an organisation is set at the top and flows down. 'For most of my time at Taunton's the top was 'Hoppy' Hemmings. Not a very politically correct expression but we used it with affection. I had an early introduction to that ethos. I was called to Hemming's study at the end of my first term in Form 1. I waited nervously to find out the reason for the summons and when I entered his study I was amazed to hear him say, 'As the youngest boy in the School, you have as much responsibility, as the School Captain, to maintain the School's traditions'. R. Cooke was the School Captain and to someone in Form 1 he was approaching a Greek God! Although probably the smallest, as well as the youngest boy, I walked back to my class 10 feet tall! I have never forgotten those words.'

While still in his first year Jeff had a chance to see another side of the senior staff. Just before lunch one day he was walking to the front of the class, when somebody put their foot out and he fell to the floor, hitting an elbow on a desk frame. He managed to get through lunch but the first class after lunch was gym and George Carter started off by throwing a medicine ball about. He immediately noticed that Jeff could not catch it properly and took him into his office at the end of the gym and asked what was wrong. On hearing what had happened he looked at my arm and said it was dislocated. He thereupon carried out one of those amazing manoeuvres - and 'click' the arm was normal. At that point, Joe Chalk walked into the office and, naturally, enquired what was going on. George explained and Joe turned to Jeff and said, 'Hit me in the stomach'. Jeff, as it happened, had been taught to box, so gave him a left to his stomach, with all his weight behind it. But Joe had tensed his stomach muscles and took the punch - still smiling! Jeff was passed fit to continue the gym class! He thought about Joe Chalk in a different way after that and carries the mind image of the incident to this day.

Table Shot

'Many of you have told me in your letters and emails, that you realise the impact that Taunton's had on your life. Certainly, some great masters helped shape me. It is rather invidious to pick out particular names but I must mention Rocker Cole, as he set me on my career in chemistry. I cannot help wondering what current educationalists would have made of Rocker! But he was an inspiring master both in and out of School. I have to thank Dick Spooner for precise use of language and, I often think, my analytical approach to issues. But there are so many others Percy Allison, Bow Archer, George Carter, Doug Collar, Sammy Luker, and 'Tank' Taylor and last, but by no means least, Ted.

Ted did not teach me any of my examination subjects. Those of you who were at School at the same time as me and sat the old School Certificate and then the first A level examinations, will remember that Mr. Challacombe, or rather Joe Chalk (as he was the master of the timetable) introduced Common Periods, which were non-examination lessons to broaden our general education. After filling my timetable with the maximum of gym lessons allowed (I was keen on gymnastics) I decided on Geography as one of my common periods. Ted took the class and amongst other things we studied Surveying and Meteorology. Surveying the School was fun but it was meteorology and in particular cloud formations that stayed with me the rest of my life, especially during my sailing days.I often remember those lessons when I look at the sky. You may not believe it but weather forecasters rarely get the forecast really wrong, they just get the time and place wrong! (Is that like doing an Eric Morecombe and saying, 'I am playing the right notes but not necessarily in the right order'? Ed.) So, with a bit of luck and some basic met knowledge, you can guess what is actually going to happen to the weather.

It was Ted that started me playing hockey. I had always played football, as my grandfather had played for Everton and England and, in his latter days, the Saints but I was a rather poor footballer! One day, when I was in the Lower Sixth, Ted stopped me in the corridor and said they were short of a goalkeeper for the 2nd Hockey XI. My first real game was on the fantastic grounds of Canford School and although I say it myself, I played a blinder. As goalkeepers will tell you, it is easier to do that when your opponents are constantly attacking! So I became a hockey goalkeeper and soon found myself playing for the OT's lst XI. In those days hockey goalkeepers had a lot of licence to attack forwards and I loved the action.

Later, it was also Ted that stopped me outside W H Smith, in Above Bar, and suggested that I might like to join the Hockey Club Committee. My first real job was Treasurer. All the cash side was fine but Frank Bradley, the previous Treasurer, had run the Hockey Club's finances as though it was a division of General Motors and I found the Balance Sheet a nightmare! Luckily, I was able to get rid of the job after a year.

Jeff later became Secretary - he felt it much more his type of job. To him the Hockey Club was an example of Tauntonians at their best and being part of it brought a great deal of enjoyment. After University Jeff did National Service in the Royal Signals. It was, he said, a learning experience but probably not worth two years! He certainly did not learn about the rest of the world, as his overseas posting was to the Isle of Wight!

After National service I joined Johnson & Johnson - another organisation with a strong ethos (but only coming up to 125 years old, rather than 250. As a young chemist, I worked on some interesting projects. I always remember one. Polished stainless steel sheet had recently been made and I went to see one of the old famous Sheffield steel manufacturers about how we could protect the polished surface. In discussing the requirements, the first thing they said was that the product must not stain the steel! When I showed surprise they said, 'We are calling it stainless but it is actually rustless steel!' On enquiring further they said the product had to be no more staining than Sheffield tap water! I thought that was a marvellous statement and it took me back to the history of steel making in Sheffield.

The Chairman
The Chairman delivers his Address

Later, when I had become Research Manager, I used to think how lucky I was to have five laboratories, working in very different technologies, serving very different markets, from joint replacement to J-cloths and Baby Products to disposable syringes. It is funny to think today that it was quite a task convincing medical authorities that sterile disposable syringes made medical and economic sense. I was lucky to be involved when so many technologies were evolving in the medical and surgical field. I will always remember meeting a surgeon, in theatre, who was having difficulty with a new product to aid aseptic surgery. To my surprise he was the spitting image of James Robertson Justice and he looked over his glasses and said, 'I suppose you have come to tell us, we are doing it all wrong!'

I have been lucky in life. I had wonderful parents and was especially lucky to meet Margaret. Lucky that, although we lived in the shadow of King Edward's School, there was only one school my father wanted me to attend and that was Taunton's. That may have been influenced by the fact that he knew Walter Lancashire, Harry Spooner and George Carter, through their love of sport. Ron has mentioned that my father was the Sports Editor of the Echo. It did have some advantages, such as watching the Saints and Hampshire from the Press Box. Occasionally I had to earn my place by running messages for visiting journalists. It may seem strange today but the Dell and the County Ground did not have enough telephones for big matches. My father organised runners to take copy to local houses and phone it through to the pressroom. I will never forget one day in the Summer of '48 phoning the words, 'Five digger green scalps lay on the County Ground', when Charlie Knott took 5 for 57 against the Australians, as they were bundled out for 117. It was great seeing that as a headline the next day. However, there was one strange side effect to this benefit. It taught me to watch sport in complete silence. Many people find that most peculiar!

A chance meeting with John Martin, who, unfortunately as you have heard, cannot be here tonight due to swine flu, led me back to the OTA Executive. First as Website Manager and later to following Peter Burrows as Membership Secretary, luckily after he had put in a lot of hard work sorting out our membership systems. I was very lucky to have John Bathurst as Honorary Secretary when I took over. I like to think we have made a good team. His advice, guidance and support to me have been tremendous for which I will be eternally grateful. Few of you will ever know the effort and dedication that John has applied to his role. As you know, John is retiring at the AGM. The Association indeed, owes him a great debt of gratitude.

In finishing Jeff thanked the Dinner Committee for all their work in organizing the evening. The dinner ended with the traditional singing of Auld Lang Syne although for some the evening ended just a little later! We were entertained this year by three quite excellent speeches, the link between them and the proceedings of the evening being forged by the ever-eloquent Ron Allison. On all sides one could hear remarks that can be summed up in one sentence; 'it was one of the best dinners in recent years.'


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