Monday, 19 September 2011


So far on this blog, I've related a couple of anecdotes about two of my old art teachers, Mr. BOB BELL and Mr. SLOSS, with a passing reference to Mr. McLEAN along the way.

Now it's time to draw back the curtain and introduce yet another teacher from the dim and distant days of my youth; so let's have a big hand for Mr. DOUGIE SMITH, one of the more popular teachers at DUNCANRIG SENIOR SECOND-ARY.  Not that any pupil ever dared call him Dougie to his face as far as I know, but that was how they affectionately referred to him throughout the school.

Mr. Smith's classroom under fire-escape stairway

You know that sense of amazement one feels when, years after having left school, you see a teacher who doesn't seem to have aged in the slightest since you were a kid?  When you're a youngster, anyone over 21 seems older than they actually are, which probably accounts for my inability to supply an accurate assessment of what age Mr. Smith would've been back in the early '70s.  He could have been anything from 35-45, but it'd be pointless trying to narrow it down any further because I simply don't have a clue.  Not that it's important I suppose, but I like to give my readers (both of them) a fully rounded picture of the subject under discussion.

Mr. Smith's old Maths class in 2007.  At some point the room had
been extended out into the hallway...

Anyway, Mr. Smith was blond-haired and what I assume would be regarded by the fairer sex as a fairly handsome Maths teacher who, like many another teacher at that time, still wore the classic bat-like gown as immortalised by Mr. CREEP in the WINKER WATSON strip in The DANDY.  I seem to recall him also wearing the mortarboard hat on occasion, but quite possibly I'm imagining it.  (Although as he had the gown he would most likely have had the hat too, one would presume.) The fact that teachers still wore such traditional educational apparel most likely accounts for why I never found strips like BILLY BUNTER or the aforementioned Winker to appear outdated - it was yet an everyday sight that didn't appear unusual in the slightest.

...and how it would have looked in my day

As the saying goes, Mr. Smith was a 'good egg'.  I remember him telling me one day, "Gordon, some of the other teachers say that they regard you as a difficult pupil, but I find that as long as I don't try and make you do anything you don't want to, then you're no trouble at all."

Which is not to suggest that I was a troublemaker of any sort, but I was a daydreamer.  If I wasn't doodling on the covers or margins of my school jotters then I was staring out a window off into space, lost in my own little world.  Mr. Smith was wise enough to realize that it was better to leave me there, rather than try and compel me to apply myself to a subject I had no interest in, or, indeed, aptitude for.  Unlike another teacher (whose name escapes me, otherwise I would readily identify the guilty party), who once gave me 'six of the best' for my inability to master the intricacies of an Algebra equation.

View from one of the windows

But now to the point of this tale.  ("At last!" cry those who haven't yet abandoned the arduous trek.)  Mr. Smith, if I remember the details correctly after almost 40 years, was in charge of producing a Maths booklet for use in schools throughout what was then known as The COUNTY COUNCIL Of LANARKSHIRE.  He asked if I'd provide some cartoon illustrations for said project, and I didn't need to be asked twice.  It took a few days for him to determine precisely where my artwork would be required, but once armed with the necessary information I got to work.

A week or two later and much to my surprise, he presented me with an envelope containing a whopping £5 (which was a lot of money to a 14-15 year old at the start of the '70s) as payment for my contribution.  "It comes out of the budget" he said, by way of explanation - though I wouldn't be at all surprised if it came out of his own pocket.

The picture (from an initial 'rough') inspired by one below

I was especially proud of one picture in particular, and had it specifically in mind when I produced my KEVIN & His TALKING SOCKS strip for possible inclusion in a comic called OINK!  A period of a dozen or so years lay between the execution of these two drawings, which, as I relate this, strikes me as requiring further, completely unnecessary, long-winded exposition.  (Even if that last sentence is a total contradiction in terms.)

Back in 1985/'86, my schooldays seemed like an inordinately long time past.  It was practically half my life away after all, which probably accounts for that particular period appearing almost prehistoric from my mid-'80s perspective.  Nowadays, however, anything that happened 10 or 12 years back seems to have occurred no more than two or three years ago at the very most.  It's scary to consider that the quarter of a century gap between 1986 and today doesn't feel anywhere near as long as the far shorter (almost by half) period between 1973 and 1986.  Yup, it really is true;  time seems to go by faster the older one gets.

Not having a photo of Mr. Smith, one of
comic artist supreme George Tuska will
have to suffice.  To my mind, they were
extremely similar in appearance

Anyway, returning to the point of this personal reminiscence before even I lose track, a belated thank you is long overdue to Mr. Smith for giving me what could be described as my very first paid 'professional' assignment - and for simply being such a thoroughly decent bloke.  He's probably been retired for some years now, but it would be nice to think that he might in some way hear of this 'tribute' to him and be touched by it.  Knowing you made a difference to someone's life can sometimes make a difference to your own.

Here's to you, Dougie.  Hope you're hale and hearty.


And below, in all their unretouched glory, are the four illustrations drawn with a black ink BIC biro in a blank jotter on a lazy afternoon in Mr. Smith's Maths class all those years ago.  Nothing brilliant by any means, but while I indulged myself, my classmates had to get on with doing their sums.  I wonder if I'm the only pupil ever to get paid for doing something else during school hours?

(Actually, now that I think about it, I remember finishing the fourth one at home, so the Maths period must have been the last one of the afternoon.)


FOOTNOTE:  Since first posting this, I've been beset by a nagging suspicion that I may have misremembered the amount of remuneration involved.  Perhaps it was only £2 and not £5 in that envelope.  However, if so - two quid was still a lot of money for young teenager back then.  Especially as I mostly earned it during school hours when I should've been doing something else.  


Dougie said...

I had two teachers at Strathaven Academy who wore gowns; that was around 77-78.
I'd wear one now myself to protect my clothes from the dust in my school, which was built in 1969. The gown would appeal to my sense of the theatrical.

Kid said...

No doubt there are schools where they're still worn. I know the new Headmaster at my old school was wearing his in the early '90s. And you can bet they've never been out of fashion at schools like Eton, etc.

John Pitt said...

Now then, in MY day they all wore them and they were very handy with "the slipper" to pupils like myself who often used to get caught out doodling cartoons of the masters ( a lot of whom were sadists!) - But , it never did me ( or any of the " other 3 yorkshiremen ") any harm! I used to get revenge on one particular master, much to the amazement and ,in some cases, horror of other pupils, by flicking ink on the back of his jacket (where the gown hung down) ! And who says children can't be influenced by comics? Mr. Baxendale -YOU conditioned me to be like that!!

Kid said...

Funnily enough, I was never punished for drawing teachers on my jotters. They regarded it as an accolade for some reason, and even sometimes requested it. What's more, it wasn't uncommon for the teacher of my current class to ask to see my jotter-drawing of the teacher whose class I'd just come from. You gotta admit - that's some grapevine.

Anonymous said...

A very nice tribute, I too remember Dougie Smith with fondness from that period. A thoroughly decent man who seemed genuinely interested in his pupils. He always treated us with respect and earned our respect without trying. My first boss was an old school mate of Dougie's and, from that, I estimate that his age was at the lower end of your spectrum above. There is a photo of Dougie posted on Duncanrig section of Friends Reunited in his shorts on a school trip to Switzerland circa 1970. He is pictured with a group of fellow teachers from that period - including the redoubtable Mr McAllan, another fine teacher from a similar mould as Dougie, IMHO.

Kid said...

The name McAllan doesn't ring a bell, but perhaps I'll recognize him from that photo you mention - if I can get into the site to see it. Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

He taught me 2nd year English in 1970/71. If you manage to find the photo, he is the one with the wild hair and beard and oversized glasses, looking a bit like a mad professor. Like Dougie Smith, he was not a stranger to the black master's gown. I don't remember seeing him cutting between the main block and his classroom in the huts in the last couple of years of my time at Duncanrig so I suspect he moved on in the early '70s. Maybe just before your time?
Going back to Dougie Smith, I feel that I sold him short in my last post. I think his strength was that, unlike most teachers, he was able to look beyond a pupil's prowess in their specialist subject and see their potential as people in the making. Certainly, I like to think he saw past the bravado that I affected in my school years and realised that I was potentially quite a decent human being. I do owe him a debt of thanks as he gave me that little bit extra support that helped me scrape the pass in Higher Maths (at 2nd attempt) which was mandatory to get onto the university course that I was targetting which, in turn, set me on a career path that has been generally quite kind to me. So cheers Dougie - I owe you one !

Kid said...

I saw the photos of Mr McAllan making a 'movie', but I still don't seem to recall him. I started Duncanrig when I was still 11, after the Summer holidays in 1970, so I must've seen him - but it's always possible I was never in his class.

I see that one of the science technicians - Anne Mylchreest - has just retired after 42 years. I remember her in my day, and she doesn't seem to look any different from back then.

Ah, good ol' Dougie. Do you know what he's up to these days?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, no idea. However, as he will now be in his 70s, let's hope that he is in good health and enjoying a happy retirement somewhere out there.

Kid said...

Yes indeed. And let's hope he lives for another 70 years. (In fact, let's hope we all do.) Thanks for taking the time to leave your extremely interesting comments.

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