TOLWORTH SOCIAL LIFE
Tolworth was widely regarded among the rurally-based veterinary officers of MAFF as a cross between Devil’s Island and Chateau d’If. The latter was what Spike Milligan described as the historic Gallic penitentiary. It is where the fictitious Count of Monte Christo was housed for a time. But I liked Tolworth very much. It was not only a change of place but the ambience was very different from what I had been used to. I write Tolworth but in fact I was posted to the Animal Welfare Section at Chessington under George Taylor again.
The move from Beverley was not easy from the domestic viewpoint. I thought that the bungalow where we lived might take a long time to sell as it had been vacant for eighteen months before we bought it in 1965. In the end I was persuaded to sell to John Charles a friend who had moved from Beverly to Coventry and then wanted to move back. He was an engineer who was manager at Armstrong’s of Beverley. The problem was that John was not willing to wait for us to move out and so we had to move into a rented house for six months, or at least Anthea and the girls did. But in the end it all worked out.
I had kept our caravan at the old house until we finally left for Surrey and the plan was to tow it down to Ewell. We were all set to get off with Fluffy Anne’s cat being placed the night before in a wicker basket in the caravan. He was crying and Anne let him out as she was sure he could not get out of the caravan. But he got out of the skylight. I was very upset. But fortunately Fluffy turned up before we finally left so all was well.
Houses in Surrey were expensive and hard to find so when a suitable one became available in Castle Avenue Ewell I bought it before Anthea had time to see it. But I think she liked it when she did see it. It was very near Nonesuch Park which was very nice. Lizzie got places at three schools, Surbiton Girls High School (GPDST), Sutton Girls High School and Rosebery School in Epsom, a state school. After much debate she elected for the latter and I am sure it was an excellent choice. Anne also was entered for Surbiton and she and Anthea came down by train for her to sit the entrance exam. She didn’t get an offer and said afterwards that she desperately needed to go to the lavatory but did not like to ask. Miss Kovacs the headmistress told me afterwards that she would not have refused a place for Anne but that was after we had made plans for Anne to attend the Sacred Hearts Convent at Epsom. Anne in fact later joined the Rosebery sixth form.
We settled down and I think we liked living in Surrey although Lizzie says she did not. Both girls eventually led quite a hectic social life in Epsom, Anne especially did so and I don’t think that helped her academically. Lizzie did well at school but when she left they said she was not academically gifted but was very artistic so she did not go in for a degree but elected for a place at Bretton Hall near Wakefield in Yorkshire where production of drama teachers was the aim and got a teachers training certificate but not a B.Ed.
Anne went through a lot of boyfriends and we quite thought she would marry Richard Sochaki whose father was Polish. Anne made the National Headlines when a story about her appeared in the Sun newspaper. She and a friend had decided to dress up in boys’ uniforms and attend the prize giving at the local Grammar School, the Glyn, where Richard was a pupil. The headmaster spotted that two of the ”boys” were girls and was furious. He locked Anne and her friend up which was quite illegal of course. The headmaster Dr Sharp had a reputation of being a merciless interrogator. He had been in army intelligence I think. Anne was sufficiently impressed by him as to be terrified but had the presence of mind to eat the name tape which appeared in the blazer borrowed from Richard. She then managed to escape through a window. Anthea was aware of what had been planned and told me at lunch time but as usual I had not been told previously until it was too late, the family motto “don’t tell your father” had operated. When the Sun reporter rang up Anthea denied knowing about any of this but Anne’s friend’s mum was not so discrete and a headline duly appeared “New Girls were Boys” together with the information that the plot had been discovered because “Anne couldn’t hide everything”. Anne afterwards did not marry Richard as we had all hoped, but Grant Partridge who was also at the Glyn.
Anne’s wedding to Grant had to be at home because we were going to the USA where I was to give a talk at a University in Iowa at Des Moines and the long planned trip was going to be expensive for us. Anne sprang the news to us about 2.00am a time when I am not at my best or in the best of tempers. We were surprised she was to marry Grant. Richard Sochaski would have been a better choice but Grant was very good looking. So we hired morning suits and held the reception at our house in Ewell. We were lucky with the weather and a lot of people helped us with the catering. Anne went off to live in Leeds where Grant was studying design. Meanwhile Lizzie was at Bretton Hall near Wakefield a famous place for training drama teachers.
MAFF DVO salaries left us rather impoverished although we took every opportunity to attend any free functions! As soon as the girls became old enough to be left Anthea asked me if I would mind her becoming a maternity nurse so as to augment our income. I was quite happy for this to happen. Maternity nurses were well paid and usually lived with the mother for about a month on a private basis. So Anthea rang up the Midwives Council and asked if she could take up such a post. They told her that their information was that she had died. Certainly she was no longer on the Midwives Register and if she wanted to get back on it she would have to do a refresher course of three months. Midwives were like gold dust she was told and with Anthea’s consent they arranged there and then for a refresher course at Epsom District Hospital. Although she never told me until much later, Anthea hated Epsom District Hospital where she became a staff midwife immediately after her refresher course. But she told me after she had left Epsom that she was never happy when there.
I was never good at office politics and I suspect the same applies to Lizzie. Perhaps Anne is brighter than we are at such things.
But one good thing was that I had a Damascus moment on a plane coming back from Rome. It was December 19th 1971. I was seated in an aeroplane smoking a big fat cigar. It was just before Christmas and a time to indulge oneself. I looked down on myself and thought “you idiot” and I stubbed out the cigar there and then and have never smoked from that day to this.
At home in Ewell the girls had joined an organisation called “Willing Hands” and they did chores for various people. One person was John Dettmar a widower and veteran of the Somme who lived just down the road from us in Castle Avenue. He was a director of Heinemanns, the publishers before he retired. I think it was Lizzie who went to him first but then Anne followed. He rang me up to say what fine girls they were. Anne told him how to alter his hearing aid by turning the wheel which controlled the volume. He was delighted. Over time the Jackson family saw a lot of John Dettmar. He used to give us books which he did not want to keep. Heinemanns used to send him copies of any books they had published. He was keen to get one of us to write a book for him and Lizzie came nearest with a children’s book about an elephant. My efforts to write about the environment for farm animals came to nothing. I did in the end get permission from MAFF to write it providing I submitted it to them chapter by chapter for approval but before I got around to actually doing it a book on the same subject appeared.
George Taylor my boss at Tolworth had been called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn some years earlier. My friend Arthur Shearer in Hoylake had a few years previously suggested I ought to read for the Bar. One problem for anyone living in the provinces at that time was that of “dining in”. This merely means that you have to dine in Hall for three nights during term time for three terms of three years or thirty six dinners. It would have been very expensive to do this from Beverley or from Birkenhead so it did not happen although I had called in to Gibbs and Weldon solicitors in Chancery Lane who did correspondence courses for the first two years of the Bar course. Being in Tolworth seemed to me to provide a good opportunity and so I asked George’s advice and was told it was not hard to read for the Bar. He proposed me to Lincoln’s Inn and I started a correspondence course at the College of Law which Gibson and Weldon had now become.
I found study of the law very interesting and liked dining in too. The thing was to watch where you sat because African Students especially were very erudite and kept citing cases you had never heard of. You had never heard of them because they were not important! And in due course I presented myself for examination and to my astonishment I passed and kept on passing. The tutors at the College of Law were very good and careful attention to what they wrote on answers was vital. I was often annoyed at their comments. But after I had become more knowledgeable and re-read the papers I realised they were right and very perceptive.
Part 1b of the Bar course (the second year) was abridged for graduates and I was very cross to be told that as an MRCVS I was not a graduate. But I had been a postgraduate (Diploma in Veterinary State Medicine) by virtue of my MRCVS which was called a graduate equivalent but to no avail I had to do the whole of part 1b. Once parts 1a and 1b, that is the first two years had been passed I asked the College what happens next and was told I had to resign my job and become a full time student. That was not possible so I joined a crammers run by a barrister in the Temple called Basil Webb at various places such as the St Bride’s Institute or in various chambers where he could get a room and a tutor. It was very hit and miss. But eventually I scraped through the finals after one failure and a term at Regent Street Polytechnic now Westminster University where my daughter Lizzie is doing a PhD and a research job. And so on November 25th 1975 at Lincoln’s Inn I was called to the Bar of England and Wales by Lord Hailsham.
I was greatly helped during my final year by Stephen Richards who sat finals at the same time as I did. He was the son of a veterinary surgeon Alun Richards, Assistant Chief Veterinary Officer at Tolworth. Stephen made his drafting notes available to me and I am sure I would never have passed without the aid of these. Stephen did very well afterwards becoming a very senior judge indeed. I will always be grateful to him for his kindness. He wrote to me when years later I became a tenant in Chambers at Lewes.
One of the effects of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) was that anything I wrote had to be approved first. The OFA was taken very seriously by MAFF and in fact it still operates even after retirement so I suppose in theory I ought to submit all I have written above to MAFF or to its successor Defra, for approval. I have no such intention!
I would happily have stayed at Tolworth but for George Taylor who had decided to become Bill Chubb’s unofficial partner. George thought he himself ought to be CVO and was very disgruntled at not being further promoted. As a close associate of George I was worried about being tarred with the same brush. I knew all about George’s commercial interest and it was an uncomfortable time for me. Noel Allsup had elected to go back into the provinces and for better or worse I did the same.