AT BISHOP’S IN THE 1950’S

May 31 2024.

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Reading of the charming Principal of Bishop's in duet with the Thomian VP caused my imagination to somersault. Could the stately Sister Gabriel (yes an Anglican nun) my Cambridge-educated Principal, and the legendary Warden de Saram of S. Thomas's (an Oxford man and a blue in boxing) have collaborated in such an unlikely scene? The mind boggled.  

The two dignified school head's main worry in the 1950s was keeping their charges as far apart as possible and the fact that they were sister schools pleased neither Principal. Fortunately for us Bishopians,  some things were beyond their control. For instance, S. Thomas had a swimming pool (rare in those days) which Bishopians were graciously allowed to use every Wednesday. The one window overlooking the pool was packed tightly with Thomians desperately trying to get the attention of  their lady loves while the Bishopians below were forgetting  all strokes except how to float looking upward ... ignoring their coach  shouting "For heaven's sake girls SWIM ." Somehow we DID learn to swim.

Then came the Royal Thomian Cricket Match. As the sister school, Bishopians were 'invited' and a tent was reserved for them. Beforehand the two Principals tightened rules of behaviour based on what they knew of the PREVIOUS year's encounter. Suitably dressed in starched uniforms, eyes demurely downcast we filed into that tent wondering why the Ladies College girls were similarly seated in the next tent. For that annual match, they were considered 'sisters' of Royal who had had no sister school to boast of. The ratio of teachers to students of both schools was about ten to one. But love found a way. Somehow letters were exchanged and help harayas (like me) with no romantic interest (alas) were the go-betweens. Everybody needed to use toilets far more than nature warranted and teachers could hardly question nature's demands. Teachers were an unhappy bunch.

Meanwhile, famous names like Channa Gunasekara, the Tissera brothers,  the Nirmalingam/Jayalingam brothers (who were playing on opposite sides) and other cricketers had enormous followings. This exciting situation of special tents was discontinued long ago but it was a halcyon era. Then came the Annual Debate. Both Principals not only attended this but their policing skills would have put the IGP to shame.  Chairs in rows naturally seated Bishopians in the front rows and those darling Thomians at the back. Teachers and Prefects stood at every door while Sister Gabriel and Warden at these events conversed genially in the front row. It was rumoured that they dispensed aspirin to their Staff at the end.

And then came the Annual Concert. "Can we do a modern Play Sister?" we asked hopefully.  She had vivid recollections of the Balcony scene when Juliet standing on three desks making up the balcony was declaiming " Oh Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore art thou  Romeo.....ow,....ow" had a nasty fall as the desks collapsed under her." Thomians voted it the most successful 'Show' Bishops ever had. Sister seemed open to suggestions. 'For Instance?" she asked. 'Scenes from Musicals?' "Unsuitable' 'A Revue?' 'Frivolous." "Modern Sing and Dance items?' 'Unsuitable AND frivolous.'

Finally, the decision was made and we got to the ticket-selling part. Miss Thomas in the Bishop's Office was in charge of tickets and she was not selling to boys. 'Nasty, noisy fellows,' she would say with a sniff. Of course sisters and cousins did the buying so Thomians and other interested male admirers were well-supplied. Came the evening of the concert.  

Thanks to my mother being the Principal of Musaeus College at the time, I was considered a trusted being.  I never quite worked that erroneous opinion out.    

Anyway, I was put on entrance ticket collecting duty. It was a difficult job. Each time a teacher appeared my friends expected me to cough warningly so that all heads could immediately switch frontward. The next morning Miss Cockburn, my sarcastic and much feared Form Teacher tackled me, 'Interesting on how that throat tickle came on whenever I entered the Hall," she remarked, fixing me with a beady eye.'  I was used to looking innocent.

But now here was a wonderful show..... Bishop's and S. Thomas's collaborating in an event we only dreamed about in the 1950s.  One cannot help but wonder WHAT the two Principals of that era would have thought. They were educationists after all.  They were used to being tactful though we may not have thought so at the time. Above all, they would have been sympathetic. 'INTERESTING' they might have said noncommittally. We would have understood.

By Goolbai Gunasekara



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