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News > Lyonian News > A John Lyon Memoir - by Rob Steen

A John Lyon Memoir - by Rob Steen

A trip down memory lane from Rob Steen (OL 1976)
Rob Steen (on the right) and his son
Rob Steen (on the right) and his son

September 1972. Sunshine and summer are already sopping memories. The redevelopment project continues apace, co-funded by the legendary Woolly Mammoth Fair. Unofficial inspections of The Teacup That Mistook Itself For A Till had hit the dizzy heights of £21.65 (plus allegedly historic farthing).

Marginally more pressing, in theory, was the dastardly scent of Serious Studying, aka the “O” Level course. Time to obsess about something other than Alf Ramsey and Olivia Newton-John. Gasping for air behind the unopenable windows of class 4A1 – a portakabin overlooking the tennis court on which nobody ever played anything but five-a-side footie – was possibly not the ideal launchpad.

Only two subjects excited me: History and English. Luckily, they supplied my favourite teachers: Kim Bruce-Lockhart, aka Broocie, a hip dude doubling as a world-class squash player, moustache and shaggy curls making him a dead ringer for Jason King, the coolest screen detective since Bogart, and Bill “Percy” Podmore, a Truman Capote lookalike whose gown always threatened to gobble him whole.

Percy not only explained how the Versailles Treaty begat the Nazis and Fascists; he revealed – to me at least – that the IRA had a legitimate excuse for bombing our cities and transforming Harrow-on-the-Hill Station into the seedy end of Times Square. But for Percy, the short-arsed Jew known as Rubberlips would almost certainly have been a lifetime Tory, albeit for no better reason than Ted Heath’s mob wore the same colours as his then beloved Chelsea FC.

Stylistically, Broocie was the anti-Percy. The only teacher I can recall wearing baggy flares, he flourished chalk as if it was a Gauloise.That soft Scottish burr cast me back to the idyllic holidays I’d spent in Glasgow with my grandparents. What’s not to idolise?

One day, eager for approval, I placed Cat “Dog” Stevens’s Tea for The Tillerman album on my wobbly desk, proclaiming my exemplary musical taste and astonishingly precocious knowledge. As a tardy classmate decorated the lino floor with a clod of mud, the cover caught Broocie’s eye.

“Ah,” he said, smiling softly and stroking that substantial chin, plainly familiar with Father and Son and Wild World. Flipping to the lyrics on the back, he studied them intently. You wouldn’t have caught Lionel “Grecian 3000” Boardman or “Wild Bill” Warman doing that, not in a gazillion years.

What a refreshing contrast to Ian “Whybree from the Libr’y” Whybrow, who would greet the inaugural meeting of The Contemporary Music Society with a contemptuous putdown of the chairman’s choice, The Allman Brothers’ Jessica (“It doesn’t really progress, does it?”). The same forgettable instrumental that would introduce Top Gear for decades to come. Game, set and match to Rubberlips.

Above all, Broocie’s place in my heart remains secure because he introduced me to the ineffable beauty and invaluable life lessons of The Great Gatsby. Which took some doing, I can tell you. As a reader, I wanted fact, not fiction. Movies were my novels. Yet Broocie ensured I absorbed every literary nuance and philosophical insight. Storytellers can be painters; self-delusion is the most damaging of human frailties; trying to repeat the past is futile.

No less priceless was the dream Broocie fostered. Forget learning lines, composing hits or slogging sixes – and with all due respect to the theories of Dr Winston O’Boogie (aka John Winston Lennon) – a middle-class scribbler is something to be.

I’m relieved to say that my life contains but one substantial regret. At the dawn of the next decade, Broocie, outrageously young, died, somewhat poetically, on the squash court. By then I was a bank clerk and making Hamlet look decisive. Thus was I denied the chance to express my gratitude for his inspiration when Fleet Street beckoned; all the more so when, 47 Novembers later, I tapped the final full stop on my first novel. It’s no Great Gatsby, or even a Fair-to-Middling Gatsby, but it is extremely and shamelessly Broocie.

A toast, then, to the ghosts of Percy and Broocie, for sensing the rebel in the swot and nourishing it.“Dog” Stevens deserves the final words:

So on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out

So much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out.


Written by 

By Rob Steen (OL 1976)


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