We never had pansies at my public school

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
WHAT tosh! This was my - perhaps overly frank - reaction when the Literary Editor of the Spectator (still going - just!!) handed me a weighty tome to review entitled, of all things, The Poisoned Bowl: Sex, Repression and the Public School System. Sex in public schools! Whatever next? Fish in birdcages? (I jest!)

I daresay that there are one or two odd-bods who slip through the security net every now and then, but, by and large, there is not now, nor has there ever been, any suggestion of homosexuality (dread word!) in our public school system. But does this stop one Dr Alisdare Hickson striding in, bold as brass, with talk of "poisoned bowls"? Not at all: his sole aim lies in trying to prove that what one might call The Pansy Element is alive and kicking within the dormitories of even our most historic institutions.

Hickson has compiled what he calls, in his limp-wristed fashion, "a fascinating mosaic of memory", or, to translate such gibberish into clear English, "a hotchpotch of rumour, gossip, innuendo and mumbo-jumbo". An anonymous old Gordonstonian reports that that excellent school's outward bound courses offered, and I quote, "the perfect opportunity for sexual experimentation". I dread to think what my old friend and quaffing partner HRH The Duke of Edinburgh will make of such a disgraceful allegation. It is years since a man placed a hand on his thigh, and that was the purest mistake, for they were both attending a drag ball at the time.

Philip was himself the very keenest of outward-bounders whilst a pupil at Gordonstoun, but I have no doubt that he used all his tent-pegs for putting up tents rather than in pursuit of any type of "sexual experimentation", though, oddly enough, I did happen to see what looked very much like a tent-peg on his bedside table the last time I stayed with him (separate rooms) at his beloved Sandringham.

Might I introduce an element of personal reminiscence into this column? My own seat of learning was, of course, Basters Academy for Boys (briefly retitled Basters Academy for Attractive Yet Wholesome Boys by a Dr Ampthill in the 19th century, but changed back again after his resignation as Headmaster following what one might call an "incident"). It goes without saying that Basters was and still is the most robust and healthy of schools, as its school song ("Baste up, the Basters! Baste up, baste up and baste the ball") pays handsome tribute.

There is a supremely long list of eminent Old Basterds celebrated in the Old Basterd Directory and Pick-up Guide. For instance, the late Lawrence Grayson, the popular family entertainer, was the School Captain in 1943, and other Old Basterds include the actor Kenneth Williams (Captain of Games, 1937), The Rt Rev Roger Gleaves, the self-styled Bishop of Medway (Keeper of Squash, 1934), the Rt Hon Tom Driberg, MP (Deputy Head Prefect, 1932-33) and the essayist and broadcaster Mr Quentin Crisp (Head Chorister, 1928). The very idea that one or all of these distinguished public servants might have "got up to no good" after Lights Out is wholly risible, not to say deeply upsetting, to them, their wives and their children.

My own experience at Basters confirms its innocence of all charges laid at its firmly locked door by Dr Hickson. As I wrote to Hickson in reply to the questionnaire he sent me via my detailed entry in Who's Who? (hobbies: anything outdoors, wet and chilly), my only memories of bedtime at Basters are of "the very deepest sleep, rarely if ever interrupted by the prying hand, and then only if it was attached to a long-standing member of the Sixth Form or any gentleman drawn from the higher echelons of the teaching staff".

When it was my own turn to rise to the dizzy heights of the Sixth Form, I am glad to say I experienced no temptation in that direction whatsoever, other than what one might term the usual unstoppable urges that from time to time overcome a normal boy of that age, and these could be very easily and swiftly dealt with by sending for a new boy post-haste. But there was nothing remotely "unpleasant" about such activity: indeed, I feel sure that most leading members of the medical profession would classify what went on as entirely conventional heterosexual male behaviour, taking place between one entirely conventional heterosexual male and another. So much for Hickson and his scare-mongering.

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