Permission to speak, Sir!

Some final words from Clive Dunn (1920-2012)

Clive Dunn attended Sevenoaks School from 1929 to 1936. We last spoke to him in 2009, when he described his experiences during those years.

Clive was sent to board at the age of nine, the youngest boy in the school by two years. His parents were both involved in the theatre and hoped that Sevenoaks would provide him with a stable education while they were in London or on tour. Boarding at School House (then housed in Old School), Clive, known to his school fellows as 'Buddy Dunn', took part in boxing, fives and rugby, and sat Royal Drawing Society exams alongside his academic studies.

The Headmaster, James Higgs-Walker, nicknamed 'Jimmy' by the boys, was a charming man; a historian and former county cricketer determined to improve the school. He was also a strong disciplinarian who used the cane. On Clive's last night at school when the boys were in high spirits and a little noisy, Clive remembered him thrashing a total of 50 boys, himself included.

Some of Clive's earliest stage appearances took place at Sevenoaks. He began as the call boy for The Importance of Being Earnest in 1930 and went onto perform in The Aristocrat in 1931.

As for Dunn, he appears to have the stage in him to his finger-tips, so to speak. A small beginning but a very good one; and we look forward to seeing him in many more plays.

The Sennockian, 1932

He appeared in at least three more, and particularly remembered his role as the Court Page in Bernard Shaw's St Joan (1933).

It was a great ambition of the boys to be invited out to tea on a Sunday so that they would get 'a bit of cake and all that', and Clive noticed that the boys who were Christian Scientists were regularly invited out. He got his mother to write a letter to the school stating that he was a Christian Scientist, and was duly invited to tea! This ruse bizarrely helped him during his time as a prisoner of war when the Christian Science organisation sent Red Cross parcels to their members. After a week's route march across Austria, Clive found a parcel waiting for him containing 400 cigarettes. He described the feeling he had as the equivalent to winning the lottery.

In typically comic fashion, he said that boarding school was perfect preparation for his four years as a POW, describing School House in the 1930s as 'pretty Spartan'. Despite all this when in his final term his parents couldn't afford the school fees (then over £4.4s per term), he nobly raided his piggy bank - his life's savings to date – and was just able to cover the cost. After leaving Sevenoaks, Clive went on to study drama at the Italia Conti School before beginning his career.

Although he was invited back to Sevenoaks several times in subsequent years, he always declined as his grim experiences of boarding left him feeling unable to say anything positive about the school.

Arabella Stuart

Read the BBC obituary here.