Harrow County/Gayton High Staff

Harry Mees

by Michael Portillo

Portrait of Harry Mees used as stage backdrop to 'TIYL' - Click to view planned ScriptBecause I was in the A stream, Harry Mees was never my teacher.   He devoted most of his classroom time to the C and D streams, finding greater satisfaction in stimulating interest in history in the minds of those categorised as non-academic. 

I used to work in a book room, A2, and often hung about there after school hours.  Harry kept his bicycle there, and when he came to collect it, he would often linger over his cycle clips to chat, sometimes for as much as 45 minutes. 
He was a gift to mimics. The syllables in his broad Somerset (?) accent were drawn out to an extraordinary degree.  He would often repeat a section of a sentence several times, as though having a run at it. The monologues were punctuated by attacks of snorting (his version of laughter) and it was not unusual for him to beat the wall repeatedly with his hand to underline his merriment.  There were other times when he lost his temper and then the voice was staccato, like the bark of a dog. You ran for cover then if you were wise.

He was devoted to the 4th Harrow Boy Scouts and made an imposing figure in shorts, light blue scarf and woggle, his shirt bristling with badges. I recall a briefing to patrol leaders before we set out with our tenderfoots on a wide game in the West End.  Try saying this in a Harry accent: "I don't want to be searching for some Boy Scout halfway across the Metropolis"!

Many knew him best for supervising all the technical support for dramatic productions.  His teams achieved astonishing sets and special effects despite the severe limitations of the stage and its wings.  A few years back some old boys organised a "This is your Life" for Harry back on his stage at the old school.  I imagine he must have been very moved by it.  I was, certainly. There came a moment when our compere announced that one "boy", who had painted scenery in the old days, could not be with us that day because he was in Stockholm - collecting his Nobel Prize (meaning Paul Nurse who received it for his cancer research). If I were Harry, I would have felt very proud at that moment.

Each time one of our schoolmasters dies, I am forced to recall their exceptional virtues.  In Harry's case, I would mention particularly his magnificent dedication to the boys, especially the less academic. It is astonishing that such a group of outstanding teachers was gathered in one place at one time, and humbling to think how much they gave to us, their pupils.

Michael Portillo

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