‘Frankie’: Frank Haill at Chi High, 1948-1973: a son’s perspective
‘Frankie’ was quite a reasonable - even affectionate - nickname, as schoolboys’ names for their teachers go: by comparison with, say, ‘Baldie’ Ashton or ‘Pegleg Pelham’. I have certainly discovered in the years since leaving the school in 1965 that my dad was held in fond esteem by many old Cicestrians, perhaps more for his hours on the sports field than in the French classroom!
Let’s go back to Frank’s earlier years: he was born in Fulham in 1908 to quite a poor family (his father had been invalided out of the army). Despite rushing round the streets of Fulham with his little pals (“a bit of a street Arab”, as he described himself), he began to shine at school, did well in his School Cert and won a place at St Mark & St John’s College to study French with History, later gaining a London University degree. He then took the Teacher’s Certificate and began his career.
Throughout his schooling, he showed a talent for sport - football and cricket in particular - and soon attracted the interest of his local team, Fulham. He played - as an amateur - for Fulham ‘A’ team (as a full-back) for several years in the late 1920s, but never rose to a place in the first team. As his teaching career developed, he moved jobs and clubs, going on to play for Tooting and Mitcham and then Aldershot (in the Southern League). Perhaps his greatest triumph as a footballer was to captain London (all amateurs) against Paris (ditto) in both 1931 and 1934 at the Parc des Princes (where all internationals used to be played). Our family still has the programme from one of these events in which F. Haill is described as “solide et rapide”! Cricket was certainly not neglected in those years: he was a keen supporter of Surrey CCC, his hero being Jack Hobbs. He used to tell us that, as a child, he would walk to the Oval just to see the gates by which the great man entered! Dad played for a number of London sides, notably Parsons Green and Fulham Albion Cricket Clubs.
Frank was teaching at Henry Thornton School in Battersea in the 1930s, and when war was declared the school was evacuated to Chichester. He commuted from London for a while, then he and my mother, Bunny (they married in 1936), decided to move to the area themselves. They lodged for a time in Bognor (coincidentally with a family called Haile) and then put a deposit on a plot of land in Grosvenor Road, Chichester, which, when built, became the family home for my parents, my two sisters and me. After his war service in the RAF (mainly in Palestine), Frank resigned from Henry Thornton’s and got a position at Chichester High School, where he joined a French team of Eric Smedley, ‘Wider’ Wake and - later - ‘Whiffer’ Smith. This little group remained unchanged until well after I left the school in1965.
Of course, Frank’s ‘other duties’ involved being in charge of football and cricket, and he spent a vast number of hours after school or on Saturday afternoons coaching, watching, refereeing or umpiring - hence his weather-beaten demeanour! He seemed a patient coach, thought a lot about the selection of his teams, and, judging by the number of Old Boys who used to greet him warmly in the street in Chichester or on the golf-course later, his time and efforts were much appreciated. But it always took a while before they felt ready to call him ‘Frank’! Dad was immensely pleased when one of his teams did particularly well, and I remember one soccer first team in about 1960 which carried all before it remaining unbeaten throughout the season. Another of his cricket teams in the 1960s had great success too, partly due no doubt to the presence in the team of John Snow, the future England fast bowler (though he was a ‘transfer’ from Christ’s Hospital!).
Other than sport, a highlight of Frank’s school year was the annual summer trip to France, or ‘Smedley’s Tours’, as he dubbed them. Usually 30 boys and 4 teachers (often Smedley, Haill, Dyer and Marwood) accompanying, the 10-day trips usually involved a train journey to a well-known coastal or mountain resort, followed by 3 nights at a school dormitory in Paris and a quick tour of the sights before taking the ferry back to Newhaven. Dad used to regale us on his return with tales of the boys’ horrendous seasickness, rats running around the Paris dormitories and of disobedient boys’ slip-sliding away on the Mer de Glace near Chamonix. But what my sisters and I were chiefly interested in was the small gifts that Dad had brought back: exotic new toys, espadrilles, EPs (the ones with the large hole in the middle) and nougat!
There were, however, some things at Chi High that got on my father’s nerves: chief among these was the almost permanent difficulty of finding other staff members who were willing to come along on a Saturday afternoon and take their turn refereeing, umpiring or supervising. There was lots of griping about that, I remember, closely followed by his frustration with the groundsman, Mr. Middleton (or ‘old Never sweat’, as dad called him) who seemed very reluctant to leave his shed to go and mow a wicket or mark out a pitch. Nor was Dad ever very fond of Headmaster KD Anderson: he felt he was a bit of a snob, obsessed with getting boys into Oxbridge, and being able to proudly announce in assembly ‘at this juncture’ a list of successful candidates - failing ever to recognise anyone who’d worked his socks off to get a place at a redbrick university!
So, what insights did I get as a ‘son of a master? Well, I was privileged to hear some bits of staffroom gossip and dad’s views on who was a ‘decent’ colleague and who ‘a miserable old devil’. There were of course other ‘sons of’ who were contemporaries: Chris Dyer was in my year, for example, but I think most Chichester-based teachers tended to send their sons to other schools, if possible. At least I was never taught by ‘Frankie’, though I sometimes heard from boys who were: ‘Are you Haill? Your dad gave me a detention, the old so-and-so!” or worse “You’re only in the team ‘cos of your dad!’. Luckily, I wasn’t in many teams! I did play for the Colts cricket team and had lots of practice with Dad bowling at me in our back garden, but in the 5th form, I opted to play tennis with a few others on the (rotten) hard-courts out by the air-raid shelters, and thus didn’t come in for much parental coaching. To his great credit, Dad never made any fuss about my not distinguishing myself on the sports-field, though he must have been inwardly disappointed.
Outside Chi High Frank did a lot of French coaching, night-class teaching, Cambridge ‘O’-level French marking, and was involved in the first few years of the twinning relationship with Chartres in France, arranging football matches home and away. He was also a member of the Sussex Football Association, mainly in charge of organising coaching. He also served on its disciplinary panel and, on returning home from these meetings, used to amuse the family with tales of the terrible things players had said to referees - and the punishments imposed! Frank retired from Chi High in 1973, and continued to lead a very contented life, much of it centred around Goodwood where he was a very keen but not conspicuously successful golfer - until “his legs gave up” in his mid-80s, though he continued as a social member at the ‘19th hole’. He also became a guide at Goodwood House, which, given his great interest in history, he much enjoyed: he was called upon by the Duke to do a guided tour en français when there were cross-channel visitors.
Frank died in 2000, just short of his 92nd birthday. It was wonderful to see at his funeral so many former colleagues, pupils and golf-partners. He truly had the gift of friendship and is still warmly remembered and much missed by his family - and, I feel sure, a few now elderly ex-pupils.
March 2021 Correspondence with Rick Haill, Frank Haill’s son:
A couple of months ago Geoff Wills gave me your email address. I too am a very old Chi High boy, son of Frank Haill. I was thinking of writing something about him for the website before my - and other contemporaries' - memories of him fade away. Do you know whom I should contact in order to do this? Is there a 'webmaster of some kind?
I was at Chi High from '57-'65, but since my dad taught there from the late 40s until about 1968, I imagine there might be quite a few visitors to the website who still remember him. Geoff Willis was one of his cricket captains, and I am still in touch with him - at least at Xmas!
Rick Haill (1957-1965)
How could I forget him!?
When I was 14-15, I spent six months in the Royal West Sussex Hospital. Your father was the only master who regularly brought me homework to do! It was not very welcome at the time, as I was lazy at the best of times. You will now smile when I tell you I spent most of my professional life as a Chartered Accountant in France and Monaco. We lived in a French-only suburb outside Paris and still count the friends we made amongst our best friends to this day. All four of our children went to the same schools in France and the three still alive are all bilingual French/English. My wife and I are fluent but have an English accent of course! I am even a founding member of the LREM, the party of President Macron. One of our bitterest recent memories was losing our European nationality due to Brexit. However, my eldest daughter expects to have her French nationality by the Summer.
I think your father would have difficulty believing all this, but perhaps it was because he went the extra mile to help me when I needed it!
Richard D Wood-Kneller (1954-1961)
It has been about 57 years since we were at CHSB together although I did see a photo with you in it from when Tony Horne visited Chichester a few years ago.
I note you are looking to put some memories of your dad on the Old Cicestrians website.
Mine are limited and only involved with cricket so I have attached 3 of your dad’s CHSB team photos.
As I recall he was very patient and softly spoken whilst coaching, encouraging, and helping us to be better players.
I am surprised he had any hair left after teaching us off drives and so on, only for the adrenalin-fuelled red mist to turn some strokes into baseball strikes.
I was often guilty as charged over that but nevertheless, and I do not believe it is memory erosion over time, I never recall your dad being angry. I enjoyed my time with him and really owe him a great deal for being one of the ‘behind the scenes’ unsung heroes.
Sport was always top of my mind at school.
I do not remember your dad ever being my teacher unless it was in the very early years.
Keith Upton (1955-1962)
Can I add to Richard’s e-mail about your father?
He was always very supportive of my efforts to bowl leg-breaks and picked me in the 1st XI in 1961. And organised the soccer side well – coaches in from Pompey – one whom I remember died recently, Cyril Rutter (a real hard man).
I will draw a veil over his efforts to improve my lamentable French but at least I passed “O” Level. The last time I saw him was at Goodwood House when I was visiting with my wife. He was a steward in one of the rooms and I went up to him and he instantly said, “You must be one of my boys from Chi High” and we remembered those sporting days!
Until just this year one of your father’s contemporaries at the school was on the Old Cicestrians’ Committee – Maurice (Henry) Hall. Maurice’s son went on to play for Sussex.
It will be very interesting if you can produce a piece for the website and many of our members will I am sure enjoy reading about “Frankie”.
Bill Allen OBE (1954-1961)
Chairman Old Cicestrians
To Rick Haill
Being a year ahead of you at Chi I can easily relate to your excellent article. Your dad I remember very well (and I also remember you!). He took us for French from the early days in 1A. I will never forget Toto who kept opening and closing the door! The Lepine family progressed and so did we until in 4R eveery member of the class passed O level French! He was that good a teacher. You mention Chris Dyer who was in your year. His dad was a pretty good maths teacher and, like Frank, saw all the class pass O level after 4 years of his teaching. We certainly were lucky to have the best of teachers around!!
Being a rugby player with no aptitude for cricket I sadly had no contact with Frank on the sports field. However he must have had great influence to have enrolled Messrs Sealey, Harries and Smart (?) in the staff soccer team! I think they may have kept quiet about that.
Thank you for providing the fitting tribute to an excellent and popular teacher - your dad!