That's not what Bob Birrell told us

BBC: Carbon dioxide continues its rise

…And helium continues its sink, presumably.

Note: In case you were wondering, Bob Birrell was my chemistry teacher. He was also North of England Champion 120-yards hurdler (1960—62, 64, 66—69), and reached the quarter finals of the 110 metres hurdles in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, which he ran in 14.82s.

Filed under: Nonsense

By Richard Carter

A fat, bearded chap with a Charles Darwin fixation.


  1. It seems he also won the NoE 220yd hurdles in 1961 too. What a guy.

  2. He never taught me, but he was a very modest man and it was some years after I started at BS that I even found out he'd been in the Olympics. I was just "googling" him when I found your comment.

    Pete Scurfield was the big star, North of England RU scrum half - "Sir" was on telly!!!

    (Yes I know headmaster Gwilliam was Welsh RU captain, but he was so universally detested nobody cared about the sanctimonious p****)

  3. Just found by accident (how else?) this comment relating to Birkenhead School. I suffered 1966-73. I have some reminiscences regarding Pete Scurfield, Jock Austin, Pig Homan, Fat George Gilliland et al. I'll happily send them for your possible amusement.

    Beati mundo corde

  4. Scurfield was before my time, but I remember all the others—although we referred to ‘Fat George Gilliland’ as ‘Big G’.

  5. Likewise I was BS. KDR left and then we suffered Gwilliam. Despite him being a sanctimonious insufferable, he did lead Wales to a famous win over the All Blacks and two Grand Slams. He has recently been added to the Wales Hall of Fame. I expect he was influential in appointing Pete Scurfield, who was best mates with the great Gerald Davies. They played together at Loughborough.

  6. 65-72
    Bob Birrel was a really nice guy and was really good when we had to stay on for the first two terms of the third year sixth before going off to uni (chemistry was my thing back then) - he made two terms of post A-level interesting and was always very kind to me.
    Didn't know that about Pete Scurfield, playing at that level of rugby - I've probably forgotten. But wasn't too unhappy when he left.
    Yep, "Pig" Homan (and the chaplain at that).
    We just called him "Belly" - guess who - got slippered by him for talking in class.
    Jock Austin - decent chap but not very inspiring.
    Fran Ellis was a bit odd but certainly had a sense of humour.
    And Clive Hunt managed to keep his hair longish despite what Gwilliam demanded of us - no doubt some of you know what we called Gwilliam - the worst of the nicknames by far, though Clive's rhyming slang nickname was pretty bad - but he was a good guy and I wrote to him a decade or so ago and received a nice letter back.
    Arthur Green - "four legs good, two legs bad" in chalk at the top of his blackboard, referring to us not swinging back on our chairs.
    Rankin made most of us terrified of science periods in the junior school - not a nice guy.
    Rigby (maths - can't remember his first name) was just out of uni but inspiring and a nice chap too.
    Eddie O'Hara - nice guy who left and became an MP.
    "Squish" (can't remember his real name)
    Dave Haig (Belly's sidekick) - my Dad taught him German at Liverpool Collegiate School - so I guess that's why he took it out on me when I was caught taking a short cut on a cross country run in the middle of winter! Had to write an essay on "Honesty", which he just threw in the bin when I handed it to him.
    And the rest of them - Freddy Wakelin, The Rev Smailes, Tom Jackson, Mike Harrison, etc - what a mixture - and often stressful.

  7. A few named there I don’t remember, and quite a few I’d forgotten. ‘Squish’ was McCready, if memory serves. My favourite Arthur Green memory was his response to some implausible excuse from a boy who hadn’t done his ‘prep’: “Bollocks, lad!” He also used to re-enact shooting machine guns at Germans during the war.

  8. While pulling together my memories of school years before I get too old to remember, I came across this while googling George Gilliland in reference to his piano playing expertise. Yep, some of the teachers were really good, some very tough, but then again, we were not angels.....

    Our form was probably the least “mature” and put a concerted effort into having a laugh at every possible opportunity. During 6th form, Saturday mornings were 100% Biology or Chemistry double practical periods. Although it was a school day, there was still an air of weekend to it and it wasn’t unusual for people to get a tad casual. One Saturday, we were doing some organic chemistry experiments. Simon Jackson, who happened to be a son of one of the teachers, decided that he would heat up some Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup for a mid-morning snack. The Chemistry teacher, Clive Hunt, noticed it and was intrigued, because he hadn’t seen that colour before and asked what chemicals Simon had used. When he fessed up, Simon got a right bollocking for it & Mr Hunt didn’t see the funny side. At all!
    We had a main library next to the old Big School Assembly Hall. It was full of very high shelves. One of my favourite pastimes was to go in during lunch and move books around to fill up some of the shelves above head level to the point where they were over-full. To do this, you had to pull the books out in an arch shape with the books in the middle closer to the edge of the shelf than those at the ends then inject a few more books into the gaps near the middle. Then, you compressed the arch backwards so the books were all in a straight line. The beauty of this was in its simplicity. When a boy wanted to remove a book, it was now under considerable pressure. He would pull hard until the whole compressed row would suddenly fly towards him and if done right, would land on him and the floor, scaring the crap out of him and landing him in trouble with whoever was on duty in the library.
    The ideal prank would be to do something near a teacher but without being spotted. We used to nick syringes from the Chemistry lab and use them to shoot water across the room at each other when the teacher was writing on the blackboard. Of course, it started with little ones and then got an arms race ensued.
    In 1979, for some reason that I do not remember, one of my class, a boy whose name is lost to me, apart from being known as Bonehead, or Bone, for short, brought his absailing gear into school and absailed down the stairwell in the Science Block. My journal mentions me climbing up, but can’t think what that meant apart from maybe climbing the stairs on the outside of the bannisters. Some of the most memorable pranks were pulled-off by boarders, perhaps because they had less to entertain themselves. One year, on the first day of term, a bra was spotted hanging from the clock tower. I don’t think the culprit was ever found, but it was clearly an “inside job”. Near School House, where the borders lived, we had three or four Fives courts. Fives is a bit like a highly unsafe version of squash, played with a rock hard ball, a gloved hand and in a courts with steps and obstructions. The courts were all behind a low wall, maybe 4 ½ to 5 feet high, with a narrow gap of about 3 feet to get into the courts. One day, Mr D. Reynolds (aka Debbie), parked his orange mini just next to the fives courts for an hour while he did something in School House. When he came back out, his mini was inside the Fives Courts. Boarders had surrounded and picked it up, shuffled through the gap and put it back down inside. Mr Reynolds was a pretty nice guy, but not right then!
    I think that each morning before the start of classes, there was an assembly. The chapel wasn’t big enough for all, so you would alternate between there & the Big School assembly. One of the boys would play the organ in chapel and after the service, he would play some background music as everyone filed out. By this point, teachers had mostly gone and he would weave in some popular music of the day and see what he could do without being found-out.
    In the Big School assembly, there was a grand piano near the front, used for accompanying the singing throngs. Even the most enthusiastic teachers (Harold McCreedy (aka Chick) & George Gilliland (aka Belly) were used to a pretty intense level of apathy towards the singing of hymns, but one day, for reasons that they couldn’t figure-out, it all changed they had picked “Jerusalem” that morning. Now, a few of us, me included, were massive Emerson, Lake & Palmer fans and therefore loved Jerusalem, but that doesn’t explain the rest. When Belly fired up the opening of the hymn, they were overcome with what sounded like singing at a football match. Same volume, same tunefulness. Chick was absolutely ecstatic and asked us to sing it a second time, he was so overwhelmed. George Gilliland, accompanying on piano, was no small man and had great difficulty hitting only one key with each of his fingers, but that just added to the whole last-night-of-the-proms effect.

  9. Debbie Reynold’s mini in the Fives court was still being talked about in my time. On my last day at school, some fellow leavers decided to move another teacher’s mini. The passenger door came off in the process. I can’t remember which teacher it was, but he took it very well, as the car was already a bit of a wreck.

  10. Belly Gilliland taught maths, and his green convertible VW Beetle's registration number was LCM 1 (lowest common multiple = 1, geddit?) Gilliland really inspired me, and entertained me, and - although he clearly got huge pleasure from inflicting pain on young boys, and would certainly not be allowed to teach today, I learned a lot from him. 'PD' Haig was, as said above, his sidekick, and although he tried to imitate Belly's unique speech, he was never in the same league. Lightweight. 'Pig' Homan was the worst possible demonstration of a Christian minister for young boys - unless (and perhaps that was the point of this fee-paying school) the purpose of his being there was to teach domination, class separation and cruelty. Gwilliam cannot be forgiven for having been a rugger-bugger: he might have been head teacher, but he was no teacher at all. If he had to step down to a classroom to fill-in for an absentee teacher, he would just tell the class to learn a passage from the bible by heart. What a horrible, horrible, uninspiring man. Clearly at some stage the governors thought a diciplinarian rugger-bugger would be better as Head than a teacher. I feel bitter that my hard-working father can have spent so much in getting me educated by this bunch of clowns. Luckily the state funding of universities helped me out in due course, and I became a professor of architecture. No thanks at all to Birkenhead School.

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