I Heard That, Pardon?


There’s something special about a prank you pull on someone who’s in a position of authority.

I’m reading John Cleese’ autobiography, “So, Anyway…” I’m enjoying the tales from when he was at school and some of the pranks that were played on teachers. It reminded me of things teachers had to cope with in classes I’ve been in.

The worst pranks we pulled were while I was at Warrington Technical College. I was sixteen and an apprentice electrician. The first year was spent learning ‘off-the-job’ at “Tech”, with about thirty other apprentices, not just electricians but mechanical engineers, fitter-turners and fabricators. The idea was to give you a broad background in engineering.

We spent most of our time in workshops, but one day a week was all classroom work, which we hated. The teachers didn’t help, they ranged from empire building autocrats to broken down old engineers in white coats.

The scariest was the head of the department, Mr Books. It seemed that his only goal in life was to create a master race of tradesmen and to do this he would eliminate anyone who didn’t fit in. Obviously I was eliminated before the end of the first year but that’s another story.

The funniest of all the teachers was Staveley. That wasn’t his real name, in fact I can’t remember his real name. We called him Staveley because he was old and slow like the character on a sitcom at the time called, “I Didn’t Know You Cared”. In the show, Staveley was an old war veteran who said “pardon?” a lot.

If you watch the first three minutes of this clip, you’ll get the idea;

One day, Staveley spent most of the lesson drawing a drill bit on the blackboard. It was an impressive piece of work, detailed in every way. He used a giant wooden protractor and set square to make sure the point, helix and lip angles were correct. Everything from the shank to the Morse taper were labelled. It was a proper engineering drawing done in chalk.

As soon as he finished, Staveley left the classroom. This wasn’t unusual, we always thought it was because he suffered from, “old bugger’s bladder”. The blackboard was one of those roller boards, like a wide, black, vertical, wall-mounted conveyor belt. You could chalk something on it then roll it around to reveal a fresh blackboard that had been hidden from sight on the other side. As soon as Staveley left the room, Neil Jones ran up to the board and rolled it around. He chalked a quick inaccurate version of Staveley’s drill and rubbed it out with the board rubber making it look like Staveley’s masterpiece had been erased. Then we all climbed out of the open windows that ran the length of the class room and hid under the window ledges.

We heard the classroom door open and the sound of some muted shock and gasping for air. Someone peeking over a window ledge whispered that Staveley had left the classroom again, slamming the door behind him. We clambered back inside and resumed our places at our desks and tried to look exactly as bored as we had while Staveley was drawing on the board.

Neil rolled the board back around and got back to his seat just before the classroom door burst open again. It was Staveley and he was with Mr Books. Staveley was bewildered and stuttering as he looked at the full classroom of calm apprentices. Then he pointed towards the blackboard. His mouth fell open and the colour drained from his face when he saw a perfect diagram of a drill bit.

Craic on!

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