Interview: Leslie Robinson

The DBC Radio team on the lawn of the school

In January 2017, RSBC merged with the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB). Although we are now called RSBC, there may be some references to RLSB in the following article.

Leslie Robinson, a student at RLSB’s school in Aylesbury in the 1940-50s, was one of the founding members of student radio project Dorton Broadcasting Corporation. Here Leslie tells us about DBC and how it continues to inform and unite alumni today.

I was a student between 1943 and 1955 and then I went on to became a piano tuner. I have been a piano tuner since – so it’s nearly 60 years.

I was seven years old when I started Dorton. It was my home for 12 years. Whereas the students in later days went home at weekends, we didn’t go home from one end of term to the other. Our parents could come down to see us once a month.

I remember my first day – one of the teachers told another pupil to take me to the dining room and I seemed to be going in and out of rooms. I thought ‘I shall never find myself around this place’. It seemed enormous. Obviously by the end I even knew my way around the cellar.

WW2

I was at Dorton during the war, but we didn’t even know the war was on. Coming from London where there were raids every night, we didn’t hear raids at all in the school.

One of the older students remembers that there was a raid and they went down the cellar of the school it was a room of 30 or 40 foot long with a barrel ceiling and you could not hear anything from above – people could do country dancing above and you wouldn’t hear it because it was so thick with concrete. Apparently it got very hot and sticky down there because there was no ventilation.

We saw some prisoners in the fields and that sort of thing. During the height of the war we were told that if we wanted to go home our parents would have to come and fetch us, so in the end we had a 20-week term – it felt like it was going on forever and ever.

Anecdotes from school

One night we were making a lot of noise and the master came in while a pillow fight was going on. In the end in a rage he told us to get back in our beds and took the pillows.

Another time of the boys said to the others, don’t worry I can see the light of the dormitory, but it wasn’t and he fell into the lake, because it was the light of the moon.

Our choir used to go out and sing to raise money. Our music master got us to step forward and sing these carols and then we went to get our money from what we thought was a cottage – but it turned out to be a haystack.

Dorton Broadcasting Company

We started The Dorton Broadcasting Corporation, or DBC, because we didn’t want to get bored. We copied the BBC; that was the idea.

It was started in the late 1940s by Don Cooper, Brian Neil, and Ken Green – and it was said that the DBC would stand for Don, Brian and Ken. And then I got involved with it. The date of our first programme was November 26 1950.

I had always had an interest with radio as a subject – crystal sets and batteries and buzzers. We would get together every weekend and put the shows together – we called it broadcasting but it was actually a speaker in one room that the boys would listen to (we didn’t invite the girls to listen) and we were in another room with improvised microphones, which we had made ourselves. We even made our first tape recorder.

We begged, borrowed or stole our equipment, including the school’s speakers. We were encouraged to do so because it kept us out of mischief. It was very primitive but it worked. Nowadays health and safety would go mad. We didn’t have a power to the room that we were working in, so we ran a cable along the floor to the other room.

We did a news bulletin of what’s been happening in the school, we had something called Top of the Form, we had play readings, and eventually we got hold of some records. Boys would bring their records along and ask us to play them, and then we would give them back later.

We experimented with transmitting the shows, but it was totally illegal and could have got us in a lot of trouble!

When we left sadly it died a death because there was no one to take it over, as is sometimes the case with these things.

In 1989, after a conversation with our old headmaster Ray Naylor, I revived the DBC as Dorton Broadcasting Cassette. I sent tapes out to about a dozen people and that quadrupled over night almost. We only do six editions a year so it’s not exactly a national paper or anything.

We’ve been doing it ever since and in 2014 it will be our 25th anniversary. It’s lovely because it has kept us in touch because we were very close. In fact I married a Dortonian. In fact four marriages came out of the meetings that we have every summer, which we have down in Eastbourne called the DBC week.

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