A.J.A.MORRIS is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Ulster where, until he retired in 1985, he was Head of the History Department.
He was born in Caerphilly in 1936, the only son of George Vivian Morris and Minnie Louisa (née Smart). The family moved to Rhigos in 1942. There he attended the village school. W.J.Morgan, the Headmaster, he considers his most important mentor.
He passed the scholarship for ABGS in 1947. For Advanced Level GCE in 1955, he took History, English and Economics failing the latter subject.
He read Law at the LSE,1958, then History,1962, and in 1967 Philosophy of Education at the London University Institute of Education. He taught for six years in non-selective secondary schools. He published his first book, “Parliamentary Democracy in the Nineteenth Century” in 1967. His most recent book was “Reporting the Great War: Charles Repington, The Times and the Great War” (CUP, 2016). He is currently completing his third volume of biography on Charles Repington, “An Officer and a Gentleman”.
In 1958 he married Cicely Alison Rosser at St. John’s Church, Islington. This year they celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary. They live in Clun, Shropshire.
Tony has kindly written some memories of his schooldays. These follow below.
I passed what we called “the scholarship” in 1947 and that September, not without a little trepidation, entered Aberdare Boys’ Grammar. I had been told that new boys were liable to be thrown over the school wall. I avoided that fate but could not evade the two periods each week we were taught PE. I dreaded what for most of my classmates was their favourite lesson. The appearance of any item of apparatus that they greeted with joy filled me with abject fear. I knew with an awful certainty it would reveal only my hopeless ineptitude, a grim expectation that was invariably fulfilled.
Alun Christopher Davies, a contemporary of mine at ABGS, has given a splendid account of what school life was like seven decades ago, to which I add a few stray observations.
I had three headmasters: Gwilym Ambrose, Bryn Reynolds and Jess Warren:—
In, I think, my third year, Gwilym Ambrose took us for lessons in English Literature. The set book was Addison and Steele’s The Roger de Coverley Papers; not the most immediately appealing text for schoolboys. Nonetheless, he brought the world of Tory and Whig political intrigue, of coffee and country house scandal, of gossip, rakes, dandies and booby country squires to fascinating, immediate life. He was a brilliant teacher.
At the end of our third year, we were required to choose either French or Welsh for ‘O’ Level GCE. I demonstrated my potential as a linguist by gaining 19/100 in Welsh and 21/100 in French in that Summer Term’s examinations. Thus it became my good fortune to be chosen for Bryn Reynolds’ remedial French classes. A true measure of Bryn’s genius as an inspirer of hopeless causes was that I not only comfortably passed my examination but was left with a lasting love of the language – and of the man. Bryn gave dictation in his own unique style that positively defied you to make a mistake. Even limping brethren like me rarely failed. If, however, you endeavours deserved censure, it was always administered with good humour and sympathy.
To have two great headmasters was good fortune; to have three was unusual affluence. Jess Warren took occasional classes in Economic Theory when I was in the Sixth Form and also a weekly lesson on current affairs based mainly upon cuttings from the quality press. The free exchanges between pupil and teacher were an excellent preparation for university seminars. When making our university applications, it was he who suggested I might consider the LSE, where he had been a postgraduate. I certainly enjoyed my time at LSE, first as an undergraduate and later as a faculty member. And an unexpected bonus, I met my wife there who was reading Sociology.
As we were rather unimaginative in the nicknames we gave our masters, J.B.’s baldness meant he was known more familiarly as “Curly”. He taught me history in the Sixth, or rather more accurately, did not teach me. “I refuse to teach you,” he told me, but offered no explanation why. “You can have a free choice of any books from my cupboard, study whatever you like.” I took him at his word, sat at the back of his classes and read rather than copied his notes off the black board. It is so long ago I cannot recall any particular title I chose to read, but I remember the journals were a useful guide to current historical debates. When it came to examinations JB marked my papers but never gave me better than 50%. Perhaps he was wiser than I thought at the time.
I owed much to Arnold Mathews who introduced Speech Training and Debating in the school as well as teaching History, English and Music. He joined the staff in 1947, [leaving in 1953]. He really was a fine story teller, mimic and actor. He and his wife, May, were wardens of the youth club at Glynneath. A number of us joined the drama group and competed with various degrees of success in various area and national youth drama competitions. We developed an interest in and love of the theatre that has remained a lasting legacy of his influence. In later years in London where he was an HMI, we were to meet up again. I had often had tea at their house in Glynneath. Now it was my pleasure and privilege to play host to May and Arnold for luncheon in the Senior Common Room at LSE.
Alun mentions several musical shows to which I would wish to add two in particular: my first, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast”, and the following year, Sir Edward German’s, “Merrie England”. I recall, when I first went up to London in 1955, I shared a room with Keith Rowlands. We both read Law, but he was at King’s College. Our hosts in Catford, Mr and Mrs Adams, were former members of the Carl Rosa operatic company. They possessed a splendid grand piano and one of our fellow undergraduates, also reading Law, was an accomplished pianist. Often we would gather around the piano for a couple of hours of enthusiastic if not very musical singing of opera and light opera choruses and arias.
Singing at school — not forgetting the Carol Service — and the stalwart efforts of Mr Phillips, “PEP”, and T.R. “Butch” James in particular — feature among my happiest memories. I have but one reservation! Attempting to write a three-hour essay on some esoteric subject as part of an open scholarship paper for London University, seated in Jack Bowen’s office off the Hall, concentration and invention were not aided by several hundred boys next door rehearsing at the tops of their voices. That I failed to win a scholarship was due to my own inadequacy, not the fault of the choristers.
The wicket(!) at Robertstown was helpful to bowlers: not so batsmen. Nevertheless I recall two outstanding batsmen in my school years – “Dicky” Bird and Gwyn Morgan. The latter also bowled a sharp and searching medium-pace, as did my friend John Evans. Of my immediate contemporaries, Elfed Thomas was the most gifted, an effortlessly elegant left-hander, as nonchalant and cheekily inventive off the back-foot as D.C.S. Compton. Yes, he really was that good. The one bowler I recall who stood out from the rest was Thomas John Jones. He was genuinely fast and a terrifying prospect for batsmen, keepers and slips, even on a true surface. I recall that years after leaving ABGS, I was a guest in the common room at St. John’s, Cambridge where I was introduced to the Senior Fellow. There was, however, no need for introductions for we both originally came from Rhigos and knew each other already. Dyfrig Morgan, a few years before my time had been captain of cricket, rugby and head prefect at ABGS. We had played together for the Rhigos village XI, a formidable team but especially so when vacations brought gifted players home for a break.
30 June 2018