The Leas School,  Hoylake

Midnight Alarm

contributed by Adrian Stevenson

It was nearly the end of the Easter term of... it must have been 1963, the 1963 school photo shows the two culprits together. There was a spell of dry weather, and the headmasters had promised the school an extra half-holiday, perhaps for the weather, perhaps for school or national success in some sport, perhaps for some Conservative electoral success (few and far-between in 1963!).

At that time of year it was still daylight when the youngest went to bed, though dark by the time the senior lights were out. Eventually even the most talkative and most mischievous laid down their heads for the last time, and silence reigned. The last noises of all were the school "matron" (usually a young woman in her 20s) walking the ten o'clock round of all the dormitories, and perhaps a couple of the housemaids pounding up the stairs after an evening assignation.

On a normal night, peace would last until our wake-up call at about 8 o'clock.

brrrrr-rrr This night brrrr-rr was not brrrrr-rrr to be brrrr-rr a normal night BRRRRR-RRR.

Crashing into our sleep came this awful noise, normally heard only in daylight, once a term, for fire practice - senior boys would be stationed on the stairs to act as impassable flames, and everyone would have to use an emergency route, find a way to the gym, line up and be counted. No-one blocking the stairs tonight, but everyone half-asleep, some unable to get their dressing-gowns on, some without slippers, stumbling in circles.

But we didn't stumble for long, there was no need for any roll-call in the gym. When we reached the stairs we found a large note: APRIL FOOL. Which was all pretty exciting for the boys. But what must it have been like for the four live-in adults? Francis "Fluff" Fetherstonhaugh, joint headmaster, 53, with a heart problem; Frank "Fiery Fred" Huntley, 24, fit and alert; the two matrons, in their 20s, both fairly sensible; all now responsible for 100 8- to 14-year-olds in confusion. Not to mention the teenage live-in housemaids - who looked after them, I wonder?

Anyway, back to bed we all went, no doubt simmering down pretty slowly.

The next day dawned, and up we got, had our cold baths, dressed, went downstairs, and did whatever we usually did of a morning before going in to breakfast. A good few members of staff would always be at breakfast, partly no doubt to keep order, partly also to get whatever advantage they could from their employer. Fluff was nearly always there - I suppose that, being a prefect, I was usually sitting at his table; but on this occasion I was at the far end of the room, so I did not see him during the meal.

At the end of the meal, Fluff called for silence. This was unusual, and of course ominous. When excited or annoyed, Fluff would go red in the face and splutter a bit, breathing heavily through his nose. So after a bit of a splutter and a sniff, he started in: "Last night someone played a disgraceful practical joke, waking us all in the middle of the night. Misuse of a fire alarm is stupid and dangerous; so whoever set off the alarm must also be stupid and dangerous. Who did it?" Silence, clearly expected in the little folded-paper script he was reading from. No doubt we all stared round at the usual suspects. "As no-one has admitted to this, we have decided to cancel the extra half-holiday which was due -"

"Headmaster!" called a voice from the middle of the room, "I can't let that happen. I set off the alarm."

Shocked silence all round, the Headmaster redder, spluttering and hissing like a kettle.

"Headmaster!" called another voice, from the side of the room, "I can't let him say that. It was actually me."

Even more shock, even more silence, Fluff now like a steam train (we still had them then). Clearly Fluff had not seen Spartacus, or he would have exploded there and then in anticipation of an endless series of confessions.

Fluff found a tremulous voice: "The holiday is still cancelled. And I want to see both of you in my study immediately." Exit, pursued by a stare.

So who were those two culprits? (And they were indeed the culprits.) The first voice was that of Kenneth Hughes, a Welsh English teacher (if you see what I mean); the second voice was that of Keith Norman, a quarter-Austrian Greek teacher (again, if you see what I mean). Both had clearly enjoyed a Sunday evening in the Ring O'Bells or somewhere similar, and had afterwards crept into the school late at night, ready to cause their ill-considered mayhem.

Kenneth Hughes did not reappear at The Leas after the end of the school year. Keith Norman, perhaps surprisingly, did; and he remained at the school until it closed, 22 years later.

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