Dave Reynolds has sent in this gem.
Mr Nicholson (Old Nick) was our history master around the time we studied for O Levels. He was a good teacher and really knew his subject, but classes tended to treat him cruelly. I did my best to take down part of one of his lessons, verbatim. Bits were inevitably missed out as I never learned shorthand. However, these fragments give some taste of the typical proceedings. Interesting to note the respectful use of ‘Sir’ whenever boys addressed him. Most of us probably went on to become perfectly reasonable and polite citizens. And to my amazement, I did scrape through ‘O’ Level history.
Fragments from an ‘O’ Level history lesson with Mr Nicholson in about 1960.
Nicholson … there were elections and they were generally run by the government and Cavour was not opposed to the working of elections - perhaps a rather natural temptation. Government candidates were appointed and elected Holman, Hill, I will not have this talking!
Hill: I haven’t said anything, Sir, honest. Have I, Reynolds?
Anon: What about the elections, sir?
Nicholson: The Crimean War was brought about …
Nicholson: … by Cavour …
Anon: I was Cavour’s double, Folks.
Nicholson: Now for the second topic. Woodgates!
(General chatter rises to a crescendo, rendering Nicholson inaudible.)
Nicholson: … economically restless and politically a crime …
Anon: It was Woodgates, Sir, not me!
Nicholson: … now, the attitude of the people towards the war would make all the difference. If you were Piedmontese, what would be your opinion?
Hill: On the export of spaghetti, Sir?
Anon: What about this book, Sir, is it any good? (Hands over a book.)
Nicholson: Ah, yes. We’ve got it in the school library. It has some rather unusual ideas in it but it may be some use.
Anon: What about the A.J.P. Taylor?
Nicholson: You’ve got your notes on Italy, have you, Frost?
(Shuffling. Frost borrows someone’s notes and reads amid general chaos).
Nicholson: Yes, Castles?
Castles (Amid general coughing.) The war was not … it was an English idea in the first place.
Nicholson: Yes, admittedly. They wanted soldiers in the Crimea to stop the preponderance …
Anon: Why didn’t they ban it, Sir?
Nicholson: … Britain might be prepared to prevent France …
Hill: You’ll get a punch up the p*** if you don’t stop, Woodgates.
Nicholson: … but Austria may be on the same side and Piedmont would be opposed to them. Now, what about the war itself? Does anyone think he could comment on Mamora?
Reynolds: Would you spell that please, Sir?
Nicholson: M A M O R A
Anon: It’s top of the Italian hit parade
Nicholson: The Piedmontese army were brave. Admittedly they suffered from diseases …
Anon: What diseases, Sir?
(General disorder, rioting etc.)
Nicholson: Will you please SHUT UP and take some interest in what’s going on. Twelve hundred casualties were caused. It was a small troop but it did have the effect of getting respect from Britain and France will you please SHUT UP. I can’t understand what makes you behave like this. Well, Chadd, what have you got on the Congress of Paris?
Chadd: I haven’t got that heading, Sir. You didn’t give it to us.
Nicholson: Right!! Now, Cavour was, I think, a man … (rioting) … because Napoleon III himself was an emotional man, in a way, a man, anyway, who was impressed easily. Now, when it comes to Italy …
Hill: Get your hand off my knee!
Nicholson: … which is Papal territory … (general singing) … treaty with Papal rights.
All: Howl! It’s old Thompson! Bellow! Sh!!
Nicholson: Will you please stop talking.
All: Cheerio, Burns! It’s old Burns! Hm!
Woodgates: (Singing) I’m Mister Blue …
Nicholson: Nothing could be done without war and Piedmont … Oh! … must attack Austria. The Congress itself, then, was a disappointment to Cavour, who was only able to air his cause. Right!! Now for - HILL!! - the wooing of France. The biggest problem was France’s unwillingness to be wooed into war. One thing which must stand out in your notes is oh, will you please stop talking the hope of getting Austria to attack Piedmont, though he was by no means certain of French help. Napoleon thought Austria would not dare to attack …
Anon: Burp! got him!
Nicholson: (Leaning on the light switch in a classical Greek pose) … they would get it in the long run if they knew public opinion in Germany.
Nicholson: They knew they would have Russian support…
Anon: High lift?
(Singsong at the back of the class.)
Nicholson: Let’s have someone read his notes.
All: Castles, Sir, Castles. Good old Castles! It’s old Castles!
Nicholson: Shut up!
All: Good old Castles! For he’s a jolly good fellow … (singing)
(General disorder drowns 90 per cent of Castles’ voice as he reads his notes.)
Nicholson: Er … the leading of this (cough) …
Anon: Dirty old man!
Nicholson: … liberals, yet Napoleon III hesitated, for Cavour … (Chatter) … Napoleon had his mind made up when a bomb was thrown at him …
All: Hurrah! Allons enfants de la patrie … (Singing) …
(Castles reads and finishes. Clapping and cheers.)
Nicholson: Where is there anything written down about …
Hill: In A J P Taylor, Sir.
Nicholson: Look, if anything was said between Napoleon III and Cavour, what would Napoloeon III have said?
Pow: How obscene!
Nicholson: Who was king of Naples in 1874?
Anon: It’s old Castles, Sir.
Nicholson: … and if anything was done about Naples at all … (bell rings for the end of the period) … and the rest of Italy cough why was he so keen to unify Italy, because it all had to be done …
(Everyone charges out of the room.)