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The '149' Mystery

Posted: Fri Apr 02, 2010 2:41 pm
by John Saunders
Stuart Toms (RGS 1961-68, school nickname "Yogi") wrote in with some reminiscences which I post below...

Stuart Toms wrote:Re 1962 junior photo: F46 is Malcolm East. I remember him well from School House and from endless games of fives, at which, in the parlance of the day, he was 'dead jammy'! Interesting how the rules to fives evolved according to the area of the school in which they were played, but then we were boarders with little else to entertain us!

Re 1962 junior photo - E17 is Andrew Picton. I remember him well from my home town. Last heard of in America, nothing more known.

Re 1962 junior photo G8 I think is Viv Snell.

I'll have a look through as there are more faces I recognise but alas, memory plays me false and the names escape into the void.

What I found fascinating was seeing the 1962 senior photo which I had never seen before. The juniors and the seniors of the boarding house (for I was in School House ) were all thrown together and knew each other well, but the seniors are but fading sepia-stained images filtered through the diminution of memory, and to compare what I remember with what the photo remembers is enlightening.

Should you need further topics for discussion, may I suggest re-evaluations of the significance of The Magic Tus Number! - 149 - (as we all know, one of the fundamental numbers of Modern Physics!) I do remember John Skipp saying that we never sang hymn no. 149 at assembly for fear of the ruckus that would ensue. How many people still use it as part of their passwords? I am giving away nothing here.

My brother got my facts slightly wrong. I teach music and still play in several bands, anything from rock to folk to jazz. If anyone is interested in communicating I would be delighted to hear but it may take a time to reply as I am not 'internet savvy!'

I do have a few more memories of the John Mayall gig about which I see there has been some correspondence. When this crowded life of mine allows I'll try and pass them on.

All the best to you and yours
Stuart Toms (alias 'Yogi') 1961-1968

Thanks for that, Stuart. Re '149': Andrew MacTavish wrote the definitive piece on 'one four nine' at the Old Boys website in the January 2007 issue. EDIT: unfortunately, I can't give reliable links to this because they keep messing around with the official RGS website, so I have taken the liberty of filching MacT's splendid article and putting it in its entirety here...

One-Four-Nine by Andrew MacTavish wrote:ONE FOUR NINE
by Andrew MacTavish
(Jan 2007 RGS Old Boys Newsletter)

At some time in the 1950s, the number “149” became a joke at the RGS. It was all very odd. If anyone came out with that number, everyone would roar with laughter. Maths: “The answer is 149” (Ho, ho, ho!) Geography: “149,000 tons of copper were exported” (Ho, ho, ho!) Any lesson you like: “Turn to page 149” (Ho, ho, ho).

Some people said it was connected with a rather weak joke about an old woman on Wycombe Station. She was seen to chuckle now and again. When asked, she said that she had read that one person in 149 was a lunatic. She sat there, counting up to 149 and identifying them as they passed her. That was one theory. Another linked the number with a Geography master, one Mr T.V.Sheppard - known as “Tuss” - and it was said to be his car number. Certainly if anyone drew a car, it usually had “TUS 149” as its number. Some people thought it had started in a Maths lesson that went wrong and it was connected with one squared, two squared, three squared.

The fact was that “149” infected the whole School. If “Boss” Tucker had ever announced that as the hymn number in daily prayers, the roof would have collapsed under the cheers - yes, even Mr Tucker was not proof against the power of those figures. As it happened, the hymn with that number in the school book - “Hymns of the Kingdom” - was a one that was never chosen. I seem to remember it was one of the two or three in Latin, “O Quanta Qualia”, whatever that was. Certainly from time to time people tried to get it announced by altering the hymn number on the list published on the Headmaster’s notice board. There was only the one list in those days of manual typing, and they thought they might get away with it. They never did. Tucker must have been aware.

The number remained funny into the 1960s. In 1965 the staff put on the play “The Happiest Days of Your Life” which ran to packed houses for three performances (and resulted in two marriages between members of the RGS common room and fellow thespians from Wycombe High School). Tim Newling, the Art Master, played the caretaker Rainbow. In the last act, he had to do a calculation:

Rainbow: There’s eight compartments to a carriage (He takes a scrap of paper and a stub of pencil and works it out as he speaks) Four a side in each. That’s sixty four. A hundred and ninety two in all.

But Tim, with careless disregard for Maths, came to the dramatic conclusion. “That’s one four nine” - and the Hall erupted in delighted hysteria, the biggest roar of the show.

A month or so later at the end of term, the CCF Army section went to Stanage Edge in Derbyshire. The junior officers - Neil Cooper, Rex Jones and I - arrived in a Landrover and a three-tonner at the campsite. We read the mileage on the speedometers as we had to record it on the vehicles’ work tickets. It was 149. I remember the momentary silence as this registered. We decided we couldn't enter that figure as people would think it was a joke, so we added a mile and made it 150. That looked sensible.

Sometime between 1966 (when I left the staff), and 1983 (when my sons entered the School) the number disappeared from the RGS culture. One-four-nine returned to being as normal as one-four-eight or any other number. “Is one-four-nine still funny at the RGS?” I asked them. They looked at me oddly “One four what? What do you mean “funny”?” I tried to explain, and lost.

When I was at university, I remember the lecturer giving us all a substance to taste - phenyl-something or other. Two thirds of us curled up as we found it fiendishly bitter. The rest were totally blank; they could taste nothing. And so it will be with you. If you were in the 149 generation, you will have had a strong reaction to this little memory. If you were not, you will be blank too. And please don’t expect anyone to be able to explain any more than I have done. It was just a dropped stitch in the warp and weft of the RGS fabric - probably the 149th.

Re 'one four nine': I wonder if we could determine how far back the beloved number goes in time - could OWs of the 1940s and early 1950s vintage let us know here if they can remember 'one four nine' from their own school days? By such scientific means we might hope to discover when it became a matter of mirth. Ditto, 'Tus' - who coined it and when. These are vital issues to be worked out for any future edition of the school history.

Re: Stuart Toms (1961-68) and the '149' Mystery

Posted: Fri Apr 02, 2010 4:54 pm
by Tony Hare
Re 'one four nine': I wonder if we could determine how far back the beloved number goes in time - could OWs of the 1940s and early 1950s vintage let us know here if they can remember 'one four nine' from their own school days? By such scientific means we might hope to discover when it became a matter of mirth

Scientific Fact No 1 coming up:- I left school at the end of the Summer term in 1956 and I have no recollection at all of 149.
i.e 149 came into being after that date or my memory really is as bad as I think it is.

Re: The '149' Mystery

Posted: Sat Apr 03, 2010 6:21 pm
by John Saunders
Thanks, Tony, that is an extremely useful datum. I guess it tells us either that '149' became funny after the Summer of 1956 or, just possibly, earlier than that but hadn't spread like a virus throughout the school by that time.

Out of interest, can you or anyone else recall anything about Mr TV Sheppard's car of that era? It would be useful information if only to eliminate it from our enquiries. I don't suppose DVLA data from more than 50 years ago is put into the public domain by any chance, is it? Probably too much to hope for...

Re: The '149' Mystery

Posted: Sun Apr 04, 2010 11:50 am
by John Saunders
Further progress on the '149' mystery: Simon Hall (RGS 1958-65) tells me that he thinks the '149' virus first took hold in his second or third year. That indicates a start date of 1959-61. Any more bids?

Simon also adds: "I had a vague feeling it came from a radio show". But compare and contrast Bill Laws' (RGS 1958-65) in an OW newsletter: "Roy Gravestock (RGS 1956-64) and I actually wrote to the Goon Show asking for a mention of the 'Tuss Bus, no. 149'. The comment was indeed inserted into a script and spoken by Eccles, to our great delight." So it looks like the number came before the radio show but no doubt the mention on the Goon Show* helped to amplify its comic power.

* The Goon Show scripts are available online - - and I've been right through them, looking for "149" or "tus" and drawn a blank. That doesn't necessarily mean Bill was wrong as it may have been an adlib or something not picked up by the team of transcribers - or I've missed something. Note that the final radio Goon Show went out on 28 Jan 1960.

Re: The '149' Mystery

Posted: Wed Apr 07, 2010 12:43 pm
by John Saunders
I received a very informative email this morning as regards the mystery of "one-four-nine" from Bob Trick...

Bob Trick (RGS 1956-62) wrote:Concerning 149 - the guy who really got this going (around 1960-61) through his roneo'd "alternative" school magazine (I've forgotten its name but others will remember) was Fred Garnett. He's on the '58 photo, section 3 at D21 ( Fred was a big mate of one of my closest friends Roy Hulbert (whom I'm still in touch with) and they both lived in Denham, so got the train together. The early 6th form gang (59-62) used to go around saying "One-Four-Nine", giggling and laughing. I suppose it came out of Goon Show humour, preceding the emerging Beyond The Fringe satirical era.

So it looks like Fred Garnett may have been the man behind 149. But I'm now even more intrigued by the mention of that alternative school magazine. Can anyone remember its name? And has anyone got copies? It would be great to have a copy or two, for scanning and reproduction on the website (if the laws of libel allow, of course).

Re: The '149' Mystery

Posted: Thu Apr 08, 2010 10:21 am
by John Saunders
Yet more on '149', and also the alternative school mag referred to by Bob Trick. Roy Hulbert writes...
Roy Hulbert (RGS 1955-62) wrote:Bob's right, David [Fred] Garnett and I started the idea of a satirical magazine. Here I crave your indulgence dear readers... featuring the best alternative comedy writing the school could produce. In truth most of the work was done by a handful of us and used repetitious motifs - like 149 - and many old rag week jokes - but it worked!

As the original hand written copy was such a success, we decided that issue two should be made available to a wider public so it was committed to Gestetner stencils - one error in writing and the stencil was scrap - and multiple copies were out there throughout the school.

At this point it had to have a name - and it was called Scandal and, as scandal does, it went everywhere it shouldn't. We were distributing to the High School, Lady Verney, The Tech and other Wycombe schools by the end of the first year. I don't think it lasted more than a couple of years, but perhaps should have set a few of us up for a job in journalism.

A spin off from Scandal was a game very similar to Mornington Crescent but which predated it by many years - this was 59/60 - which we called "Crong" - definite Goon Show influence - the object of the game was to put your opponent into Preston North End: how this was to be achieved I cannot remember but this was fifty years ago! I can, however remember that they could avoid this by invoking 149 at which point it was "game over".

I can't say we invented 149 (how could you do that?) but I do believe we popularised it as we never missed an opportunity to get it into everybody's consciousness: it was the temporary catchphrase of the RGS and, judging from your article, seems to have survived some years after our time.

More excellent material on '149'. Anyone know any more about Scandal or, better still, has anyone got a copy? Any more on Crong?

Re: The '149' Mystery

Posted: Thu Apr 08, 2010 11:38 am
by Martin King
I seem to remember that for its early editions "Scandal" was a wall newspaper.
It was pinned up in a glass case on the wall at the bottom of the stairs in what was then the Geography block.
Or perhaps a copy of the current edition was always pinned up.
When it became a proper publication I used to send copies to friends at Slough High School.

Re: The '149' Mystery

Posted: Thu Apr 08, 2010 6:22 pm
by John Saunders
Thanks, Martin. As a wall newspaper, and thus subject to the scrutiny of passing Gown-Wearers, I guess it couldn't have been quite as scurrilous as I had hoped! Thinking about it, and remembering the very long arm of the 1960s RGS, even a mag published offsite would have eventually found its way onto ERT's desk, so there wouldn't have been too much scope for being naughty. But I'm still interested in tracing a copy or two.

Re: The '149' Mystery

Posted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:28 am
by Rodney Sabine
Some confusion here. 'Scandal' was an ink duplicated magazine totally independent of the official rgs. The wall magazine was 'Spotlight', which was only slightly subversive, edited by myself and others under the 'guidance' of Mr McTavish. looking back I think maybe he was being a bit subversive himself. We published photographs with captions, eg a picture of an explosion was captioned 'No more curried egg for me' (Goon Show Influence) We also published a fearless expose of the poor state of tjhe fire equipment in the boxes around the site. We even tested it, which came in useful later.

Spotlight ran for several editions. I later became the Editor of the Wycombiensian, I think the only boy from the Biology Sixth to do so. But then I was the only person to spend 5 years in the Biology Sixth (I was 6B5) and come out with A levels in English and Economics.

One one glorious after exam day we asked if we could clean up the fountains in the (then) new quadrangle. wearing our white lab coats we found the plug and duly drained them. Amongst the objects we found were 6 cans of lager (Long Life I think), which Mr Lambert took away for 'testing' he later prnounced them 'perfect'.

But we had to refill the fountains. Armed with our specialist knowledge we connected up the fire hoses and filled the fontains in no time at all. After about 15 minutes a green water board van drew up. The very nice water board man explained that there had been a sudden drop in water pressure on Amersham Hill, and had we used a lot of water. As it was a sunny day and there was water everywhere we could hardly deny it. Used a hose, did we? Oh yes, we said, we used a fire hydrant. There was a long silence, then he went into the main building. After 5 minutes Sam Morgan came out and asked us what we had done. Apparently the hydrant water didn't go through the school meter.

Is there a problem, sir? We asked Sam. 'Oh no', he said 'I'm just going to have to go to ruddy court thanks to you lot, that's all, and he walked away. I don't think he did - but I think RGS was charged for the water.

Re: The 'Tusbus

Posted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:41 am
by Rodney Sabine
Tus Sheppard had at least two Diamlers. They were prewar, and at least one of them was a convertible. I think he lived on Amersham Hill and you could see them in his drive.

There are two apocryphal stories that I'd love to verify.
The first is that some boys phoned a garage and asked for his car to be collected from the RGS and taken away for scrap. During the lesson some of the boys said 'Look sir - ypur car's being towed away' whereupon he said 'My God, my car!' and ran off in pursuit.

The second relates to the boy who stayed out of the class. At the start of the lesson there was a commotion at the window - these sash windows could be opened at the bottom - not very Health and Safety. The boys sarted clamouring 'Sir, Sir, Jones has fallen out of the window. Tus, who knew a wind up when he saw one, resolutely ignored them. After a few minutes Jones, who had stayed out, came rushing in, covered in dirt, tie askew and clothing in disorder. 'Sorry, sir, I fell out of the window' he said, whereupon Tus, full of remorse, rushed over to him , saying 'Good God, boy, are you all right!

I never had Tus - we had Sam Morgan. One day he was talking about ship's chronometers - latituide and longitude.

'How many clocks should you have on a ship, he said. we all said '1' How do you know it's telling the right time. After a pause we suggested two clocks. 'Right, he said - one clock says quarter to three, the other says ten to eight. What's the ruddy time? After a pause one brave soul suggested 3 clocks. Exctly, he said, well done - that's why ships always have three chronometers on the bridge.

He was about to move on when the inevitable clever dick (we were 4x so we had a reputation to protect), said 'Sir, what happens if all 3 clocks show different times?

In that case, said Sam, you might as well pull the bung out of the bottom of the ruddy boat, because you've had it!