Hoots from the Archive - The School Captain

Posted by Rachel Kneale on 01 Feb 2024

School Officers' Medals

The office of School Captain at MGS is at least 180 years old. The captains' board that hangs in reception only begins in 1897 and lists R. Wedd as the office holder for that year. However, our first mention of such an office appears in retrospect in Ulula, in an obituary of Dr. John Marsden Raby who "was at the School during the years 1843-1848, during the last two years of which period he was Head Boy." The term "School Captain" can be found in the 1862 - 79 admissions register, which includes a long list of captains starting in 1862. A note has been scrawled across the page by an unknown hand that highlights the difference in nomenclature between a "school captain" and a "head boy": "Note the priggishness of the self sufficient captain of the School as envinced in the fine distinction between CAPTAINS and HEADS". MGS is by no means the only school to favour the name School Captain rather than Head Boy, although it is not clear why the former was chosen over the latter. It is also not certain whether the terminology was adopted in 1862, with previous office holders known as Head Boys. Another piece of evidence for a School Captain at MGS that predates the boards is an 1893 article from "The Picture" magazine, entitled "The Head Boys of the Great Public School":

                                               S.J. Garstang in “The Picture” magazine alongside fellow office holders from other notable schools

In 1899, the role of School Captain was bolstered by the presentation of a silver badge and ribbon for the office holder to wear on special occasions, by the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society. Two Vice Captains badges were also presented at the same time, and a third was added in 2006 with the expansion of the officers group to include an additional Vice Captain. Aside from this, the role of School Captain and the selection of the officeholder barely musters a mention in either Ulula or the archives. The office holders began to be listed in the form lists in 1895 and in Ulula in the 1930s.

                                                                                   Medals for the School Captain and Vice-Captains

The first really substantial body of information on the officers came in 1977 with a set of articles published in Ulula giving an insight into the roles and selection of the School Captain, VCs and prefects. By this stage, the selection process was carefully calibrated to include the views of both boys and staff. The officers had to have served as deputy-prefects in the Lower Sixth, and these were elected by the boys themselves. Heads of Sides consulted with teachers and submitted nominations for the position of Captain and VCs. Malcolm Ricketts wrote: 

"The selection of the right prefects to be the next year's School Officers is clearly a matter of great importance. Early in the Summer Term Heads of Sides are asked to consult with Masters and to submit nominations for School Captain and for the two Vice-captains. Already, of course, those likely to be nominated will have distinguished themselves by their outstanding contribution to the life of the School in several spheres. The Prefect Selection Committee, consisting of the High Master, Surmasters, Heads of Sides and Departments, Form masters and Masters in charge of School activities, is given a full record of the School activities of each boy under discussion. The existing School Officers are also consulted. Almost invariably, the meeting to select the Officers is a long one, the objective being to choose not three individuals, but a well balanced team."

So what was it like to serve as School Captain or Vice-Captain? Nigel Rawding gave his perspective in the 1977 edition of Ulula, outlining the major organisational responsibilities including arranging the School Dance, the marshalling of prefects to assist with the Entrance Examination Day and the selection of the following years prefects. Rawding wrote:

"The work of the School Captain lies somewhere between an annoying interruption to the Div. i scrabble tournament, which is one of the major intellectual ventures undertaken after Oxbridge exams, and a full-time occupation which certainly involves variety. Getting to know what is going on at the school on a fairly major level is a sufficiently interesting and edifying experience to make the last of twenty-one terms spent at M.G.S. seem bearable. It also provides a valuable refuge from the plight of the Cricket 1st X.

No-one will be surprised to learn that one fairly regular job of the School Captain is that of showing visitors to M.G.S. around the School. Without resorting to name-dropping, I have met some very interesting people throughout the year, not least the South African headmaster who, armed with pen and notebook, made sure that my delightful waffle about the place had at least a tenuous connection with the truth. And I must extend my thanks to Mr. Kepczyk for many happy hours spent in the woodwork department during the course of a 45 minute tour!

Much of my time this year, however, has been spent in dealing with what became fairly routine matters after the first few weeks: covering for absent masters' periods, organizing boys for myriad skin-tests and injections, interviewing prefects and smokers (and those who fall into both categories), going on first-form history trips and so forth."

The current School Captain has the privilege of the opportunity to address Old Mancunians at various functions and the power to announce the switch to "summer dress" in the Summer Term. He is supported by three Vice Captains and a team of prefects.

Were you a School Captain, VC or Prefect? What was the role like in your day?


Tom Smith

1 Like Posted 25 days ago

In 1984-5, the Captain, Neil Buckley, had the ‘meet and greet’ brief, while the Vice Captains split ‘discipline’ (Costa Zis) and ‘duties’ (myself). I often had the chance to listen in to Costa’s ‘discipline’ chats with unfortunate miscreants in the Officers’ room, and can honestly say I’ve never been so scared in my life, before or since.

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