Why the Headmaster’s assembly lectern grew a tablecloth

I attended Westlake Boys High School in New Zealand in the early to mid 1960s, which makes a 50th Jubilee at around this time highly appropriate.

Given that I was in the first intake (Third Form then – 3 Latin, no less – no idea what they call it these days. Year something?) to both start and complete an education there, I thought I should make an effort and  fly down for the celebrations and to meet the guys who feature in this true story.
(I’ve validated it with them and even if they can’t remember all the details, they swear it all happened).


Probably 1965. Maybe 1964.
Prize-giving Evening with students, staff and proud parents in attendance.
Not merely a prize-giving ceremony, but an evening of cultural entertainment.
I have NO IDEA why the school made the grave tactical error of allowing us to perform.(John Rimmer might have played a role in convincing the more senior and conservative staff members  that – after his success with “Downtown” at a recent assembly – pop music would be a GOOD THING.)

5 in the combo  – Graham Horne playing bass riffs, Bruce Hales on sulphuric acid and copper filings/dry ice and water, Maurice Dagger on pyrotechnics, Martyn Jones on soldering iron and formaldehyde (I’m a bit vague on that, but it’s over 4 decades ago) and John Burland on the puerilely named (and pronounced, the “N” being silent) PHLENMM (Patented Horne Light Electronic Noise Making Machine), an amazingly successful forerunner of the Moog synthesiser.

Graham thinks someone read a poem. That would fit…..

Auditorium dims, eerily green lighting reveals an EXTREMELY motley crew on stage looking and sounding for all the world like a combination of Macbeth’s witches, the Marx Brothers, Spike Jones and the Sex Pistols. Which no-one knew at the time.

It’s all going according to plan, bass riffs up and down the scales, vapour clouds emanating from the formaldehyde corner, sounds worthy of the Dr Who Theme issuing from PHLEGM PHLENMM, a cloud of carbon dioxide cascading from the stage into the auditorium and tin cans charged with aluminium powder and an oxidising agent (activated by a car battery and a series of switches off-stage) lighting up the stage and further adding to the chaotic atmosphere.
At irregular intervals, which we attributed to Maurice’s highly developed sense of dramatic effect.

Perhaps even someone reading a poem….

When – almost concurrently…….

Bruce’s XXL beaker (courtesy of Ken Buckley) overflows onto the (unprotected) Headmaster’s assembly lectern. Sulphuric acid. Doesn’t stop overflowing. All over the stage.

Martyn’s cloud of formaldehyde – having descended into cooler climes at the back of the auditorium – proceeds to re-solidify into snowflakes which drift down in a toxic blizzard to settle on hair/jackets/floor. Bronchial tubes,too, if the coughing’s anything to go by.

What we assumed was Maurice’s highly developed sense of dramatic effect turns out to have been the manifestation of an epic struggle with an extremely sensitive wiring job. One pot refuses to respond to his off-stage cajoling.

He appears on stage for a closer inspection. Prods it.


“AAAAARGH” he cries “ I can’t see! I’m blind!”, stumbling (bang) around the (thud) stage like a Dalek in (whack) a pinball machine to (crash) applause from those in the audience who a) hadn’t succumbed to the toxic atmospheric soup we’d produced and b) could still see the stage
They thought it was part of the act.

And the band played on.

Finished the set, garnered some polite applause.

Not as much as Maurice, though……

And by the following Monday, the Headmaster’s assembly lectern had grown a tablecloth….

This entry was posted in Geriatric ramblings, True stories. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Why the Headmaster’s assembly lectern grew a tablecloth

  1. Pingback: Old Boys. Young Girls – #1630 « Mainz Daily Photo

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