Former Choristers

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Absent friends

Absent Friends

In the twelve months between January 2018 and January 2019 we lost three of the Choristers from the consecration Choir of 1962 – Bob Carlton, Michael Newth and Duncan Gray. All three made their mark in the choir and at school, as indeed they did in their later lives: Bob, well known as a theatre director, and celebrated for his “Return To The Forbidden Planet”; Mike as an accomplished translator of early French; and Duncan as an exceptionally popular sports coach.

All three had the capacity to light up a room with their wit and sense of fun.

All three had much more to offer, and we have lost them far too soon, but they join a list which has already seen the premature losses of John Van Toren, Chas Greetham, Derek Hossle and Howard Milner.

Bob (Arnold) Carlton

from Mike Williams

MY FIRST RECOLLECTION of Bob from our chorister days was that he was one of the cool kids. Not only had he chosen to be known as Bob (after Bobby Charlton) rather than Arnold, he was a snazzy dresser which, at 10 years old, took some doing. He came to one of our St NIcholas parties in the under-croft of the Cathedral in an Italian suit with cloth covered buttons whereas we less cool guys were in King Henry V111 blazers.

He and I were in the second quartet. Not quite good enough to sing with Messrs Newth and Saunders, but competent substitutes. What we could do though was organise five a side football matches in the shape of the Cathedral Nomads. Clad in either 5 red shirts or 5 blue shirts bought from Riddy’s surplus stores in Hertford Street we practised at Longford church hall, not far from Bob’s mum and dad’s post office. We also composed our own team song, improvised on a coach on the choir’s trip to Berlin. “Onward Cathedral nomads, marching on to win, with a ball of leather, we will do you in…”. Hardly a classic and not too well received I recall by Madame Poole, wife of the then Precentor Joseph Poole.

Maybe this set the path for Bob’s highly successful career in the theatre and in music. Our musical tastes had evolved from Stanford in F or Beati Quorum Via to a shared a love of the emerging 60’s music. Clad in our matching black oilskin coats (another bargain from Riddy’s) we would make our way to my house to listen to records- I recall Spencer Davies Group’s Keep on Running being one the backing tracks to our forays into town.

 It was no surprise when he achieved such success in the Theatre. Our school theatrical careers stared together in Midsummer Night’s Dream, Moth and Mustard Seed respectively and finished some years later with the Taming of the Shrew, Gremio (me) and Tranio (Bob). The latter production was the more enjoyable, not just because we both had proper parts and didn’t have to wear large pointed ears, but also because it was a joint production with Stoke Park Girl’s school.

My theatrical career such as it was ended there but our joint interest continued largely thanks to the Belgrade Theatre which encouraged young people through its Young Stagers scheme. Bob’s connection with the Belgrade of course resurfaced on his path to success.

We also shared a love of hockey at school (or a dislike of rugby maybe). We played together in the school first team, Bob providing the flair as would his namesake, I just hung around the goal.

We lost touch after school and I was not to see him again. The closest I came was through one of our choir reunions but it was not to be as family illness prevented us from meeting up.

As I write this it is over 60 years since we first met. He once told me that one day he wanted to be really good at something rather than just “ok” at a number of things. He was certainly a good friend all those years ago and clearly really, really good in his chosen career. I suspect he was more than just an OK bloke too.

Duncan Gray

from Mike Smith

WE LOST DUNCAN in January 2019, but because, like Mike Newth he had emigrated to Australia, we didn’t get to hear the sad news until some time after the event.

Duncan joined the Cathedral choir in 1960, in the second tranche, destined to join the original 10 who were recruited the year before. He was one of three to join from Styvechale Primary School, along with Mike Barton and myself.

Duncan lived on the Leamington Road with his dad, Denis, a well known local builder, his mother Dr. Gray who taught at Whitley Abbey School, sister Alison, who now works for the UN, and elder brother John who played rugby for Coventry and England, and who also emigrated to Australia to play pro rugby.

I lived about half a mile away and sometimes met up with Duncan, although he was a member of a different group of lads, with whom we had a friendly and sometimes not so friendly rivalry.  Duncan was “the nice one” in his group and was always friendly.

We met up again at Styvechale School, joined the Choir and King Henry VIII Grammar School along with all the other Choristers, and we both played in the First XI together.  Otherwise our paths rarely crossed as he was a rugger star and I was busy trying to get hockey established at the school.

There were a number of boys in the choir with soloist quality voices, not least since the singing voice and a good ear were the qualities the Precentor sought as he selected his choristers. But I think it would be fair to say that had Brian Saunders not had such a superb voice, Duncan would have sung many more solos than he did. By far the finest singing I ever heard at school, was at a school concert in which Brian and Duncan sang  Mendelssohn’s “Ye spotted snakes...”

Duncan would be easy to falsely stereotype. He was very bright and exceptionally popular. Indeed he was the standout pupil of our year group. There the stereotype ends because he was kind, gentle and completely free of the swagger often associated with superstars.

In the photos included in “Following the Cross of Nails” there are two good shots of him, one studiously serious, and one laughing.  He was thoughtful.  I remember walks to school with him, when he would astonish me with his grasp of world events and his capacity to analyse. Yet laughter brings him to mind more readily.  He liked a joke, he appreciated wit, and he could entertain the peer group with measured irreverence and clever observations. Fortunately he also had the personal authority to intervene if others were inclined to take a joke too far.

He wasn’t a saint. I’m told he would push his luck with Geoff Courtois in English lessons, and ascribed ear trouble in later life with the consequent clips around the ear.

Duncan was an accomplished sportsman, and might well have been even better had he not devoted so many Saturdays to two sets of choir practice and Evensong. He continued to play Grade soccer well into his fifties, and from what Rebecca tells me must have been a very popular coach too – known to all, apparently, as “spunky dunc” – we of course will always remember him as “The Tweed”.

I lost touch with him after he emigrated, but managed to get in touch again, after commissioning the reprint of the Sadler photos. Duncan would have loved to have come to the 2012 reunion, but by this time had already got his cancer diagnosis.  Rebecca said that he managed to live for ten years, after having been given three years to live in 2008. He did get to see the book, and he and his family loved the memories and stories it evoked.

Duncan and Rebecca married in Coventry in 1975, at which point Duncan had been working on the oil rigs, whilst at the same time continuing his studies in Psychology. Shortly afterwards they moved to Zimbabwe to work on Rebecca’s family farm, but given the political situation, and after advice from Rebecca’s Dad, Duncan qualified in accountancy.

In 1980 they moved to Australia and he and Rebecca started their own computing business, with Duncan mastering yet another new skill – programming.  Duncan continued to work until 2018, finally becoming too ill. He passed away in January 2019, leaving two sons, Andy and Tom, and a granddaughter he sadly never got to see.

Rebecca sent this wonderful photo, taken at Tom’s wedding, of a proud Dad and that oh so reminiscent Tweedy grin.

                                                                                                                                               Michael Newth

from Stephen Milliner

I FIRST MET Michael at Allesley C. of E. junior school, where we were taught by a Mrs Sammons, who was very musically motivated, and played us recordings of Grieg and Prokofief , played Handel on the piano, and taught us British folk songs. It was her that inspired me to play the piano, and I later went to Michael's teacher, Mrs Ball, over the road from school. 

          One day she came in with a cutting from the Evening Telegraph, containing an advert for boys of 9 years old, who were interested in being founder members of a new Cathedral choir. Michael and I both volunteered, and ended up passing the entrance audition and exam, and joining up.   

          From then on, we became best friends. We would play on his piano, which I believe still exists in Australia, and play in the fields near Allesley and Brownshill Green, often  reenacting  the William Brown stories we used to read. In 1962, I went with his family to Treyarnon Bay, in Cornwall, setting off at 1 a.m., to arrive on time! (It was the year that “I Remember You” by Frank Ifield topped the charts, and we sang it all the time on that holiday.

          As time went on, he became more and more interested in football, and I in Rhythm 'n' Blues and other “beat” type music. Then one Saturday, at Highfield Rd Stadium, came the announcement that he and his family were emigrating to Australia, (they were the last of the £10 Poms”)  so we said “goodbye” and lost touch for about 47 years or so.

               Then in 2012, the year of the 50 years' commemoration of the Consecration, (which, unfortunately I couldn't attend,)  he turned up in Keynsham, near Bristol, where I live. We drove to the village near here where he lived before moving to Coventry, and he came to our house for the evening. My wife, Sami, and my son Nick, immediately took to him, and were captivated by his infectious sense of humour.

          One year later, he turned up again, this time in Bath, with his wife, Susanna, revisiting her childhood haunts. They treated us to a lovely meal with them at their hotel, and Sami and Susanna got on really well. She later sent her a copy of her book about her childhood.

          Michael will always be one of my best friends of all time. and I'll always remember his cheerful, witty sense of humour, and musicality, let alone his linguistic skills!

 

R.I P. Michael, old buddy!

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BBC Recording of the Consecration May 25th 1962

BERLIN TRIP in 1963

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