Last updated: 25 May 09
1926 – 1965
1964 School Photo
1928 School Photo
Educated at St Martin’s Grammar School, Scarborough and University College, Durham. He obtained BA in 1923, and taught at Dordenne School, Kilmaccolon (1922-24) and Mather House Prep School (1924-26).
The School had many characters on its teaching staff in the late fifties. One of the outstanding characters was Fred Coatham.
Fred was a genuinely nice man. As I was hopeless at languages nothing now remains to show for the three years spent attending Fred’s Latin classes. I got a French O-level only by dropping Latin in year five to do extra French and through the genius of Sam Mangan as a teacher. I first met Fred in the first form. We did not have Latin until year two but as I was in Darlaston House Fred was my housemaster. Later after Witcombe become Headmaster and I was in Lodge, Fred was also housemaster for Lodge.
As a teacher Fred was eccentric. We his pupils always reckoned that as he had been teaching Latin for so long he knew the two text books, Civis Romanus and Mentor, by heart. If he was asked a question he would invariably reply, “Here it is boy, page 48 line 16, Civis Romanus“.
He patiently put up with the usual class teasing along the lines of being asked what was Latin for ‘motor car’ — he would usually give the answer for ‘chariot’, but would eventually get fed up when the questions involved Latin for ‘television’ or ‘aircraft’. His reply would be, “don’t be silly, boy”.
Fred had this habit of often replying to a request with the simple answer of “Yes, boy”. This led to competition between forms to see how many times Fred could be induced to say “Yes, boy” during a lesson.
Fred was very interested in sport and took an enthusiastic interest in the progress of house football and cricket. Apparently he was a keen golfer but I did not realise this at the time.
During the autumn of 1956, Kipping’s last term, we were due to play a junior house football match on a Wednesday afternoon. There was no school on Wednesday afternoon at that time, lessons being Saturday morning instead. It had rained heavily for several days and most of us assumed that the match would be called off. In fact several boys who should have been playing had already gone home when Fred decided that the game could go ahead. All that was needed was sand to be put down on the worst parts of the pitch. The result was a mud bath and a 10-0 hammering by Wednesbury (house).
I also remember an incident one evening when Fred was involved in some after-school cricket coaching in the nets. Having dutifully watched and advised for some time, Fred decided to take the bat himself and show us how to do it. The bowler was Glen Turner who as a junior bowled quite quickly. Needless to say his first ball to Fred demolished the wickets, much to the amusement of the rest of us. Fred was not amused. He remonstrated with Glen and told him that he must “never do that again, boy”.
I get the impression that nowadays, once exams have been completed at the end of year five, pupils are free to go home and not attend school. I do not believe that was the case in 1960. I remember a period of several weeks after exams that were most enjoyable — being spent in the cricket nets or playing games. One activity was table-tennis in the Hall. Several of us were playing one morning, accompanied by the music from one of the boy’s portable radios. For anyone of a certain age reading this, they will appreciate that the radio programme was Housewives Choice. Like most youngsters of that age, I suppose that we were playing the radio rather too loud. We were disturbed in our game when Fred came into the Hall to tell us to turn the radio down. However just as this was done a new record started up. It was Flanagan and Allen singing Underneath the Arches. We were promptly instructed by Fred to turn the radio back up as he liked that particular song.
I last saw Fred to speak to a few years after leaving School. It was at a dinner being held for Sam Mangan, I think on Sam’s Retirement. Fred himself had by then already retired. I well remember him telling me how much he was enjoying his retirement. He was going to the Test Match at Old Trafford the following week and the next month was off to the Open Golf I think at Lytham.
Whenever I think of WBHS, I often think of Fred and what a lovely man he was.