Devastation of war left a lasting impression on poet

Evacuated pupils with teacher Mr Asher and his wife, 1940
Evacuated pupils with teacher Mr Asher and his wife, 1940
Portsmouth in 1717 (from William Gates History of Portsmouth, 1900)

NOSTALGIA: A seed of learning planted 300 years ago that’s blossomed into Portsmouth Grammar School

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Following the death of film director Ken Russell last week, it was sad to hear the news of the death of his friend and occasional collaborator, the Portsmouth-born poet Christopher Logue, aged 85.

John Christopher Logue was born in 1926 and attended St Swithun’s School and St John’s College before settling at Portsmouth Grammar School in 1939.

Evacuated pupils in a lesson at Bournemouth, 1941-42

Evacuated pupils in a lesson at Bournemouth, 1941-42

When war was declared, headmaster JW Stork organised the evacuation of pupils, initially to Sparsholt, then to hotels and guesthouses in Bournemouth.

Logue later remembered being ‘fitted for a gas mask by men in brown uniforms’.

He joined the school scout troop, preferring it to the Officers’ Training Corps, and would have taken part in regular camps at St Catherine’s Hill on the outskirts of Winchester.

Logue joined the committee of the new school philatelic society, but the boys’ enthusiasm came unstuck when the war impinged on their ability to gather exotic foreign stamps.

In his spare time Logue escaped the town to watch the sand martins and kingfishers on the river Stour at Tuckton.

This tranquillity contrasted starkly with the scenes of devastation in Portsmouth, which he witnessed when he went home during school holidays. They left a lasting impression.

He later described the scene near his Festing Grove home, in an area that escaped extensive bombing, where two houses were destroyed and the smell of household gas hung over bomb craters in the road leading to Canoe Lake.

Logue had a troubled adolescence; he was, he later admitted, a wilful and rebellious pupil.

He left school and, in search of adventure, joined the Black Watch, where he proved an equally wilful and rebellious soldier.

After leaving the army, he quit austere, post-war Britain for bohemian Paris where he made a precarious living as a poet and hack writer.

In the late 1950s he was invited to re-imagine The Iliad for BBC radio, and in 1967 his poem Be Not Too Hard was set to music by Donovan and covered by Joan Baez and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.

He was jailed for his Ban the Bomb activities, acted in Russell’s controversial film The Devils, wrote the screenplay for Savage Messiah, was a regular columnist for Private Eye, won the 2005 Whitbread award for poetry for Cold Calls and was appointed CBE in 2007.

Logue visited Portsmouth Grammar School as part of the celebrations for World Book Day in 2002. He later wrote: ‘My, how the school has changed. Lucky who go there today.’

Logue is celebrated at PGS with a display of two of his manuscripts in the library, plus a school monograph on his life and work.