No 27 June 2004



Major Mitford







MARION DUNCAN MRS WOOD : I enjoyed reading [the June 2003 literary supplement] very much.  The vignette of Robin Bell sitting in a tree with a water buffalo will remain an enduring pleasure.  It occurs to me that you may wish to consider giving some space in a future issue to memories of Terence Bruce Mitford.

The trouble with twentieth century myths is that one is never sure of their provenance, as with the different stories of the coming of the Moose, and they may just be ‘fond memories’. But here goes……

I didn't know him at all, continues Marion, but do recall that square, bull-necked figure cycling implacably along Kennedy Gardens.  Although probably not as well known as his brother Rupert Bruce Mitford (Keeper of Antiquities at the British Museum and excavator of the Sutton Hoo ship burial), TBM is, I believe, still celebrated as a war hero in the mountains of Crete, due to his reputation for killing Germans with his bare hands and his cunning in evading capture.

“THE SEAGULL’S WELLY” : This tale has certainly passed into the corpus of Kinnessburn folklore. Several of you mentioned the event without being able to put a date to it. Your Editor has vague memories of the incident and thinks it may have happened during 1964-65 (that was the time when we had a married man as a Bejant in the house……)

Seemingly there was a Kinnessburn Party and the following morning one of the young maids found a used condom; not knowing what it was she showed it to Mrs Duncan who did know! Presumably this was reported to Nora who brought it to the attention of Major Mitford.  He called a house meeting and delivered a dressing down about behaviour (probably less about bonking and more about leaving the evidence), in which he said something along the lines of  "One of the maids found this......this......seagull’s welly........."

“ARCH” ANDREWS: I only met Major Mitford once, at a later Kinnessburn Warden's Wine and Cheese party. He relinquished the wardenship part way through 1966/67, I think, because Bill MacKechnie ('66-'70) remembers him as Warden, and I recall Ted Hill (also '66-70) talking about him.

Ted (a rather serious type, keen on sailing) was called round during his bejant year to see the Major who asked him what he did on Saturday nights, to which Ted said he stayed in his room and worked. TBM asked him why he didn't go out; ".....people do, you know."  I THINK it was Ted - at any rate, it fits him.

There were many stories about TBM, but that of the 'seagull's welly' is far and away the best. I gather he had a reputation for putting first years of very diverse background to share a room; English public school with Glasgow comprehensive, or inner city with Western Isles sort-of-thing though I don't know of any actual examples.  Might be interesting to see if anyone regards himself as living proof of the theory!

He also wasn't very keen on overheating Kinnessburn; alleged quote, "We can't have them getting soft, Miss Durkan".  I don't think it was coincidence that the coal fires (Rm3 and the Common Room) ended in '68. (I don't think there were any others in my time, '67-71)

GRAHAM ROBERTSON : Mrs Mitford once told us that she went with the Major to the cinema to see Ill Met by Moonlight which was reputedly based both on his exploits and those of Paddy Leigh Fermor. He was so disgusted at the way the events were portrayed that Mrs Mitford had to take him home and go back another day to see the rest of the film!

There was also the occasion when some males attempted to enter a female residence at night via the fire escape and all Wardens of men’s residences were summoned by the Master to discuss this deplorable event. TBM addressed the troops after dinner. “I told the Master it couldn’t have been any of you, because you were all tucked up in your own beds…and you bl**dy well better had have been!”

PHIL WHEELER and I were conversing in Double Dykes Road when a fellow-student (from another residence) who had both an imagined grievance against us and a car drove the latter down the pavement straight at us. Phil dived over the wall into Kinburn Park and landed in a pile of leaves, from which he emerged looking like the Old Man of the Woods: I managed a spring and a scramble six feet up a convenient lamp standard. As we stood there watching our ‘friend’ drive away townwards, TBM passed on his bicycle. Raising his cap he said politely, “Good afternoon, gentlemen,” and cycled on.

One of the Major’s little jokes was to throw a summer party just before evening meal. He would invite all thirty or so Men of Kinnessburn and sweep in a comparable number of young ladies from his Gen. Hum. Gamma Club, female residences and family friends. Then he would ply all present with copious amounts of Spanish wine while remaining cunningly abstemious himself. The result was, of course, that nearly everybody got well and truly tanked and headed off in pairs to the bottom of the garden, Mrs Mitford tut-tutted with a twinkle in her eye and Nora was furious because the Men were at least half-an-hour late for dinner.

PHIL himself sends this little list. TBM was renowned for his garden parties, at which we played coarse/inebriated croquet, and also levitated Robin Bell. TBM's dog (a Staffordshire Bull-terrier of deep growl and uncertain temper) was definitely his alter ego.

Those who were at the First Reunion in 1998 will remember SVEN SIGURĐSSON’S brilliant description of his first impressions of Kinnessburn. Having met said dog in Kennedy Gardens, Sven was convinced by the sight of the Moose on the Common Room wall that he’d come to some sort of loony-bin. Was his judgment spot on!

Distinct shortage of personal news this time, chaps! I’ve held it over to no.28, and meantime challenge each one of you to write a sentence or two about his own little triumphs in the last six months……

Over to you.

Produced for the Men of Kinnessburn by Graham Robertson


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