Was our 'Czech mate' Mr Head licensed to thrill?

THE day I liked best in the holidays. Remember it? You could bet your boots that would be an option in the first essay lesson back at school after the long summer of freedom. Since that spanned above six weeks it gave plenty of scope for composition scop

THE day I liked best in the holidays. Remember it?

You could bet your boots that would be an option in the first essay lesson back at school after the long summer of freedom.

Since that spanned above six weeks it gave plenty of scope for composition scope. Yet it inspired little enthusiasm with me and my Dane School mates.

Indeed, one politically-minded boy advised against ever doing that particular subject for an essay. It was, he declared, always among the choices only on the orders of the government, who were trying to see if what our dads forked out on the family holiday proved they had to be fiddling their income tax.


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Even for herberts like us, whose world didn't go much beyond Stan Matthews and Denis Compton, such far-fetched theorising was hard to swallow.

In this computerised age maybe that kind of big-brothering is chicken feed. Back in the late forties teachers had enough to get on with. More than enough at times, as for instance once befell Dane's Mr Head.

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A talented pianist, he ought really to have used that gift where it was better recognised.

Because classroom discipline was, unfortunately, a part of school mastering with which Mr Head could never cope. A pacifist whose belief, I later learned, led to him being a "conchie" during the war, he eschewed any resort to physical violence, even of the most mild (and well-deserved) kind.

His lessons, as a result, were sheer bedlam.

The rumpus at times drew infuriated headmaster Herbert Sanders from his office to quell it with on-the-spot canings of ringleaders and collective detention for the rest.

Mr Head otherwise did not lack bottle. His wartime stance had required that in spades and so did his subsequent support of communism at a time when a war with that ideology seemed a matter of when, not if.

His chances with us were not helped by the way some colleagues derided his politics and the red tie he always wore. He ploughed resolutely on, regularly confounding our end-of-term predictions we had seen the last of him.

So, there was much nudge-nudge, wink-wink, told-you-so grinning from us, when the first morning assembly after one summer was not accompanied by Mr Head on the piano.

He'd finally packed it in, we smirked.

Within days, Dane's Mr Head and a crowd of like-minded Brits were revealed in the papers, and on the BBC, as being detained by the authorities in Czechoslovakia, where they'd spent the summer road-building to help fellow communists.

Not the most appropriate work for pianist hands! Instead of coming home with warm thanks, they languished inside a railway wagon in a siding, while being checked out as capitalist spies. The affair neared international incident levels before the detainees were let go. The Russians were blamed for it.

A lean, tanned Mr Head finally turned up at Dane, much embarrassed by all the fuss.

When he first resumed his morning assembly piano place there was scattered clapping. Other teachers snuffed that out (it was, after all, at prayers) but not before Mr Head's bronzed features bobbed in brief appreciation above the piano.

The summer and its climax was soon shown to have made him no better at class control.

Our form 3A, though, accorded the respect due someone we were sure had been sent behind the Iron Curtain on secret service. We saw the weak-kneed, pacifist, red-tied, schoolmaster act as a clever long-term cover for a man whose hands, besides the piano and road-building, were lethal weapons when needed.

A stone lighter, Mr Head now looked that part. We were further convinced when the red tie was seen no more, and it became known communism's takeover of the world would have to get along without him.

Later in the course of Recorder duties and at social gatherings, I used to run into Mr Head quite often. He was always very amiable, and once, after reminding him of his unfortunate Czech experience, I joked it would have made a good " The Day I Liked Least in the Holidays" variation.

His nervous laugh suggested if there was a calling he was possibly even less suited to than school-mastering, it was the 007 lark.

The name's Head, Stan Head, doesn't have quite the same ring to it, either.

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