A rebel is made: Brian Jones and the Protherough Affair

Roger Gore, circa 1961

Roger Gore, circa 1961

 

Readers of Sympathy for the Devil might well remember the incident that marks the dawn of Brian Jones’s rebel status: namely, the “Protherough Affair.” This was a dispute between the teenage Brian and David Protherough –Cheltenham Grammar prefect , rugby player, and bastion of the establishment.

I had a good account of the affair in the book, which included several eyewitnesses. But I was overjoyed when I heard from one of the participants, Roger ‘Olly’ Gore. Roger’s son Jason put us in touch with each other, and conducted the interview with questions I’d sent him. Thanks, Jason!

In the meantime, I’ve assembled other details: the femme fatale who inspired the fight was nicknamed Blitch, not Glitch, and I’ve had reports of her whereabouts, which I will of course pursue. I have photos of Mr Protherough – who died years later in a car accident – in the rugby team, which I will add here. Of course, we should remember this was a schoolboy rift and that Mr Prothorough is not around to defend himself; see the note added below.

Roger’s interview adds many new and interesting elements to Brian’s story. It tells us more about the music scene, what he and his friends were listening to. But yes, perhaps I’m most pleased because we finally know how many strokes of the cane Brian received, and exactly how punishment was administered.

The photo is of ‘Olly’ circa 1961, a couple of years after the notorious event.

What was Cheltenham like as a place to grow up? Some people say it was staid and boring, yet there seems to have been a good amount of music, CND and other activities going on.

I didn’t live in Cheltenham but travelled in to Cheltenham Grammar School on a school bus which serviced also the Pates Girls School in Pittville and a few others like St. Gregory’s Catholics etc., and my experience of the town is so orientated. Winchcombe, where I lived, had little in the way of entertainment so Cheltenham seemed OK I suppose – it’s obligatory to knock the place you live in adolescence. Cheltenham certainly had some coffee bars as well as plenty of pubs and Winchcombe lads would gravitate to Cheltenham Town Hall on the service bus for the Saturday night dance there. In comparison to Winchcombe, Cheltenham was the great metropolis.

How did you meet Brian? Were you in the same class at the Grammar School?

I met Brian at CGS. He was exactly three weeks to the day younger than me, so we entered the Grammar School in the same year, 1953. The first year there we were grouped alphabetically so we were not in the same form until the second year. Thereafter we were both placed, according to our test results, in the A stream which was selected to take O levels a year earlier than the other three forms. Later, in entering the sixth form, Brian took the harder discipline, Physics, Biology and Chemistry whereas I did Zoology, Botany & Chemistry, so we shared many of the lessons and were housed in the same lecture theatre under the chemistry head, Mr. Thomas.

What were your first impressions of him?

I can’t say I had “first impressions” of Brian and we didn’t become good friends probably until the fifth form when we associated with another person, Barry Smith, in an increasing affinity regarding life as mid-teenagers, an interest in music and decreasing willingness to abide by the stuffy old-fashioned mores of the school. The three of us continued our friendship into the sixth form where Brian and Barry did two years to A level, which I also did, but I stayed on for another year to take AS levels.

How did you become aware of Blues and Jazz?

Regarding Blues and Jazz, the three of us were early record collectors and together often visited a record shop off the High St. (Maynard’s?) in the lunch hour and purchase 45’s and sometimes LP’s. We were required to attend games afternoons at the Hester’s Way sports field which included cross-country running. Barry’s home was on the estate which bordered the games field and we had a wheeze which we worked two or three times where we would leave the pavilion as part of the hundred or so on the run but almost immediately dive off down the few yards to Barry’s house where we would listen to a Stan Kenton or Gene Krupa record until the front runners returned half an hour or so later, then we joined the stragglers back. We were never caught out.

What were your first musical conversations with Brian?

Musically, our musical tastes were allied but a little bit different. Brian liked trad jazz at this stage and Barry preferred big band modern jazz. I specialised in collecting authentic blues records e.g. Blind Lemon Jefferson, Crippled Clarence Lofton, Boodlit Wiggins, Fred MacDowell etc. – the more primitive and authentic the better. Brian once said to me jocularly that my taste was for “cigar-box guitars” as if I was a little naive in my taste and that of course is a source of great amusement to me as he became such an exponent of the slide guitar, emulating such as Mississippi MacDowell. Brian became more and more blues orientated over time and I remember well the demise of Big Bill Broonzy and the gloom we three shared at his increasing poor prognosis and eventual death in 1958.

Was Brian well-liked? Who were his main friends when, say, he was 14 or so?

I wouldn’t say Brian was “well liked” but he wasn’t specifically disliked either. I can’t remember particulars really until the fifth form and can’t recall any other close friends of his other than Barry Smith and myself.

Brian’s first school reports mark him as “very able”. Then they start mentioning increasing rebellious tendencies: “he suffers from a dominating father and has to show off to compensate.” Do you remember the progression?

Brian was a sharper pencil in the box than me. I’ve little doubt that had he been more conventional and compliant he would have done very well academically. Then the world would have lost what he did become. Regarding rebellious tendencies, that certainly increased from the fifth form and increasingly so through the sixth. The school uniform of grey flannel trousers, black blazer and mortar board were an increasing anathema to the three of us. In reality the mortar board summed up the ridiculous public-school-like attitude of CGS. In a mark of defiance, and simple sartorial awareness, the three of us wore suede shoes. I can’t remember any of us smoking in school but we certainly, on a few occasions in lunch hour, went into a small pub off Winchcombe Street for a beer and such activity would have had serious consequences had it been observed.

Brian, however, would take things too far and, on one occasion, I remember being in the Physics Lecture Theatre which had the sloping floor accessible through a trap door. In those days a crate of milk in one-third glass bottles was provided daily and Brian took it into his head to throw his empty bottle down the void to smash it, followed by several others. He was found out for this by “Coot” Conway the physics master but I am unaware now as to what punishment he got for that. The incident is quite vivid in my memory as it rather made me aware that Brian courted the sort of trouble I didn’t have the bottle for. Regarding whether Brian’s attitude was a compensation for a dominating family I never ever thought that. My impression was rather the opposite as Brian was not a meek person by any stretch of the imagination. His parents were classic middle-class with all the usual middle-class aspirations for their children such as sending Brian to Dean Close School before CGS. He turned out to be a wayward genius didn’t he and given the modern propensity for labelling everything, wouldn’t that be perhaps a symptom of slight autism?

Overall, I’d love to know what you did together, whether you went around to his house, met his parents, sister, or other impressions of how he was, and what he got up to – both musically, and in general.

My association with Brian was predominantly at school, as I lived some eight miles from Cheltenham. I did go to Brian’s house once but his parents or sister were not present. I went there specifically to collect some 78 rpm records that Brian had given me. They were trad jazz including Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton etc… I still have those records which are now quite nostalgic to me. There was another occasion when Brian was involved with a gig/dance in a community hall in Hatherley. I can’t recall whether he had organised it or was actually playing in it, but had invited me. A friend and myself travelled from Winchcombe to the venue, but no sooner than we had gone into the lobby of the hall than I was approached by a group led by Teddy-boy in a powder-blue suit who sneeringly inquired if I would like a dance. We beat a hasty retreat and ran off down the road with the Teds in pursuit and only escaped by hopping onto the deck of a double-decker that was just leaving its stop for town. There was a band in Cheltenham called Bill Nile’s Delta Jazzmen who used to travel round in an old black hearse and I know Brian had ambitions to play clarinet with them but I do not know if he ever did.

Did you like him?

Yes, of course I liked him.

Some people, like Roger Jessop, think his rebellious nature surfaced once he realised that the conventional means of excelling, like cricket, weren’t open to him, due to asthma. Did you see any of that, and what do you think?

I do not agree with the Roger Jessop comment at all. I was at Cheltenham Grammar School for seven years and I never played cricket once and it wasn’t a major general sport at CGS at that time. Brian was in no way sports orientated regardless of his asthma, whereas music was second nature to him. Both of us skived off sport as much as possible. I remember Brian being off school on the odd occasion with pleurisy caused by his asthma but it was no big deal. He wasn’t disabled by it and it certainly didn’t stop him playing clarinet did it?! [NB, this is possibly because Roger Gore met Brian later than the period Roger Jessop discussed].

How long did you know Brian for? What were some of your later contacts with him? And did he change over the time you knew him?

As stated, I knew Brian for five years at CGS and closely for the last three. As stated, he left at the end of the second year sixth form whereas I elected to continue for a third year and take AS Levels. Barry Smith also left at the same time as Brian. I only ever saw either of them on one further occasion. In 1960, I happened to go in to the reference library and came across Barry studying away. He told me he was hoping to join the Civil Service and take the entry exam and in the meantime visited the library on a daily basis to gen up a number of words each day in the Oxford English Dictionary, in order to have an extensive vocabulary. I hope he realised his ambition and got to run GCHQ under a pseudonym! In the summer, on a Saturday, I was walking with my girlfriend (now my wife of 54 years) up the upper High Street to catch the Gilletts bus from their depot back to Winchcombe when Brian materialised onto the street in front of us from a doorway which led to a coffee shop. We got into conversation comparing life notes. He expressed his opinion that I had done the right thing in staying on at school and seemed a little down when reflecting on his own situation. I didn’t have much time to spare then because of needing to catch our bus but we agreed to meet the following Saturday in the town bus station. To my eternal regret I never kept that appointment, for whatever reason, and I feel a little guilty to this day every time I recall it.

Do you remember the Protherough affair?

Yes, I remember the Protherough affair vividly. I cannot recall that there was any specific reason for the antipathy between Brian and Protheroe, but Protheroe was a prefect and made best use of his position and was generally a rather unpleasant specimen. The prefect system selected those who would embrace authority and exercise discipline by proxy. By and large they were fascistic and generally disliked by the majority of students, but obviously liked by the teachers. Brian and Barry were the two people who elected to do something about the overbearing Protherough and a third boy named Edwards was willing to fight Protherough in an organised meeting in the gym, reminiscent of a public school duel as if Protherough was a latter-day version of Flashman of Rugby School. Edwards also came from Winchcombe and was, I think, in the final year six form. He was generally a quiet unassuming person and I genuinely think he undertook the task in a spirit of righting a perceived wrong by bringing Protherough to book. Brian wanted me to join him and Barry at the appointed time but I declined as I could see the likely fallout and having elected to stay on in the third year sixth, whereas Brian and Barry had decided to leave, I felt I couldn’t afford to blot my copybook. The fight did take place and Edwards gave a good account of himself, as I understand it, before it was broken up by teachers. The repercussions did come as expected. I found myself required to line up outside Dr. Bell’s office with Edwards, Brian and Barry and then each questioned individually by Bell (“Ding-Dong” obviously). I tried, briefly, to protest the fact that, although I knew of the arrangement, I did not go to the gym to witness the fight. I was found guilty anyway which in effect branded me a liar, whereas I would have deserved being called a coward for not backing up my friends. Edwards was expelled from the school, although allowed to return briefly to sit his final exams. Barry and Brian were suspended for two weeks and I got the lesser sentence of one week’s suspension. In reality, I was found guilty by association. In addition, we all received six strokes of the cane across the hand. My injured sense of justice has stayed with me all my life and colours my attitude to injustice to this day.

Brian was both brave (taking off to London by himself) and fragile (incredibly sensitive to criticism). Was that apparent at school?

I have never perceived Brian to be “fragile” and indeed, thought him stronger willed than myself.

Did you hear about Brian’s love life, and involvement with Pate’s Grammar girls, etc? Did you witness any of that?

Yes, I knew of his relationship with Valerie [Corbett]. I believe that started at the sixth form dances between CGS and Pates Girls arranged by the maths master, “Nutty” Nutbourne. I think it was a genuine relationship and Brian was very fond of her but we all know that it went wrong with Valerie’s pregnancy. I never attended the dances myself and I never met Valerie.

Are there any other general memories, or thoughts about his life?

Brian was not my life-time best friend but he was a significant school friend. I feel very sad when I think of what happened to him – not just his death but of his decline before that. In a way it seems predestined and no great surprise in reality. To some extent Brian had been a negative influence on my studies and in my final year at CGS I knuckled down, worked harder, and got my AS level with a Distinction in Zoology, got a County Major and was awarded a place at Nottingham University, but I still wore suede shoes. I’m very glad I knew Brian Jones, the errant genius I believe him to have been and definitely a one-off. Regrettably, I never saw him play when he had achieved success. I lived in Oxfordshire in 1964 when the Stones played in Aylesbury and my wife and I had tickets. We battled through thick January fog to the Granada and saw the band but, ironically, Brian had not made it!

God bless him!

Coda: a note from Jo Protherough, from the comments. Thanks, Jo, for making these good points.

Well goodness me, Mr. Gore. Did you image that the eldest daughter of the “unpleasant specimen” may ever read this?

Yes, I am sure that the grammar school encouraged a certain sort to become prefects and I imagine the teenage power-trips of 50 plus years ago were more extreme than anything I saw at my school. Anecdotally, from the infamous Blitch, it seems that Brian and my father had a lot more in common than they may have realised. My dad painted and sculpted and played the banjo rather well.. maybe their similar interests pushed them together while their differences pulled them apart. Who knows? I was not there.

My mother obviously was – but I doubt she would want to be interviewed as “bride of Flashman”.

His card was marked: the first reference I discovered to "The Protherough Affair"

His card was marked: the first reference I discovered to “The Protherough Affair”

2 Comments

  • Anni Paisley says:

    Another great and insightful article Paul! Thank you :) It’s always interesting to hear these accounts offering so many different perspectives on his personality and life. The sense of pathos is quite evident here. There are always those regrets in the end of what could have been said or done.

  • Jo Protherough says:

    Well goodness me, Mr. Gore. Did you image that the eldest daughter of the “unpleasant specimen” may ever read this?

    Yes, I am sure that the grammar school encouraged a certain sort to become prefects and I imagine the teenage power-trips of 50 plus years ago were more extreme than anything I saw at my school. Anecdotally, from the infamous Blitch, it seems that Brian and my father had a lot more in common than they may have realised. My dad painted and sculpted and played the banjo rather well….. maybe their similar interests pushed them together while their differences pulled them apart. Who knows? I was not there.

    My mother obviously was – but I doubt she would want to be interviewed as “bride of Flashman”…..

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