QUENTIN DODDS AT ETON, 1940-42
Quentin Hugh Dodds, later surnamed Crewe (14 November 1926 – 14 November 1998) was an English journalist and restaurauteur. His memoir, Well, I Forget The Rest: The Autobiography of an Optimist, was published in 1991 by Hutchinson, London.
Presented here is an extract concerning his time at Eton, England’s best-known public school, which he went to from 1940, when he was thirteen, until he was expelled in 1942 for secretly copying a fire door key and using his copy to go to London.
Chapter Three. School
I was the only new boy in a house taken over that term, or ‘half’ by a new housemaster, Mr Jaques. Our common strangeness drew us together at ﬁrst.
‘Eton masters have a way of becoming peculiar after a time,’ he said. 'Will you tell me if ever you think I am getting odd?'
It was not hard to see what he meant. In the house opposite was Mr Marsden, a monstrous shambling man, with the slouch and grime of a hobo. He had a reputation for beating the boys in his house with an oar, contrary to all custom. Beating was the prerogative of youth, apart from the Head master and his deputy, the Lower Master.
In the house next to Marsden was Mr Beasley-Robinson, an eager-faced man who owned a black and yellow Bentley and who had a measure of religious mania. He raised his hands in geometry class and pronounced: ‘Chaps, chaps, God is in this room.’
Mr Upcott had a vendetta against Mr Babington-Smith, who held his classes in the next-door room. ‘Scufﬂe your feet and stamp. Louder. Ruin his class. He shan't teach them.’
Apropos of nothing, Mr Rowlatt, who had been gassed in the First World War, would cover his mouth with a vast, expensive handkerchief and announce thickly: ‘I am a passionate man ‘ He would then sit silent, shivering with rage, for half an hour. We sat, trembling too, with nothing to do.
The only man who stirred my imagination was Mr Hope-Jones, who strode about barefoot and in wild disarray. He made us construct icosahedrons out of paper and explained much about circles by cutting up a cake, that he had baked himself, using his own rations for the purpose. Thanks to him, I can still recite п to its thirty-sixth decimal place, as engraved on the tomb of Ludolf van Ceulen in Leiden.
The day was bound to come with Mr Jaques. One morning he was lecturing us about sex, about ‘boys putting their penises up other boys’ bottoms’. He always got everything wrong. We may have done many things but, so far as I know, none of us ever quite did that, so we were ready to giggle. ‘Self-control, that is the cardinal rule in life,’ said Mr Jaques. He stood in front of the study fire wearing his Corps uniform, with thick leather leggings. The heat from the ﬁre seeped through the leather. It must have been extremely painful, but the sight of his furious, unavailing struggles to get the things off made us laugh.
He was still enraged when he came on his rounds to our rooms that night.
‘But can’t you see it is funny if a man gives you a long lecture on self-control and then can't get his leggings off for lack of it? You asked me to tell you. I think you have lost your sense of humour, and that’s what makes all the others so peculiar.’
He had me beaten, once for impertinence and again for saying that that proved my point. [pp. 30-31]
 William Hope-Jones (1884-1965) was one of the outstandingly endearing eccentrics who represented Eton at its best. Tim Card had the following to say about him in his history of the school, Eton Renewed: A History from 1860 to the present day (London, 1994), pp. 173-4:
It was an age when Masters were expected to be eccentric: none was more remarkable than W. Hope-Jones, Hojo to the boys. He was a man so utterly opposed to any pretence that he relished appearing unconventional or absurd. It was to Alington [the Head Master 1916-33]’s credit that he made light of the occasion when Hojo was arrested for bathing in the nude, and that he permitted Hojo to continue preparing boys in his house for Confirmation when he changed from Anglican to Quaker. Yet Hojo was more than an oddity; by his sincerity and simple goodness he won boys’ hearts. Who else would have bicycled to Henley and back before breakfast to dive (successfully) for a boy’s watch which had been lost? Who else could have so effectively entertained Boy Scouts with his stentorian singing? And was there a more imaginative teacher of Mathematics in his day? It is a sad reflection that many of his colleagues disregarded him, but the Mathematical Association recognized his gifts, and many boys who were not natural mathematicians were glad to be up to Hojo.