Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bas Salmon, my greatest teacher, may he rest in peace

Brian "Bas" Salmon was the greatest teacher I ever had. Bar none. A remarkable, kind and eccentric history master at Lancaster Royal Grammar School, I will never forget his methods, nor his wisdom. Especially memorable is a delicious Latin phrase he once chalked on the board - Parlum Taurum Excrementum (speak intelligent bullshit) - which isn't even correct, but then that's probably the point.

He was part of a history department at LRGS that could probably match many universities for sheer brain power, depth of knowledge and certainly what we refer to as "teaching excellence".

All three, Jack Lea, Jock Fidler and Bas Salmon as we knew them, also had wide hinterlands beyond school - either in drama, quiz teams and the church, all were High Anglicans.

All three also influenced me very directly in how I live my life. It was sad then to learn today that Flea and Bas have both recently passed away, but they will have been given great send offs filled with love and affection.

Fidler, who survives the other two, I never liked. He seemed a vain and uptight bully who is widely despised by almost everyone I ever meet who was taught by him. Yet there was always a paradox about him, he gave so much to the school and to the Air Force cadets thing he ran - the Fidler Youth, we called it - and whenever I saw him out of school he held the hand of his wife or his daughters, something that showed an otherwise hidden side of a man capable of such warmth and affection. Having shared a version of this short tribute on the Lancaster Past and Present Facebook page I've had a few people give Fids the benefit of the doubt, which is as it should be.

Bas was the first person who suggested I go to university, or rather he just assumed I would be doing, which had a remarkable affect on me at a time when Fidler had made me feel awful, humiliated and useless. I always burned with a desire to go back and show him he was wrong about me, when in retrospect I now simply regret not telling Bas he was right.

9 comments:

Bon Timothy said...

Your comments about John Fidler and the CCF are not necessary in what is otherwise a nice tribute to Bas Salmon. If you feel the need to air the other things, why not do a separate blog and leave this one as it should be - about a fantastic teacher and motivation to generations of LRGS pupils.

Michael Taylor said...

Fair point, but I tried to be rounded and fair to JWF. Also, the contrast in my recollections and feelings is of some significance. I don't mean to be rude about the CCF, I mention it to display JWF's selfless devotion to something which will clearly have brought great pleasure to many.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the comments re. Jock Fidler made by Mike Taylor are entirely fair and accurate. Fact is, none of the schoolboys liked him, to put it mildly. I attended LRGS during the 1970s and was taught by JWF (never knew what his middle initial stood for) and also by "Jack" Lea and Bas Salmon. Being taught by Jack Lea was fun. Being taught by "Bas" Salmon was a joy - he was inspirational, so naturally all the boys adored him. In stark contrast, being taught by the icy Mr Fidler felt like a real penance. I swear that the temperature in the room fell by several degrees when Jock walked in, and things quickly went downhill from there. Sorry, but even 40 years later I still remember how utterly joyless it was being taught by JWF. Why did he have to be so needlessly stern, so utterly unwelcoming and such a martinet? For boys who had desperately unhappy home lives (and that includes me!) getting more of the same sh!t at school was a real downer. So, thanks for nothing, Jock.

Anonymous said...

I was truly sorry to learn that Bas Salmon had died. What I remember most about him was his innate kindness to the boys. Put simply he was a thoroughly nice guy who really knew his stuff when it came to teaching history. He made learning fun. It's strange but even now I can still recall a few of his catchphrases e.g. we were in his class so he could "make thinkers out of stinkers" or the jokey one about the 700th law of the Medes and Persians. During my time at LRGS I was also taught by John Fidler. However, since I've always believed that if you've got nothing nice to say about someone then you shouldn't say anything at all, I make no comment...

Anonymous said...

I too had the pleasure of being taught by Bas Salmon and Jack Lea. I went on to read History at University, have a veritable library of history books and a deep, passionate love of the subject. I can think of no greater tribute to two excellent teachers than that. As for the other one, I became a teacher just to ensure that the children who passed through my class knew they had value and were capable of great things, so that if they met their own version of Jock, they would hopefully be able to survive with their curiosity, love of learning and self-esteem intact. Every child I have ever taught is my own riposte to the Dickensian caricature that Jock was. I always wondered if Bas ever gave his 'Don't be a spiv' talk to JWF!

Anonymous said...

I am the Mother of two boys who went to Lancaster Grammar School. They felt the same about Mr Fidler. He really should have chosen another career. My recollection of him was about one parents night. We had seen him about one of the boys, ( who have both gone on to have glittering careers) and we were the last parents to be in. He didn’t say much that was pleasant, told me to stack the chairs in the room and swept out. I was astonished at being treated so rudely.....like a 5year old.
As I had been in work all day and was tired....I declined

Anonymous said...

I dreaded returning home from LRGS because my father went through my exercise-books to see what teachers had written. Barbed comments in a margin earned me slaps across my face and verbal abuse. I spent my childhood feeling uneasy/unsafe. Couldn't wait to escape. Eventually, after one false start in a blue-collar role (as thoughtfully recommended by LRGS), I went to University - something that certain so-called "Masters" at the LRGS had done their best to persuade me (and my parents who were completely in awe of them) I had zero aptitude for. Well, a 2.1 Bachelors (with Hons) and MSc degree later (plus study for a PhD I quit due to a lucrative job offer) I guess they were wrong. Mind you, they'd probably still sneer that my degrees are from Polytechnics, not "real" universities. My point is that teachers can have bad (or good) effects which can radically change the course of pupil’s lives. Suffice to say that away from negative influences I blossomed.

My father was a war-disabled veteran of WW2, haunted by demons: he'd seen quite a bit of death and severe wounds. Unsurprisingly, it left him deeply damaged. Terrified of and submissive to authority figures (he invariably callled LRGS teachers "The Masters" and took anything they said no matter how ridiculous as Gospel truth) he was a tyrant at home.

He threatened, beat and berated me throughout my childhood, starting with slaps and a leather belt, then his fists in my teens. His door-mat of a wife (my mother) watched and did nothing as he criticised/ridiculed anything and everything I did. That's why I’ll always be grateful for having had Mr Salmon as a teacher, plus a few others like Jack Lee & Shaun Higgins etc. Maybe BAS saw I was a lost boy, even if he didn't recognise the cause? Whatever, I always felt the warmth of his personality. It probably sounds pitiful, but BAS was like a uncle. When I had children of my own, I became acutely aware that what I'd experienced at home was child-abuse, plain and simple. Unfortunately in the early 1970s there was no support so all you could do was pretend everything was OK.

I had to join the CCF and stay in it. Refusal was not an option, so I ended up in the CCF RAF. My father's reasoning being that if there was another major war it would easier to join the real RAF and thereby less likely to die in a ditch with the other brown-jobs. I suppose that shows my father loved me after all. He's long dead now, and I really don't know whether to cry over his grave or dance on it.

Unfortunately, the CCF RAF meant double-doses of (now Squadron Leader) Fidler, a man not noted for personal warmth. Given that the CCF was military, Mr Fidler turned the volume up on an already abrasive personality. He really should have been employed by a Borstal not LRGS. Funny, but I still remember his small, rounded almost girlish hand-writing red-inked into my exercise-books.

Physically and mentally, my father was badly scarred. Mostly, he never spoke about it, but in a few unguarded moments (when I mentioned CCF firearms training) he mentioned how accurate the Bren gun was, what gunshot wounds looked like and dead people turning black in the summer heat. I suppose that's a reason - if not a justification - for the appalling way I was treated at home. I just wonder how John Fidler would explain why he treated us like dirt. What reason could there be? Such a glaring contrast to BAS, who was lovely. BAS tried to build you up inside, boost your self-confidence, open your mind and make you feel you had options. I can’t speak highly enough of BAS and will always be grateful for his positive influence.

To end positively, when I had kids of my own I resolved not to "hand on misery to man" as Philip Larkin put it. It's important to break the cycle. If you really like/love someone then try to pay it forward by helping them if you can, because there's not enough kindness in the world.

Anonymous said...

I found this completely by chance and, as an ex-LRGS lad, remember all three, although not with the same degree of affection. I remember Lea and dear Bas, who spoke to me very kindly when I passed my 'O' level History.
"You worked very hard young man and you deserve congratulation."
I still have my history books from those days and I still use them. Bas was funny and very knowledgeable. The period of history we looked at then (1865 to 1940) is one that still fascinates me today. Because of Bas (and to a degree Mr Fidler) I have a love of history which others have noticed.
I cannot do other than regard all these three with a degree of compassion because they had little option other than to be sceptical at our complaints after what they had seen after WW2. I have studied history in the raw and, I have no other conclusion other than that it was a very close run affair and I have learned how close a call it was. My Dad was mixed up in it in an area of the conflict that Britain wanted to forget. My turn came when I went to sea just like him and I know just what it is like to be at sea, blacked out, no lights, silent routine and, for good measure, run the risk of a limpet mine attached to the hull.
I keep my personality to myself, I do not have any contact with the school but reading about Bas made me remember how much I enjoyed my time with him. He taught me a great deal. And he said my essays were good.
Sorry; must be anonymous.

Anonymous said...

I was taught by all three of these Masters in the 1970s. Although generally lazy, I loved History and eventually went on to become a schoolmaster at a public school, following a brief period in banking in London. I decided to pursue a vocation as a schoolmaster largely because of the impression made upon me by three RGS Masters: BAS, DSC and JWF.

I fully concur with the observations made about Bas Salmon, who taught me for just one year; his sense of humour made a lasting impression on me, and I was determined that it would be reflected in my own day-to-day teaching. I am glad that after he retired I wrote to him to tell him how much I appreciated his teaching, and he wrote back in a self-deprecatory manner whilst expressing his gratitude.

DSC, who taught Divinity, was subject to ragging by most boys, including me in the Lower School, but his style of teaching in the Shell and Fifth Forms, and especially in the Lower and Middle Sixth, was inspirational, with much discussion-based work. I endowed a prize in his memory.

JWF was undoubtedly strict, but I had immense respect for the disciplined and orderly environment he maintained, and I achieved more in his lessons than in those of any other Master in the School, even coming first in internal examinations. He was, and is, devoted to LRGS, and throughout his career he did so much for it, not only as Editor of The Lancastrian, a time-consuming and laborious task, but also for writing a couple of the School's histories. Furthermore, and very importantly, as founding officer and CO of the RAF CCF Section, he built it up so that it acquired a national reputation for its high standards. Although I accept that a sense of humour would have been of benefit in his class-room, I know from talking to other OLs that there are a significant number of us who hold him in regard.

Although I appreciated the education which LRGS provided while at School -- it was effectively a public school education for no cost, except for boarding fees -- after a career as a schoolmaster I now appreciate it even more; indeed, so much so that I intend to leave a very substantial legacy to the School.