The life and times of Dizzy Downes

Allan George Downes, 1947 and now far beyond


Being a spare boy from birth (from where I came from there was a surplus of spare boys per square foot of London but I seemed to be sparer than most which not being liked by anyone and my uncles and aunts in particular, probably had a lot to do with it if not everything) I hit Plymouth house in around late 47 loaded with attitude and a fine selection of blossoming zits and several luminous boils, intending to change the current rules and Pecker Brownhills strap in particular for something more appropriate to a spare boy of note - like an extra iced bun at teatime for example but an ambition that only ended in a confrontation with Miss Brownhill's nose, her strap in particular, and a sore backside or two before bedtime!

Previous to my arrival, I was the star inmate of many a boys home and as obnoxious as was required which meant obnoxious enough to undergo several memorable slipperings of note which turned me into some kind of hero but also got me packed off, cardboard box and conkers, frogs snakes and slugs, onto the nearest form of transport, anything that could move me from A to B without too many people noticing that it was and heading for another county, any county, another home, any home.

By now, KH was the last known bastion between me and the outside world and the French Foreign Legion in particular as this seemed to be the only place that would tollerate me and my astounding but unexplainable haircut but, and more importantly, give me a gun and allow me, in fact insist, that I should shoot somebody with it as soon as possible providing of course that they weren't French but as many Germans as I liked, or didn't like, which was all of them coz they shot my Dad and Uncle Bert but not in the same place - one in the head, one in the foot but both in Libyia.

After Plym house, boiled haddock, Queenie's startling breasts that transfixed many a boy even if he didn't quite understand why he was being transfixed and why he should be taking in large uncontrolable gulps of air, the removal of Pecker Brownhill and the outrageous introduction of Dickie Durrant ( and his plans for a Plymouth Moon Shot with a threepenny damp rocket launched from a milk bottle in the adjacent field which spluttered lifeless whilst still in the bottle then flopped out and set the odd spare boy's trousers alight ) I was shunted off to the top school, Fort Sheffield, and a certain Mr John Woollan, his cane, and several exceedingly memorable six-of-the-bests that if ever put to the test, would have floored a rhino. To say they stung would have been the understatement of the nineteen forties, for a week I did nothing but walk into walls!

In the years to come I learnt to swim but didn't want to, leap over Sarsden Brook during a healthy cross country run that crippled most boys if it didn't kill them outright, and that was at the starting line and a few before they even got there and the odd one or two who didn't even know where the starting line was anyway but collapsed and died just the same and just as expected.

I joined the scouts much to the dismay of Jock Nobel and Stuart Brindley, scout masters supreme in perfectly pressed trouses which couldn't have been said about anyone else on the Hill, where the whole idea was to save old ladies in distress at road junctions from falling underneath buses in particular but due to a serious lack of both - old ladies and busses that is - on the hill, I excelled myself instead by getting wedged between two Welsh type rocks half way up some mountain in Wales which required the entire fire brigade of Snowdonia - two water tenders, a pump and a knackered Fire Brigade issue horse - to set me free.

During my precious youth on the hill that didn't seem precious to anyone in particular, especially when I wanted second helpings of anything lashed up by Dixie Dean that would have choked a mountain goat I learnt how to disect a frog, whether it wanted disecting or not, how to speak fluent French that a French Strumpet on the Riviera once concluded by my fluentcy that I was either Dutch, a possible Tibetan or a Spanish outcast at best.

Another thing that I learnt, and most painfuly I might add, was not to do bunks in the middle of the night trying to reach London only to be brought back and undergo a lesson in one's sense of direction ( Leefield Poles looked nothing like London no more than did Churchill village ) by way of a very hard headmaster's beating the following morning after Assembly and, on another occasion, "sent to Coventry" smarting from six of the ultimate bests for a week !

Eventually after 'serving my time', JW secured me an apprenticeship with the Daily Mirror in Fleet Street but the No 52 bus from Mill Hill passed the Cricklewood Railway Yards long before it reached Fleet street and when it did, I wasn't on it - and why ?

Because like any newly left school lever and with a haircut to prove it, I wanted to be ---wait for it---- an engine driver - what else ?!!

Dizzy D


Dizzy D, now living in his best years, relates below some great episodes from his time on The Hill, which are of course a point in time and of that era, and he notes;

"I know I refer to corporal punishment [and use certain terms - Editor] quite often in my ramblings but that's how it was in the 40's and most boys suffered it at least once during their time on the hill and I really no more, or any harder, than any other boy who got up to the same things that I did where it was agreed by all concerned (but not including me of course and I certainly didn't give anyone permission to do so ! ) that it was best settled across one's backside in true boarding school fashion draped over a chair in Woollan's study!
Anyway, whenever I mention my school days to any of my grandkids the question always pops up "Did you get the cane at school granddad, and did it hurt ?" and I guess a kind of morbid fasination and, of course, mentioned in most public school biographies but you can edit it out if you feel it necessary but it's just the way it was and many a boy tasted a good dose of it when needed now and then but it never killed anyone though six from Woollan came pretty close !"
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  • School Days

    School Days - Sunday, 17 May 2015

    Nigel Edward Charles Tanner said on the 20-01-2015 at 15:02
    Thanks for these really enjoyable articles, Dizzy. Were you the student about whom Dickie Durrant (I thought Uncle Reg might have been him to start with!)wrote, on your school report, about your work in Art, "Good brushwork" when you had spent most of your time sweeping up? Have only read three pages - looking forward to the rest! You mention having grandchildren so best wishes to you and all the family. Nigel Tanner, Bradford 1948-54.

  • School Days

    School Days - Sunday, 17 May 2015

    These 'Life and Times of Dizzy Downes' articles have been re-produced and presented on our new website directly from his comments on our former website. They are a wonderful insight into school life at Kngham Hill nearly 70 years ago. That might seem a long time in the past but many aspects of his stories will resonate and be remembered fondly by most ex-pupils through all time, even before his own time on The Hill to the present day.

    If you like a particular story please take the time to 'Rate' it with a simple click and if any make you laugh feel free to comment.

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