Three Helicopters, An Atomic Bomb And A Naked Sunbather
There you go ! I new you would skip earlier chapters to get to this bit. Well you are going to have to read through the helicopters until I tell you about the nuclear bomb and I warn you now the naked sunbather will come as something of an anti-climax. So there !
All of these events, now legends, happened at Leon School.
I was walking across what was the lower school playground when a police car, blue lights flashing tore through the gates. An officer jumped out: "I need to speak immediately with a senior member of staff."
"Well I am a senior member of staff," I stuttered.
"I need to land a helicopter in your field in five minutes time."
So if I had said sod off would the helicopter have gone away ? No, it was going to land what ever. My job was to stop anyone walking out on to the field. Fortunately there was no PE taking place on field right then. I raced round classrooms facing on to the field and warned the teachers of the landing.
Apparently somebody has seen somebody take a pram with a baby in it and walk off. The helicopter was going to take the witness for a trip over Bletchley to see if the baby, pram and abductor could be spotted. It was all a mix up, the person taking the pram was legitimate and the baby was safe. Well at least the witness did get to have a ride in a police helicopter.
Helicopter number two. It was a Friday afternoon, I was sitting in my office hard at work. The next morning I was due to fly to San Francisco with a group of students taking part in a school exchange. I was nervous and I had a lot of work to do. The office door opened and in walked Headmaster Bruce Abbott.
"Red Nose Day !"
Yeh, I had heard about that, it was that day to be the first ever Comic Relief but I really was not interested. An eleven hour flight to San Francisco was uppermost in my mind.
"I want you to get the whole of your year group out on to the filed. Line everyone up so they form the words RED, NOSE and DAY. There's a press helicopter coming over in thirty minutes time with a press photographer on board."
"But Mr Abbott, can't you get another head of year to do it. I'm ever so busy."
"No, I want your year group and I want you to do it."
Well we did do it. The helicopter came, did some very low passes, the photograph thyen appeared on the front page of a newspaper. When I told staff at Sutter Junior High School in California they could not comprehend the concept of Red Nose Day. Neither could I for that matter.
One more helicopter before the atomic bomb or are you waiting for me to tell you about the naked sunbather !
This third helicopter is the helicopter that never was and to tell you the story of the celebrity behind it is perhaps politically incorrect but that does not change what happened so let me share the story.
Someone in my year group had written to Jimmy Saville asking if, as a birthday present, she could meet some boy band or other as part of the show Jim'll Fix It. (I'll leave Jimmy Saville out of it now as I tell you the rest of the story.) I am not sure which boy band it was, they were just starting their career. I think it was Westlife but can not be certain. I have looked at some of their early photographs and am pretty sure it was them.
OK. So the show's producer wrote to Bruce Abbott and in his usual way it was a case of Dave Ashford you sort it. The secrecy surrounding all this would make Bletchley Park and Enigma resemble a TV soap opera with an audience measured in millions. On a Sunday afternoon Headmaster Abbott and I secretly met with the show's producer and camera team to make a plan.
The plan. Westlife would be smuggled into the school and wait in my office. The class including the girl who had written to Jim'll Fix It would have their geography lesson not in their normal classroom but in the lecture theatre which was bigger and better for filming. The girl's parents were in on it, the geography teacher had to be let in on the secret and I needed my secretary to be in the know but that was it. I am not sure but I think we all had to sign a confidentiality agreement.
I would interrupt the geography lesson, apologise and say there was someone who needed to see one of the students. Westlife would then burst in, kidnap the girl and whisk her away in a helicopter to the TV studio where Jimmy Saville would be waiting to record the show's episode.
The production company would charter the helicopter but I would have to get permission for it to land and take off again. Couldn't be difficult could it, after all I had let that cop helicopter land by giving permission myself. Not so. I had to deal with the Civil Aviation Authority who said I needed to get permission from the owners of the land on which the school stood. That was Buckinghamshire County Council. The red tape twisters at the council said I had to get permission from the owners of the land on which once stood The London Brick Company, now Newton Leys, for the helicopter to fly over. Then I had to get British Rail to say the helicopter landing did not pose a risk to health and safety given the power lines of the railway running adjacent to the school. Flippin' Heck ! Anyway I did it.
Came the big day and I was faced with two problems. One was Westlife and one was a call from the helicopter company saying the cloud base was too low for it to land ! The TV producer said no problem, Westlife and the girl would use a stretched limo. Could I please fix it ? Where the heck was I meant to get a stretched limo from ? I did not have a clue but fortunately my secretary did. Thank god for that or we would have had to use the school mini-'bus !
Westlife ! If I had had my way I'd have put them all in detention. The idea was that they needed to HIDE in my office. One by one they each needed to go out for wee and any and every other excuse they could find. I kept telling them to keep their voices down. One wanted to use my office phone to call the group's record producer and I quote, put some bigger balls into the mix of their next record. I had the film crew and TV producer with me so my office was rather full with people.
At last came the time to make our way to the lecture theatre. As we made our way across the school the jungle drums began to beat: Why's Mr Ashford got that boy band with him ? What's happening ? It wouldn't have been so bad if they did as I told them instead of waving at anyone and everyone they saw at any distance.
Eventually I opened the door or the lecture theatre, spoke my scripted words with a camera filming over my right ear. Westlife burst in and caused a riot. That was it. The helicopter that never was.
I think it was Westlife, it was some boy band or other. Too bad if it was a different group, I'd have still put the whole lot of them into detention if I had my way. A legend does not have to be one hundred percent truth does it ? The story unfolded exactly as I have related, too bad if it was a different pop group to Westlife.
OK, the atomic bomb. Patience, I will get to the naked sunbather. Eventually !
If Hitler had known about Bletchley Park he would have certainly instructed the Luftwaffe to make it their primary target. As it is legend says only one bomb was dropped on Bletchley during World War Two. It landed and exploded in an empty field where in later years the sculpture Leonasaurus would stand. The lone German pilot may have been aiming for the railway line, if he was he missed. If he thought he would blow up some potatoes it was the wrong time of the year and the farmer had yet to plant the next season's crop. But I am not talking about a German high explosive bomb from the early 1940's I am talking about an atomic bomb from The Union Of Soviet Socialist Republics.
During The Cold War, for those of us who lived through it, it was not a case of if there is a nuclear holocaust but when will that holocaust come. The government set up a tree minute warning system to let the population know that in one hundred and eighty seconds we would all be blown to smithereens
Some knew, I do not think it was a secret, that on top of the lower school tower block at Leon was the nuclear warning siren. How far would it be, three or four hundred yards from where that German bomb fell ? The siren to warn all of Bletchley, indeed all of Milton Keynes that in three minutes time the entire new city would explode and vanish from the face of the earth. It was never sounded of course. I wonder if the siren is still there.
Now we come to the bit you have all been waiting for but I have warned you it is an anti-climax.
I was taking a class on the first floor of the lower school tower block. My classroom looked out on the field. On the other side of the building Mr John Shiner's classroom looked over Serpentine Court. One warm summer's day he came into my room and asked if I would kindly step inside his room. The class members were trying hard to stifle guffaws as they looked to Serpentine Court where a lady was sprawled out on her balcony sunbathing in the nude. Miss Milton Keynes 1980whaterveryearitwas she was not. Miss Serpentine Court 1807 perhaps ?
"What do you think we should do ?" Shiner asked.
"Hang on," I replied, "I will go and get some vomit bags for your pupils."
See I told you this was an anti-climax didn't I ?