ROLL OF DISHONOUR

Thanks to NW1 for your comment about Brother Kevin, which I talk about in my post In The Lasallian Tradition 3. I admire your diligence in trying to hold Kevin and the order accountable for their crimes.

Here’s my thoughts on the subject. Firstly, I wonder if any other old boys viewing this site had a similar experience with Kevin. If so, and they are prepared to disclose, that could be useful to NW1. I know one old boy told me recently about Kevin’s violence, but not sexual abuse. That is not so unusual in my experience; the old boys who leave their recollections here only recall Brother James’s violence, but I have a memory of another, far darker side to his character.

My own memories of Kevin are actually positive. He taught me Latin one to one and was a good teacher. But I was aware that he would stare at me intently and I felt he had some unfulfilled agenda with me. I talked about this with my wife several times over the years, long before I read NW1’s post. It could be summed up as ‘Kevin knows something about me I don’t know’ or ‘He’s thinking a lot about me, but I don’t know why.’ It wasn’t threatening, but it was a very strong and unsettling feeling. I may have had a lucky escape.

The challenge we all face, which NW1’s post demonstrates so clearly, is that many (but not all) of the Brothers and teachers we are concerned with are now probably old, sick, demented or dead, even though the order is very much alive and well and seems oblivious to its criminal past. It’s like it never happened, which I believe is what they want us to feel about our own experiences. This is born out not just by what happened at Birkfield, but also in many other De La Salle schools. It makes for grim and sad reading, as I’m sure most readers of this blog are aware. But they only seem to claim in court – when one of their number is being sentenced – that their hearts go out to the survivors. When they’ve been fetched. Otherwise, I think they would just like us to go away.

Here’s such a case. It concerns a different Brother James, a Brother James Carragher who ran a Catholic home for disturbed boys in Humberside and admitted 12 charges of sexual and indecent assault. He was jailed for seven years. One of the boys tried to kill himself because of the Brother’s attentions:

Brother Sean Sellors, a spokesman for the De La Salle Brothers, said Carragher had betrayed the order.

“We totally condemn, without reservation, any action or behaviour which harms young people,” he said.

“During his trial James Carragher said that he was ashamed of what he had done and that he had failed to live up to what he professed.

“His behaviour has been a deep betrayal of the Order’s mission to the young and to the trust that was placed in him as a De La Salle Brother.

“Our hearts go out to those who were victims of abuse and to their families in this case,” he said.

Read full news report here.

Fine words. The order will doubtless claim they cannot speak out equally strongly about Birkfield, where young people were also harmed and betrayed because it hasn’t come to court and it’s on the advice of their insurers or lawyers. That would be convenient. That would mean that, like other parts of the Catholic Church, they are controlled by lawyers and insurance companies. By Suits, who seem to have no sense of shame, and put the requirements of Mammon far ahead of their clients’ Christian ‘mission to the young’. So there’s only acknowledgement and empathy when clerical collars are being felt. When the security of their own order is at stake. The selfishness and hypocrisy of this needs no further comment from me.

I think one way to break through their shameful wall of silence is to have a Roll of Dishonour, a blacklist of those who were provably criminal abusers. So their names are no longer held high in lying eulogies (like Brother James) but are down in the gutter where they belong. So their names are sullied forever more. It’s a lot easier than spraying graffiti on their headstones, which I seriously considered at one point. (I was so angry at the time, I hired a private detective who found out all about a clerical abuser and where he was buried and gave me the plot details.) But a Roll of Dishonour will reach a lot more people.

If the idea appeals and has merit, readers may want to put up their own Rolls of Dishonour, or there may be a place elsewhere on the web better suited to the task. But below is my Roll of Dishonour. All these individuals I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, are provably abusers of children; although only one – Father Jolly – is provably relevant to me. There are other names mentioned by other old boys in past posts – a lay teacher for example – but I wouldn’t want to add names without their approval.

So I’ll wait to hear from NW1 to get his go-ahead to add Brother Kevin, although he does seem like a prime candidate.

If you have first hand knowledge or proof of other past abusers at Birkfield and would like them added, do say. Bear in mind, this blog does appear near the top on related web searches, so it will rightly impact on an organisation that has harmed so many children.

The current regime at Saint Josephs is unconnected with these terrible events; a famous old boy pointed out to me recently how very different and better they are today; I’m sure they are, but that’s not the point. They are still proudly proclaiming in their advertising and on the school entrance that they are ‘in the Lasallian Tradition’. They presumably want prospective pupils and parents to think it is a good thing to be associated with a past where criminal abuse was endemic, as the pages of this blog show – and I clearly recall. To me, that’s like saying ‘in the tradition of the Krays’, because they did some good, as well as far more harm.

The – I’m sure unintended – subtext of ‘in the Lasallian Tradition’ to old boys like myself is that the abuse doesn’t matter that much. Or it only happened to a few of us and the good outweighs the bad. Or it wasn’t really that bad. Or it was all a long, long time ago. Or it’s not really a crime unless we can actually prove it in court, and anyway the allegedly guilty monk is now dead. Or ‘that’s life, get over it’. And many of us did, although we still bear the scars. I met a once distinguished national journalist who was a St Joseph’s and Oak Hill old boy and a broken alcoholic and client of Mind (the mental health charity). He described his traumatic experiences at the school to me, and he didn’t ‘get over it’.

The strong connection to the Brothers is still there, not to mention the scholastic records, the uniforms, the mottos, the traditions and so on. And there are numerous other current links to a dark past – e.g. the Kearney chemistry prize, which honours the memory of a sadistic, vicious chemistry teacher from my day, who I will write about another time. It is not a brand new school, it has an infamous heritage, with which it is still associated, and wants to be associated with. Why not disassociate themselves from the negative aspects, with an expression of regret for what happened to so many past pupils? It’s not a matter of it being ‘unproven’ anymore. Particularly in the case of Brothers Solomon and James. And Brother Kevin. The order’s own records I’m sure will confirm what so many of us have described, if they won’t do us the courtesy of believing our numerous written statements which cross-reference each other and bear out we are telling the truth.

If the De La Salle Order or the local Catholic diocese (because the diocese surely has an over-arching responsibility for its Catholic members) are similarly wondering what to do about it, an expression of regret might also be a first step. Assuming the Suits that control them, or they hide behind, will permit it. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

 

ROLL OF DISHONOUR

St Joseph’s College, Birkfield, Ipswich, Suffolk.

Time Span : 1960s to 1980s

 

 

  • Brother Solomon aka Mike Mercado, ‘the Swinging Monk’. Sexual abuser.
  • Brother James. Physical abuser.
  • Father Jolly. School Chaplain. Sexual abuser

 

 

IN THE LA SALLIAN TRADITION 3

I wanted to write a new post in response to further comments on my About page from St Joseph’s old boys Nick and NW1 – thanks guys, and great to hear from you both.  I have appended NW1’s comment at the bottom of this post, because I think his story is incredibly important and I think it’s proving valuable for all of us who survived a dark period in the school’s history. Hitherto, it was unacknowledged, and I’m sure is still denied. Actually, just ignored.  But the sheer number of witnesses coming forward and confirming what happened makes a provable case.

For some of us it will be a catharsis; the knowledge that we were not alone in what we experienced or witnessed. For others it will be a resource for confronting whoever should take responsibility for these crimes and, at the very least, acknowledge them. Whether that is the De La Salle Order, its inheritors who claim they are still “in the Lasallian Tradition”, or the Catholic Diocese, remains to be seen.

I’d imagine there would be a certain amount of buck-passing and “no comment”, based on what I’ve read so far. The idea that a supposedly moral organisation that claims to care for its followers cannot speak out, on the advice of lawyers or insurers, is shocking and shameful. This would mean the Church or its relevant branches is controlled by lawyers, insurers and bankers. A fine Christian example.  I have the impression that they think if they say nothing and keep their heads down, we will all just quietly go away.

I certainly won’t. My particular viewpoint is that I believe abuse was organised and endemic in my parish in the Catholic Church in the 1950s and 1960s and presumably it went much further afield. I believe it was a way of life and, worse, it had a sick belief system to justify it. I have some evidence already to back this up and the comment by NW1 about Brother Kevin also points in that direction.

For me, the one rotten apple in the barrel idea (or in the case of St J’s, it’s about 5 rotten apples so far and counting) simply does not stand up to scrutiny.  They want us to believe this was the case – it was just one or two bad guys, whereas the rest were exemplary. Not so. Even though, of course, there were decent teachers there who we may remember with respect and admiration.  But they weren’t that decent, because they looked the other way when everyone knew what was going on. Everyone. They knew, and it’s to their shame they said nothing.  I was a day boy, so my knowledge and experience was restricted, but we still knew much of what was going on.  In a sense, the crimes of Solomon/Mike Mercado are so outrageous they obscure some of the others. The account about Brother Kevin, for example.

So, do please add your voice if you feel it will be useful to you. It will certainly be useful to me.  I’d  love to hear more from you and I’m sure that applies to other old boys who read this site.

 

Comment from NW1 on 17 September.  Read all comments on my About page (most of which are St Joseph’s related) here.

Hi there. Have just stumbled across this blog, drawn to it by a Guardian story I read this morning about child abuse in a Suffolk school, which I initially thought referred to St Jo’s but I then realised was about another Catholic order.

Just a quick comment of my own regarding St Joseph’s, Birkfield, and also Oak Hill, the prep school just down the road. I was a pupil at both between 1967 and 1974, when I was expelled mid-way through the year. As I was mid-way through my lower sixth, they allowed me to complete my studies at St Peter’s, in Bournemouth.

Many of the Brothers’ names mentioned in other posts are familiar to me and other boys used to talk about them as “homos” at the time, but I have no proof of this.

In my case, I was sexually abused by Brother Kevin, a diminutive shit who was at OakHill when I started there before transferring to Birkfield later in that year. My abuse began while I was at the prep school. Kevin was in charge of the boarders and used to summon me, as well as other boys, to his bedroom after lights out.

After he moved to Birkfield, Kevin used to come down to Oak Hill on Sundays, seek me out and try to abuse me in the biology rooms. The abuse continued when I moved to Birkfield myself and during my first year there, during which time I was a boarder in one of the dormitories in the so-called 55 Wing. Kevin, whose room looked out on one of the dormitories, continued in a similar vein as before, summoning me and others to his room after lights out.

He was transferred to France at the end of that school year (1968) but returned to St Peter’s, where I re-encountered him after my expulsion from St Jo’s. Inexplicably, he was once again in charge of the junior boarders. By then, I was too old for him, so was left in peace. I have no doubt whatsoever that he continued to abuse kids there. Sickeningly, the young boarders’ section included kids who wee six or seven years old.

About 20 years ago, I reported my abuser to the police in London and he was briefly detained, made a partial admission and was released on bail pending further inquiries. The next time he was interviewed he showed up with a solicitor and denied everything. He was never charged.

Simultaneously, I sued the Order in 1996 and after six years they settled out of court in return for me signing a confidentiality agreement which I suppose I’m breaking today. The settlement just about paid for seven years of therapy. However, the Order refused to offer an apology because to do so would imply that they were culpable. Even today, 15 years later, that refusal to admit what happened and apologise for it – despite paying me compensation – makes me feel incredibly angry.

I remember I went up to Oxford in the mid-90s to confront the order at its “Mother House”: they didn’t seem remotely surprised that Kevin was in the frame as a sex abuser. I mentioned another brother, (AKA Squealer) who I was fairly certain had abused children, although I did not have 100% definitive proof. They effectively admitted he too had been an abuser and it was suggested to me that I should consider whether giving his name to the police would be worthwhile as he now had dementia. I did name him to police but nothing happened to him either.

While I was at St Peter’s, there was another Brother – Cyril – who was in charge of the middle year boarders (3rd and 4th year). He too was talked of as an abuser by some pupils, although I did not have any personal knowledge of this. Cyril became head teacher at another school in Southsea, was subsequently charged and cleared of sex abuse.

Three years ago I was contacted by police in Dorset who had received another complaint of abuse at the hands of Brother Kevin by a pupil at St Peter’s. Dorset police managed to track down my name and other details from the 90s and I went through the another set of interviews, filmed this time, and waited several months before the CPS decided not to go ahead with a prosecution, again. My evidence and that of the other person were not considered credible enough.

I’m aware of several other kids who were abused during my time there, also by Brother Kevin. I once met up with one of them many years later. He and another lad were abused a year or so before me and I still remember him telling me that when Kevin started on me he felt jealous a being supplanted by someone else. There was also talk about several other Brothers being abusers while I was at Birkfield, including Squealer, but I have no personal evidence of that. It does make me wonder whether they had their own little circles and agreed not to poach kids from each other.

Almost 50 years later, the abuse still affects me. My entire personality has been affected by the experience and I know I will never be free of what happened. But I’m glad others are talking about it publicly here and in one or two other corners of the Web. It’s about time the Order was forced to face up to what so many of its members were doing. It should make a public apology. I would also like to all the abusers brought to trial. I’d be happy to work with anyone here to make sure that happens.

 

IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION 2

“Brother Solomon, however, was a completely different incarnation of evil. He was a person of unmitigated perversion.”

 

I feel it’s time to write a new post, based on a recent comment on my January 2016 post IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION.

IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION was created from a comment on my ‘About’ page from Martin Hunt about the institutional violence and sexual abuse that was experienced by many boys at my school, St Joseph’s College in Ipswich, Suffolk.

I was very touched to read this account from my classmate at St. Joseph’s, Damian Moss, sent via his friend Rob Buckley about the abuse by the Christian Brothers. Damian sums it up so well.  My reply to him follows after.

“In the time it took me to read this email and the accompanying links I was immediately transported back to that dark place masquerading as an educational institution.
I have an uncomfortable feeling that I was that thirteen year boy described so graphically by Pat Mills.His description of Brother James was so chillingly accurate that it revived memories long forgotten. He and I fought a running battle over a two year period mostly involving my determination to flout school rules and his equally determined passion to uphold the rule of law. It culminated with the pair of us grappling on the ground for some article of clothing- if my memory serves me correctly, I think it was my beloved beatle boots with the two inch cuban heels! Soon after this incident I was deemed unmanageable and shipped off to Beulah Hill to continue my ordeal at the thankfully metaphorical hands of the De La Salle Order.
Brother James in all honesty was a figure of tragic pity. He was inadequate, unloved, deeply frustrated and a raging sado-masochist. Apart from that, he was you’re standard issue christian brother.

Brother Solomon, however, was a completely different incarnation of evil. He was a person of unmitigated perversion. After arriving at Beulah from De La Salle rehab camp he was appointed Head of Boarders in 1964. He was immediately placed in a position where he could continue his abuse of young, vulnerable, sensitive boys in his care/charge. His profile was that of a classic paedophile. He was able to carefully select his victims and groom them over a period of time to gain their trust and confidence before subjecting them to his unspeakable depravity. He was known among other things as the ‘ bugger meister’. He had a malevolent, brooding presence, and was the essence of pure evil. His track record was littered with scores of damaged individuals who just happened to be young , impressionable, and manipulable at the wrong time in their lives.
Thankfully, by the time I arrived at Beulah Hill I was too old and rebellious to be groomed for anything other than immediate expulsion!! He left a frightening legacy of destroyed youthful minds and bodies. Sometimes we need to remember lest we forget such depravity.”

I was aware of and personally inspired by his rebellious nature. Anyone who wore two inch cuban heels at St. Joseph’s, with its ultra-strict dress code, was definitely a rebel! Most of us were too scared and intimidated by these violent, cruel, black-clad fanatics to stand up to them. This was certainly the case for me – my defiance had already been partly knocked out of me at my Catholic primary school, St. Mary’s. Another old boy from St. Mary’s recently reminded me how I regularly challenged the status quo there. Then the nun headmistress – a Mother Theresa lookalike – got me by the throat and squeezed it as she warned me not to repeat my ‘wicked lies’ about the predatory paedophile priests who were endemic in our Catholic community. I really though she was going to kill me. So I had learnt – like so many other Catholic boys – to be silent about injustice by the time I got to St J’s.
But I recall, as if it were yesterday, Damian’s passive resistance to Brother James (the teacher who was my role model for Judge Dredd). As James entered the classroom, Damian very slowly looked up from rummaging in the depths of his desk and gave James a subtle, but unmistakeable knowing look of disdain. In fact, he may not even have bothered to look up, it could have just been his sullen but eloquent body language that incited James’s subsequent psychotic episode. Even from my desk, some distance away, the message Damian’s back was sending out was clear and James got it. ‘Psychotic episode’ is the only phrase to describe the demented and unwarranted beating that ensued and which still angers and upsets me today, perhaps because I feel we should all of us, as a class, intervened en masse, protected our class mate and stopped that maniac.
I’ve discussed it with another old boy and he’s described James having similar outbursts of uncontrollable rage. The fact that the De La Salle order have not acknowledged and expressed regret for the crimes of James and Solomon is a black mark against them which will not go away until they do. I shall certainly be writing about James and Solomon again and drawing their well-documented crimes to people’s attention. So much for St Joseph’s current regime’s proud claim that they are “in the Lasallian Tradition”. Damian’s courage needs applauding. It’s St. Joseph’s old boys like him we need to remember with pride today – “a rebel who fought Judge Dredd”. He is a fine example to us all.

IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION

Here’s a recent comment from Martin, from my ‘About’ page, in response to a thread about St Joseph’s College, Ipswich.  I think he makes some interesting points.  I decided our exchange deserved its own blog status, so here it is.

Thanks, Martin.

Hi Pat,
I was at St Joe’s for many years. I remember them , Bros Cecil, James, Hugh, Damien, Owen, Gerard, Soloman, Denis Robert, Gregory, Benet, Cuthman, Peter, Terrence and others. They seemed all to have some sort of attitude or psychological problem or were perverts. Having spoken to others over the years about this it does seem that all the Del a Salle Schools and Catholic Schools were all the same. I am quite sure all the stories are pretty much true. The film Catholic Boys captures it pretty well. I’m in contact with a number of people from the 60s and early 70s from St Joe’s, I think some have tried to give details to the police. Interestingly and rather oddly one of the number listed above is still around and his partner (female) works for the police in relation to child abuse. Talk about poacher turned game-keeper! He waxes lyrical now about abuse saying ‘it only takes good men to do nothing etc etc’. He knew what was going on when he was at St Joe’s and did nothing. The pious hypocrite.

 

Hi, Martin,

Great to hear from you and thank you for making some truly excellent observations. As you say, the film Catholic Boys captures the tone of St J’s very well. Although I think it was actually worse in my time there in the 1960s.

As you say, hypocrisy is the thing that bothers us. Thus, I once looked up Brother James on the web. At first I thought it was a truly monstrous De La Salle headmaster named Brother James currently doing a long prison stretch for his crimes. But he turned out to be a different De La Salle Brother. The Brother James from St J’s has died and was described in his obituary as a shy and timid character. This is far from the truth and whoever wrote that obituary must have known it. I witnessed him explode with demented rage and violence when he attacked a classmate and his psychotic behavior still preys on my mind to this day. But despite his reputation for violence and rage, he was also a great maths teacher who knew how to reach kids like me who were hopeless at the subject.

Similarly, Brother Solomon who – confirmed by the tragic poetry of one his victims at Beulah Hill – abused many children. Yet I know I owe my deep love of classical music to him. He, too, is dead.

And I think their excellence as teachers combined with their perversions sets up confusion and cognitive dissonance in many pupils who thus try and block it from their minds, and that’s how so many Brothers have largely got away their crimes.

I do believe St J’s and the Order itself both owe Survivors a collective apology. It’s no good putting the blame on individual Brothers – there are just too many of them to use the ‘one rotten apple’ defence. It’s the College and the Order itself that is clearly responsible. Thus Brother Solomon was suddenly transferred from Birkfield because of abuse (and given a glowing tribute by Brother James in the school magazine), then sacked from Beulah Hill and returned – in the 1980s – to Birkfield as a lay teacher. Once again he was dismissed following allegations of abuse – but he should never have been reinstated.

One thing I find offensive is the caption on the school gates of St J’s today: “In the Lasallian tradition”. Although the College today seems to have distanced itself from the Brothers per se, nevertheless the uniforms, the motto, the history, the traditions, and the legacy are still proudly confirmed in those words. According to the College’s website, the caption pertains – with some dexterous semantics – to St Jean Baptise de La Salle, but significantly not to the Order of Brothers he founded. Whatever the intention, in practice, “In the Lasallian tradition” means the promise of an excellent Christian education but also that it has not disassociated itself from the De La Salle Brothers. So for many old boys up to relatively recent times those words stand for something terrible and dark. Only an acknowledgement of this really makes that caption acceptable in today’s world.

Thus I don’t agree with one famous St J’s old boy, who told me recently how different the school is today: it’s unisex, the Brothers have gone, and it’s properly run etc. I’m sure he is right but I took the subtext of his comments to be that the past is the past and everyone really needs to forget about it and move on. But in my opinion, closure is not possible until the successors to the Brothers have acknowledged what happened or until justice is done.

So I wish our fellow old boys well in pursuing the Brothers responsible for harming them before they are too old and infirm to be charged. I have a St. J’s old boy police detective contact who specializes in investigating crimes of this nature and it’s possible he might be able to help or point your contacts in the right direction. If that’s any help, do ask them to write to me and I’ll put them in touch with him.

DREDD: HE IS THE LAW!

A few years back, a publisher at Random House asked me to write a sample chapter for a proposed book that my agent – a big comic book fan – felt I should write.  It was to be called:

THE COMIC REVOLUTION

Judge Dredd, 2000AD, Battle and Action

My book would have covered my personal recollections of how those comics were created and what a bizarre world comic publishing was back then. The sample chapter I wrote was about Judge Dredd, which would have been Chapter 12 in the book.  Although editorial liked it and green lit the project, it was turned down by their marketing department, who felt there wasn’t enough interest in comics.  

Today, especially with the new Dredd movie just out, all that’s changed. There seems to be more interest in comics and their origins than ever. So I thought it was time to dust the chapter off, update and extend it in light of the new film, and present it here as the introductory piece to my new blog. If you missed them, here are PART ONE: THE KILLING MACHINE, PART TWO: THE LAWMAN OF THE FUTURE, PART THREE: BETTER DREDD THAN DEAD, PART FOUR: JUDGEMENT DAY, PART FIVE: EXIT WOUNDS, PART SIX: IN THE SHADOW OF THE JUDGE?,  PART SEVEN: DREDD AND DARKIE’S MOB and PART EIGHT: TORQUEMADA – THE SWINGING MONK.

PART NINE:  HE IS THE LAW!

He was incorruptible, totally dedicated, an excellent and patient teacher, driven by religious zeal, with a fanatical love of the Lord which suggested to me Dredd’s similar love of the Law. Hence an early Dredd episode, where Dredd sits reading a giant volume on the Law in his spare time.

I looked him up online. At first I came across a De La Salle Brother called Brother James Carragher currently banged up for 14 years for past crimes against children, having previously done a 7 year stretch for the same. That took me aback. Abuse was endemic at my school, but surely not that bad? Fortunately, it turned out to be a different Brother James who taught me. There are so many ‘Christian’ Brothers these days whose appalling crimes have finally caught up with them, it can be confusing. But mine died recently and was called Brother James Ryan.

He wore a long black robe, Himmler-style, steel-rimmed spectacles, and had aesthetic, angular features and was as scary as Brother Solomon, from whom he took over as Prefect of Discipline.

One day he entered my classroom to find a thirteen year old boy talking. A great kid with a surly punk attitude to life. Seething with a chilling cold anger (that I would later draw on for the scene in the Cursed Earth when Dredd razes the town of Repentance to the ground), Brother James sent another boy to fetch a size ten plimsoll from the cloak room. Then, in full view of the rest of us, he went to work on his victim who was the younger brother of our English teacher. So no favouritism there. All are equal in the eyes of the Law.  He raised the slipper high above his head and took a spin-bowler’s long run-up towards his bent-over victim whom he had carefully positioned at the far end of the raised wooden dais.  His shoes thundered noisily across the bare floorboards, his black robes flapped wildly around him, before he administered a savage blow to the boy’s posterior, raising a cloud of dust at the point of impact. Returning to his starting point, he took several more high-speed, bowler’s run-ups to his victim, thrashing him without mercy, before the poor  kid collapsed in a heap on the ground, whereupon – as we watched, quaking in fear – he stood over him and rained more ferocious blows down onto his crouched and cringing, sobbing form.

We should have gone to our classmate’s defence, and given this out-of-control bully what he richly deserved, but we were kids: the De La Salle Brothers relied on such terror tactics to subdue us, and how often do the citizens of Mega-City rise up against the Judges? They are the Law!

I have my notes from an earlier verson of the Friends Revisited site (before it was sanitised) which confirm these memories of my school.  One old boy said James was responsible for severe beatings (plural) he would not wish on anyone.  Another described him as “totally detached with a stand-offish manner, never accepting any excuse for anything.” Does that remind you of anyone…? That’s exactly how I saw Dredd.  They also said he liked cricket. Though never leaving an impression on my backside, James undoubtedly left a deep impression on my mind. He was my Judge Dredd, a figure to inspire fear, an exponent of summary “justice”, an administrator of draconian punishment I would never forget.

A De La Salle Brother described him in his obituary in 2011 as “Timid and shy by nature.”

In fiction, we need these figures to inspire fear – Darth Vader, Batman, Judge Dredd, Marshal Law – but that fear has to be real, otherwise it’s off the peg, out of a bottle: fake.  When Dredd enters a room, we want to feel that fear.

But mixed in with that fear, I felt admiration, too. For a great teacher in an otherwise great school with an excellent academic record that counts Brian Eno (in the year above me) and Richard Ayoade amongst its old boys.  And it’s the same for Dredd: we fear and yet admire him. Significantly, it is the powerful but flawed teachers I remember from my youth. The normal teachers I barely remember and I think this tells us something about the charisma of evil and how attractive larger-than-life characters like James and Solomon can be. You have only to look at the newspapers this week to see this.

How far you see Dredd as good or evil depends on your perspective and which interpretation of Dredd – the relatively heroic figure of the Cursed Earth or the Lawman of Mega-City – resonates with you.  There are inherent contradictions in his character and hence why I chose my teacher with his own contradictions as my role model for my Dredd.

Taking a holiday break now but hope to get back shortly to conclude the Dredd chapter soon with my thoughts on the Cursed Earth, the secrets of the unpublished Thargshead Revisited strips, and why Marvel comics editor, Margaret Clark], once presented me with a gold business card holder and cards inscribed, “Pat Mills. Artist Therapy always available.”  See you soon!

END OF PART NINE

TORQUEMADA – THE SWINGING MONK

A few years back, a publisher at Random House asked me to write a sample chapter for a proposed book that my agent – a big comic book fan – felt I should write.  It was to be called:

THE COMIC REVOLUTION

Judge Dredd, 2000AD, Battle and Action

My book would have covered my personal recollections of how those comics were created and what a bizarre world comic publishing was back then. The sample chapter I wrote was about Judge Dredd, which would have been Chapter 12 in the book.  Although editorial liked it and green lit the project, it was turned down by their marketing department, who felt there wasn’t enough interest in comics.  

Today, especially with the new Dredd movie just out, all that’s changed. There seems to be more interest in comics and their origins than ever. So I thought it was time to dust the chapter off, update and extend it in light of the new film, and present it here as the introductory piece to my new blog. If you missed them, here are PART ONE: THE KILLING MACHINE, PART TWO: THE LAWMAN OF THE FUTURE, PART THREE: BETTER DREDD THAN DEAD, PART FOUR: JUDGEMENT DAY, PART FIVE: EXIT WOUNDS, PART SIX: IN THE SHADOW OF THE JUDGE? and PART SEVEN: DREDD AND DARKIE’S MOB.

PART EIGHT: TORQUEMADA – THE SWINGING MONK

Frank Plowright, journalist and organiser of UK comic conventions, once interviewed me about Nemesis the Warlock and said how he envied Nemesis co-creator Kevin O’Neill and I our Catholic childhood because it clearly influenced and inspired our work. I hadn’t realised it showed, but of course it does – big time – and especially on Torquemada, the Warlock’s greatest enemy, so I need to digress a little here and talk about the Grand Master as well as Mega City’s finest.

The principal source of my inspiration was the De La Salle Brothers who taught me at my old school, St. Joseph’s College, Ipswich in Suffolk.

They were like cops, or Batman-style avengers: black-robed, fanatical figures.  They were incorruptible, stern, driven by some higher power, and I was awe-struck by them.  I imagined them sleeping in some kind of vampire-like hive: rather like John Hicklenton imagined Dredd slept in a cryotube.  They appeared to have no lives outside their job and no interest in sex, having taken strict vows of chastity.  Hence Torquemada’s famous words (once scrawled on the Berlin Wall):  “Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!” The smallest infraction of discipline and you would be punished severely. Dirty shoes? The cane. Talking? The cane. Smoking? The cane. You don’t mess with these guys. They are the Law!

My older brother, Terry, was less impressed. His cynicism was a great inspiration to me. (He was thrown out of the altar boys for frying onions on the charcoal in the incense thurifer, which made our church smell like a transport cafe.)  He told me he’d discovered that behind the scenes, the Brothers ate posh food, drank wine and smoked and watched telly. Wine? Fags? TV?  No!  Surely not! They weren’t ordinary human beings. They must exist on a strict diet of bread and water, accompanied by constant prayer, before self-flagellation, then suspending themselves, like bats, from the rafters of the Hive to sleep, before, suitably refreshed, going out to do more “good work”.

I saw them in fantasy comic-book terms, like the cartoon strips in the movie, The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys. “Good work” was Torquemada’s euphemism for his genocidal onslaught on the Galaxy. Already, I was creating the future basis of my evil monks in Nemesis the Warlock. I guess such comic book fantasies are common amongst kids. Graham Linehan, co-creator of Father Ted, told Kevin O’Neill that he used to day-dream about Nemesis flying down in his Blitzspear to rescue him from his school playground.

I know the feeling. I could have used some rescuing myself. But there was only the classic Dan Dare in my day and he was a signed-up member of the establishment, originally a space chaplain, so he wouldn’t have listened to my complaints. And this is an important point.  Eagle was a middle-class comic, thoroughly approved of by parents and schools and created by a vicar – the Reverend Marcus Morris. (A colourful character in his own right).  2000AD was a comic of the streets, and loathed by the middle-classes. I wanted all my heroes in the Comic Revolution – in Battle, Action and 2000AD – to defy, fight, expose and challenge the evils of the establishment. That’s why I had a rule never to feature officers as heroes in my comics.  So even today I write Defoe, The Last Leveller – the last survivor of Britain’s first revolutionaries – up against the evils of the ruling class.  Because it is so important for readers to have their role models, too, who are fighting on their side. Even if the Blitzspear never actually managed to land in Graham’s school playground.

Brother Solomon was primarily my role model for Torquemada and Brother James the basis for Dredd. Brother Solomon rejoiced in the wonderful title “Prefect of Discipline” and was responsible for administering corporal punishment. Errant boys would appear before him in a room set aside for the purpose and present him with tickets detailing their crime.  He would read their offences, hear their excuses and then pronounce and carry out sentence, inevitably guilty as charged. This required them to prostrate themselves over a desk for a classic caning. He was judge, jury and executioner.  He was a figure of fear and yet I also admired him because he gave us the most brilliant musical appreciation classes.  He brought his friend Peter Katin, an internationally famous pianist, to play concerts in the school hall and as a result I have a love of classical music which I value to this day.

Brother Solomon AKA Mike Mercado, The Swinging Monk

Then he suddenly disappeared in mid-term with no official explanation why, although we all knew the reason: although us day boys were subject to his canings, it was the boarders who had to endure far worse. Brother James wrote a glowing tribute to all Solomon’s “good work” in the school magazine that year. But rumours were rife he’d gone to a De La Salle establishment in Jersey, which we believed was a reformatory for Brothers who messed with kids.  We would joke about ship-wrecked sailors staggering up onto the rocky coast of Jersey only to see all these monks descending on them so they would hurriedly turn and flee back into the sea. We needed such trench humour to survive.

In fact, Solomon went on to teach at St. Joseph’s College, Beulah Hill – presumably as part of the Catholic policy at that time of moving abusers to another parish or school when there were complaints. A Beulah Hill old boy angrily relates online that “as if there weren’t enough very strange, totally weird, ‘Christian’ Brothers, they brought in Brother Solomon.”  He was unaware that Solomon had just been thrown out of my school. He characterized him as perverted, debauched, detestable, monstrous, evil, and brutal.  Other posts on the site are in a similar vein. Brother Solomon’s predilection for schoolboys had not ended when he left my school.  Distinguished poet Paul Wilkins, in his book Truths of the Unremembered Things wrote about Solomon’s sexual assaults on him and his verses makes for chilling reading. In 1965 Solomon was eventually dismissed from the school and the De La Salle order and went into show-business to become a pop pianist, calling himself Mike Mercado: The Swinging Monk. He had a couple of minor hits. That’s a toupee in the photo, of course; he was actually bald. His smile reminds me of how Torquemada was sometimes depicted, leering at the readers with a similar knowing grin.

Kevin and I made Torquemada as warped and perverted as we could possibly get away with and we got away with a lot. Torque might preach against ‘deviants’ but he was quite a deviant himself, mirroring the hypocrisy of these De La Salle monks who were preaching strict moral codes, which at least three I knew never adhered to.

I hope this doesn’t shatter anyone’s illusions about the Grand Master? Creating characters is not just about having a vivid imagination or drawing on movies or books. All great fictional heroes and villains are based on someone, whether the writer chooses to admit it or not. I think if you’re going to create villains they should be genuinely evil; I’ve no time for pantomime villains. I’m sure that this is why Torquemada regularly won awards as comic’s favourite villain, because readers sensed he was real. And yet at the same time I mocked him, and enjoyed humiliating and defeating him, so no one could admire the terror that he stood for, that was inspired by the terror I had escaped. Nemesis the Warlock was my catharsis, my poetry (Kevin’s original Nemesis serials will be reprinted next year in a special colour edition, based on his Eagle comics version).

The writer above describes the De La Salle Brothers as “very strange, totally weird.”  Which makes them perfect material for a science fiction comic where I was looking for very strange, totally weird characters.  And amongst the Brothers was Brother James, part hero, part villain, and my role-model for Judge Dredd.

END OF PART EIGHT