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News > OP updates > When a Headmaster refused to give the cane

When a Headmaster refused to give the cane

29 Mar 2022
Written by John Sadden
OP updates
Denys Hibbert
Denys Hibbert

In 1954, the KGB was established in the USSR and the United States launched the world’s first nuclear submarine. Meanwhile, a man described as “of kindly disposition, strong character and complete integrity" was appointed as Headmaster of PGS.

Denys Hibbert returned to the UK from the Sudan to take up the post. He had lived there for twenty years and served as the country's Director of Education. A chain-smoker who broke the chain only when he was eating, drinking and teaching, Mr Hibbert had a reputation for being less than meticulous in looking after his appearance. He forbade pupils from smoking and expected the highest standards of dress from his pupils, but such mixed messages did not matter. His sincerity and friendliness endeared him to his pupils and the school community and he was able to make many improvements which got results. Academic standards and pupil numbers rose.

Mr Hibbert’s easy-going nature provided a dramatic and welcome contrast to that of the Acting Headmaster he replaced – the formidable Colonel Willis.It came as no surprise then, that, in 1959, in the midst of the Cold War, the genial Mr Hibbert agreed to host two Russian visitors who were touring educational institutions in the area. The Colonel would probably have repelled them at the Arch.

The visitors would have collected little evidence of capitalist decadence and excess during their visit. The school had recently built a new, functional science block, but there was little else to write home about. Whether the visitors were members of the KGB is not known, but, when they asked Mr Hibbert for a souvenir of PGS to take back to Mother Russia, alarm bells sounded. Mr Hibbert was open and genial but he was no fool. His visitors were keen to take away “one of the canes you use to beat the boys”.

Mr Hibbert was immediately aware of the political and diplomatic implications. He had no intentions of creating a rod for his country's back. The cane, he feared, would be carried back to Russia as a trophy and used to beat the West. It would be grist to the Soviet propaganda mill - an example of a society that relies on violence to maintain control, of autocratic intolerance, and of brutal imperialist suppression. Rather like Russia, in fact.

Mr Hibbert curtly told them that he was unable to give them one of his canes and created a distraction. He spotted that one of them had a camera and, thinking on his feet, swiftly walked them over to a plaque bearing the school’s date of foundation for a photo-opportunity. That would be their souvenir. His school had been founded nearly two centuries before the USSR. 


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