Cleese, Buffery & Doman

Cleese, Buffery & Dolman

The MGS Connection

John Cleese
John Cleese 1949

John Cleese 1949

Tony Buffrey

Tony Buffrey 1980

Rev Dolman at Moseley Grammar School in 1963

Rev Dolman at Moseley Grammar School 1963

Surprisingly, there is a strong connection between Cleese and Moseley! In the 50's, “The Goon Show” on steam radio was eagerly awaited each week, indeed, a famous Chemistry Master (Neddy Bacon) was affectionately nicknamed after Harry “Neddy” Seagoon, a famous goon.

New comedies unfolded in the 60's: Beyond the Fringe, TWTWTW, Monty Python, The Goodies and many more became huge successes via the TV. But where is this Moseley Grammar School connection?

We need to travel to Somerset where John Cleese came from a family originally called Cheese but this was “Caerphilly” changed to Cleese! He went to St Peter's School at Weston-super-Mare in 1949 and eventually went on to become (and still is, I add)  a leading comedian. He was taught by a man who later appeared at MGS  the Rev Dolman for classics. How do I know? Imagine my recent shock when reading Cleese's autobiography “So, Anyway …” when I instantly recognised the Rev A H Dolman's face on p152. Cleese remembers him so accurately in his book:

There was one master who quite liked me, no doubt in part because I quite liked him. Nobody else liked him, though - perhaps because he was physically unattractive. Actually that’s not true. I was being polite. He was ugly. God, was he ugly. He could have won competitions without taking his teeth out. Rather surprisingly - and endearingly - he was also a bit vain: always fussing about his hair and glancing in the mirror. It was strangely touching to see him battle on in this way against insuperable odds - rather like Quasimodo using eyeliner, or the Elephant Man wearing a toupee.

His name was the Reverend A. H. Dolman and he was German. That’s all we knew, although we had a pretty good idea what the A stood for. He was equally repellent in a  variety of other ways. too. he was very fat (sorry! Obese...) and he waddled around, bumping people and blocking doorways, and his breath was not good, so we tried not to stand too closes, and he told laboured pointless jokes which he then explained, and he had a rather guttural (surprise!) accent and spoke an unfamiliar dialect of English, peppered with certain pet phrases like ‘actually speaking’ and ‘really speaking’ and ‘generally speaking’ and ‘normally speaking’ and, especially, ‘in actual fact’, which popped up every twenty seconds or so. So, naturally speaking, we started counting the number of times he said them all. He took over responsibility for teaching us Latin from Captain Lancaster, quite how I managed to learn from him is a mystery, but I did, because I liked Latin and that’s the main reason, I think, why we finished up almost liking each other.

I remember the Rev Dolman at MGS as a slow, stern and pedantic master what are your memories of him? Do you recognise them both in the photos?

Cleese goes on:

Once I had negotiated my first few days, and learned all the boy’s names, I was able to settle into a very comfortable routine. There had been very few changes since 1653: the Reverend Dolman had taken a parish in the Midlands, so Mr Bartlett had resumed teaching senior Classics; competitive boxing had been abolished, much to everyone’s relief; and one of Mrs Tolson’s corgis had died, also much to everyone’s relief; but other wise things were much as they had been when I was a schoolboy.

He indicates that the Rev went on to his own Midlands parish. Where was this? Do you know? Did he replace S.C.N. Smith (“Holy Ben”) or L.A.Tregenza (“Trigger”) for RE or Latin? Can you recall these earlier masters who came before D.G. (Archie) Moore?

The Cleese book had a further shock for me when I recognised the name “Tony Buffery” on p169 for, in my early days at MGS, I vividly remember the plays, revues and concerts which involved Tony Buffery (a brilliant Buffoon). He had us all in fits as he ad-libbed his way across the school stage - this was around 1954. Do you recall these plays? They were all much less serious that the ones which Anton Lesser later performed in the 1960's before he found fame in Wolf Hall, Dickensian and many films, plays, TV and RSC productions.

But I digress the photo shows Tony in about 1980, perhaps you can still see him heavily disguised:

Of the rest of the cast, I though that the most interesting chap was a psychology postgraduate student called Anthony Buffery who was doing research on the memory of baboons. He was very bright, and I managed to learn quite a lot of academic psychology from our class. He couldn’t act for toffee, but he did weird solo acts that were extraordinarily original, and that he always invented on his own. His appearance helped his eccentricity; he was very tall and strong and upright, with a long, very pale face, huge eyes and a permanently surprised expression. An example of his work; he did a mime of a javelin thrower at an ancient battle who takes a long time before he actually launches his javelin... and then has nothing else to contribute to the occasion. Variations on embarrassment played a large part in Anthony’s humour.

Tony Buffery was a very bright (and well-buffered) scholar who went from MGS to Cambridge in the mid 50's and here is this extra-ordinary link I spotted in Cleese's book for he actually worked with and greatly impressed John Cleese.

Tony enjoyed great comedic fame and respect from many other well-known wits at Cambridge: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie, David Hatch, Eric Idle, Clive James, Graeme Garden, Terry Jones and Michael Palin besides, of course, John Cleese.

Our Moseleian Hero Anthony Walter Harold Buffery, born 9 September 1939, clinical neuro-psychologist  became a respected teacher, researcher, actor, comedian and writer alongside his incongruous and alternative career in academic psychology. As a member of The Cambridge Footlights, he contributed as a writer, musician and performer to many sketches - This Way Out 1965, My Girl Herbert 1964, Stuff What Dreams are Made Of 1963, A Clump of Plinths 1962, Double Take 1961, Twice a Fortnight 1967. Do you remember these productions?

In 1967 Clive James enjoyed a two-man show with him  he said “Tony was and probably still is an astonishingly funny man not least physically”. Clive admired him hugely.

Tony was also brilliant as a solo comedian.

As Cleese recalls:

But just occasionally it’s not quite as simple as that, which is why I found Tony Buffery’s solos so fascinating to watch. At one moment in the show we pretended something had gone wrong; there was an awkward pause, and the Tony would be pushed on to the stage and would stand there looking embarrassed and confused. He was wonderful at this, as he had an astonishing range of distressed expressions, intensified by his alarmingly pale complexion. He now explained to the audience that he had been asked to ‘fill in’ and that he would do so by performing some farmyard impressions. Then he did his impersonations of a cow, a cockerel and a sheep - and they were all absolutely awful. He apologised,... This time the audience laughed, partly out of relief. When they did, Tony jumped up and down with excitement and called to the wings, ‘They laughed! They laughed!’ Then he thanked them for laughing, and said that as they had liked the joke so much, he’d tell it again. So he told it again, exactly the same way. Silence. Tony looked crestfallen. He looked at the audiences, paused, and then said, ‘Please laugh.’ I have never felt such discomfort in the theatre. Then Tony confided in the audience. ‘Please laugh. My mother’s in the audience tonight.’ By now, some people were trying to  hide under their seats. Tony scanned the balcony for some time looking for his mother, and then smiled sadly and said, ‘It’s all right, she’s gone now’.

 

He excelled as a natural artist on the stage. When crises occurred he was dependable and always adapted valiantly and hilariously as he rose to the dilemma and occasion:

He excelled as a natural artist on the stage. When crises occurred he was dependable and always adapted valiantly and hilariously as he rose to the dilemma and occasion:

However, his heart, brain and intellectual energies returned him back along the academic path as a famed and brilliant psychologist  as a “Google” search will reveal, he excelled and enjoyed an international reputation for his researches in the 70's on emotional and cognitive behaviour in man and mammals (especially baboons).

Tony was therefore such a multi-talented and multi-skilled polymath of a Moseleian but take heed of MY verbs.

Sadly Tony passed away in December 2015, his passing was reported in The Guardian which also commented on the amazing contribution he made to the world of clinical neuropsychology and comedy.

So I have explored some intriguing links but there are many other questions and connections which now need answering.

Perhaps you can supply the gaps for a future article in the Gazette.

 

My thanks go to Random House Books for permission to use their photographs and text from John Cleese's book “So, Anyway…” which is an entertaining, funny and evocative trip down all our memory lanes with this curious twist with MGS.

© Dr Colin N Harris