WACKY RACES: Pianos in Southsea pier to pier challenge (yes, honestly)

The Portsmouth Grammar School team in full flight, 1965                                              Picture: Tim Runnacles
The Portsmouth Grammar School team in full flight, 1965 Picture: Tim Runnacles

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During the 1960s, Portsmouth Grammar School and the College of Technology (later the Poly, now the university) took part in three races that are indelibly ingrained in the memories of all those who took part... and survived.

Following assurances to the headmaster that it was all perfectly safe, honestly sir, the first piano race took place on December 19, 1962, without any hint of supervision or a risk assessment.

The PGS team at South Parade, 1963

The PGS team at South Parade, 1963

Two pianos were mounted on cart or pram wheels, a pianist was strapped on each seat and, at 11.30am, the race began.

Groups of pupils and students operating in relays pushed and pulled the pianos between South Parade Pier and Clarence Pier, while the precariously-perched pianists attempted to perform.

What they were attempting to play is not known. All that mattered was getting to Clarence Pier first.

Portsmouth Grammar School was victorious, finishing about 350 yards ahead of the college students.

PGS victory at Clarence Pier, 1963

PGS victory at Clarence Pier, 1963

In the winter of 1963 another race was announced in the school magazine and ‘a full report and any necessary obituaries’ was promised for the next edition.

The PGS piano was fitted with six new pram wheels and, on December 16, 1963, it was trundled to the starting point.

Once again grammar school grit and determination beat the college students, this time by a less emphatic, but nevertheless decisive, 70 yards.

The next race took place on March 19, 1965.

The PGS piano was proudly painted in the school colours, black and red, and, once again, new wheels added.

This did the trick.

The school celebrated a glorious, crowning victory; but not without a price.

Two pupils suffered injuries and it was the last time the event was held.

• With thanks to John Sadden, the archivist at Portsmouth Grammar School.