Exeter Cathedral Old Choristers' Association

Stories and Anecdotes about the choir

Add your stories or comment on these - send to Mike Dobson

Piers Vokes Dudgeon (treble 1958-62)

Piers Dudgeon (in 2008)

(photo, 2008 - http://www.aitkenalexander.co.uk/author.php?recordID=103)

I left Exeter after five years in the summer of 1962. Martin Peyton Jones was Head Chorister the year before I was. He is sitting on my left in the picture labelled '1961 In front of the Chapter House Door'. Martin was a talented musician, with a strong sense of the spiritual. I think when he was 8 and I was 7 we were both going to be angels, or was it archangels. Strange times. (note from Mike Dobson - Martin tragically died in an accident in Taunton in his early teens).

The treble shown on several of the 1960s photos from Thailand is Watana Petchsingh. I seem to remember he was a brilliant pianist. People from foreign lands were rare in the 1950s at boys prep schools, and his name so unusual to our ears that we all had to memorise how to spell it. I felt sure there'd be a reason! (note from Mike Dobson - Piers kindly provided the correct spelling for the 1960s photo pages)

Howard Treneer was headmaster when I arrived. He was out of another world, another era. The situation at the school in those days seems in memory to have been Dickensian, a bucket at the end of the dormitory sufficed for a lavatory, for example, and you may be surprised to learn that prefects (only 12-13 years of age) were allowed to beat the junior boys (7)!

There was also a punishment regime called Slipperalley, which I cannot believe has no place in the memory so far of other contributors from this time. The senior boys would line up on the top landing with their legs apart and the miserable miscreant would have to crawl through the alley of legs and be beaten with a slipper by each boy in turn. The prefects occupied positions at the far end of the alley and were the only boys permitted to hold the victim between their knees for as long as they liked and have a real go at him. There was some heroism attached to those (like me) who survived such indignities. Sadly, by the time I came to be a prefect, the custom had been stopped. In fact, I don't think it lasted beyond my first year.

I remember I received my first beating with a shoe tree from a boy called Williams, who was first year dormitory prefect. I had the misfortune of being in the same iron-built bunk as he, I on the bottom, Williams on the top, which meant I was his fag. My job was to fold his clothes when he came to bed, and one day I left a crease in his white vest. I remember it as if it happened only yesterday. The episode was quite a shock. I was 7, sleeping away from home for the first time in my life. I vowed that night that I would have Williams in the end, and I think I have spotted him in one of your photographs! So, watch out, Williams! I'm after you. I bet he knows who he is!

But to come back to Treneer. It was the custom in those days to line up first thing in the hall which led from the lobby to the dining room and have your shoes and hands inspected by both Treneer and his wife. They would walk down the line; you would hold out your hands for inspection and as they walked past you would have to say, 'Good morning, Sir. Good morning, Ma'am.' I, like all the new boys, was told what to say by a prefect, but I thought he said, 'When they walk past, you must say, "Good morning, Sir. Good morning, MAN."' For weeks, possibly more than a term, until I realised what a fool I'd been, that is what I said! And I can remember that Mrs Treneer did have a hirsute upper lip, which at one and the same time seemed to corroborate her masculinity and alarmingly to add a kind of repressed terror at the rudeness I was heaping on her. Quite Alice in Wonderland really.

I am now a writer, was a publisher, and have dropped the 'Vokes'. There's an out-of-date biog. of me on my agent's site.