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NEWS > Former Staff > Mr Groves

Mr Groves

A temporary vocation turned into eighteen years of teaching, but what did Mr Groves enjoy most about PF?
5 Nov 2020
Written by John Groves
Former Staff
John Groves with Kent Police Band
John Groves with Kent Police Band

What was your background before PF?

I trained as a singer but it was obvious very quickly that friends who had far more talent than I did could not get enough work to make a living, so I turned to teaching ‘temporarily’! I began teaching in 1971 at a huge (2,200) comprehensive on a split site near Brighton: a girls’ grammar school had just been amalgamated with a boys’ secondary modern! After two years I moved to a school where I had done a most enjoyable teaching practice a few years before, but in the year that I was there the newly appointed Head proved himself incompetent and was sacked, so it was not a happy place so I decided to move.

You came to the school in 1974 as Head of Music but quickly had to adapt and take on other subjects such as Drama and Geography. Out of those subjects, which did you enjoy the most?

There were no facilities for music when I arrived; I had to teach on the stage in the old hall/gym. It was difficult, but I taught both music and geography from the start. Then the Head of Geography, Ward Needham, retired suddenly and I was asked if I would take over ‘temporarily’. I was still doing it when I left in 1989! Drama as an exam subject was introduced into schools about 1982 and seemed an ideal subject for PF students. Again, there were no facilities at first, but when new art accommodation was built, the previous art room was converted into a drama space. I enjoyed teaching drama and for many years I was an examiner for the practical components of GCSE and A-level, travelling all over the south of England and Northern Ireland.

What are your favourite memories of Prior’s Field?

My favourite memories of PF include Wendy Dawson, a charismatic Head teacher who built up the school from near bankruptcy to being financially sound. Also ‘Biddy’ Tuckwell, who taught piano at PF for many years, and who, at first, appeared to have no sense of humour, but succeeded in getting me completely drunk at 10:00 on the morning of the school’s 75th anniversary celebrations – just before I had to take charge of a concert! A friend of mine, John Reed, joined the school in charge of modern languages and, because he was a superb musician willing to give up his free time, we were able to raise the standard of choirs, orchestra and musical productions. Then there was Cherry Gay, who is still around and apparently ageless! 

Do you have any amusing anecdotes from any of your lessons?

Once I arrived at a Fifth Form Geography lesson to find that my class had stretched string across all the desks like a massive spider’s web. (I remained totally calm!) Then, of course, there were the Highland sheep with two legs shorter than the others so that they did not fall over when walking on steep slopes: I must have told that tale for several years when one bright spark asked a visiting biology lecturer whether it was true. He played along with the fiction, promising to send a photograph, which he did to prove it! I remember the bursar whom we all nicknamed Major Panic because that’s what he did most of the time. There are others, but I am very wary of the laws of libel!

As Head of Music and teaching Drama A-Level, what were your favourite concerts or productions that were put on during that time?

We began staging musicals soon after I arrived in the old gymnasium, which was the only space. The first, I believe, was Cole Porter’s Anything Goes and others included the first-ever school production anywhere of Jesus Christ Superstar, The Boy Friend, Salad Days pictured below. I was lucky in that some talented staff were very supportive in the making of costumes, painting of scenery etc.

What have you done in your retirement? 

For 25 years I have conducted the Kent Police Brass Band (pictured) which is quite time consuming, as well as being highly enjoyable, and I have a very smart “Inspector’s” uniform. I also, before Covid-19, visited Germany and Austria frequently, searching out unusual operettas and operas, and reviewing them for the Amsterdam-based Operetta Research Center. I also review West End theatre for London Theatre One as well as books, DVDs, CDs, live streams etc. It’s a bit like writing A-Level essays again!

I have a large garden high on the East Sussex hills which entertains deer, foxes and badgers, all of whom think they own it!

Sally Broadbridge "Salad Days", March 1977

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