Chris Sugden was a Keswick Student. Since then he has been known as is a Norfolk humorist, best known for his portrayal of fictional folk
singer Sid Kipper. Born in West Runton in 1952, Sugden initially studied pharmacy at Leicester Polytechnic, before joining Keswick Hall – to become a teacher. He is living evidence that not all student teachers become teachers!
In his own inimitable dead-pan way, Chris writes:
"I was at Keswick Hall in various guises (student, Union president, maintenance worker, barman and PhD student) between 1973 and 1983. My office as a research student was Mrs Lynn's former bedroom. In that time I also taught at Lowestoft C.F.E.
In 1984 I became manager of singer and performer Sid Kipper, who has since appeared just about everywhere, made programmes for Radio 2, recorded a dozen albums, produced several books, and even had a brief cameo in BBC TVs David Copperfield. The books, co-written with
me, are published by Adrian Bell, an ex-Keswick lecturer.
Part of my duties entail recording the aural testimony of this untutored genius, who's roots are very firmly in rural Norfolk, in the little village of St Just-near-Trunch. Perhaps his reflections on his education, in the 1950s, will be of some interest.
"I remember we had a bit of trouble over the singing. Miss Eels, the teacher, spent all her time telling me not to sing in the classroom. Well, not all her time, obviously. I mean, for a start, she used to go home of an evening. Mind you, I never went home with her, so I don't know for sure she din't spend her time there telling me not to sing in the classroom. But even if she did, there was one time she didn't tell me not to sing, and that was during singing lessons. She threw me out for them. She said I put the others off."
Eventually a compromise was reached, whereby Sid could sing whenever he liked, but had to leave the classroom and do it in the boys toilets, which were situated at the far end of the playground. In fact he spent so much time there that he taught himself to read from the graffiti on the walls. However, Sid was not a complete failure at primary school. In fact he gained a qualification of which he is very proud.
"I got a certificate for Fifty Yards Breast-stroke Theory - the school didn't have no swimming pool, so we couldn't do the practical. I was very good at the breast-stroking, though I never could get the hang of crawling - Cyril Cockle got a Distinction for that."
On leaving primary school Sid was offered a place at Borstal, but his ambition was thwarted as his parents couldn't afford the uniform. So he went, with the rest of his class-mates, to the nearby Knapton Academy. Here he was not allowed to sing in class. Nor was he allowed to leave the class to sing, as he had done before. This was because the boys toilets were situated next to the headmaster's office, and the walls were thin. So Sid took to truancy. But in a small village, where everyone knows everyone's business, he quickly had to become expert at evading the Attendance Officer. He spent a lot of time lurking in the woods - a habit he retains to this day.
"I never bothered none about doing well at school. Even then all I wanted to do was sing and play the accompaniments, so I couldn't see no point in getting no big qualifications. My Uncle Walter was teaching me the piano by the traditional method of beating time on my fingers with the lid, apart from which I taught myself the other instruments. Now that weren't easy, 'cos of course I didn't know how to play them in order to teach myself. It was like the deaf telling the deaf, really. But most of all I was practising the unaccompanied singing. Well, it's not easy to evade the Tendency Officer if you're dragging a piano, is it?"
Not that Sid got nothing from his time at school.
"Most of what I learned I learned in the playground. The boys played football, and the girls played netball. The boys always won, because they kicked the ball out of the girls' hands. Some of the girls tucked their skirts in their knickers and did handstands against the wall. Some of the poorer ones didn't. And there were skipping rhymes, like
I like coffee, I like tea; I'll like you, if you like Eccles cakes.
That last bit is where you trip up on the rope.
Like many, Sid still recalls his first days at school:
“When you first go to school you think teachers know everything. That can last for several days. But my uncle George reckons the only thing he learned at school was that whoever invented the 3 Rs couldn't spell. Of course, it gets worse when you realise that whoever invented spelling couldn't spell either. I mean, just take two words - 'champagne' and 'shampoo'. I think that makes my point. Not that we had either when I was a boy. We had real pain and real poo in them days”.
It's true that many a child is initially baffled by spelling, as it so often does not correspond with the words as they have heard them. The
sound 'I' can begin and end with an I, begin with an E, or, in the navy, begin with an A and come in pairs”.
"I don't see how they expect anyone to be able to spell, especially nowadays. Because there's all them terrible examples, like 'Toys 'R' Us'. I mean, what sort of example is that to set? I'm no expert, but even I know it should be 'We 'R' Toys'!
Mind, we didn't just do spelling.”
Chris is the author of Prewd and Prejudice (1994) in which the heroine Miriam Prewd spends a traumatic year of ‘Norfolk exile’. Written in
his characteristic dead-pan style Prewd and Prejudice concerns itself with the Norfolk countryside, misconceptions about Norfolk and its self-deprecating folk. Sugden wrote that "the national papers seemed to think that it took the mickey out of country people, while the Norfolk people thought it ridiculed Londoners".
Sugden is also the author of The Cromer-Sheringham Crab Wars (1998), Cod Pieces (2002) and the song Like a Rhinestone Ploughboy. In
1996 he published The Ballad of Sid Kipper and has made numerous CDs
The Eastern Daily Press claimed that Sugden is "probably the county’s finest ambassador who captures the true spirit of Norfolk, teaches it
tricks, then sends it to run riot across the land". In 2006, he presented a series of podcasts for Channel 4 radio called "The Kipper Country Code", as Sid Kipper.
Sadly Chris has now retired Sid Kipper from public life.
There is a further article by Chris /Sid Kipper in the 'Articles about Keswick Hall' page accessible from the top menu.