Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Peter Alliss, golf commentator
'I was caned with a walking stick'
Thursday 25 September 2008
Peter Alliss, 77, is the BBC's 'voice of golf'. Last week he was covering the Ryder Cup, today he starts commentating on the British Masters at The Belfry. His book, 'Golf: the Cure for a Grumpy Old Man', was published last week
When I was six, I wandered off one day from my kindergarten in Leeds. I followed the tramlines to Roundhay Park and met up with some children on the swings. I came wandering back towards home and watched people dragging the pond. My mother thought I'd been drowned or kidnapped, and had gone to the police.
We moved to Dorset and I can still see Mr Allen, the headmaster of Ferndown Council School (we called them "council schools" in those days) in what was then a tiny village six miles north of Bournemouth. He was tall and straight, 11-and-a-half stone and bald, and he struck quiet fear into us. I remember the respect we had for teachers; children now say "bollocks" to the head and don't even get a clip round the ear.
Then I went to the Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in Wimborne Minster, Dorset, where one of the teachers was a bully. He was a small, round-faced man who taught maths and Latin. I wasn't good at either, so wasn't a favourite. I think he was a tennis man who didn't like golf, or my father, a famous golf professional!
He enjoyed caning boys and would be put in prison now. I got caned by him when I was accused of copying from another boy in an exam, which wasn't true. The boy sat next-but-one to me, and the desks were two feet apart, but when the results came in they decided I had cheated. When I denied it, they said, "You're a liar". The teacher used a proper walking-stick, and I had big bruises on my buttocks and lower back.
My mother took me away from that school, and at 12, I went to Crosby House, a private, mixed school in Winton, a suburb of Bournemouth. That was delightful. Mrs Violet Weymouth was a marvellous old lady, a disciplinarian, who ran the school with her husband. I fell in love with Iris Baker, Edwina Shannon, and others too numerous to mention. It was innocent: a kiss was really something.
I was very good at geography, not great at history. I passed the exams of the College of Praeceptors, the equivalent of O-levels, in 11 subjects. Mrs Weymouth's last report on me said: "Peter has a good brain when he decides to use it. He seems more interested in golf and flirting with girls, neither of which will bring him any success. I fear for his future." She thought I wouldn't have a trade or profession. I did have the talent to hit a golf ball, and I have, from somewhere, acquired the gift of the gab as a commentator.
I left school when I was 14-and-a-half years old. My real education took place when I began spending time playing golf at the club where my father was the professional. My father said, "You are not going to be a doctor or a surgeon; you'll join me in the club as an unpaid assistant." There wasn't anything else to do: the war was on and Southampton was getting bombed nightly. I played with people who were 45-plus, too old for the war, and listened to them talking about life and business, war and peace. I played in the Boys Championship in Edinburgh at 15, and I played for England in 1946. I was in the Ryder Cup team for the first time in 1953, the second youngest to play in it.
I always think golf is a mirror image of life. People hurry up to the golf course, shattered before they start, because that's how they run their life; their older opponents arrive half an hour early and sit outside smoking their pipes and marvelling at nature – at peace with themselves.
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