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News > Memories > James Gibbs - Memories from Queen's

James Gibbs - Memories from Queen's

James Gibbs (former Head Boy) reminisces on times with school friend, John Cullis.
Cricket Team Photos from over the years
Cricket Team Photos from over the years

It is good to see that John Cullis has signed up to this 'platform' and, while waiting to see what sort of things arrive at this 'platform', I hope you will indulge me if I share some thoughts and memories. The first, and most abiding, memory dates from the beginning of the summer term of the 1955/56 academic year when the trains from South Wales and Cornwall must have arrived at Taunton Station at about the same time. I remember that my heart fell when I got off the train from Cardiff and  saw that John Cullis's luggage (I assumed he'd come up from Truro) included a pair of wicket-keeping gloves. When I saw the gloves, I realised that Cullis and I might be in competition for a place behind the stumps in school teams. 

John (mostly then 'JFC Cullis' or 'Cullis JFC') was, in fact, a bit older than me and established his place in the age group above mine. Nearer the top of the school, in the remarkable cricket season when the Saleem brothers were key parts of an undefeated 1st XI, John was the regular glove-man.  However, for the match I most wanted to play in that season, he was, I rejoiced to discover, (sorry John!)  unfit.  I think he was suffering from the bane of wicket-keepers: a finger injury.  Whatever it was, it meant that he was not available for the match against Kingswood School, Bath, and I was prompted to take his place -  and make my 1st XI debut.

I particularly wanted to play against Kingswood because it was the school my brothers went to, and, indeed, my elder brother, John, travelled down from Bath to keep the score for the visitors. Kingswood had a strong batting line-up that year: it included, I think, RC Kerslake who later played for Somerset.  They batted first, posted a good total and made us struggle. In fact, the match came down to a tight finish and we preserved our unbeaten record only by scraping a draw. The match report in the Kingswood School Magazine included, I hope I remember this correctly, a reference to the match ending with 'the Kingswood scorer's brother playing out the last three balls for Queen's'.  Yes. It was tight.

The point I started with reflected the fact that very early on in my time at Queen's, I clocked 'Cullis, JFC' as an outstanding sportsman. Not only a cricketer but also a rugby player, and a talented athlete.  John was a fluent runner, a 440 specialist as I recall, easing into the final straight with a grace we later saw on television in the young Seb Coe. Really!

I also incidentally became aware of 'JFC Cullis' as an actor. He played Lucius in the first school play I watched, Julius Caesar (1955), and the next year he was Olivia and I was Viola in Twelfth Night (1956). Theirs was a tangled relationship if ever there was one! We subsequently acted together – but never as closely! - in Hamlet (1958), Henry V (1959), and Dr Faustus (1960). That was thanks to the staff members - Burt, Bullivant, Faram, Hyland, Lewis,Watkins … et al - who made productions happen – and who often did not put their names on the programmes.

From Queen's, John went on to Westminster College which had just moved into a new home in Oxford. He might even have been a foundation student in the new, Oxford set-up. And from there, via other courses, he went on to have a very distinguished career in London schools and in the wider field of education. From references in OQ Notes, I was aware of this and of the fact that he was awarded an MBE.  (Congratulations!)  That was an important land-mark for John. However, what I remember best about him - and my relationship with him - is the heart-sinking moment when, in the summer of '56, I saw that his luggage on the platform of Taunton Station included a pair of wicket-keeping gloves. 

 

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