A Fawlty decision - part one
- Credit: PA
I had to reach up high, but managed to lock my right arm around his waist. My backside rubbed against his, and I began to push.
Suddenly the scrum collapsed and I found myself sat on his head!
A muddy face pushed itself up between my legs, smiled at me, and said “Pleased to meet you!”
We were playing in 'third game' at Clifton College’s rugby ground, at Beggar’s Bush, on the other side of the Avon Gorge, in Bristol.
He was a gangly, 16-year-old, second row forward, who usually spilled the line-out ball, and I was a 14-year-old wing forward (flanker), who never got to the fly half in time!
After the match, we got on to the school bus to take us back over the suspension bridge, and, as luck would have it, we found ourselves sitting together.
When the bus was full, the driver called out our names to check that no-one was missing. “Mann (Oakeley’s)” “Yes, Sir!” “Cleese (South Town)” “Yes, Sir!” answered my neighbour.
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On the drive back, I said to him “I’d much prefer to be playing soccer!”
His eyes lit up. “Me too! Every time” he replied.
John Cleese, and I, were both soccer mad in a school which played only rugby, and there weren’t many of us!
During the months that followed, we often bumped into each other during break times, and then, one day, we found that we were both in the same classroom, for one period each week. We grabbed a double desk together.
Cleese (we never used Christian names) was a day boy, whose family came from Weston-super-Mare, while I was a boarder.
This meant that he went home as soon as the school day ended, so, perhaps because of this, we never had chance to become closer friends.
His hero was big John Atyeo of Bristol City, while mine was Sammy Collins, Torquay United’s, Bristol-born, top goal-scorer.
Soon after our Beggar’s Bush meeting, Atyeo was picked for England, and Cleese thought it was a master stroke by our national selectors.
The following year Sammy Collins scored 40 goals in a season for Torquay, and I, too, had something to brag about!
In August, the following season, Sammy scored a goal in ten seconds! “Beat that!” I bragged, when we next met.
Cleese was good fun to be with, but could be very disruptive in the classroom.
He was the sort to whisper a joke and then, when your giggle attracted the teacher’s attention, to show a completely straight face, as if he had had nothing to do with it!
Then, one day, in March 1957, we met during break time, and he said: “Mann, why don’t you come, with Amor and I, to watch City on Saturday?”
“It’s out of bounds,” I replied.
He smiled and said: “Don’t worry! I’ll meet you in Percival Road, and bring one of my dad’s coats for you to dress up in. No-one will recognise you!
"You can get back in time for dinner.”
Even though I knew that the school took its duty of care very seriously, and that the punishments for getting caught were extreme, I decided to take the chance.
On the Saturday morning, I feigned a bad back, and got a sick note from matron to excuse me from rugby.
I took an early lunch, and waited for the coast to clear, before quietly sneaking into Percival Road.
Cleese was waiting for me, and, after I dressed up in his father’s coat and flat cap, we made our way to Ashton Gate.
We met Amor there, and had a great afternoon as City won 2-0 against Bury.
Cleese was ecstatic when Atyeo scored almost straight from the kick-off, and then again later in the game.
After the match, I was pleased to take the coat off (Cleese’s dad, Reg, must have been at least 6ft 3ins!) and to set off back to Clifton, alone, in my school uniform.
Skulking in the shadows, whenever possible, I took the quietest route back, but, just as I entered College Road, two house sixths were coming in the other direction!
“Where have you been, Mann?” they asked. “My parents came up to visit,” was my dishonest reply.
“You’ll have to explain that to the head of house,” they said, and, grabbing each of my arms, they frog-marched me back to school!