Reggie Sedgwick - 14 minutes' worth

Introduction from a session at the Red Lion Folk Club, Birmingham, November 1986

I’ll have a go at this request if I can remember it. I’d jump at the chance of singing it because . . . I’ll talk for a bit. I love introducing this song, because it’s about a – it’s about somebody of whom I’m very fond. His name is Reginald Sedgwick and he’s a schoolteacher and I’m devoted to the man, he’s one of the best men I know. He’s a schoolteacher, very clever bloke. At the moment – when I first met him he’d got a job in the same school where I was teaching – I taught in a school in a rough part of Leeds, and Reggie got the job there as the head of the Maths Department; now he’s the head of the Science Faculty in a massive comprehensive in Hartlepool. Now the thing about Reggie is, and the reason why I wrote the song is that Reggie’s odd; Reggie’s peculiar; things keep on happening to him – it’s as simple as that: things keep on banging down on him. And whatever he does – he’s not clumsy, he’s not accident-prone; it’s just that God doesn’t like him. And God keeps on whopping him. Erm, there’s a - These things happen to him so frequently and with such bloody ferocity. I’ll give you some examples.

Reggie once fell off a hovercraft. You know, I mean, you can’t fall off hovercraft; it’s impossible; it’s like [sound of a bottle falling] – the bugger’s not here, is he! It’s catching! Erm, and the thing was that Reggie and I and a lady teacher were taking a party of schoolchildren to France at the time. Now we’re outside the twelve-mile limit and there’s Reggie, bobbing around in the foam, and the children are taking photographs of him through the little, the little portholes.

Reggie once drove off from a cinema in Leeds, he once drove off out the car park in somebody else’s car. Now we’d come on the bus for a start, you know; and, and he – er, his wife and I and my girlfriend, we were sprinting up Cardigan Road in Leeds, sprinting after Reggie saying "Come back you daft . . ." Because he’d just walked out and got into the car and drove off. And he didn’t notice that it was a different model altogether. Plus the fact that there were two dogs woofing at him in the back.

He’s done all sorts, erm . . . Don’t get me wrong: Reggie is not a figure of fun and, to tell you the truth [laughter] - but he isn’t, [heartfelt] oh, d’you know, he isn’t; there’s a lot more to him than that, and I’ll tell you what: I’m disappointed in this song. Erm, I used to like it but I don’t like it any more because it doesn’t reflect the real, lovely, Reggie . Ohhh [sighs deeply]. Erm, it . . . oh, you’ve no idea; he’s, he’s, he’s a stunning fellow. He’s got everything – for a teacher he’s got everything against him. He’s a, he’s a little bloke, he’s got a little sort of humpy walk and he, he bounces along like this with his – and he – and he’s also got a funny right arm action as he’s [demonstrates to laughter] as he’s walking along, like a spin bowler warming up. And he’s got big thick pebb- he’s very, very short-sighted, he’s got thick pebble glasses and he’s always [demonstrates] looking around, twitching. You know, obviously he’s looking for the next thing that’s going to happen to him.

In fact when he got to this, when he got to this school , school called Intake in Leeds, er, the sixth-form maths set did a project. They did a statistical project on Reggie, with recurrency graphs and all sorts of complicated – but they did, and, and he encouraged them because he knows about himself, he’s self-aware; he knows that these things – and he said, yeah, get on with it, boys and girls, I’ll be interested. And they did a, an intense study of how, how often these things happen to Reggie. And they worked out that something happens to Reggie once every fifty-five minutes! This is - but this is – I mean it was a good study, it was complete: this is day and night, you understand, you know. The breakdown was fifty-five minutes!

When he first came, when he first came into the staff-room, I can remember all these . . . all these laggard teachers, lying about in the chairs, and he says "Hello everybody!"; he comes in and he says [whispers shyly] "H-hello everybody, I’m the new Head of Maths". And we all laughed! And we think: w- you get into, you know, 4E, and we’ll give you three minutes, old love, you know, erm, they’ve actually got a gallows in the yard! Because it’s a rough school and, erm . . . and children can destroy teachers, easy: I mean, they can just look at a teacher and they spot something that’s peculiar and wham! they’ll crucify him without saying a word. But funnily enough – and we all expected this to happen, you know, we thought, well that poor bugger, you know, they’ll have him, these boys. But in fact the whole school fell in love with him, and I don’t know why it was. Er, perhaps it was his vulnerability, or his – he’d got a kind of, I don’t know, a kind of saintliness about him, that really you couldn’t take advantage of him. Me and Martin – a mate I had who was another teacher – we used to creep around and look through the windows when Reggie – when we got free periods we used to look through the windows to see what the bugger was doing! You know. But all we saw was, let’s say, the fifth year, the big, chunky, tattooed, Elastoplast-sniffing fifth year who were, you know, who were the muggers of the school, you know, the first team muggers, and we thought that they’d be pandemonium. We thought Reg- but no, they’ve all got their arms folded, they’re all putting their hands up and "Yes, Sir, certainly, Sir." "Yes, Sir, right-oh." Good as gold! And we couldn’t understand it. But in fact every class in the school was like that with Reggie, whether they were troublesome or not. They adored him and when Reggie taught, when he taught: total silence; even when he was teaching the wrong class!

And listen! I’ll tell you wh- I’ll tell you, er, if y- if you don’t mind me boring your ears off, but . . . In the staff r- we used to have these staff-room m- we used to have these staff meetings once a fortnight, and we, we bloody hated them because, you know, we’d just sit around in the chair and the, the lunatic of a headmaster would come in and ramble and warble for a bit. Oh, he was a whelk! And then we used to – and we used to – we used to bicker about coffee-money and "He’s been sitting in my chair all this week!" Oh this – oh, and it was, well we’d, we’d go on twittering like this and suddenly Reggie'd get up, little . . . preposterous Reggie‘d get up and he’d . . . "Er, Headmaster, excuse me, er, what are we talking about here? We are dedicated and educated men and women and we’ve got a sacred duty: we’ve got these children, now they’re deprived children, they’re the rough end of the stick of this world, and we can show them [dramatic whisper] the horizons. We can bring out their talents If only we talked about that! Let’s talk about that, Headmaster!" Now then, usually in any classr- in any staff-room, if somebody made a speech which included ideals and mentioned the word ‘horizons’, you know, we’d all be "Huh" [dismissively]. But no! It’s true! But no, you know, we used to stand up and applaud and "Yeah! Spot on, Reggie!" It’s true! Because, I mean, the main horizons that most of those teachers had was the bloody bus-stop! You know, and . . .

But it’s odd. I’m, I’m - I don’t want to overstate it here, or, erm – but he was like this, he’d got the quality of idealism and he- and people believed in it. And, most of all, the boys and girls believed in it. They bloody did: they worshipped him. And he used to carry it out into his actual teaching and his behaviour. Well, one, my own favourite – he used to organise school trips. He used to give up all his evenings and he used to come in early in the morning and his weekends and his holidays, just dedicated to showing children: "There’s the horizon! Follow me and I’ll show you!" He used to take them on school trips and he used to call them – it was so bloody crummy! – he used to call them: ‘Mr Sedgwick’s Cultural Adventures’! So corny!. But the boys and girls – and I mean they were, they really were rough-os, and streetwise or whatever the current name is – but they, but they used to fight each other to get their names on Reggie’s list when he put one up on the board. ‘Cos they loved going with him; they didn’t care where he took them to. And he used to take them to places like Slough! You know. Birkenhead! But they wanted to go with him because they were devoted to him be- because he did show them horizons. And also they knew that something was going to happen every fifty-five minutes!

Oh, he’s a star, is Reggie. D’you know, I don’t half admire people like that. His most – he didn’t care what – I mean he was so vulnerab- he didn’t care if people laughed at him or if he prat-fell or anything like that: he just cracked on with it. His most famous school trip was when he took a party of fourteen schoolchildren to Saffron Walden to see the lavender fields. Well, he took the fourteen of them down there but he came back with twenty-one! Because of course, because they’d hitch-hiked, they’d left home, they’d run away from home, they went: "Where’s fugging Saffron Walden? I’m going". You know. Oh he was, erm . . .

Oh he’s a wonderful man. Erm . . . Yes, why not. I’ll tell you one last story about Reggie and it’s, it’s a favourite . . . of mine. I saw it happen. Er, Reggie, like me, is, is a Roman Catholic, and this happened, oh, a long time ago, er, 1969. And it happened in a church in Leeds, just near the cricket ground. Cardigan Road; Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic church. Now then, it’s about half-past eleven on a Saturday morning and I’m in the back of the church because in those days I’m, er, I’m one of these eager-beaver parishioners, I’m doing everything, I’m a right do-gooder; I’m into everything; I’m a right pain. And I’m stood by the font with the priest and we’re sort of, er, licking pencils and making lists and, you know, I’m fawning and being obsequious. And suddenly we hear the door squeak open – we hear the splash! in the font as, you know, he dips his hand in and then we hear the door squeak open and we see little Reggie come in. And, to quote the priest – he leans back against the stained glass and he looks and he sees Reggie and, word for word, verbatim, he says: "Oh Christ Almighty!" ‘Cos, of course, he’s worried about the fabric of his church. Er, we – we do not know when the last thing happened to Reggie, and he’s thinking: Is there one bugger due now, or . . . What Reggie does, to be, try and be quick about it, Reggie goes down to the Lady Chapel and he kneels on the kneeler, t- and all he’s going to do is to light a candle and to say three Hail Mary’s; Catholics do this, they – . . . it, it’s ludicrous; it is. But it doesn’t do anybody harm: Catholics say prayers and light candles to big dolls. Now then, this is the sort of set-up: there’s, er, the statue of the Virgin there, and then there’s the punter here, on the kneeler, and then in between the two there’s like a big . . . a big bush of, of erm, candle-holders, it’s like a, a big bush, just on one stand, but it’s like a – a tree. And each – and there’s little tubes there, and in the bottom of the – each tube there’s a little spike, and you’ve got to get your candle down into there. Now then, Catholics are basically, I’ve discovered – I mean I like them, I do like them, but I’ve discovered that they – first of all they’re idle, and they’re selfish: because those who get there at half-past nine in the morning, they don’t think about the other ones to come: they light up all the first few rows. So, if you get there for half-past eleven it’s one of these sort of jobs, you know [demonstrates to laughter]. And the priest is saying, well, "What’s he doing now? What’s the bugger doing?" I said "Well, Father, he’s standing on the altar rail and he’s leaning over to get his candle . . ." But in fact everything goes well: miraculously, what with it being Our Lady of Lourdes, everything goes well. And he kneels down and crosses himself and bends in prayer . . . sets his head on fire! Classic Reggie! Vintage Reggie!

Listen, I’m talking too much, shall I - get on with this song. In this - you will notice in the song that, erm, I think it’s a bit - I quite like it, but it’s a bit too flippant: it, it doesn’t reflect all the sort of love that I’ve got for this . . . clumsy bugger.

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The DVD of the BBC series 'Jake Thackray and Songs' is now available to buy online via Amazon.

'Magnificent' (The Independent)

'Jake Thackray and Songs', broadcast in 1981, captures him at the height of his powers; it paints an intimate portrait of Jake as a live artist, playing to audiences in the small venues where he felt most comfortable.

This BBC-licensed DVD, professionally produced from the original BBC masters, features all of Jake's performances from the series: thirty of his greatest songs, along with his inimitable between-songs chat and storytelling.

Also included are previously unreleased performances by three outstanding guest artists: Ralph McTell, Alex Glasgow and Pete Scott.