Here is Tony Allen-Mills' article, as promised.
Internet Editor, The Sunday Times'
My innocent, tragic, love affair at 13
Tony Allen-Mills recollects an adolescent affair with his music mistress
-- a young woman whose career he inadvertently ruined.
I was visiting a school friend on a Sussex farm when the telephone call
that ended my childhood arrived on a cool spring morning 30 years ago. I
can still feel today the sense of impending dread that a seemingly
innocuous message aroused. My father was coming to collect me. There was
something about a visiting aunt.
I knew at once that disaster was imminent. No aunt had been mentioned
when I had left our home in Hastings only a couple of hours earlier. The
thunderous look on my father's face as he stepped from his car, and as
he struggled to maintain his composure in front of my friend's mother,
left no doubt that my secret was out.
As we drove away from the farm he seethed for a while in silence. Then
he turned to me, his greying moustache quivering with rage.
"You know what this is about, don't you?" he snapped.
"Um," I replied.
"What have you been doing with that woman? How long has this been going
on? Do you realise this has destroyed your mother?"
I could do nothing but sob. I was 13 years old. For much of the previous
four months I had been recklessly, deliriously besotted with the music
mistress at my preparatory boarding school. She was 23, and I adored
her. We had slept together at least 20 times.
Oh, the thrill of those late-night excursions along silent school
corridors from my dormitory to her room. And the terror of that dreadful
morning when we woke up to find the rest of the school already at
breakfast. I had to sneak to the nearby matron's office, heart pounding,
feigning illness, to explain my absence from the prefects' table.
At home during the Easter holidays, I had kept her photograph hidden
beneath the lining of one of my bedroom drawers, along with a poem and
several letters she had written to me at school. These my father had now
The memories came flooding back last week when I read of Tracey Whalin,
who ran away to Florida with a 14-year-old. In America she was charged
with "lewd and indecent assault on a child". And I suppose there is
something lewd and indecent about an adult woman seducing a boy so
young. It is probably worse when the adult is a teacher and the boy is
one of her pupils.
Yet that is not how I remember Sylvia A, the lonely, immature music
teacher stuck on an isolated school estate in the middle of the Sussex
countryside with 100 small boys and several elderly bachelor teachers
for company. Not for a moment in the past 30 years have I ever
considered her lewd or indecent -- and I am now myself a parent acutely
concerned about the upbringing of my two daughters.
My anger is instead reserved for those teachers -- and, yes, my father,
too -- whose anxiety to cover up a potentially embarrassing incident
left me hurt and bewildered for much of the rest of my youth. Whatever else
happens to Whalin's young friend, I hope he isn't treated as an evil
There's something else I should mention. Sylvia didn't seduce me. I set
out to seduce Sylvia.
Our story began at Vinehall school, converted from a sprawling
19th-century mansion amid lovely grounds near Robertsbridge. My father
was an army officer, and to secure me a stable education while he was
posted around the world, he enrolled me as a boarder, aged nine.
I had the happiest of schooldays, spoilt only by a tyrannical Latin
teacher who enjoyed wielding a gym shoe on bare bottoms. I was a keen
football player, and it was my prowess as a centre forward that may
first have caught Sylvia's eye.
She had come to the school a couple of terms earlier and had immediately
cut a dash with her trendy clothes and cheerful manner. I still remember
the stir she caused when she came down to breakfast one morning wearing
the first red miniskirt ever to be seen on school grounds. The Latin
master nearly choked on his porridge.
At my mother's insistence I had signed up for piano lessons, and though
I was tone deaf, no student was ever more attentive sitting next to Miss
A on the piano stool, nor more sad to leave her at the end of the
lesson. I flirted with her shamelessly. I considered the lesson a
triumph if I managed to brush my thigh against hers.
One Saturday afternoon Sylvia was on the touchline when I scored five
goals against an opposing team. I was big and quick for my age and
utterly selfish with the ball. At my next piano lesson, Miss A touched
my cheek. "Well played," she said. "You were good."
>From that moment I was in love. By the end of the Christmas term I was
demanding a kiss for every goal I scored. In one of the season's last
games, we won 7-2. I scored all seven goals. The headmaster thought I
should turn professional. Little did he know I just wanted seven kisses.
Three days before the end of term, I asked if I could come to her room.
Sylvia blushed and looked away. Victory, I thought. She didn't say no.
That night I crept from the dormitory where, as a senior prefect, I
supervised a dozen younger boys. They were all asleep. I knocked on
Sylvia's door. I barely heard her whisper: "Come in."
Oddly, I remember nothing of the sex. There was none the first night --
merely industrious hugging. There were two more nights before the end of
term. On both, we broke a number of laws. I stayed in her room a couple
of hours, then sneaked back to my dormitory -- exhausted, elated,
It therefore came as a considerable shock, on the first day of the
Easter term, to find Sylvia repelling my advances. Evidently she had
been greatly sobered over the Christmas break. She must have been
bitterly regretting her weakness the previous term. As for me, I
couldn't understand her. I had spent the entire Christmas holiday
longing to get back to school; longing to get back to her bed. Now she
wouldn't even look at me.
Slowly I broke her down. Boarding school terms are long, and there was
little at Vinehall to distract a pretty and sociable young music
mistress. There was no town within walking distance. She couldn't afford
her own car. She had a boyfriend in London, but she had to work at the
school most weekends and she only saw him about once a month. Eventually
Sylvia relented. I got my next kiss without even having to score a goal
-- which was just as well, as Easter was the rugby term and rugby was
never my forte.
The point here, I suppose, is that Sylvia was scarcely a lewd and
indecent woman seeking out sordid sexual gratification. She must have
been desperately confused. She knew that what she was doing was wrong,
yet misery and isolation must have propelled her to bow to the insistent
flattery of a dangerously knowing schoolboy. I have no idea what
happened in the Whalin case, but it would be far from safe to assume
that teenage boys are sexually innocent.
It was just after the resumption of our affair -- with further nocturnal
excursions along that creaking corridor -- that my father returned from
an 18-month posting to Borneo. He came to watch me play rugby. I didn't
know it at the time, but he was shocked by my haggard appearance. I must
have been pale from lack of sleep.
He hadn't seen me during his long absence, so perhaps he was more
attuned than my mother to changes in my behaviour. No sooner had I left
the house at the beginning of the Easter holiday than he was rummaging
through my room for evidence. Like a fool, I had left plenty to find.
I have no way of knowing exactly what happened next, but it is now clear
to me that an agreement was reached to keep the matter out of the
newspapers. Sylvia was dismissed on the spot and I have never seen or
heard of her since. As for my future, everything depended on one man.
John Kendall-Carpenter, a former England rugby union international, was
headmaster of my father's alma mater, Cranbrook school in Kent. I had
been due to move to Cranbrook at the start of the next school year.
Would Kendall-Carpenter agree to accept me a term early under such
Eventually a deal was struck. I would be removed from Vinehall. Nobody
would ever say I had been expelled. I would simply turn up at Cranbrook
a term early. Teachers would be advised it was for family reasons -- my
father was moving from Borneo to Malaysia. My father took me aside,
clasped me by the shoulders, and told me, not without sympathy: "You
have been given a chance. You must never speak of this to anyone."
And that should have been that. Except for the fact that, in all this
convenient deal-making, nobody ever sought to ask me if I had any
questions, if I was worried about anything, or if I was happy with the
way things worked out. (Of course I wasn't: I agonised about Sylvia for
years and even tried pathetically to trace her. I remember spending one
evening telephoning all the entries in the London directory with her
fairly common last name. I would listen for a few seconds to see if I
recognised her voice; then I would hang up without speaking. I have
never found her.)
As long as my father was alive, we never discussed the matter again. Nor
did I wish to wound my mother further by keeping the subject alive. And
the last person concerned about my feelings was Kendall-Carpenter, who
viewed me from the start with deadly distaste.
Kendall-Carpenter -- hailed later as a great educator -- made it clear to
me that I had been admitted to Cranbrook on sufferance; that I had done
something so hideously wrong that I was lucky not to be flogged within
an inch of my life; and that no trouble from me would be tolerated.
So I had to sort things out for myself, and for years after my affair
with Sylvia, I must have been fairly intolerable. Somehow I knew enough
not to boast about my conquest to my Cranbrook schoolmates -- I realised
they would regard me either as a liar or a freak. Yet it took me a long
time to realise that I was not irresistible to women, and that a
glorious adolescent romance with a sad and lonely music mistress was no
guarantee of future sexual success. Now I come to think of it, I was a
thoroughly repulsive 15-year-old.
So I do not think that the authorities should be too harsh in these
cases. The chances are that other teenager lovers will grow up, as I
did, with indelible memories of what seemed, at least to me, a love
affair of effortless purity. My main regret, of course, is that I helped
ruin Sylvia's life. And to that charge, I can surely plead that I was
too young to know any better.
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