A Fawlty decision - part two

John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in the TV sit com Fawlty Towers

John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers. - Credit: BBC

I had met John Cleese during a rugby match, and we found that we were both soccer fans in a rugby-playing school. One day he suggested we should go to watch a match at Bristol City. Because we knew it was out of bounds for boarders like me, I dressed in his father’s coat and cap... BUT on the way back, I was caught! 

Each holding one arm, the two house sixths (prefects) frog-matched me back to Oakeleys House, and took me straight into the head of house’s study.

Richard Bernard (pronounced Bernaard) was 18 years old, and a superb sportsman. Tall, broad, and strong, he took his position seriously.

Richard Bernard - Head of Oakeleys House

Richard Bernard - head of Oakeleys House. - Credit: Roger Mann

“Rules are for your own good, Mann,” he said, towering over me.

“You went, with Cleese and Amor, to Ashton Gate, knowing it is out of bounds, and then told lies to the sixths! You will be punished tomorrow night!”

House beatings, in Oakeleys, took place on Sunday nights at 20.00, and were dished out to those who had transgressed during the previous week.

The House Sixths who administered the house beatings with Oakeleys House in the background.

The House Sixths who administered the house beatings with Oakeleys House in the background. - Credit: Roger Mann

Later that evening, my name appeared on the notice board. I was to be number five on the list of those to receive one stroke of the cane from each of the six house sixths.

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After chapel, the following morning, Bernard tapped me on the shoulder, and told me to follow him to the cricket nets where he wanted some batting practice.

He was a direct descendant of W.G. Grace’s brother, and a superb batsman.

He had already played a first-class match for Gloucestershire, while I was a 15 year old, left arm spinner, in the senior colts.

“I want ten balls on my off stump,” he shouted, and then proceeded to smash each one through the off-side.

“Now ten on my leg stump,” and, without fuss, they were all hit to leg. 

Knowing that Bernard would be one of the sixths whacking me tonight, I was glad to have the chance to get into his good books, so did all I could to please! 

At 19.00 that evening, the bell rang and we were all locked into our studies - tiny rooms shared by two students - for 'prep'.

This happened every night, and ensured that we did the equivalent of homework for two hours. 

However, tonight, there were more serious concerns, and my study mate, John Jones, had come up with an idea. 

He told me to drop my trousers while he stuck two sucked fruit gums to the fleshy part of my rump. He, then, covered them with two crossed strips of plaster and announced: “Right! When they tell you to bend over the table, tell them that you’ve got a boil, so they must hit you on the top of your backside! It won’t hurt half as much!”

At 20.00, exactly, a gong was struck, and number one victim made his way through the narrow corridor of studies to the common room, where the house sixths were waiting.  

In every study, ears were pressed against the door listening for the whack of the cane and/or the blubbing noises that followed.  

My turn came when the gong sounded five times, and John’s idea worked a treat! 

I blamed Bristol City for the pain, and have done so ever since! 

The next day, I met Cleese during morning break, and told him the whole story. 

In typical Cleese fashion, he listened and then said: “Do you realise that you are now unique?” 

“How is that?” I replied.

“You are the only bowler to have been hit by Bernard on the off-side, the leg-side, and the backside all in one day!” 

I have never forgotten those words! 

He followed up by telling me that Atyeo’s goal was timed at nine seconds! One second faster than Sammy Collins’s record!  It had been a thoroughly bad day!

Richard Bernard played cricket for Cambridge University, and became an eminent doctor in Bristol. He passed away, aged just 60, in 1998.

Cleese was a fine cricketer, and played at Lord’s in 1958. Sadly, he was expelled from Clifton College later the same year! 

Here’s why...

The Earl Haig statue facing the school close.

The Earl Haig statue facing the school close. - Credit: Roger Mann

Field Marshall Earl Haig, Commander of British forces in World War One, was a former pupil, and his magnificent statue overlooks the school close.

One night, Cleese crept in to school and painted footprints, on the path, from the statue to the nearby toilets, and then back again.  

It looked as if Haig had got off his plinth and visited the toilets overnight!  

Perhaps his headmaster was the last person, in his life, not to appreciate his humour!