I leave Roundhay Grammar School without regret - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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I leave Roundhay Grammar School without regret

Above: The only school photograph I have from Roundhay. This was Form 2 - probably early 1949.  I am 2nd from the right on the front row. Just look at all those knobbly knees and wrinkly stockings!!
Late in the autumn of 1949, Dad was posted back to Strangeways Prison and so another house move, and yet another change of school was pending. This time the family move was on hold until Dad could find a suitable house in Manchester or Salford for us, so he was once again travelling back and forth at weekends or when he had days off in lieu of weekends.

At the start of 1950 we still had not moved home and I was still at Roundhay GS. My diary recorded: "New Head Master. He is very tall and looks quite nice." That was his first and last mention in my diary. On 21 January there was a curious entry: "Fell out with Holt." Holt was Geoffrey Holt, my long-time school friend from my QEGS days in Wakefield and I had just spent the day with him. Since leaving Wakefield, Geoffrey and I had continued to meet regularly. All the many earlier diary entries about our friendship had always referred to him simply as Geoffrey. I have no idea what the falling out was about, but he never featured in my diaries again and I have not seen him, or heard of him, since that day almost 70 years ago.

Teenagers of today cannot imagine what life was like without mobile phones, computers, and other electronic delights - and they probably get fed up of old folk going on about the 'olden days'. We still had no TV, so I spent the dark winter evenings playing in my attic bedroom with my ever-growing Meccano set. I could also listen to the wireless because I had rigged up an extension loudspeaker from the set two floors down. I was allowed to switch on a small electric fire for short periods to take the chill off the air.

Meccano was brilliant and I learned more about levers, three speed gear boxes, differentials, traction engines and bascule bridges than I ever learned later from any other source. My first Meccano had been a Number 3 Set bought for Christmas 1948, which was possibly the first time since the 1939-45 war had ended that Meccano was available again. I had immediately used some of my pocket money to buy a 3A Set which upgraded the No 3 Set to a No 4. That was a cunning sales ploy by Meccano - and a shrewd move by my parents who probably realised that I would use my pocket money to finance the upgrade. After a number of birthdays and Christmases I ended up early in 1950 with a No 7 Set plus extra cog wheels and, my pride and joy, a mains-operated electric motor that could be used to drive a wide variety of static models. The motor was controlled by a rather heavy Bakelite cube that had to be plugged into the mains electricity supply. There was a spring loaded control lever on the front of the device which varied the output voltage from zero to whatever the maximum was. There was a small problem with the controller: every time I touched the control lever, I received an electric shock, quite a severe one which shot all the way up my arm. I tried to get around that problem by sticking a small piece of insulating tape on the end of the lever but every now and again the tape slipped off so I got another electric shock.

The week beginning 10 February 1950 was quite eventful. On the Monday we got the news we had been waiting for: a telegram from Dad told us that he had found a house for us in Salford. Quite by coincidence that was the day I started a newspaper round for a newsagent on the corner of Markham Avenue just around the corner from where we lived in Harehills. I did evening papers 6 days a week, and also the Sundays, because I needed the income to supplement my pocket money. The following day Mum went off on her own to Manchester on the train to view the new house leaving my sister and me to look after ourselves.

It was General Election Day on 23 February 1950, the first one I have any recollection of. "The Great Day has come at last" according to my diary which went on to record that the BBC Light Programme and Home Service combined at 10.30pm until 3.00am to give live coverage of the state of the parties every 15 minutes. I regularly put items of current affairs in my diary, but I was not in the least interested in politics so I don't know why I referred to it as the Great Day. By 1950 I used the Schoolboys Diaries just for short notes; my full narrative diary was kept separately in exercise books and, sadly, most of those have not survived. (4388.5 in the scan below indicates the number of miles I had pedalled on my bike since 1 January 1948.)
Below: My diary entry for 23 February 1950

The day after the election I recorded that by early morning Labour had a 61 seat lead but that it diminished steadily during the day. By 8.20pm on the 24th it was announced that Labour was in. Looking back at the records of that General Election it is clear that Labour won a very slim majority, a very disappointing result for them. This election came about at the end of the first ever full term Labour government but, despite polling over one and a half million votes more than the Conservatives (which then included the Ulster Unionists), Labour achieved a majority of just five seats over all other parties, a loss of 78 seats. The Conservatives had gained 85 seats but still did not have an overall majority. The Liberals ended up with nine seats, three fewer than in the previous election. Interesting to note that the electorate (those entitled to vote) totalled 33,269,770 and 83.9% of them actually turned out to vote.

My final day at my second grammar school was Tuesday 4 April 1950 when school broke up for the Easter holiday. I knew it would be my last day at Roundhay GS but no-one else at school did, not even the Head Master as far as I know. I left, therefore, without any ceremony and without any great regret.

We had to wait to complete the sale of our house in Harehills before we could arrange a date to move to Salford. In the meantime, I continued with my paper round seven days a week in those hilly, grimy streets around Harehills. I was paid 10 shillings a week for the evening papers, which usually took about 45 minutes, and an extra 5 shillings (25p) for the Sunday shift alone but it took me an hour to deliver them. Fortunately, the Sunday papers in 1950 were but a fraction of the size and weight of today's Sundays.

In mid-April 1950, on my penultimate day as a paper boy, my newsagent showed me a preview copy of the full-colour Eagle Comic and a few days later, on our last day in Leeds, I was able to buy the very first proper issue when it went on public sale. That first issue apparently sold 900,000 copies and my newsagent ran out of his meagre ration long before 9am on the morning it was published. I didn’t keep my copy and that’s a great pity because pristine copies are now worth a lot of money. Comics were never the same again. All of a sudden, boys all over the country were talking about Dan Dare and his battles against the evil, green Mekons from Venus (and lots of other exciting stories as well). We could not possibly have guessed how our knowledge of our own Solar System and the Universe would expand in the next few decades.

There had been virtually no mention of music or violin practice in my diaries since I had left Wakefield. I knew my parents could not afford any proper violin lessons for me, so I had not asked for any. Roundhay school had no orchestra but I did frequently get my violin out and play for an hour or so for my own pleasure. It was not proper practice and it seemed a little pointless - but that was about to change. Something else was also about to change and never again would I write in my diary that I had had a boring day at school.

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