DICK BAGNALL-OAKELEY (Autobiography 12)




Dick was my Geography teacher at Gresham’s until I gave up the subject at the end of the 4th form. I didn’t particularly want to give it up, but as it was a choice between doing history or geography one had to go, and it couldn’t be history. It is a pity, because historical geography has become an increasingly important part of my life. Giving up his subject didn’t mean the end of my contact with Dick however, as he was in charge of the Photographic Club, and I remained a member of that. I remember an expedition on my bike to photograph Cley church; you may see one of the resulting pictures below. This had been elarged and mounted for me by Dick – the sort of ‘extra’ that he did without question. On another occasion we went to Weyborne to record the Naturalists’ Club (another activity he ran) making ledges for sand martins in the cliffs.

Dick’s father had been Rector of Hemsby, and as such had been known to my father. My grandfather had built a holiday home for his family on the dunes before the Second World War. It was a wooden chalet my grandfather had made, and being just plonked down on the dunes there was no question of any kind of legal title. During the war the land was requisition by the army and the chalet simply disappeared. But as a frequent resident of Hemsby he got to know the rector.

Cley church, photographed on an expedition with Dick.

This print of Cley church was a result an expedition with Dick and other members of the Gresham’s photographic club. As a member of the club my moment of glory came at the wedding of Mr Douglas’s daughter in the school chapel. Being the only member of the Photography Club who possessed a movie camera (a Paillard Bolex 8mm) I assisted Dick who was in charge of filming the ceremony on his own movie camera. “BIRD” Douglas was a veteran of the First World War but he was still teaching (maths I seem to recall) when I first arrived at Gresham’s. I remember having one or two lessons from him before he retired in 1963. He had by then been Deputy Head for many years. Bruce Douglas (to give him his proper name) had been a teacher for a very long time, because he had taught W. H. Auden when he was a schoolboy. When Auden wrote a reply to a letter my friend Bill Wragge had sent him (in about 1967) he asked after Douglas, whom he remembered with affection, but by then the teacher had died.  He was one of the old fashioned teachers who always wore a gown in the form room. The younger teachers were meant to wear gowns as well, but they tended not to feel comfortable in them. Douglas was quite happy in a mortar board as well.

My position as cameraman at his daughter’s wedding was to stand in the organ loft and point my camera at the altar. Since that time – it must have been 1964 – the organ loft has been removed from the chapel. From the organ loft I was to take pictures of the ceremony but as I only had 2 minutes of film before the reel had to be taken out and turned over kit was  important to make the most of the time. Super 8 film which did not require the film to be reloaded half way through was not released until 1965.  A standard 8 film ran for a total of four minutes, two minutes each side. In the processing lab (which you sent it off to in a yellow postal packet) it was split and cemented together into a four minute film. It so happened that I had already used half the film, so that the whole reel, once completed, went off to the processing laboratory and then to Dick who combined it with the film he had taken to make up Bird Douglas’s film. I have forgotten what was on my half of the film – I never saw it again!

Dick had many interests outside his subject of geography. He was naturally gifted photographer and could have earned a good living in that way alone. He also was an enthusiastic naturalist, and a very competent watercolour artist; after graduating at Cambridge he had studied at the Norwich School of Art. We had one of his pictures hanging in a dormitory at Crossways. He was also a writer, author (with Jane Hales) of a Guide to Norfolk . As a broadcaster he was a regular on the BBC’s local television programme Look East. He was an enthusiast for the Norfolk dialect which he spoke in way that only Norfolk born people can; indeed by no means all Norfolk people can. Although he is perfectly happy speaking Geordie or Scouse, I have never heard Stephen Fry speaking with a genuine Norfolk accent, in spite of his local origins. Perhaps I am doing him an injustice, but his series Kingdom, which was set in and around Swaffham, used a travesty Mumerset burr as its accent.

Dick had a fatal heart attack in 1974 on his way to a lecture engagement in Inverness. This happened shortly after he retired from his lifetime’s career of schoolmastering. He was driving in his Vovlo estate along the motorway when he lost control. Luckily no one else was injured. The headmaster, Logie Bruce Lockhart, produced a short book on Dick’s life.





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