Coming Clean… at Long Last
by John Garratt (1966-62), California
It was just before Easter 1960 and that year’s MGS Drama Society’s, Easter Production was Toad of Toad Hall. The part of Toad was, of course, being played by my good mate Tony Jackson, who went on to enjoy a successful career, in television, on the stage and in the recording studio. I was to play the Court Usher in Toad’s trial scene.
The deal with after-school rehearsals was, if rehearsals ran past 9:00pm you were excused classes the next day until after the mid-morning break. This was the case one morning when Tony and I arrived at school about the same time and a little before the break. Classes were still in progress and the hallways and corridors deserted.
Tony and I stood chatting in the entrance lobby next to the main assembly hall when our eyes both came to rest on the fire alarm mounted on the wall next to the notice board. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Tony asked me. As it so happened, I was.
We stood for several minutes discussing the pros, cons and long-term repercussions of sounding the alarm and having 900 boys, 2 or 3 dozen masters plus cooks, caretakers and other assorted folk assembled in straight lines in the middle of the school field.
Obviously, the pros far exceed the cons and we decided to go forward!!
I’m not sure what a modern school fire alarm looks like but in those days a fire alarm was an elongated, inverted, horseshoe-shaped piece of steel, hanging on a wall behind a sheet metal cover. The cover was held in place by a heavy steel bar that was designed to be used to beat on the afore- mentioned horseshoe and produce the desired high-pitched ring.
The standard “In Case of Fire” school instructions said that if, at any time, you heard an alarm being sounded and see another alarm with the cover still in place, you should sound that alarm before exiting the building and finding your particular ‘Form-line’ on the school field.
Our plan was that I would go up to the main corridor, Tony would remain in the lobby, sound the lobby alarm just once and then exit the area with all due haste. I would hear his alarm and sound the one at the top of the stairs for as long as it took for me to hear other alarms being sounded. This plan ensured that Tony was well clear of the area very quickly and that I could swear on a stack of Bibles that I sounded my alarm only because I heard another being sounded.
Well, the plan worked to perfection and (as I recall) in 2 minutes and 35 seconds approximately 1,000 individuals were standing in straight lines in the middle of the school field. However, Tony and I had not anticipated what we saw next, which was, 3 fire engines, lights flashing and sirens screaming, come roaring, at flat out speed, onto the school’s front driveway.
I suppose that since no one on the staff knew of a planned drill they had to presume that indeed the school was on fire and summoned the fire brigade. In all likelihood this also explains why the school was evacuated in record time.
By now Tony and I were stood (pale of face) in our ‘Form-line’, thinking that this had not been the greatest of ideas, that it would be no time before it was determined who was not in class, that we would undoubtedly be found out, that DBG’s (Bruce Gaskin’s) wrath would come raining down on us and that we’d be finishing our school careers some place else. For this reason we felt that silence was of the utmost importance and that we would never breathe a word of this to anyone. However, we never heard another thing about the incident and we happily finished our school careers at Moseley.
It’s now several years since Tony passed-away and I felt it long overdue that I finally come clean for the two of us.