Neville Braybrooke fondly recalls Basil Hume as a schoolboy /WAS A BOY of 13 when I first met George Hume at Ampleforth in 1936. There were a few months between us and he was in the upper school while I was still in the junior house.
Each morning in the junior house we went to Mass at 7.30 and one October day, during my first term, I felt faint and left the chapel. Three other boys followed suit and we sat together in the sacristy as the matron, who had quickly followed us, took out a thermometer. We all had temperatures, she said. Next she rang the school doctor. On arrival he stared at us for some moment, before announcing: "I know what is wrong with you chaps. You've all got mumps." Next he turned to the matron and volunteered to run us up to the school infirmary, which was about five minutes' drive away.
When we arrived, the infirmary matron was standing at the door with a nurse, who led us to a dormitory. On the way we passed two boys, the taller of whom introduced himself as "Hume, George Hume". They were in a separate room of their own.
During the day we used to foregather and in the evenings we used to have supper together at a refectory table in our dormitory ward. One night somebody suggested that we should play cricket, or rather a form of it. So we selected a chair to serve as a wicket and I rolled up a pair of my socks for a ball. For a bat we had a ping-pong racket. We divided into two sides, and perhaps because my surname began with B, I was out in first to open the batting. Hume was the bowler and I was out by the first ball. Then I heard him say: "Go on! You can have another shot!"
I was a timid boy and I think that was one of the nicest things said to me during my school years. So many school stories end in horrifying accounts of bullying, but here was one with a happy ending.
Two lay masters at Ampleforth, who taught us both, were Robin Atthill and Hugh Dinwiddy. Atthill and his wife used to invite boys on Saturday afternoons to come and take part in play-readings at their home in the village and then stay on for a bumper tea. At one reading Hume was given the role of the husband in The Doll's House by Ibsen.
Dinwiddy, who taught English and medieval history, was also the Ampleforth rugger coach. I myself was never much good at games, but I remember hearing those in the First XV report that when they went to play matches at schools, involving
a night's stay, Dinwiddy would quell their nerves before the afternoon's game by persuading them to read plays aloud in the morning. Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest was a favourite.
When I heard it announced that the Cardinal had inoperable cancer, it was Hugh Dinwiddy who urged me to write to him and recall my first meeting with him in 1936. With some trepidation I set about doing so. Then, almost by return of post on the 27th April, a reply came from Archbishop's House: "Dear Neville, I have received a great many letters. I am quite incapable of answering them all. But I do want to let you know now much I appreciated hearing from you.
"I was quite touched to receive a letter from you. You and I go back a long way. Yours devotedly, Basil Hume."
This letter brought back memories of watching rugger matches against other schools at Ampleforth. Standing near the touch-line, a contempo rary said to me: "Hume is not a star player, but he is a star captain." No future biographer should forget this. Nor the fact that during the war, when Bootham, the Quaker school in York, was bombed, Ampleforth offered the pupils its junior house. So two public schools, of different faiths, co-existed within 50 yards of each other — an early signpost in the history of ecumenical relationships.
Nor should Ampleforth headmaster Fr Paul Neville be forgotten, who began a memorable speech to the parents of both schools with the words: "Friends, Romans and countrymen..." for it left as indelible a mark on George Hume as it did upon his contemporaries.