FLANNELLED FOOL BY T. C. WORSLEY
Thomas Cuthbert Worsley (10 December 1907 – 25 February 1977) was an English schoolmaster, writer and drama critic. His third and best-known book, Flannelled Fool: a slice of life in the Thirties (London, 1967), from which all the extracts touching on Greek love are here taken, was a memoir.
Mostly devoted to the five years from 1929 he spent as a schoolmaster at a public school he refers to only as “College”, but which is revealed in the introduction by his publisher to have been Wellington College in Berkshire, Flannelled Fool also refers back to his own education at Marlborough College and Cambridge University. Finally, in an Epilogue, he told three stories about himself not long after he left Wellington, the first of which is the most poignant of all his stories from a Greek love point of view.
In his “Author’s Note, Worsley says he “used false names wherever I thought the real ones might give offence or wound.”
Chapter One. First Post
Describing his first term teaching at Wellington, when he was not quite 22:
The customs and mores at this school were a great deal harsher than at Marlborough—which was generally considered an exceptionally tough place itself. Thus it never occurred to me, coming from a school where boys of all houses mingled in that vast Upper School, that, here, boys in different Dormitories—as the houses were termed—were discouraged from even talking to each other out of school hours. Or, again, it had been the custom at Marlborough for masters to ask members of their form to tea on half-holidays. Here it was unheard of, and I found myself breaking both conventions when, as part of my policy, I planned my first tea.
The three several housemasters—Tutors as they were called at College— of those boys who had been invited, each read me a firm, if polite, lecture on the customs of the school. Perhaps I would have accepted their rebukes more humbly, if all three of these men hadn’t seasoned their objections with a flavour of moralising. lt wasn’t merely local custom which they were invoking: it was, rather, that they were giving me a lecture on what ought to have been obvious to me already, the moral dangers of association, both mine with the boys, and that of boys from different Dormitories with each other.
From Jenkins, the senior science master, I got indeed my first inkling of undercurrents of dissension among the staff. Jenkins was a tight, closely buttoned, tall, black-headed Welshman, and perhaps it was a residual resentment, left over from the family feeling about the Welsh, that inclined me to take his strictures less mildly than I had the others’. Jenkins had finished by remarking:
‘If you’ll take my advice, you won’t get too intimate with the boys. It doesn’t do.’
Yet what had struck me particularly on my very first day had been the Master’s insistence, at that opening masters’ meeting, on the importance of the form-master’s role in the boys’ development. How was I to carry out this obligation if I didn’t get to know my boys personally?
Jenkins had a sharp rejoinder to that:
‘They’re not your boys, and don’t you think it! It’s the Tutor’s job to see to their development.’
Explaining his propensity to self-righteous denunciation of his superiors in order to put himself in a superior moral position:
There was no other explanation, for instance, of my action when a boy at Marlborough in confronting with a crude accusation my young housemaster who had been on the whole extremely kind to me.
It had been in my last term there. Confident and careless in the unquestioned authority which my position as athlete and prefect conferred, I, like my friends and equals, thought myself above all criticism. In our studies, we indulged in bridge, cigarettes and whisky: down in the town several of the others—I, though, was inhibited from this indulgence—played about with the waitresses in our favourite cafe. We were not, then, in a very strong position for criticising my housemaster who was making himself notorious for his attachment to a younger member of my house.
This boy was being brought forward and groomed to take over, when the present group of leaders, myself included, left at the end of the term. Whether it was, in reality, his virtues or, as gossip presumed, his person, that had first caught the housemaster’s eye, was something which I had not even bothered to work out. There was this gossip floating about and no one dared to say anything. I would dare; and in I marched, flinging down my shoddy gauntlet, and, out of my profound ignorance, hinted at something which, as a matter of plain fact, I knew nothing precise about. The spectacle of the housemaster’s confused and halting defence of himself was more humiliating than satisfying.
Chapter Two. Some Background
Reflecting on his time as a Junior Prefect at Marlborough, when he had been fifteen and a half:
The seniors had their own large classroom in the house in which they spent their days, and they formed the habit of luring me in there, pinioning me, bending me over and giving me the same number of strokes which I had had to deal out earlier to the delinquents in Upper School. It was all done in a spirit of semi-ragging: rough but good natured, ending usually in the cane being shoved up me, a crude form of sexual play. But I was still too innocent to recognise this, and made no objections. It was something else that I made a fuss about, and which caused me to earn special praise for pure-mindedness.
In the junior classroom, where I was in charge for second prep, the talk was, as talk tends to be among schoolboys, scatological and sexual. I had a prudish fear of it, and, being unable to control it, reported it, in an excess of self-righteous indignation, to my housemaster. He immediately instituted a searching investigation which, extending far beyond my small terms of reference, spread up to the seniors too. Three of them were sacked forthwith, and my nightly submission to their canings abruptly ceased. I was, as a matter of simple fact, sorry about this. I had come positively to enjoy this form of ragging without realising, consciously anyhow, its significance.
What is so dotty about this small incident is that my prudishness, far from being the pure-mindedness which the moralists approved of, was, in fact, a refusal to face the simple animal facts of the physical functions. My report at the end of term concluded with the words: ‘he has shown moral courage beyond his years’. Something quite opposite was true. I had shown sexual cowardice of a childish kind. I was quite simply failing to grow up.
It was not the practice in those days to give boys anything very useful in the way of sex instruction. This brilliant young housemaster of mine, for instance, had given me a talk which I still remember. It ran roughly like this: ‘You might find some white matter exuding from your private parts. Don’t worry about it. It’s only a sort of disease like measles.’ Which was not much more helpful than a talk given by a colleague of mine later at College who advised young Giles Romilly, so he told me, as follows: ‘If a man takes a man into the corner of the room and talks to a man, a man shouldn’t listen.’
In default of other advice, boys learn about sex from experiment and dirty jokes. By refusing to listen to these, I cut myself off from the only source of knowledge available to me. And this refusal to admit even to myself knowledge that must have been pressing outwards from my own body, reached quite extraordinary proportions and continued for an extraordinarily long time. Even in my last year at Marlborough, when I was in all the school teams and we would go off by train to play matches against other schools, it became an understood thing that I travelled in a separate compartment to avoid the bawdy talk. So odd are boys that no one thought any the better, or the worse, of me for this. The idiot masters would have deemed my refusal an act of moral courage, I suppose. Only I know how disastrous such innocence was to be.
Chapter Three. Self-education of a Beak
Describing the reaction to his redecorating his rooms in boldly modern fashion:
People were astonished. I was rather astonished myself. Talboys pronounced it very much au mouvement. The Old Guard were scandalised. They had the conventional public schoolmasters’ distrust of the arts in any shape or form, convinced that they inevitably led to immorality. They really thought, I suspect, that there was something lascivious about a room so wilfully different, and they came to feel, I am sure, that there was a real danger of their boys being corrupted by entering it.
Describing his struggle with the tutors, calling themselves the “Old Guard”, who opposed his reforms:
My war with them began with a few mild skirmishes before it really burst into fighting on a wide front. Where the Old Guard were tactically stupid was in leaving the opening exchanges to the least formidable and the least defensible member of their Junta. Ramsay was a slimy, farting little person, puffed up for no reason, a strutter, full of self-importance.
I had never entirely surrendered in the matter of those tea-time invitations to my form, and this practice had not merely been accepted: it had spread to other members of the staff. It was resented by the Junta, but they had evidently decided not to make an issue of it. But now in all innocence I did something which must have struck them as the thin edge of some wedge. Otherwise they would hardly have put Mr. Marley Ramsay into the firing line.
Scholarship time was approaching and my various Sixths were writing essays for me in the style of the exams they were soon to come up against; and pursuing that line of thought, I, one day out of the blue, suggested to one of my pupils that he might come up in second prep and read his essay aloud to me, while I would conduct a viva on it. He was in Ramsay’s Dormitory.
He duly arrived at the stated hour of nine o’clock and delivered himself of a message:
‘Mr. Ramsay told me to report to you at the time you asked for me: and I’m to tell you that he does not approve of his boys associating with Junior Masters in the late evening. I am not to stay.’
It was as direct a challenge as could be made. Its implications were obvious, and obviously intended. I felt my temper rising:
‘Those were his exact words?’
‘Then tell him that I am sending you back to him unscathed and that I shall be calling on him myself in a quarter of an hour.’
And the boy grinned as he left; there is nothing so amusing for a schoolboy as to find two masters quarrelling over him, and nothing so gratifying, indeed, as to be the object of their dissension.
As soon as he left I worked myself up into one of my fits of self-righteous indignation. How dare such an accusation be made against me, wholly and completely guiltless as I was of any intentions towards this particular boy? Innocence lit the flames; but underneath, of course, guilt fanned them. My innocence was not so complete as all that. My eye was already running over the boys I came in contact with, and was soon to settle, if it hadn’t already settled, on one in particular. It was only another form of innocence to suppose that those beady-eyed beaks hadn’t got my number.
For the moment, however, self-righteousness was all. I marched into Ramsay’s rooms in a towering rage which had the unfortunate effect of leaving me all but speechless: How dare you’s and If you think that’s were flung, but nothing very much more coherent. Ramsay was never very articulate, and he met my attack with equally incoherent counter-attacks. We stuttered, stammered, began and stopped, launched in and floundered, until at last the ludicrousness of the situation calmed me down, and with what I hoped was devastating scorn I was able to turn away with:
‘I see there’s no use in talking to you. You’re just a very silly, dirty-minded old man.’
Chapter Four. Eros, without Sex
It can’t be denied that my moral position in this, and subsequent struggles with the Old Guard, was weakened by the attraction certain boys exerted on me. But not fatally weakened. In the first place, in those long-ago pre-Wolfenden days the whole subject was, unless at some time it burst into a physical scandal, kept quietly (and perhaps more decently) out of conversation. We had, anyhow, in our provincial back-water, no word for those who nowadays would be summarily described as ‘Queer’ or ‘Bent’.
If there were circles in which Talboys, for instance, would even then have been labelled High Camp, College was not one of them. The vice, if it is one, was hinted at in the wary disapproval with which any close association between boys and masters, or elder and younger boys was regarded. But without any nomenclature to describe it, it remained unspecified in everyday conversation.
Then, too, a majority of the Masters were clearly homoerotic in greater or less degree, just as a majority were by the architectural conditions imposed, bachelors. Most masters lived below the Dormitories built round the central courts, and our sets of rooms were, in the monastic tradition, arranged only for bachelor occupation.
Even most of the Tutors’ rooms were designed for bachelors only. This meant that bachelors at that time had a positive advantage in the matter of promotion, and that marriage among the staff was at a discount. The only posts open to the married man were the four out-college houses scattered in the grounds, and, even there, a bachelor Tutor, who had served his term in college, was likely to have the advantage of experience over an improvidently married man.
Homo-eroticism is an inevitable product of monasticism, but I am not implying anything more in saying so, than that this mode of feeling pervaded the school. My own addiction to it was noticeable, only in so far as it was more blatant. It was a weakness in my position because I was less controlled in my expression of it than the more prudent; but even more perhaps because I felt it to be so. Not that I had any real cause for guilt over it since I had no physical designs on any of the boys, even those with whom I was later to ‘fall in love’. Nor, of course, had my other colleagues in the same condition. Only one of them was eventually discovered to be behaving scandalously; and it could well be that in the Public School tradition of education—perhaps in all education—some touch of the condition makes a good teacher a better teacher.
Still, like it or not, I did feel guilty, and did feel that it weakened my position. Yet there it was: there was no question of changing my inclinations. They were irredeemably fixed. At what point along the line they had become so, was something that, as I acquired a smattering of the new and fascinating subject, psychology, I began asking myself; and since that smattering was as shallow as shallow, I didn’t, naturally, come up with an answer.
Was it something to do with that early dependence on the inseparable James? That might offer some explanation of the dependent relationship with Bacchus. But from this kind of enslavement I had now escaped, only to fall into a series of enslavements to a series of younger boys. Where did that come from? Could it be related to my youngest brother, Benjamin?
Benjamin was three years younger than I, and from the very first commanded the worship of the women in the family, of mother and Miss Maclaren and of my sister. And even my father had a small corner in his affections for this youngest son. Surrounded by the admiration of the women, Bengy grew up protected and fostered to a degree which couldn’t help exciting in us envy, disguised as contempt. He had evidently inherited a good share of our father’s brilliance. He read, painted and wrote with considerable promise at a very early age. But his special passion was for dancing which became, under my sister’s encouragement, his chief means of self-expression.
Most of his childhood he seemed to spend dancing, dressed up in bright clothes from the acting box, made-up to the eyes, improvising to the music of the old gramophone which the willing women worked for him as they sat in their admiring circle at his feet.
It can be imagined how we other boys of the family, grossly conventional in our outlook, viewed this, as it seemed to us, revoltingly cissy spectacle. Yet it was this boy-girl with his painted lips and mascara-ed eyes, his interchange between male and female dress, who at last, and just by being that, had succeeded in drawing my mother out of the self-absorption of her private grief, in taming the tough Miss Maclaren and occasionally—wonder of wonders—delaying my father on his way to the golf course.
Was it somehow with this pretty androgynous creature that my own emotions had got stuck? For I wasn’t yet sufficiently emotionally clear of the tragedy which overtook him to analyse the effect of that on myself.
The most uncomfortable thought of all was that perhaps my condition was simply natural. Its manifestations certainly had arisen in the most natural way. Even at nine I had lost my heart to a yellow-haired child whose panache had seemed to me a divine gift wholly enviable. In the last few days at the prep school overlooking the Severn there had been that absurd little boy whom, when Mr. Donavon had given me, as a treat, the choice of a friend for a last ride in his sidecar, I had unexpectedly picked out. And that in its turn had led to Mr. Robathan’s parting lecture before my departure to Public School, warning me to be careful of the friends I chose, and that they should be of the same age as myself.
Yet no particular obsessive passion had seized me at Marlborough, until in my last year but one Bacchus came along. There were passing fancies enough. But wasn’t the homo-erotic atmosphere all-pervading there too? And how curious it was that, day in and day out, we should be soaking ourselves in the literature which glorified the addiction without its ever coming into the open! If the Greece we read of was really so glorious, weren’t the passions they cultivated no less glorious, too? Certainly the Greek ideal coloured my acceptance of my inclinations and gave them a kind of idealised gloss, just as later it was the Greek Anthology which opened my eyes to the physical means by which they could be expressed.
The rituals of the playing fields were, for me, a very powerful factor in deepening these feelings, but, perhaps too, in generalising them (thus contributing to that ‘innocence’ which was to be in my case so disastrous). Wasn’t Sandy, the compact little Marlborough games-master, the very embodiment in his attitude towards games of the Greek ideal?
The generalised homo-eroticism which I discovered in the rituals of the playing fields satisfied my inclinations enough to keep them ‘pure’. And though the moralists may think this an estimable outcome, I have good reason not to agree with them.
Chapter Five. The Battle for a School
More on his ongoing struggle with the Old Guard:
I was soon involved in a further phase of it, for my rooms had become an even more regular frequenting place for the young intellectuals who dropped in to borrow my books and stayed to talk or play my gramophone. So, once more, my rooms became suspect: once more the Old Guard tried the same old dodge. Young Giles Romilly, a promising scholar, was told by his Tutor, Major Fletcher, that I was not persona grata, and that he was not to visit me. It was surely an additional miscalculation to try this again after the failure of the keep-the-caps campaign. But it was a trial of strength which if successful would either silence me or give me the push—which was what they really wanted. On the other hand for me, too, it was a challenge that had to be coped with. The implication that I was a corruptor of youth, even in the Socratic sense—and it was by no means clear that that was all they meant—was too grave to be allowed to pass.
The Master couldn’t be said to be overjoyed to have me knocking at his door again and was understandably a little sharp. Why couldn’t I learn to get on with my older colleagues? And before long I was out-manœuvred. He wasn’t going to go so far as to issue a ruling opening my rooms to anyone. He was too canny for that. He promised that he would ‘have a word’ with Major Fletcher, and then proposed as the best way out of all our difficulties that I should form a Literary Society, as an official body. We discussed who might be invited to join and he slyly suggested that it would be a good idea to co-opt Giles Romilly as secretary.
I was anyhow far more engaged in the struggle within the structure of college itself. Reform was undoubtedly gaining many minor victories. The school was already transformed. Freedom of movement was established, though in principle more than in practice; and there was a much more healthy relationship between the young masters and those boys who were tough enough to take advantage of the new freedom. But on the rest the Old Guard still retained their iron grip. The details are no longer relevant, but what in general it amounted to was the unshakeable conviction of the Old Guard that any boy who was given a moment’s leisure would inevitably get up to sexual mischief. The boys’ days were organised down to the last minute of every hour. It was a most repressive and illiberal regime.
If Jenkins had been the chief spokesman of the Junta in dealing with me, I knew very well it was Hoffman, the Hun, who really held the Big Five together. He was the strongest character behind them, and it was at him that I now launched a really all-out attack. Hoffman must go.
He embodied in his outlook and in his practice as a schoolmaster all that was worst in the College of my first terms. It was from him more than from anyone that there emanated a perpetual, brooding suspicion that, given the faintest chance, sexual vice would flourish in the school. Talboys hit it off in the phrase ‘Hoffman looks at every boy as if he suspected he was going to have a baby’.
It was all-pervasive: it was palpable in the atmosphere, and it was nasty. It was the origin of the Old Guard’s opposition to every liberal improvement. And I, incompetent as I was to pronounce on these sexual questions, was none the less convinced—and not merely from a shallow knowledge of psycho-analytic theory—that his suspicious nature was itself some form of perversion and that it was connected with his unbridled passion for beating.
I had, myself, completely abandoned this form of punishment, from a suspicion that my own passions were, however slightly, involved in it. But I took what I thought—and still think—was a reasonable view of the problem. Beating, as it seemed to me—at least in the Public School context—was a perfectly harmless and indeed salutary punishment, so long as, and only so long as, it was a perfectly understood penalty for minor infractions of the rules. If a boy smoked, drank, was late for class, or went out of bounds, he knew exactly the penalty he was risking. A dare-devil might risk it, and certainly wouldn’t complain when the penalty was exacted; while the less adventurous were deterred by the fear of it.
All arguments about the deterrent effect of certain forms of punishment are surely still, in our society, bedevilled by the false logic of statistics. That certain characters ‘come back for more’ and are not deterred by a known penalty, is all that the statistics show. What they can’t show is the number of those who, but for the deterrent, might commit the offence. A certain kind of boy got beaten again and again, but such were commonly those dare-devils who defied the law for the fun of it. Such a one was my own favourite of the moment, who was positively hoping that he would achieve the record of a hundred strokes in one term. He was quite tough enough to take it.
Where it seemed to me that the beaters were wrong in theory, and in practice, was when, under attack, they retreated from this ‘quick penalty for the minor infraction’ position, and began to defend themselves by asserting that corporal punishment was reserved for the really serious offences. A serious offence was too serious for this trivial penalty: and to make this form of punishment serious was surely to get it out of proportion.
But Hoffman’s practice was not in either of these categories. How could one know without evidence that he beat for pleasure—for sexual pleasure to himself? Yet somehow it was known. No one doubted it, and the event proved it to be squalidly true. But at this time there was only the conviction, and the conviction, too, that the pervasive sense of sexual suspicion which was palpable in the air, emanated largely from him.
Needless to say the suspicion, and the counter-measures, had the opposite effect to that intended. Squalid discoveries of sexual misdemeanours were constantly coming to light; and the inhuman ritual of banishment to the sanatorium, roped playboxes, and the summoning of weeping parents was all too common an occurrence. The brother of my favourite was expelled in one of these anti-vice campaigns, and I had had to cope with the mother’s hysterics and her very real problems.
To attribute this all to Hoffman was plainly most unjust, and I think back on my campaign now as inhuman and priggish.
Chapter Six. A Search in the Past
It is a mark of the innocent to be able to keep his feelings in separate compartments, thus being able to judge others without judging himself. I had worked up a fine moral indignation about Hoffman’s attitude to sex, without perceiving that the reasons for my own permissiveness might reasonably be suspect.
Yet I was in fact very concerned about my relationship with the boys at this time, though along lines quite different from those that Hoffman would have objected to. If there was something altogether wrong about it, it wasn’t, as he would have presumed, the sexual aspect; it was rather this attitude at once over-protective and weak. No longer a problem in the classroom, it was very much one out of it. I hated in myself the feebleness with which I habitually indulged them. I could see I was spoiling them without being able to stop it. I was always, so to speak, on their side not only against authority, but against myself. This was not helping them or me. I identified myself with them in a most destructive way, destructive to them, as well as to myself.
When I explored this problem in my mind, I always came dead up against two images, one of my suffering mother, the other of my youngest brother, Bengy. It wasn’t so difficult to see how he, at least, might fit the pattern. Wasn’t it a direct result of his death? This had happened in the middle years of the Deanery period, the middle of my time at Cambridge.
James and I paid scant attention to Bengy during our growing years. As children we had had him dumped on us all too often when the grown-ups were busy. He was so much younger at that stage that he couldn’t join in our rough nine or ten year old scrambles. Being thoroughly spoiled, though, he wasn’t content to tag along, and would soon be off sneaking to the adults that we weren’t including him in our play.
But as all of us grew up, he learned well enough to amuse himself in his own eccentric way. James and I were mad on golf, and we had also been given a discarded motor-bike by brother John. These pursuits were all-absorbing, and seemed to us, little philistines as we were, altogether more healthy than the dancing and the messing about with a toy theatre which occupied Bengy’s time. We didn’t dislike him: indeed we both grew fond of him as we grew older. But we were—or I was at least—a good deal ashamed of, and embarrassed by, all that dressing up in girl’s clothes and that shameless painting of the lips.
Our parents were even more divided and incompetent over what should be done about their bizarre offspring than they were about us. What sort of education should he have? Was dancing really a career possible for a boy? (it must be remembered that in those days there was no Royal Ballet nor anything like it.) He was taken up for an audition with one of the better known ballet teachers of the time, Espinoza, who pronounced him a budding genius, and took him for a time into his classes.
Quite why this arrangement was abandoned I didn’t bother to discover. Probably it was the parental situation. Mother was incapable of making decisions: father was too pre-occupied with himself to do so. As a result Bengy was taken away from ballet school and sent back to the Cathedral School from which he had earlier been withdrawn. This school had very much gone down since our day, and some hint of his getting into sexual trouble there reached us. It wouldn’t have been surprising.
When I heard of this, with my habitual self-righteousness I went to my father and told him. As Dean he was responsible for the proper running of the Cathedral School. It might have been more helpful if I had talked to Bengy himself. But this, of course, was a subject on which I couldn’t speak either with authority or experience. I could only hint it to my father, and I can’t help wondering whether it wasn’t jealousy rather than care for my brother’s welfare that made me speak at all.
From the Cathedral School he won a scholarship to St. Edward’s, Oxford, and what they would have made of him there or he of them, I shudder to think: he was so obviously quite unfitted for public school life. In any case we weren’t to know.
It was during a hot summer spell that we went bathing one Sunday at the nearest strip of coast.
[… Worsley then movingly describes Bengy’s drowning while swimming beside him and the devastating impact it had on him]
But wasn’t it true that my protective passion for the objects of my affections did in some way derive, or perhaps gather impetus, from the incident, as if I had sworn to myself that never again would I allow the defenceless or the weak, if I could prevent it, to run into any danger whatsoever? Sooner, in future, me than them.
Yet if that might be some psychological explanation, it certainly wasn’t the physical. For the faces that were to exert their irresistible and destructive fascination for me were not, any of them, to be in any way Bengy’s type. Indeed it was difficult even to trace any common pattern in them. The first, at College, was surely some imitation by nature of fiction, so exactly might he have stood in as model for that boy in the Thomas Mann story who fatally wounded the author in Venice: or perhaps even more that other in Henry James’s tale, The Pupil, for this one, too, had inherited some fatal weakness.
He had, as James might have said, the luminous beauty which could only be doomed to a brief existence, a skin so delicate and translucent that it couldn’t long stand up to the light which seemed to glow from within it. He was the child of divorced parents, bewildered by a mother who led some kind of wild cosmopolitan life that, in the holidays, whisked him from Grand Hotel to Grand Hotel, so that he had no sense of belonging anywhere at all.
He was in Jenkins’s Dormitory, and very soon Jenkins was dropping me the hint that, in his view, I was seeing too much of him. Yet I could hardly, when the boy found refuge in my rooms from the harsh world, have had the heart to discourage him. He had nowhere else to hide his fragile person. And then one day Jenkins dropped yet another hint—or rather less a hint than a kick aimed at the groin, for he was a dirty fighter.
‘I suppose you know about young Kirkpatrick, don’t you?’
‘Know what?’ I asked defensively.
‘His mother, you mean?’
‘No, not his mother. Him.’
‘What are you getting at?’
‘He’s not the kind of boy to get attached to, that’s all.’
‘Why? What’s the matter with him. He seems to me quite innocent.’
He had got the rise he had hoped for, and now proceeded to put the boot in:
‘Oh no, not that.’
‘He has about six months to live. Leukaemia.’
And that didn’t, of course, make it any easier to reject, even if I had wanted to reject which I didn’t, his shy friendship.
As it turned out, he hadn’t even six months, but a bare six weeks. His fast-living mother came down to visit him that very term. She took him out in her motor car and smashed the car, him and herself to pieces in an accident.
I was, like many other young people in their teens—and mentally I was still in my teens—writing poetry at this time, and after the memorial service I wrote a poem for him. The pressure of the earlier death, added to this one, gave it a special force as I thought, and, greatly daring, I sent it to the London Mercury, the only literary magazine I knew at the time: and it was accepted. It looked, I thought, very well in all the dignity of print:
Well, that’s all done. No, we didn’t quite forget you;
We had the lesson for the Burial of the Dead:
And, carefully, How very sad, some of us said,
And went on doing things—for we couldn’t let you.
One little fragment broken, break the whole.
The world must go on, you know; trains must be caught;
Cheques must be written out, and children taught:
Decency nowadays demands control.
But if I, tonight, find food unappetising.
If foolishly when sense and manners want me
To join loud talk of little things, I’m rude—
You won’t despise my sentimentalising;
Out of your stillness you’ll have time to grant me
The fond indulgence of a sadder mood.
Following her desertion by Worsley’s father, his mother had moved to a flat in London, to be near her sister Gertrude, who “had never made any bones about despising my father”, being herself married to the “impeccably respectable” Canon of Southwark. He, however, was to have an “unlikely fall from grace”:
I had already had a slight forewarning that his family were not perhaps as stolidly stable as they liked to make out. He had a no less respectworthy brother, who was often a source of quiet pride in the London Rectory; for this brother was a housemaster at Winchester and the author of a standard school text-book which was used in almost all public schools and which brought in a fabulous lot of money to the Winchester housemaster. From this position he had just retired, and bought himself, on the proceeds of that textbook no doubt, a fine Georgian house in Winchester itself. Aunt Gertrude proposed to the Canon a visit to his brother to see this new residence and invited me to accompany them—I should surely be interested to meet this distinguished professional colleague. I was to be more interested than she knew.
For when, after a dreadful drive—the Canon being not much hand with a motor-car—we drew up in the charming Winchester side street, and had admired the elegant facade and had rung the bell, the door was answered by a straw-blonde, swishing chorus boy covered with make-up who minced us into the sitting-room and went off to call down our host whom he referred to as ‘Georgie’.
Aunt Gertrude and the Canon were taken aback by a ‘house-boy’ so startlingly inappropriate for this respected relative, the retired Winchester housemaster. But they could hardly believe the evidence of their eyes when, waiting in the sitting-room for ‘Georgie’s’ appearance, they found themselves faced on all sides with photographs large and small, perched on every available surface, on the piano and on the side tables and one (the most revealing) on an easel by itself, of this same glamorous little catamite, taken in the most provocative poses by one of the fashionable theatrical photographers of the moment.
The Canon champed together his yellow, ill-fitting teeth and didn’t know where to look or where to put his long ungainly length. Aunt Gertrude clucked and shook her handsome head and muttered: ‘Look at this… and this one!’ and ‘Have you seen that?’ And instead of staying for lunch, as we had intended, we retired in disorder as soon as we could.
Chapter Seven. Exploration and Experiment
I did not, I must confess, remain at this time so wholly sexually ignorant as I had been when I first arrived at College four years before. And an expedition I made to Germany, about this time, made me wonder how long my asexual affection for the boys was going to last. Up till that time it was still luting well enough. I had this favourite of mine, a tough, gay, very ordinary, un-intellectual boy, who from the early days of my form-teaching had attached himself to me. I put it that way round because it began, as so often with me, that way round. But all too soon their attachment to me became my attachment to them. They began as something of a nuisance: I ended as something of a slave.
Geoffrey was the son of an officer in the Indian Army who had been killed on the frontier. A widowed mother made desperate efforts (most of them futile) to be mother and father to an elder daughter, to Geoffrey and his younger brother, Michael. She wasn’t robust, and she wasn’t much of a personality. Goodness knows what sort of marriage she had gone through, to be so sure as she was, when I first met her, that Geoffrey (like his father, she seemed always to imply) was sure to go to the bad. She was certain that he would end up ‘sacked’ from College, and was ready to go to such lengths as steaming open his letters in the holidays to collect evidence against him; and to prove to me, who had become a family friend, that we had to watch him night and day.
In his dealings with me there was all too little evidence of inclinations which would lead to these disastrous results. As I grew ever so slightly more sophisticated, I only wished that there might have been. Every holiday, almost, I either took him on some spree—to the Welsh hills which he longed to climb, or to Paris of which he had Vie Parisienne expectations; or I stayed with them in their seaside house.
He was always affectionate and seemingly dependent, but never more than that. If, having by now learned a little more about the world, I yearned for something more intimate, and if, delicately, tentatively, with the greatest tact, I faintly hinted at it, he was off like a startled doe. And if, then, I showed some displeasure by withholding my all too complete confidence, then he would come back begging like an offended puppy for the previous total admiration.
But in case anyone should imagine that this was on his part either the result of natural virtue, or even a repulsion at the thought of the homosexual experience, I may say that one of the letters which his mother steamed open was from a contemporary; it revealed in the most pornographic detail an orgy of four; and the implication was clear that this was a regular, not an isolated performance in which Geoffrey was one of the participants.
He simply didn’t fancy me, that was the conclusion I am forced to. But it wasn’t, needless to say, as simple as that. Whatever experiments he conducted with his contemporaries, he was fundamentally a lover of girls, and afterwards showed it plainly enough. Yet if he had been caught in his experiments at College he would have been instantly and ignominiously sacked (‘There is no such thing as sex at College,’ the Master used to observe, ‘and if there is I knock it hard on the head’) and been branded perhaps as a homosexual when he was nothing of the kind. In fact, he was never found out, and it was his ‘innocent’ younger brother who happened to be caught, and bundled away.
By the same token, incidentally, if I had made overt advances and they had been accepted, I would have landed myself in prison, I suppose. Yet in half the cases of the kind, it is not the older one who makes the advances. There was one attractive, yellow-haired boy who over a space of time regularly used to barge into my bedroom in shorts and singlet, when he knew I was changing back from games: and when I met him later at a party in London, he wanted to know why on earth I hadn’t taken advantage of his arrival. That was what he had come for! And this was far from an isolated incident.
In any case my new-found sophistication didn’t go as deep as that. I merely feared it might do after my experience in Germany. How shallow that sophistication was may be judged from my surprise, my positive disbelief, when a junior colleague who knew of my inclinations told me that there were places in Germany—Munich, for instance—where boys offered their services for a modest sum. Male tarts? Were there really such things? Was it conceivable?
I had been reading lately about Flaubert and his positive preference for prostitution as a sexual mode, and I had thought of it as both romantic—a writer’s approach—and practical. No fuss, no fear, no difficult preliminaries. The job and only the job. So why not male tarts? No question of, Did they like it or, Would they be shocked by the social consequences of discovery. The more I thought of it—and I thought of it a good deal—the more sensible it seemed—if, of course, which I could hardly credit, it really was so.
But my natural timidity in this held, my innate prudishness, didn’t allow me to make straight for the objective. I arranged to go to Germany the next holidays, which was the long summer holidays. But as if to conceal (from myself? from whom?) the real purpose of the expedition, I enrolled first for a holiday course in German at Bonn University. Then after that month I might decide to go on to Munich. Surely it would be better, in any case, to know a little German first?
The Bonn part of the expedition was not a great success.
Worsley was unable to convince his Nazi landlady in Bonn that Hitler’s purge of Röhm and his SA associates was other than a sincere cleanup of homosexuals:
One effect of this discussion on me, this talk about a cleanup, was to make me fear I had come to Germany too late. Was I always to be left at the start? I cut short my language course and departed for Munich.
At Munich at this time there was a small group of boys who had just left College, among them one, Simon Astly, with whom I had been particularly friendly. I had been in correspondence with him, and he was there to meet me at the station, ready to show me the town. He was highly intelligent and very good company, with that capacity to make a drama out of his current life which is the fun of a creative temperament. I booked in at the same hotel as the others, one of several which lined the square opposite the station. And then, shivering, I must confess, with apprehension I was led by Simon to that famous bar of the time, The Black Fish.
Whatever it was that had motivated Hitler in his pounce upon Röhm, it hadn’t had the effect of cleaning up the Black Fish. There in all shapes and sizes, all shades of complexion, all colours of hair, dressed in their jerkins or their provocative Lederhosen, were these, previously to me unknown creatures, the male tarts, professional and semi-professional. It was a wonderful and startling array. Simon already had a young German boy-friend in Munich with whom he had just quarrelled. Like most of the boys in the place, as it seemed, this one was called Heinz: like most of them he was hungry and like all of them not easily to be shed by a prosperous patron.
He came over at once and began arguing with Simon, and the mere simplicity of a re-arrangement suggested itself as the obvious course. He took my fancy, and I would take him over. Simon was agreeable and Heinz, after the short sulk that vanity dictated, fell in with this plan. There was only one snag. Among the little College group in Munich at the time was one who had not yet left school. Abercrombie was an earnest young scientist who plagued us all with his perpetual hanging around. He was not vivacious like the others: he was decidedly heavy-in-the-hand. But he was good natured and keen as anything to be included in the group.
Abercrombie was in Munich. Worse, Abercrombie was in the Schwarze Fisch, here, on this evening with us. We had shaken off the others, for I certainly didn’t want to be seen by them going about this, as I still considered it, shady business. Simon was different. He had left, he was a close friend and he shared my inclinations. I didn’t mind his knowing what I was doing. But much more than all the others, I minded Abercrombie’s knowing. He was still at school. I didn’t even know him well enough to know how discreet he was. Besides, it seemed obviously unseemly to be accompanied to what was virtually a brothel by a boy in statu pupillari.
But there Abercrombie was, he had been impossible to shake off. He had attached himself and he was going to stay. He was an insensitive boy, impervious to hints. He merely grinned amiably, and sat it out. Or was he—this was my uncomfortable feeling—grinning at the sight of me engaged in this unexpected off-duty pursuit? I explained to Simon and Heinz that I wanted to be rid of him, and Simon arranged for Heinz to whisk me off on a lightning tour of the other similar boîtes.
Off we set, and Abercrombie came too. We dived into cellars, and Abercrombie padded down behind us. We trotted up stairs and hard on our heels, grinning agreeably, came Abercrombie. It was like some ghastly comic song: Abercrombie came too. We never were to succeed in shedding him: he clung on like a limpet. We stayed out far later than I wanted, went to far too many bars in far too many scattered districts. But Abercrombie came too.
What I intended was that, although he had seen the preliminary advances and presumably knew what was up, at least he shouldn’t actually see me taking this boy into my hotel. But I had no choice. Having got to Munich at last and to The Black Fish at length, I was not going to postpone the climax any longer. Heinz and I gave up the struggle: we went back to the hotel. Abercrombie came too.
At least he might have been useful in saving me the embarrassment that followed there; but I suppose he was more than a little fuddled. It is one of the embarrassments of the homosexual life that one never knows about any hotel, whether or not the night porter will be complaisant if one brings in a boy. Sometimes they are: sometimes they are not, in which case, of course, it is very disconcerting. Do women-lovers have the same problem? Probably: but the embarrassment is acuter in our case. I was not at all looking forward to this my first hotel palaver. Simon had assured me that no objection would be raised—but the later we went in the better, he suggested. Well, it was good and late. Heinz primed me with a story which I had carefully rehearsed: he was to be a student friend of mine from Cologne whom I had happened to run across, and he had nowhere to sleep: I had offered my couch. And indeed dressed in the almost universal Lederhosen of the district he could have passed as a student.
But I didn’t like the business at all—it was the first time I had attempted it. My German was terrible, and I was all too conscious of Abercrombie sitting on the banquette behind me, grinning. However, I stumbled out my unconvincing story before the blank, unbelieving stare of the night porter—a stare so blank and unbelieving that I felt sure he was going to throw us out. But he didn’t: he turned to his board of keys and asked, ‘What number, please?’ I gave him the number and he turned round, and now his stare was even more blank and unbelieving:
‘But our numbers don’t go so high in this hotel.’
What with the lateness of the hour, the strength of the Schnapps and my general state of funk, I had walked into the hotel next door to ours. And accompanied by the faithful Abercrombie, we had to stumble shamefacedly out and begin the negotiations all over again next door. However, our explanations were accepted there, too. We went up to my room and, Abercrombie shed at last, I was soon having my first boy.
Either Heinz was very good at his trade or he genuinely liked me. We had a blissful ten days together doing the rounds of the town and going on excursions—oh those German excursions!—to the surrounding lakes. My holiday over, he came to see me off at the station and, touchingly, wept as the train drew out. What I was wondering as I travelled back to England was how, back at College, I was ever, after this, going to be able to keep my hands off the boys in the future.
As it turned out, temptation didn’t work that way at all. Munich, and the pleasures that Munich had introduced me to, belonged to a different world—the great world outside. It began to beckon, this world, with increasing insistence.
This was how I thought of it:
How the lazy and parasitic sods
Lounge on their morning beds, their legs apart!
And in the sad and strangling afternoons
Rise only to caress the thing they love!
Isn’t it wicked, isn’t it shameless and disgusting?
And how, oh how, does one join their careless company?
I shouldn’t be giving a truthful impression if I implied that this episode with Heinz was my first sexual experience. That, in the very strictest sense, had taken place at Brightlands when, in Mr. Donavon’s side-car, I had had my chosen little friend on my knee, though I was only to remember that first and early erection after analysis many years later. Then came the Great Repression which lasted beyond Cambridge; and even there the first emission took place in such embarrassing circumstances that it wasn’t perhaps entirely surprising in my peculiar condition, that I didn’t connect what happened with the pleasure that people get from kissing girls in taxis. We—Bacchus and I and some others of the Sandy touring side, somewhere in the West Country—were ragging about. I had, with some instinct below the surface, once again as at Marlborough, got myself into the role of the victim of these rags, and I was being playfully but quite painfully flogged on the bottom when I realised that the front of my pants was soaking, and dimly I guessed what had occurred. I was shamefaced and too anxious to reach a bathroom where I could conceal it from anyone else, to have got pleasure from it.
Perhaps this even set awareness back a year or two, so shameful and so self-betraying the whole incident had seemed. But slowly and surely now, however dimly, awareness was beginning to dawn. I had at least, at College, discovered how to give myself secret satisfaction, if that word is applicable to an activity that brought more guilt than pleasure. But not even a re-perusal of the Greek Anthology suggested any satisfactory way of applying this new found knowledge to the favourites I was making.
Indeed I had a striking example of the very opposite when, in the early days of our reforming movement, Scott, one of the intelligent and forward-looking Tutors on whose co-operation I depended, invited a well-known sexologist to come down and lecture to the senior members of his Dormitory. This Scott was a most amiable, slightly muddle-headed man, full of the best intentions. He was also a good cricketer, that useful cover for advanced opinions, though his opinions were not perhaps really so advanced as those of his energetic and, some found, bossy wife, who was known to the school in general as Napoleon.
Between them they had organised this lecture and, in the circumstances of that time at College, the sense of outrage this produced was prodigious. But what made matters outrageously worse was that when the sexologist arrived he turned out to be a ‘she’. To discuss sex in the open conspiracy of a lecture was bad enough; but to have it discussed by a woman passed all bounds. Not that Dr. Jameson was exactly a provocative figure herself. She was a sensible downright woman with spectacles who, naturally in her profession, prided herself on her plain speaking.
It was part of Scotty’s arrangement that after the lecture she would make time for any boy or master who wanted to discuss their sexual problems with her, and for this purpose I took my place in the queue.
We walked round the garden together, and I tried to explain my problem, the difficulty being that I still had no language in which to pose it. I seemed to be gingerly confessing to being no more than over-fond of one of the boys. Dr. Jameson wasn’t standing for any evasions of that kind.
‘You mean you’re in love with him?’
I still hadn’t put it to myself in those terms, but faced with the question I supposed I was. Yes, that must be it.
‘Well, then,’ she went on with her brash and straightforward questioning, ‘how far has it got?’
It had ‘got’ no distance at all, though this sounded, in front of so formidably progressive a woman, a feeble confession to have to make.
‘You mean,’ she went on disbelievingly, ‘you haven’t had his organ in your hand?’
Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! I was nearly sick at her progressive feet. Such a proceeding hadn’t even entered my fantasies, much less had I contemplated it in real life. I was much too amazed by this totally unfamiliar suggestion to register even the repugnance which was to follow later.
‘No, indeed not.’ I rejected both her suggestion and the idea.
‘Oh, bad luck,’ she said encouragingly. ‘Bad luck. Never mind, that will be the next step, won’t it?’ And she briskly rounded off the interview.
That would be the next step, would it? Not likely! The notion filled me with horror, alarm, repugnance and despondency. If that was what sex meant, then I was cut off from it for ever. To do what she suggested was the last thing I wanted to do. It made me retch to think of it.
Yet if that was what people did want, it must obviously be looked into. I was very progressive in thought, if not in deed. I could experiment, and I could use myself as the subject or rather the object. It hadn’t escaped my attention that there were at least two members of the staff who fancied me, both of them sufficiently different from the average flannel bagged and sports-coated beaks, both of them sufficiently louche in appearance and conversation to suggest that they knew the score.
Mr. Leith had the disadvantage, at College, of not being a Public School man. He didn’t look quite right and he didn’t speak quite right. He was totally unathletic, a rather fat, squashy young man, though not without charm. He was a giggler, and had a way of sliding his great brown eyes sideways at me, as if looking me over for possibilities. He never concealed his proclivities, and talked of his pupils as much in terms of their attractions as of their ability. Not that he wasn’t passionate about teaching, and a fine teacher too. But he was no less passionate about boys. Yet he didn’t, any more than I did, give this passion any practical outlet.
It would plainly not be difficult to get him to seduce me: nor was it. Nor was it, either, a very rewarding experience. I hope I have made it clear by now that I was at this time a raging snob, a snob of every kind, social, intellectual and athletic. It was the athletic snobbery that worked against him. Love, in however debased a form, was conceivable only between beautiful bodies.
I remember one night he had come into my bedroom and I was graciously allowing him to pleasure me—the idea that I should in any way reciprocate was still totally abhorrent—when Mullogh came dashing up the stairs calling out my name. I had been growing away from Mullogh steadily, but still admired and respected his athletic drive and enthusiasm. He banged upon my sitting-room door and turned on the light. In the bedroom across the passage we froze into immobility. If whatever Mullogh wanted was urgent, he wouldn’t hesitate to open the bedroom door, too, and there we would be caught in flagrante delicto.
Luckily he didn’t; the dangerous moment passed; he was off down the stairs again. And the really rather despicable thing was that my terror of discovery had not been exclusively—or even predominantly—of being caught in bed with someone. Theoretically I was ‘advanced’ enough by now to be ready to brazen this out. It was being caught in bed with anyone so positively ugly, so physically unfit, so wholly unattractive as Mr. Leith.
The other member of the staff whose eye had wandered in my direction suffered from similar disadvantages, though the details were different. Roland Staines was a good squash and tennis player: he was very well-off, owning a delightful sprawling Queen Anne house nearby to which he drove for weekends. Mullogh and the rest of the athletic set of masters never concealed their contempt for him—for he was all too obviously what we should now call a ‘queen’.
I couldn’t be unaffected by this obvious dislike for him among the athletic set, the only masters I really admired at College, and was positively ashamed of rather liking him myself—or was it a liking simply for his physical admiration of me combined with a naive admiration for his possessions? A mixture of both, no doubt, and the feelings combined to make my association guilt-laden and uneasy.
He made no bones about his inclinations. In his rooms in college he had a large Tuke—a shimmering beauty of an adolescent lying naked in the grass: it was called ‘Summer Dreams’. When he first acquired it, or first displayed it, he countered criticism by asking the Master round to admire; and the Master who had no eye for the visual whatsoever duly arrived and pronounced it ‘Pretty: very pretty.’
Roland had been clever enough, anyhow, to get in well with the Master by being particularly kind and generous to the Master’s three growing sons who devoured so much of his not particularly generous salary, and one of whom was something of a problem boy. Roland was also a remarkably good teacher and thoroughly in control of his tastes. He was far too discreet to do anything to bring direct suspicion on himself within the school. Why should he risk it, when not ten miles away there was the privacy of his Queen Anne house?
It was his simple rule that the boys while they were at school were sacred. And he never deviated from it. But once they had left, it was another matter. And since the kind of boys he fancied had to be queer by nature, no harm was done. Mullogh, with his direct uncomplicated puritanism, used to argue, when he was trying to persuade me out of my association with him, that Roland was a corrupting personality. He didn’t know for sure about what went on at Roland’s house: and he didn’t, in the fashion of the time, allude directly to it. His argument was that Roland used his wealth to corrupt, that he gave his favourites a wrong sense of values. And indeed if this was corruption, Roland certainly corrupted me.
His house was an old-fashioned family house inside, left him intact by his mother; it was run by three aged and adoring family servants who fussed over ‘the young master’ in just the way old family servants should. The meals were lengthy, varied and delicious in the old English club fashion. Drink flowed. Upstairs there was a full-size billards table in which we delighted: in the garden, scrupulously kept by the family gardener, there was a perfect tennis court.
In the evenings after dinner it was first billiards and then poker to which we all became addicted. Roland was a drinker though not an alcoholic; and every weekend by the end of the evening he was decidedly fuddled and uninhibitedly demonstrative. There would usually be one or two of his chosen ‘old boys’ staying: the dinner and poker party would consist of two or three of the junior masters, for whom, equally with the boys, Mullogh displayed his paternal anxiety. But it was really not necessary.
If we had long holidays, we worked pretty hard as assistant masters during the term. Those who coached the games had a day of unceasing activity with the boys from early school at 7.15 to 6.30 at night: and most evenings were taken up with correcting written work or preparing lessons. A relaxed Saturday night of too much drink and too long poker sessions wasn’t all that harmful.
Nor did Roland press his attentions except in the most fuddled way on those who didn’t want them. He was not objectionable. His attentions to me were, in any case, invited. It was part of the Experiment. Still ashamed of being seen surrendering, at least to anyone not excusably prepossessing, I invented a very weak head for drink, and allowed myself to be ‘put to bed’ before the others left in the early hours of the morning. Whether the device succeeded in throwing them off the scent, I had no means of testing. It was cover enough for my vanity.
But these sexual experiments, more in the nature of casual encounters than actual attachments, did very little to awaken my sexual appetites. They were the passive acceptance of the advances of others: they were hardly more than graciously accepted: much less were they active satisfactions. More dangerous to my position of trust as a schoolmaster was the Munich affair when it arrived. With Heinz, sex had not been passive; it had not been a case even of my learning to hold his organ—Dr. Jameson’s prescription still seemed to me abnormal. It was a question rather of his teaching me where I could put mine.
Yet it still remained true, for some reason which I couldn’t, and still can’t, explain, that it didn’t spark off the connection with my purely generalised homo-erotic feelings for the attractive young males all round me. Yet I was to use that as an excuse to myself and others for my sudden and abrupt throwing up of this life. It gave a faintly altruistic excuse which appealed to my moral vanity.
Chapter Nine. The Last Plot
Though becoming disenchanted with life at Wellington, Worsley accepted the offer of Malim, the [Head] Master, to become “Tutor” (housemaster) of a “Dormitory” (boys’ house) at the young age of twenty-five.
But the Tutorship was for the following term, and in the meanwhile a new character had come on the scenes, Dr. Saunders. He had appeared first the term before as a preacher in morning chapel. His sermon that morning—and sermons in chapel didn’t often make much impact—caused a real stir. I don’t know quite what it was. Was it a mixture of absolute sincerity with an absolute absence of pomposity?
He had been in the East a good deal and he was wholly free of that nagging strain of Judaism which is the least attractive element in Christianity and which leads many ordinary Englishmen, or boys, anyhow, to train themselves to a kind of partial deafness in churches or chapels. He sketched a whole range of Eastern religious experience which came fresh to us. I had never heard my lot discussing a sermon with such interest before.
We were in my room talking about it, when I was summoned by the Master to meet Dr. Saunders before lunch; and I promised them that I would try and fix up a meeting of the Society that afternoon and persuade Dr. Saunders to come over and talk to it.
I went across to the Master’s Lodge, and, as I came to the hedge, I could hear them talking in the garden, and wished I could see the Master’s face as Dr. Saunders developed his theme:
‘Christ and Socrates were not surely so very different either in their moral stature or their approach. Would you agree, Master? Yet somehow I find that young people shy off Christ when they are perfectly ready to accept the greatness of Socrates. What, after all, was the great difference between them? Surely in the magnitude of the moral problems which they respectively faced. Socrates’ was minor by comparison. The moral problem he had to face was only buggery…’
The Master, I found—and it was something very unusual in that ironic self-contained man—was completely under Dr. Saunders’ spell. He not only persuaded him to stay on for the afternoon, but invited my Society to meet the Doctor in his own garden and promised he himself would attend. It was an unprecedented honour.
The meeting was a wild success. Dr. Saunders was as enchanted with my lot’s intelligence as they were with his. The Master almost beamed. And the upshot was that he—never before, or since, an impulsive man—promptly offered Saunders the post of Chaplain which was coming vacant, like my Tutorship, the next term.
Dr. Saunders was not in Holy Orders, but such was Malim’s enthusiasm that he brushed this objection aside. We would have a lay-chaplain: there were several ordained priests on the staff to cover the formal side of things. The school needed Dr. Saunders: Dr. Saunders must come to us.
And, as it happened, Dr. Saunders was indeed free. He had just completed a tour of duty in the somewhat exotic capacity of ‘Ethical Adviser to the Gaikwar of Baroda’. Now he was caught up in the enthusiasm he had generated. He had never before taught in a school, and there was nothing like a new ethical experience. Yes, he would come!
His appointment was greeted with less enthusiasm by the Old Guard who, now complete again under the chairmanship of the restored Hoffman, were taking up position in the hope of regaining lost ground. My appointment, now announced, as the new Tutor did nothing to gladden their hearts.
Saunders’ actual presence among us the next term and his methods of education when he started teaching only increased their suspicion. He had some arthritic complaint in one hip and knee, and he walked stiffly, leaning on a stick. With his grey hair, blue eyes, anglo-Indian complexion, loose ties and cloak for cold days, he certainly cut an unexpected figure in our conventional set-up. Then, he liked to practice both the Socratic method and the Socratic manner. At the least glimpse of sunlight his class, whom he declined to treat as a class, were streaming out of doors to pursue the truth—the more eager of them anyway—by question and answer.
There was no problem of disorderliness. No one could accuse him of lack of discipline. But he didn’t need to exert discipline. The power of his eye was enough. The boys gathered round, under oaktree or pine, and the questions were shot and the answers shot down. Another question, another answer, another immediate riposte. The boys adored him. They longed for his classes, they thronged his rooms. Buddha and Zen were names in College long before beatniks were invented. He was an instant and howling success.
But not with the Old Guard. They couldn’t exactly dislike him: he was so open and so frank. They couldn’t persuade him, though they tried, of course, to abandon his wildly experimental methods in favour of the conventional, for they couldn’t counter his naive incredulity at their objections. His methods experimental, indeed? Hadn’t Socrates taught so? And who was a greater teacher than Socrates except, perhaps, Christ? Or would they put Buddha higher? What did they think? And Buddha, they would remember, was always pictured teaching under a tree. There was something about a tree that was quietly but visibly symbolic of the kind of growth that they were all aiming at. Didn’t they find? Didn’t they think?
What they thought was that it was damned disruptive having this fellow marching about the grounds with a mass of boys surrounding him, and no guarantee that there weren’t stragglers going off into the bushes to amuse each other. What sort of an example of discipline was this lay-chaplain setting? And if he said to them once more that self-discipline was the only discipline, they would lose their tempers!
But Dr. Saunders went blandly on, stamping through the woods with his disciples in tow, drawing analogies from nature and art, and provoking thought, especially among the seniors, in the true Socratic style. The Old Guard were soon as alive as the Athenians had been to the danger of a Socrates in their midst. They decided to act, and they knew only one way, their old smear-campaign method of attack. They began to put it about that Dr. Saunders, too, was over-fond of the boys. He was making favourites. He was forming attachments.
That there was anything the least suspect about this high-minded man, no one could seriously have believed. If he carried things a bit far, it was certainly not out of deliberate provocation. He had simply never experienced anything like a backward public school before. He was amazed and astounded at its provincialism and its narrow hidebound ethics. He calmly disregarded its conventions and its customs, and carried on as if they didn’t exist. Perhaps then, in due course, he said, other people there would perceive that they weren’t necessary. Canes, lines, detention, and those detestable afternoon runs which were decreed for all boys not engaged in a formal game in order to keep them out of mischief—none of these things were the essentials that we seemed to think them. No reasonable society would think of tolerating them. Given time, we would all see it.
It can be imagined how much I enjoyed this iconoclasm—only it wasn’t iconoclasm to him, just the simple truth. And Talboys got a lot of fun out of building up stories about him:
‘I passed Saunders today,’ he would come in to report, ‘sitting cross-legged under a Wellingtonia, and do you know, Worsley, he was in such a state of beatitude he didn’t even notice his class had forsaken him in favour of rounders. Isn’t he enviably holy?’
So the enemy decided to strike. It was Hoffman himself, wholly undeterred by his term’s rustication, who chose to throw the first stone. He had the temerity to write to the parents of one of his boys protesting that their son was seeing too much of Dr. Saunders and advising them to order him to desist.
His parents, ordinary, beef-witted, officer-class people, made the cardinal error of enclosing Hoffman’s letter in their next letter to their son. In half an hour it was in Saunders’ hands. He brought it straight to me.
I, of course, was more delighted than shocked. Now it really did seem as if the enemy had once more been delivered into our hands. They had made the old mistake of forcing an issue from a weak position. Either the lay-chaplain was fit to be a lay-chaplain or he wasn’t; and the Master had banked so heavily on Saunders that he obviously couldn’t afford to have his trust in him challenged.
Dr. Saunders was for the first time really indignant. He had stood the pinpricks of the Old Guard with quiet equanimity. Besides, he had only half believed my stories of their iniquities. Indeed the whole College set-up was, to his fresh eyes, so barbarian, so backward, so positively tribal that he couldn’t credit that two years earlier it had been so very much worse.
I recounted once more my own experiences, and urged him to go straight to the Master. It was no good, I said, dealing direct with Hoffman. Why, he was only half a term back from the exile that the same kind of behaviour had earned, and here he was at it again! It can’t be said that my advice was disinterested. Young and excitable, I was exulting. This time they really had done it. And so at last, after many arguments, consultations, hesitations, Dr. Saunders was finally persuaded that there was only one proper course, and the offensive letter was taken over to the Master’s Lodge.
Malim, as I had foreseen, was thoroughly distressed. I dare say he, too, had had misgivings about Saunders’ methods: they were not his idea of education. But he wasn’t the man to go back on a decision however much he regretted it; and this direct challenge to his authority, so soon after his diplomatic saving of Hoffman’s bacon, sickened him. Very well, then, if that was the way they wanted it, that’s the way they should have it, and so he sat down there and then and wrote one of his notes. Hoffman was to go! Again, and finally!
But our rejoicing, carried far into the early hours, was again not to last long. Saunders was not present throughout it, and when he did arrive, it was to cut it short. He had been thinking, he had been praying. And the more he had thought and meditated, the more certain he had become. He couldn’t do this thing. We fought him, argued with him, begged him. Didn’t he realise he only had to show weakness and they would pounce? Never mind that, he said, he could stand up to them.
What he couldn’t do, as the representative of the Christian ethic in the school, was deliberately break a colleague in mid-career. What was to happen to Hoffman, if he were dismissed at this point? He would face complete ruin. All the arguments which I in my innocence hadn’t considered earlier, he now brought up. The ex-ethical Adviser to the Gaikwar of Baroda was adamant. He knew what was right, and he had to do it. He would go over to the Master in the morning and offer peace and reconciliation. We should, then, see what a difference it would make to the whole atmosphere.
I knew just the reaction it would produce, but nothing I could say would alter his fixed determination. He was bent on martyrdom, and martyrdom was what he was to suffer.
The Master, in the nature of his temperament, grasped at the straw when, next morning, Saunders went across with his peace offering. Let them all forgive and forget and start again on a new footing. I didn’t blame Malim. It wasn’t an easy decision to sack an important member of the staff. It was bound to have repercussions. The Governors would want to know why. Story-tellers would immediately go to them with exaggerated tales of Saunders’ weird practices. It would all be very uncomfortable. In three years, what with the fuss about Out of Bounds, Winston Churchill’s nephew running away, and the Hoffman petition, the Master had had a pretty rough ride. And he was essentially a man of compromise.
Saunders’ change of heart was a marvellous let-off for him. He promptly called a Masters’ meeting and dressed us all down. All of us had behaved with malice and uncharitableness. We were fighting like weasels in a bag. It wouldn’t do. We should be members one of another. We must learn to live together. The Master was more of a Pauline than a Christian. There was more of the dryness of the Epistles than the sentiment of the Gospels in his address. But he did come up at the end with a note of histrionic appeal unusual for him:
‘Tomorrow, gentlemen,’ he finished—and he calculated the pause well—Tomorrow is All Saints’ Day, and I wish you all to come to chapel and take Holy Communion with me and let us re-dedicate ourselves to the service of the school.’
For my part I didn’t take Holy Communion with him the next morning. I just felt rising more strongly than ever that impulse to get out. It was the end of the campaign, and we had thrown away the victory when it was in our hands. It was a purely self-regarding view. I didn’t consider the others. I personally had lost. If I could have foreseen the outcome, I might have been more generously upset. For a sad, though quite a different, fate awaited each of the protagonists in this last battle. Dr. Saunders lingered on after I had left two terms later. But his influence waned. He was constantly under the sniping fire of the Old Guard who, after this let-off, re-asserted their position. If he had been able to last even another year or two, he would have come under a new Headmaster more sympathetic to his views. As it was, he lost heart, he couldn’t stand the persecution: he went out—so I heard—one evening, and, in the countryside nearby, committed hari-kari in the Eastern fashion by burning himself to death in a woodman’s hut.
The fate of Hoffman was no less’ tragic. He had—it was said and I don’t find it impossible to believe—for years been fiddling with the boys as he beat them across his knees. It is odd how much boys will put up with without complaining. But at last a complaint was made, and was substantiated. At last Hoffman did go.
Then, I remembered vividly the ridiculous advice on sex I had received from my housemaster at Marlborough. But what advice was I now, with my inclinations, and with my absurdly limited experience of the subject, to give to these adolescents? Or where was I to stand, if, as sooner or later was bound to happen, one of my boys was involved in a sexual scandal? I, who had suffered so much, as I thought, from the lack of a father, had allowed myself to be cast in the rôle of a father substitute for fifty boys. Was anyone ever less competent to assume it?
I dare say it might have done me the world of good to have faced these problems and tried to overcome them. Instead I ducked them. I ducked them even in my own mind. I gave to myself as my reason for throwing up the job those dreadful confirmation sessions, the increasing difficulty, as I foresaw it, of my awareness of my own sexual inclinations, and, above all, the impossibility of now finding the time for the writing that I was more and more interested in.
1. A Missed Chance
The first of these episodes centred round one of the small boys I was tutoring at the time. It was 1934, and I was twenty-seven. As I had anticipated, my testimonials from College could get me almost any job I wanted as a private tutor, and I had taken on several such chores, while I was still plugging away unsuccessfully at my first novel.
Though initially reluctant to take on a tutoring job at that moment, Worsley accepted an offer from Sir Walter Craig, an impressive Liberal baronet, to tutor his son David for three months, when Sir Walter accepted his request for twice his usual salary. Sir Walter told him the job would be tricky, but …
As it turned out, it wasn’t tricky at all. Whatever was thought to be wrong with ‘Master David’ didn’t show on the surface or even as far below it as I managed to reach. He was a sweet, dear-natured, natural little boy of thirteen, delicately good-looking, but in fact physically quite robust: while his mother, the second Lady Craig was a seemingly very simple Scottish woman who made no difficulties at all at first. Christopher Isherwood, who had had a wide experience of the tutorship racket, used to say that one was always employed to straighten out the mother, not the son. And I had earlier found the truth of this.
But Lady Craig didn’t seem to be one of these mothers.
Worsley has just described Lady Craig’s attitude to her 19-year-old step-son, whom she hoped would be killed in the war to come so her own son could inherit his father’s title:
But to me at Englemoor she showed this side of her character only by a slight and natural jealousy. She had five other children beside David and was an anxious and busy mother to them. Only gradually did she begin to resent David’s attachment to me. This had, I admit, become over-obvious. He was both touchingly proud of me and completely dependent, and very exclusive in his passion of first love. He hated letting me out of his sight. He would follow me into my bedroom when I went to change. He would sometimes come into my bathroom when I was bathing and stand looking with a smile of shy but proprietory pride at his tutor. I had taken this lightly until one day he asked:
‘Shall I have a body as beautiful as yours when I grow up?’
A tougher character than I was might have found this attitude mawkish, but I found it irresistible. I simply wasn’t capable of turning away from his shy, slight caresses and gentle love. I never knew what it was—I never could get it out of anyone—that was keeping him away from school. Was it something connected with this? Anyhow I decided that the best way I could help him was to be available to his need to love which, anyhow, never went beyond a secret smile or a hand gently touching mine with a glance upwards that looked for a response.
Plainly Lady Craig resented this devotion, but not very actively: her attention was too divided, and I only noticed her jealousy when I thought over the whole episode later. His affection reached its culmination on our last night.
I had stayed on as he had begged I would beyond my three months term through to his holidays and I was to take him back and deliver him to his prep school on the first day of term. His mother, he and I journeyed over to London for his last two nights. His father was abroad on some mission, and the house was empty except for the servants. We arrived late from Ireland and went more or less straight to our respective bedrooms.
The next morning towards lunch time, there was a call for Lady Craig from Englemoor. The younger brother had a temperature, slight, but worrying. She didn’t know what she should do—stay to see David off the next morning or dart back to Ireland? David decided her by assuring her that he was perfectly all right. He wasn’t a bit worried about going back to school. In any event, I was taking him, so she needn’t bother about him. She’d much better go back to his brother. And so she decided, leaving us together.
As a last night treat I took him to the five o’clock performance at a cinema. Charlie Chaplin it was, I remember, then we went back to Eaton Square for a supper left out by the servants who had gone out or gone to bed. After the necessary half hour’s breather I suggested:
‘Time for your bath, David.’
‘O.K., but you’re having one too, aren’t you?’
‘Later,’ I said, ‘before I go to bed.’
He looked at me dismayed and crestfallen:
‘But you’re coming to bed with me, aren’t you?’
How was I to respond to such an invitation? He was a most fetching and engaging boy. I was half in love with him myself, and if I concealed it, that was less out of conscience than out of timidity.
‘Nonsense David, you’re quite old enough to go to bed by yourself.’
‘But you must,’ he pleaded, ‘you must. Why do you think I’ve arranged that the house should be empty?’ he demanded.
‘Arranged?’ I said. ‘What do you mean “arranged”?’
‘Well, you didn’t think my brother was really ill, did you? I fixed it up on the telephone this morning to get mother away, so you could sleep with me. Please, you must.’
I didn’t know what to do or what to say. Tears were already forming in the corners of his eyes.
‘But don’t you see, David. I can’t sleep with you. We’re too old for that. That’s child’s stuff.’
‘I don’t see it at all,’ he said. ‘I’ve fixed it all up. I’ve thought of it for days. It’s the whole point. You must! You must!’
And he broke into a passion of weeping.
He refused to be comforted. Nothing less would satisfy him. I argued and wheedled. All to no effect. Until eventually, reluctantly, I agreed.
‘All right, you go on ahead and get into bed and I’ll join you.’
The tears stopped: the sun shone. He was all sparkle. He was off to the bathroom:
‘Come and see me in my bath.’
I did and he was soon chatting brightly about school, about how he was looking forward to getting back again, about his friends and his achievements.
As I lay in my bath, I seemed to be facing once again a problem that I had found insuperable as a Tutor at College. Here I was incompetently cast in the rôle of father-substitute. And how was I to play it? What anyhow did this boy mean by ‘come to bed with me’? What exactly did he have in mind? How was it that in three months of the closest relationship I hadn’t the slightest idea? I had consistently—consistently with my own sexual timidity—never once broached the subject with him all that time. I had allowed—or encouraged?—a relationship of love to grow up between us, and it had, it couldn’t be denied, its physical side, though expressed so far in nothing more active than slight caresses.
But now, ‘I fixed it up so you could sleep with me’. Just what did that imply? What did he want? What was my obligation?
Then suddenly I had a blindingly clear revelation about myself. My whole life might have been different if, at this boy’s age, someone, such as I now was in relation to him, someone loved, trusted and admired, could have broken down that false innocence of mine, and with gentleness and love taught me the uses of my body. That, though I didn’t know it, was what I had wanted, what I had needed. It might have made all the difference. It would not have been an act of seduction, but an act of education. Didn’t every thing this boy had just said and done show that that was what he was looking for too, whether he was conscious of it or not?
I got out of my bath with the fixed resolution to carry it through, but rather frightened, too, and rather hoping that, as I had been a long time in the bathroom, the decision would be taken out of my hands by finding him fast asleep. No such luck; he was awake but sleepy. I got into bed beside him, and he flung himself into my arms and lay there clasped, happy and drowsy.
And then my resolution miserably failed me. Timidity took over. I hadn’t the sexual confidence to cope with the situation. In this crisis of our relationship I failed him. I waited for him to fall asleep, and though I slept little, he rose from my side next morning, like Alcibiades on that famous occasion rising from the side of Socrates, as if from the side of a brother. I ruefully recalled that in my own boyhood I had been specially praised for moral courage, and to those same people this inaction of mine would, I suppose, be praised too as another example of it. But I recognised it as an act of moral cowardice. It was a defeat for knowledge, and knowledge, not innocence, is what the young want and need.
We went down to his school the next day and installed him. He was in high spirits. Everyone seemed delighted to see him. He seemed delighted to see everybody. We made our adieux in a deserted classroom when he was showing me round the school. He looked round to see that the place was quite empty, that no one could see us; then he pulled down my face and gave me, what the night before he hadn’t given, a kiss on the lips. I never saw him again. Lady Craig had often insisted that I must come and see them when the tutorship was over. But no invitation ever arrived.
2. Sea Breezes
This is the story of Worsley’s acquaintanceship (ending badly) with Kurt Hahn, the forceful German exile who founded Gordonstoun School in Scotland in 1934. Having met him twice, Worsley was invited to spend a summer term observing Gordonstoun without being enrolled as a teacher.
He [Hahn] took me over one day to show me this coastguard watch in action. As we walked towards it there came, trotting towards us away from it, one of the duty boys, dressed in the shirt and shorts which all Gordonstoun boys sensibly wore. The lad trotted by, and Hahn stopped me and in that familiar gesture of his gripped my arm:
‘Did you notice that boy?’
I had noticed him only because he was well known as the school tart; but I wasn’t sure whether Hahn would have been aware of that so I replied non-committally:
‘You didn’t,’ said Hahn, ‘notice his eyes?’ I admitted that I hadn’t.
‘Ah!’ Hahn said sadly. ‘You should have noticed that. That’s what coastguard watching does for a boy. His eyes were crystalline and pure. You only see such eyes in two kinds of people,’ and with immense emphasis, ‘ze hunter home from ze hill and ze sailor home from ze sea.’
This remark, and the other in the classroom seemed to me so ineffably, so Germanically silly, that I couldn’t take Hahn completely seriously from then on.
 The thin disguise seems pointless considering Worsley calls the Master of Wellington by his real name, Malim, as he does the Romilly brothers, the best-known pupils there in the 1930s.
 Worsley has just mentioned that the boys he was teaching at this stage were fifteen.
 A sympathetic senior master keen on making the school more intellectually stimulating.
 The second of his elder brothers, really called William Lister Worsley (Frederick Arthur Crisp, Visitation of England and Wales, vol. 18 (1914), p. 175).
 The nickname of his best friend at Cambridge.
 Benjamin’s real names were Richard Geoffrey Worsley, and he was born on 20 August 1912, so he was nearly five years younger than Cuthbert (Frederick Arthur Crisp, Visitation of England and Wales, vol. 18 (1914), p. 175).
 Their young Scottish nanny.
 Deaths: “On July 15, 1925, drowned while bathing at Southerndown, Richard Geoffrey, youngest son of the DEAN of LLANDAFF and Mrs. WORSLEY, aged 15.” (The Times, 18 July 1928). The following expression of Cuthbert Worsley's feelings does not touch on Greek love as such, but may be thought powerfully relevant to the dilemma he was to face at the end of the first story in his epilogue:
however gentle everyone was with me, I had the facts to face. I was alive and he was dead. He, the specially beloved of them all, the little genius, the most precious of any of us, hadn't survived. I had. And how could I forget that in the final climax of that deadly crisis, I had cast him off? I had torn myself free. If I hadn't, there would, of course, have been two deaths instead of one. True. But I had, I had actually, physically, deliberately, wilfully torn his clutching hands away from my thighs.
Are such traumas ever healed? Was I ever to be released from dreams in which such a thing had not happened? Or in which it turned out differently? In which I could swim and, swimming on my back, brought him to the shore as in the illustrations in the manuals? Would I ever be able to persuade myself that my story—accepted so willingly by the family—that I couldn't swim was true, when I had swum, I had swum thirty or forty yards to that rocky point and had got there—alone?
 The Revd. John Carlyon Vavasor Durell, whose biography in Who’s Who (1926) p. 860 describes him as “Hon. Canon, Southwark Cathedral, 1920” and married to “Ellen Maud, d. of Henry Wood Payne, Bombay”. She was evidently Worsley’s “Aunt Gertrude”, since F. A. Crisp, op. cit., says Worsley’s mother was a daughter of a man of the same names and abode.
 Clement Vavasor Durell (1882-1968), described by the Alumni Cantabrigiensis 1752-1900 by J. A. Venn (Cambridge, 1944), vol. 2 p. 361 as a brother of John Carlyon Vavasor Durell (see preceding note), House Master at Winchester 1920-7, “author” and (in 1940) “of Meadow House, Winchester.”
 Implicitly 1934.
 The advice “ran roughly like this: ‘You might find some white matter exuding from your private parts. Don’t worry about it. It’s only a sort of disease like measles.’ “ (Chapter 2).
 There was no such man as “Sir Walter Craig”, so this is unsurprisingly an instance where Worsley felt he had to use false names. However, Craig sounds suspiciously like the recently ennobled David Davies (1880-1944). As described for Sir Walter, Davies was a Liberal politician and leading advocate of giving the League of Nations “teeth” through the establishment an international police force. Also conforming to critical elements of Worsley’s story, Davies had been married twice, his first wife had left only a son who was nineteen in 1934, his current wife had given him several children (though four rather than six), and his son and heir by his first wife was killed in the Second World War leaving a child who inherited the grandfather’s title. The small discrepancies are easily understood as camouflage. If this identification is correct, the boy whom Worsley failed to initiate in love was Edward David Grant Davies (30 Jan. 1925 – 26 October 1997), who went to Gordonstoun (another coincidence), and the true story probably took place in 1938 rather than 1934, which also makes better sense of the expectation of war Worsley describes. 1934 is anyway impossible because the tutoring Worsley undertook was in term-time and well after he left Wellington, where he remained for at least one term after his visit to Germany in the summer of 1934.
 This was in 1936 according to Lodewijk van Oord in “Kurt Hahn’s moral equivalent of war”, Oxford Review of Education XXXVI No. 3 (June 2010), p. 261.
 A little earlier, “We were going through the classrooms when, in one, he suddenly stopped, gripped my arm, raised his nostrils in the air, and then, in his marked German accent, he solemnly pronounced: ‘Somevon has been talking dirt in this room. I can smell it.’ “