Snapshots from a childhood of the forties and fifties.
by Stuart Humphrey

Pupil 1952-1958

This is an attempt at a kind of literary photo album (or maybe a scrapbook) covering places, people and events as I remember them. As with many photo albums (or should it be "alba"?), some pictures are a bit blurred, or have pieces missing, or have lost their captions, so they may not always tell the full story quite "like it was". Also, you sometimes come across shots showing people in situations which they might find embarrassing or, at any rate, not very flattering. In these instances, if I’ve felt in any doubt, I have attempted to fuzz their identity a little. But where those concerned may reasonably be expected to share the fun of a good story, I confess that they do sometimes reveal their faces. I therefore crave your indulgence and sincerely hope not to have trodden on any toes (not too hard, anyway!).

The beginning: early childhood.

A week before Christmas at the end of the first full and serious year of hostilities in World War II, Maples furniture store in London’s Euston Road was set ablaze. At about the same time somewhere in the subterranean passages beneath University College Hospital close by, I was making my appearance into the world. It was not a very convenient time to be born and, from what my mother has since intimated, I don’t think I was actually planned for. The problems were compounded by my having severe infantile eczema, which later developed into asthma. And furthermore, my father was not supportive. True that at that time it was difficult, if not impossible, for fathers to assume a prominent parental role. But mine had not been called into the military (in fact, none of my relatives saw active service, whether or not they were in the forces). Dad was a mechanical engineer working on "something to do with radar" and, although his hours were very long, he could have lent more of a hand than he chose to. In fact, I saw very little of him and hardly knew him.

I do not, of course, remember much from the war years but there are just one or two brief snapshots which come to mind. At one point, mother and I and mother’s sister (Aunty Jess) went to stay in a place near Glasgow, called Dreghorn (now there’s a place name for you!) I recall sitting in the landlady’s kitchen, where there was an old black iron range, with a black iron pot simmering on top of it, and eating lashings of greasy fried bread which was fed me for breakfast (to mother’s strong disapproval) by "Aunty Kate", as she was known. I remember interminable waits in bus queues; and whenever a bus came, Aunty Jess would leap on and ask the conductor, "Go to Dreghorn?" If she understood the reply and he was indeed going there, it was a rarity. I suppose that it must have been on our return from Scotland that I remember being on a long train journey. The train was packed with troops and it moved very slowly with frequent stops We had managed to find room in the guard’s van and I remember an odd cubby-hole at one side, in which a couple of soldiers had squeezed themselves. They sat me on their knees and played with me for a good part of the trip. Another picture in my mind shows the Morrison Shelter being fitted up in Aunty Jess’s living room (these things consisted of heavy steel tables with sleeping space underneath): it really didn’t blend at all well with her light oak Art-Deco furniture.

Aunty Jess was a prominent character in my early childhood. Her husband, uncle Charlie, was in the navy working as a radar operator in Simonstown, South Africa (where he spent the whole of the war, well clear of enemy action!), so she and Mother were in one another’s company quite a lot. Other characters around at the time were Mother’s brother, uncle Mick (who was in the army in some non-combatant occupation in Scotland), and my grandparents. Grandma was a small, gentle lady, quietly spoken and always wore cotton wool in her ears. Grandpa, whose real name was Herbert (like his son, uncle Mick!), was known to his wife as "Hub". [Note: A strange phenomenon about Herberts at that time was that the name was never used. Mick was re-named by his second wife as soon as she met him. And coincidentally, my wife had an uncle Jim, whose real name was also Herbert!] Grandpa had suffered pretty badly in the trenches in WW I, had terrible breathing problems and was missing most of the thumb from one hand. Despite this handicap, he was remarkably adept at making things (all sorts of things: household utensils, toys, you name it) in a little shed at the end of the garden. He grew geraniums and tomatoes and exacerbated his constant cough with his own-brand cigarettes. He would sit for an hour or so each day manufacturing a batch on their basement parlour table, a sheet of newspaper spread out and all the equipment to hand: the red papier-maché tobacco jar, Rizla papers, the little rolling machine and a pair of scissors. Each individual fag was created with a craftsman’s precision, the scrag ends of tobacco neatly snipped off and the product placed carefully in a little box; no Australian-style roll-ups for him! He had a colourful turn of phrase, every sentence of which contained a "bloody" – nothing stronger, just lots of "bloodies". Like his brother, uncle Billy, he spent most of his working life as a London cabbie. When I knew him, he was one of those rare folks who possessed a car. I remember being with him on one occasion when he stopped at a garage to buy just two gallons of petrol (not uncommon in those days. I know it’s only about nine litres in our money, but times were hard and fuel was scarce). He handed his ration book to the attendant, who promptly tore out something like a couple of pages. "’Ere," protested Grandpa, "that’s a bloody lo’a coop’ns fa two, init?"

My grandparents lived all their lives in a three-storey Victorian town house, No 1031, Garret Lane, Tooting Broadway, with trams clattering past the front door and a high wall dividing the gardens from a scrap metal merchant’s premises at the back. There they raised their family and there they died, never owning it and rattling around in its cavernous space when they were on their own. But it was a good home and it remained intact. Poor uncle Billy was not so fortunate. He had come home from work one day to find his home and his wife gone – blasted to bits by a bomb. He still had his two sons and, when I knew him, he’d been re-housed in a prefab made out of a nissen hut with concrete end walls.

At the end of the war, for some reason, we were living in a caravan at Chiswick yacht basin. All the boats were festooned with flags and burgees. It was one of the rare moments I had with my father, as he sat me on the crossbar of his bike and rode into town, where everything was similarly decorated. It was VE-day, but I had not the faintest idea what that meant, for a war-baby has no concept of peace (nor, indeed, of the constantly underlying fear and panic which, up to then, had dogged London life). Somewhere around this time, I had my first taste of school and I vaguely remember being sent with an apple to eat at playtime, which I started to munch as I skipped around the playground; only to be told by a teacher that eating was forbidden before lunch and I must throw it away (bear in mind that throwing away good food was almost tantamount to a capital offence at that time). I was taught to draw a figure eight by means of an elaborate story involving a boy who lived in a house between two ponds, round which he walked in turn, the top one in one direction and the bottom one the other way. And I learned the story of Jack & the Beanstalk; sort of. As I understood it, Jack climbed up the beanstalk, up and up, until he got to heaven and sat on God’s right hand!



When I was five years old, just after the end of the war, my mother made the quite courageous decision (at that time) to leave my father and join one of the experimental "community projects" which were springing up around the country. This was Sherwood School in Epsom. It was a small enterprise, split between three houses in the town and run on largely socialist principles by a group of very worthy and sincere people All members, in whatever capacity they worked, had their accommodation and food provided, gave of their very best and received £1. 2s 6d per week pocket money. Mother worked excessively hard but it was a wonderful environment for an only child; like a large family. I had four older "brothers", who were the children of the people living on the ground floor of our house, and also a "sister" a few months older than me, called Monica. She was the only child of a widow living on the top floor. We were very close and we played numerous elaborate games involving her collection of dolls and soft toys and areas of the carpet divided up to form the "rooms" of our imaginary house. Monica, being female and a little older, imparted a lot of useful knowledge to me and from her I learned many of the basic things a child should know. Like rude words and their meanings, or how to eat an ice cream by biting off the end of the cone and sucking it out from underneath.

"Flint House" where we lived, was a rambling place built in1850 and it had at one time been a parsonage of some sort. It was owned by Robert & Constance Morton, who lived on the ground floor with their four sons. Distributed around the rest of the house were various Sherwood related folks including ourselves. The next largest area of accommodation was a first-floor flat comprising three interconnecting rooms with doors onto the stairs at each end. It was occupied for a time by a lady who taught French and her two daughters. Yvonne, the younger, was about Monica’s age and Marie, the mother, burnt the toast and then scraped it every single morning. Marie also had a piano which had been installed by dint of great ingenuity and effort since there was no way of getting it up the narrow, winding staircase. The central mullion of the casement window had been sawn through and a hoist suspended from the room above. (When they left the flat, the piano exited again by the same route). Anyhow, the said piano formed the centre-piece of a very rowdy game which all of us children played from time to time. Essentially, it was a form of "He" or "Tag" but, instead of the person who was "it" counting with their eyes shut, they beat the hell out of the piano keys as loudly and cacophonously as possible while the others "danced" to the "music". They then gave chase round and round the circle formed by the three rooms and the stairs until one was caught and became the next "Beethoven". The name of the game was "Beethoven’s Best" and the adults were curiously tolerant of it.

As well as the main school at Sandown Lodge about half a mile away, there was the junior part just down the road. 6, Burgh Heath Road was in a row of largish houses and differed from its neighbours in having a large area at the back known as "The Pit" – an old chalk quarry accessed by a steep path and containing an outbuilding which served as a workshop. I remember that users of the workshop were summoned at meal times by flashing the lights. The power supply was carried by an overhead cable from an upstairs bedroom, where it terminated in a naked lever switch. The procedure was to take hold (gingerly) of the insulated knob at the end and change it over from one contact to the other and back again, amid a hail of sparks! In the corner of the main garden area was a small swimming pool which was the subject of much consternation and tut-tutting from the neighbours because people were wont to use it without benefit of bathing apparel. One of Mother’s earliest memories of her job as cook was that of a young man entering the kitchen door dripping and stark naked. He was picking his way very cautiously and he asked if she had seen his glasses. She found them on the table and handed them to him. "Ah," he said, beaming. "That’s better," and out he went again with the air of one who was now fully dressed!

As I said, Mother worked excessively hard. I’m sure this contributed to her health suffering and there were one or two occasions when she was really quite "run down". The worst of these was when she contracted glandular fever and I had to be sent away to stay with her eccentric elder sister, aunty Ethel. Ethel lived in a block of flats with her equally eccentric husband, uncle John: a man several years her senior who was quite a brilliant engineer designing manufacturing machinery but whose only form of relaxation was reading kids’ comics. I spent most days walking on my own to a nearby recreation park with swings and slides and things. The picture I remember is of us sitting in her little kitchen and hearing the news being read on the wireless (as it was then universally known; a name which puzzled me at the time, because, when you looked inside the thing, it was stuffed full of wires!) There was some mention of resuming television broadcasts, which had been discontinued at the outbreak of the war. "Aunty," I said, "what’s television?" "Er, well," replied Aunty, "you can hear the man talking on the wireless, right?" "Yes." "Well, with television, you can see him as well." And I remember quite distinctly thinking, "just what would ever be the benefit of that?" Much of the television output which I idly watch today confirms what I thought on that occasion!

The school curriculum was somewhat loose and unstructured. I vaguely remember science lessons in which the girls boiled soap in beakers for hours, and stories by our teacher (one Hedley Drabble from Lancashire) about some characters in a sort of sub-spaceship which explored the world underground. There was a music lesson all about the young Mozart being relentlessly tutored by his father, as a result of which I was firmly convinced for years afterwards that the composer’s first name was Stephen, because, in the middle of his narrative, the teacher bawled out a boy of that name for misbehaving. We performed plays of our own writing, we fought amazing wars between camps which we dug in the ground and covered with boards or sheets of corrugated iron, and we made bonfires and experimented with explosive devices. Sometimes, I would join another boy of my age and a girl a little bit younger, and together we would sneak off to some secret hiding place (like under the stage, next to the salt-water light dimmers) to play doctors and learn about "La Difference"; lessons which I later continued under the tutelage of a slightly older girl called Barbara, in the linen cupboard. But I learnt very little academically. After a few years, lack of money brought about a revamp of the school under new management and Mother lost her last vestiges of confidence in it. We continued to live at Flint House, along with the other members of the "family", but she was bothered about my lack of education, and so I had to change schools.


The County Primary

My induction into Hook Road County Primary school was one hell of a shock to the system after the laiser-faire atmosphere of Sherwood. It was housed in the type of purpose-built structure typical of its time: a large hall with classrooms off it, outside lavatories (of course) and divided down the middle into two totally separated parts labelled "boys" and "girls" The headmaster was a kindly man whose daughter had asthma, so he was always indulgent to me. My class teacher, however, was Mr Drinkwater, a tall beanpole of a man in an immaculate, dark, striped suit (like a solicitor’s) and having the bearing of a military officer. On my first day, I had been placed in one of the desks in his classroom (the old-fashioned kind with integral bench seat and lifting lid, placed in rows facing forward) to await his arrival before school started. He enquired of my identity and business, so I gave him my full name and explained that I had been put there by the headmaster. His reply took me totally by surprise, "Humphrey, huh? I see we’re going to have to teach you some manners." Not till part-way through the morning, surrounded by my new class-mates, did it dawn on me what he meant: I had failed to address him as "Sir"!

I began to learn very quickly – partly because Mr Drinkwater put the fear of God up me. He kept in his cupboard (as they all did) something he referred to as his "medicine", to be administered to those guilty of misdemeanours or considered a little short on discipline. It took the form of a narrow, whippy wooden stick and it was applied to the upturned, outstretched palm of the miscreant’s right hand with a swift, downward motion. Once I had witnessed this procedure, I resolved (and managed) never to get on the wrong side of Mr D.

My first big hurdle was to learn my "taybouls" (as he called them). At the age I had reached, I was expected to have mastered all the multiplication tables from two to twelve, as well as those for imperial weights and measures. So, every night, I retired to bed with a little brown book to learn them by rote. And we were tested regularly. "Five sixes, Jones", he would shout and expect an instant, correct answer. "Seven nines, Humphrey." (Oh, bugger, why does he always ask me the ones I’ve not yet learned. Once nine is nine, two nines are eighteen, three nines……..). "So, Humphrey (menacingly), you don’t know it, then?" (Hang on a minute, will you. Six nines are fifty-four….) "Sixty-three, sir". I don’t condone it as an educational method but, for me, it worked and, ever since, I have actually felt grateful to Mr D. As I got to know him better I realised that he was actually quite a decent bloke; he simply worked within the system. I don’t believe he would have caned me for not knowing my tables, but I was never prepared to put it to the test.

Looking back from the 21st century, it seems incredible that I walked every day from one side of the town to the other, about a mile and a half each way, accompanied sometimes by a classmate but never by an adult. Also, at lunchtimes, the entire school was marched in crocodile to a building at the other end of the road, a badminton court, to be fed. One day, after our return march, we were all assembled in the school hall to witness a small, scruffy individual being hauled up onto the dais by the Head. "This boy is a disgrace to the school," he boomed. "Tell the school what you did, Brown". "Er, mutter-whatsit-burble" came the barely audible reply. "Speak up, boy!" Straining our ears, we caught, "I flicked a pea across the table".

I stayed at that school for a couple of years or so and moved on to Mr P’s class and later to Mr L’s. Mr L was the games master. He was much more human and not so much the strict disciplinarian the others had been; though he was nevertheless a man who commanded your respect. I liked him and really wanted to please him. Games, however, were not my forte. We were togged out in PE kit and marched (in crocodile) to the playing field. A football was then thrown at us and an unholy mob of little boys ran after it en masse. Following a long blast on his whistle, our teacher lectured us on the rudiments of the game and decided that we needed instruction in some basic theory before we should be let loose on the field again. This I found quite absorbing as I learned that there was actually an order to it, with individual players allotted to specific positions with names like "left back", "inside right" and "centre forward". [Note: Obsolete today, I believe. Modern players would appear either to be striking or cruising aboard "premier" ships]. Fascinating stuff in the classroom – so long as you didn’t have to apply it to the rough-and-tumble outside! In the summer time, cricket was even more scary, since it involved the use of a very hard ball being belted about at lethal speeds. I usually managed to persuade the captain that vital defence was needed in a very remote part of the field (and if, by misfortune, the ball should come my way, I forgot which way I was supposed to run).There was relief ,however, on wet days when we stayed in the classroom and the cumbersome 16 mm projection apparatus was wheeled in to show wonderful instructional films, where points of technique were demonstrated by famous exponents of the game. One of these, entitled "The Forward Defensive Stroke", showed Len Hutton giving 17 identical demonstrations of this particular manoeuvre!

In any case, I was able to wriggle out of physical activities a lot of the time because of the asthma problem. And it interfered pretty much with my academic learning as well. For most of my life, Mother had carted me around the medical world, trying to find a solution, bless her. Every kind of answer from the out-and-out crackpot to the sound-in-theory but practically unworkable was offered. In the end, it was a combination of the natural growing up process and a special diet which sorted it out.


Oswestry C of E

When financial strictures brought about another relocation, it was to Shropshire. Mother had taken a position as cook/housekeeper to a wealthy, elderly couple (he was a retired colonel or some such). They occupied a large house with grounds and also employed a chauffeur/gardener, who lived in a tied cottage on the estate. Get the picture? The whole setup was calculated to get right up Mother’s socialist nose from day one and, for her, it turned out to be a disaster. For me, it wasn’t too bad. The old couple were quite indulgent toward me. They had a grandson with whom I played in the grounds and the old man encouraged me to poke around in the works of his very sick old radio. I had a more-or-less free run of the place and I had long chats with "Phillips", the chauffeur/gardener.

The main problem for me was school: Oswestry C of E primary. It was a lot smaller and rather more homely than the Epsom one, though it was altogether quite "churchy" and it was run entirely by women; another thing that took some getting used to. [Note: although male teachers in mainstream schools are addressed as "sir", women are universally called "miss", which is hardly a very respectful title] And there were some weird rules I couldn’t get the hang of: for instance, although classes were mixed, the girls had their own exclusive playground and I, always the rebel, was taken to task for straying into it. The weird bit was that the girls were also permitted the free run of the boys’ playground. Naturally, I pointed this out to HM (the Headmistress, Mrs Lord) and was told, curtly, that rules is rules – don’t argue (a principle which cropped up again repeatedly during my Civil Service career later in life!). Mrs Lord (an appropriate name for a church school head!) was a decent, efficient and even-handed lady of indeterminate middle years. But, for some reason I was never able to explain, I hated her. I think I got on with some of the others, though, so it probably didn’t hamper my learning too much.

Early in February of that year, there occurred another incident which greatly puzzled me at the time. The whole school was collected together for the daily morning assembly and HM mounted the rostrum, her features set in a very serious expression. "Children," she said, "I have some very, very sad news for you" (pause for effect). ("Blimey," thought I, "What can it possibly be? The weatherman got the snow forecast wrong? The gorgeous miss Welbelove is leaving? Sweets have gone back on ration?") With due solemnity, HM continued, "The King is Dead." I looked around the room. The thought in most of the kids’ minds appeared to be, "Good God. Is that all?" After all, who was this bloke to us, apart from the model for the face on stamps and coins? For the life of me, I couldn’t work out what the fuss was about.


Wennington: the junior school

So that had been my life to date when Mother and I found ourselves disembarking from the train at Leeds Central Station. It was the spring of 1952 and we were on our way to a new life in Yorkshire; she to a new job as cook/catering manager and I to a new school. Mother had given a month’s notice, escaped from domestic servitude and, to celebrate, had splashed out on Dinner On The Train – quite posh in those days, with white-coated waiters, FOUR courses and proper coffee. The city of Leeds was less salubrious, though. Trams rattled along the middles of the streets and all of the buildings were coated in thick black grime – the effect altogether pretty dingy. We boarded the connecting train to this place where we were finally heading and duly arrived half an hour or so later at Wetherby Railway Station (almost all traces of the railway have since been eradicated but in the fifties, that’s the way you came). And there to meet us was the school’s representative – a big, round, red faced, grey haired, jolly Scotsman called Ian Sellar – and known to one and all as "Hoots". He had brought along for the ride someone who was to be a class mate of mine: Ernest Churchard. Although it was still Easter holiday time, Ernest and his elder brother, George were staying at school because of some difficulties at their home, so I had a companion.

Our transport was a curious old Morris van of indeterminate age (rather like Hoots himself) with canvas sides and the accelerator pedal in the middle, between the clutch and brake. In this faithful old jalopy we made our way across the busy A1 (In our time, this principal arterial road thundered through the middle of the town) and passed by the Naval shore base, HMS Ceres (which, during the war, the German admiralty claimed to have sunk!) On the parade ground were rows of black uniforms marching back and forth to the sound of bugles blowing and drums beating. A short way up the road, we entered the mile-long drive leading to that imposing yellow sandstone edifice called Ingmanthorpe Hall. We passed between the big stone pillars into the old courtyard; the centre of this curious place which would become my home for a while, and whose memory would remain for the rest of my life.


It’s strange, really, but I can still place myself in that gateway and picture the scene quite vividly: the science labs straight ahead, the raised terrace on the left with two flights of stone steps leading up to it (5 years later I would loose two front teeth on the corner of one of them), the boiler-house with its two squat chimneys, the large kitchen windows in the main building and the "cottage" in which Mother had been allocated a room. Looking right, the old stable block housing the maths room, the French room, art room, first-form room, sixth form room and junior school classroom, the mounting-block and behind it the way through to the workshops, pottery, history room, gym (no longer used) and the wonderful, wonderful woods. Later I would come to know the entire layout of the buildings that made up the school, all the rooms within them and the land surrounding them. With the exception of some private staff quarters, I can still do a mental "virtual tour" through all of it to this day. I could even show you some hidden places in lofts, cellars and on the roof. So strong are these memories that they continue to feature in recurring dreams.

The top part of the stable block housed the junior school dormitories (one girls’, one boys’), bathroom (communal) and matron’s room. This was where Ernest brought me, for it was here we would be living for the next 5 months. And so much happened during that time which I still remember in some detail that it seems as if it must actually have been several years. This is probably the only period of my life which I can recall passing by at such a leisurely pace.


I met other members of staff; notably Frank Burgess who was engaged in developing some photographs in a darkroom in the cottage. A knock on the door announced that Martin (Eden) had arrived. "Let us go and greet Martin," Frank said, and we went to say "Hullo" to a slim, sandy-haired, aquiline-featured, youngish man emerging from an oldish, soft-top, light blue Morris Minor. This was my first introduction to one of the people who have had the greatest influence on my life. Staff members I remember who were present at the time were:

George Aspden ("Ashpan") – French

Kenneth ("KC") & Frances ("Fanny") Barnes – Science and Religious History - The Bosses

Sybil Bensusan – Music.

Norman Bowes – Gardener

Frank Burgess ("Birdeye") – Workshop (and also water-softener operator)

Margaret Burgess – Junior school teacher

David Cooke ("Cookie") – Maths

Rosamond Courtenay – Senior school Matron.

Martin Eden ("Botch") –Workshop, site maintenance, fire-chief

Brian Hill ("Lord Hill") – English, compiler of timetables, second-in-command.

Louis Jones – Art & Pottery.

Wolf Mendl – History.

Noelene – Junior school Matron

Percy – Groundsman, lodge-keeper, doer of odd-jobs

Irene Salkeld – Music.

Ian Sellar ("Hoots") - Bursar

Vlada (Vladimir Zwirik) – Caretaker, boiler-stoker, general-factotum.


Some other children were about the place too. Rosamond’s son Richard ("Peanut" or "teapot" –the latter because he laughed like a teapot lid rattling), Louis’s son Anthony and Norman Bowes’ younger daughter Rosamond were all contemporaries of mine. Soon others began arriving for the start of the summer term: Marjorie Ahmed, Barry Close, Roger Dingley, Christopher Fink, , Rosemary Kaye, Ruth McColm, Anthea Mortimer, Mary Sydenham, and. others. I seem to remember that Ruth and Rosemary appeared to be particularly concerned about another boy who had not yet arrived – name of Sam Doncaster. "He equals Rosemary" Ruth explained, to my total incomprehension. (The equals sign apparently referred to some form of romantic attachment).

At night we were under the care of Noelene. The poor lady was very unfortunately afflicted with buck-teeth, which didn’t help her appearance, but she was one of the kindest, most caring and warm-hearted people you could meet. She was also troubled by a hyper-sensitive and highly-strung nature so that, when we children played her up (as we did frequently), she was often reduced to tears. I think now I can sympathise. But at the time, I had my own problems and foremost among them was getting used to sharing my sleeping quarters: something I had never before had to do and, to begin with, I found it very hard. Up to now Stuie’s bedroom was his own private, very personal little world; but that cosy carpet had now been whipped from under me. In fact, I was really rather miserable for the first few weeks of the term: everything was so strange. So, whenever possible, I would seek out my faithful old friend (my Mum) and have a good cry. For this I got pretty mercilessly teased by Ernest and, at his prompting, by some of the others. Ernest had an unsatisfactory home life himself and, understandably, he was profoundly jealous of me. "Just because your mother’s at the school……" he would frequently begin accusing me. Mother’s solution to the situation was neat and simple. She befriended Ernest, treated him almost as a second one of her own and made him feel special. End of problem and we were friends again!

Our daytime welfare and education was conducted by Margaret Burgess. She was a wonderful lady: as round (and dare I say cuddly) as her husband was tall and lean. She was kind, warm, sparklingly intelligent and full of energy. She also stood no nonsense.

Altogether, I learned quite a lot of new things during that first term. For instance, Frances had a regular slot reading to us from "The Iliad" which I think was intended as a forerunner of the "RH" lessons she would be doing later on. She had the very enlightened idea that religious knowledge should be imparted, not as doctrine or instruction, but as history. The things which remain in my mind most vividly, though, were the physical, practical activities,.

Margaret took us to the edge of the woods and organised a bonfire, on which we cooked sausages and baked potatoes and I managed to get fully involved for the first time because I’d been taught a recipe for "dampers" (a dough mixture wrapped around a stick, cooked in the flames, the stick removed, and the hole filled with butter). We spent a lot of time in the woods, trekking through the dense tangle of rhododendron bushes and playing many kinds of field games. The place was idyllic.

Then there was the swimming pool cleaning ceremony. During the winter, it had to be kept full in case the water might be needed to fight a fire. In that time it became quite unsavoury so, at the beginning of the summer term, it was emptied (fire risk notwithstanding) and vigorously cleaned and repainted by as large a workforce as could be mustered. The painting part became extended from the straightforward whitewash treatment to the creation of wonderful murals, calling on all the imaginative flair that the art department could bring to bear upon it. It was great fun and, after a few days, the pool was full again and ready for use. However, I had a problem; called fear of water. I rarely entered the pool and never learnt to swim during my whole time at the school, despite numerous offers of tuition. This was something I deeply regretted afterwards and it was not for another 20 years, when my own children began to take to the water, that I grasped the nettle, took swimming lessons and realised what a chump I’d been and how much I’d missed.

The greatest highlight of that term was the Cowthorpe Project. Cowthorpe is a neighbouring village which we could easily reach by way of a short walk on footpaths and through fields. It is on the River Nidd, has an old church and a disused water mill and was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It is a typical English village. The object of the project was to do a full geographical, historical and demographic survey, to write up the results and to make a scale model. We all enjoyed it thoroughly and worked very hard. It was one of the best pieces of collective effort to come out of a school classroom you could want to see. And it was all thought up and driven along by the indefatigable Margaret.

After a while, I got used to the boisterousness of dormitory life; the noise, the towel-flicking and pillow fights. Being on the doorstep of adolescence, we amused ourselves with other games as well. We found, for instance, that we could induce erections and engage in mock sword fights with them. It so happened that the boys’ dormitory had a second door leading to Frank & Margaret’s flat. Inevitably, then, Margaret came through one time to investigate the noise and caught us in this activity. Strangely, she was not amused and subjected us to a long lecture about it.

The summer term eventually drew to a close and the long summer holiday began, during which as a "staff child" I remained at school. Ernest stayed for part of it as well. Shortly before the start of the holiday, he came and announced to me that "Your darling professor has arrived." This was Stanley, Mother’s rather tenuous boyfriend, who had been appointed to the chair of English at a Welsh college and whom I rather admired and also, no doubt, boasted about. I suspect that Stanley had been primed to take Ernest under his wing too, so he rapidly became a firm favourite with him as well.


The summer holiday was a curious time for me. I (and any other children who happened to be about) sort of drifted around the big estate doing,…. well, not a great deal really. I just pottered about in a delightfully lazy, summery sort of a way. Hoots had instituted a scheme for bringing in some extra cash by making the facilities available for summer-schools. These were usually run by religious organisations; such as the Quakers one week followed by Methodists the next. There was much discussion about which group the staff preferred (and I’m afraid it wasn’t the Quakers). For mother, it was work as usual. And pretty hard it was too. And there was nothing extra in it for her. Stanley shut himself away marking hundreds of GCE English papers, which he did to supplement his income (professors at small independent colleges were actually not very brilliantly paid in those days).

I remember Vlada teaching me to drive the old ex-army lorry we used for general moving work. To start it, you took a lemonade bottle full of petrol from the fire-extinguisher holder in the cab, removed the carburettor air filter, poured some of the contents down the tube, then gave half a dozen turns to the starting handle (and, if nothing happened, the process was repeated). It was all quite fun for me and I expect that, somewhere along the line, we managed some kind of a holiday break but I don’t remember anything about it. At the time of that first summer, I think I was as happy as I had been for a long time.


It was during this first summer hols that I had my first encounter with Kenneth. Up to then, he had been a rather distant and shadowy character with whom I’d only exchanged a few words. On this occasion, Mother and I were quietly chatting in her room when K put his head round the door, saying, "I’d like a word with Stuart, please." (The "please" being almost redundant because this was clearly a command which, frankly, I thought a bit "off"). So I was duly taken outside wondering what on earth was up. It turned out he had taken it into his head, at this wholly inappropriate time, to deliver another homily on the "dormitory games". It’s still a puzzle to me to this day.

We children believed the man to be obsessed about sex but I’m not sure if this was actually the case. One has to bear in mind the mores of the time. Sex was still largely a taboo subject and, quite rightly, he considered it more healthy to bring it more out in the open. Also the position he was in, running an experimental school where teenage girls and boys mixed freely and slept in the same building made him constantly nervous, I think, of the possible consequences of a sexual scandal. That’s my interpretation anyhow. None the less, we did tend to get awfully cheesed-off with his constantly banging on about the subject (if that’s the right expression!) In fact, most of us were pretty innocent in those days and there were very few instances of sexual indiscretion that I am aware of. There was one case of a girl getting pregnant. She was caused to disappear quickly and quietly, though it did cause a slight hiatus because she had a leading part in the coming school play and a substitute had to be trained fairly rapidly.

Kenneth never liked me much and, to be frank, I never liked him. He did have a great many qualities one couldn’t help but admire. And, as someone recently said to me, "He was the man who made things happen". That is very true; and it is also true that people who have the drive and determination to get things moving are often difficult to get along with socially: it was certainly true of Kenneth. He had boundless energy, wide-ranging practical skills extensive learning and, as well as running the school, he found time to write prolifically. But underneath it all, he seemed to be an insecure individual, so that he tended to be brusque to the point of rudeness, to be something of a poseur and there was a yawning gap between his preaching and his practice.

He did a great deal of preaching. He certainly had all the right ideas about how human beings should behave; how important were the qualities of good manners, common decency, unselfishness, sensitivity, thoughtfulness and forgiveness. And having these ideas constantly drummed into us has shaped all of our lives for the good. The problem as I saw it was that, unquestionably sincere though he was, those qualities were not always very clearly evident in the man himself. Although he was an excellent teacher, a good public speaker and a competent writer, he was frankly a lousy communicator at the personal level. Once when I had an argument with him over something fairly trifling, his reply was, "Listen, boy: I am the headmaster of this school and when I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed." No doubt the sentiment was justified at the time but his choice of words seemed to me to fly in the face of everything which we believed the school stood for.


The middle years.

Nowadays, we are quite used to institutional name changes – especially when an organisation (eg. a government department) has made a total balls-up of some task entrusted to it. They change the name and hope its failings will thus be expunged. (One recalls, for instance, the recent Foot-and-Mouth fiasco, after which the MAFF – the Min of Ag & Fish – disappeared and was replaced by a different set of initials). To my knowledge, however, no such shadow overhung Wennington’s First Form in September 1952. Nevertheless, it had been decided to rename it the "Remove". So, by an administrative stroke of the pen (the reasons for which I was never acquainted with), I missed Form One.

Going up to "big" school brought about many changes from the cosy junior environment. You slept in the senior dormitories (6 boys’ and 6 girls’) – and bathrooms were definitely segregated! The rooms were each named after some worthy historic figure (Dick Turpin being the exception on worthiness) and they each accommodated between three and ten people. Each was under the charge of a fifth- or sixth-former who slept in with the lesser herberts, ran and administered it and was known as the "Dorm Leader".

The other big difference was that each subject lesson was taught (as is common in secondary schools) in its own specialist room, so pupils moved around and carried all their books etc in a mini-backpack called a satchel. This, in turn, meant we got to do a wealth of exciting new activities taught by many different people. And it was those teachers, I firmly believe, who determined what I liked (and cared not to do) and shaped the whole of my future. And surely this applies to every pupil in every school – if you liked the teacher, established a rapport with him and felt he handled his subject well, then you did well in that subject. Otherwise, whatever innate ability you may have had, the chances are you got bored and gave up.


Some staff changes had either taken place already or occurred early in that first year. French was now taught by Roger Gerhardt, a truly remarkable man of high principles and a passionate interest, not only in his own subject, with its language, poetry and drama but also in music, which he used extensively in his teaching. I loved French lessons but sadly, I never managed to master the language very successfully in a practical way. Wolf Mendl left after my first term, which was very sad for me because I think I could have loved history as well (certainly I find it fascinating today). He was replaced by Leslie Harvey, about whom I chiefly remember his mode of transport (a motorcycle combination which carried his whole family about: himself, his wife and two children) and that I learnt about prehistoric cave-dwellers, medieval strip-farming and the feudal system – and nothing else. History was not a successful subject for me and, when it came to "O-level options" time, I dropped it – another sad occurrence because it was then that Leslie was replaced by John Woods who was, by all accounts, an excellent teacher.

Another pair of dodgy subjects was biology and geography. Again, I should have enjoyed them but Wennington doubled them up and had them taught by the same person, which must have been a difficult combination to find. A succession of teachers attempted this task but the turnover was high and I managed to learn but little of either.

Maths I struggled with. This time it was not a teaching problem: I just simply found the subject difficult and so tended to loose interest. David Cooke had a fairly laid-back kind of attitude and, if you weren’t interested, well that was your problem. My only clear memory involving David was when a small party of us went to Leeds to see the film "Some Like It Hot". We travelled in two cars: I and someone else went with Martin, while two upper school boys were in front with David. Now David’s car was a very elderly and unreliable vintage model and it somehow contrived to stall on a busy intersection right in the middle of the Headrow, across two tramlines. The boys took it in turns on the starting handle, David tried making all manner of adjustments and the city of Leeds ground to a standstill! But we did get to see the film.

I got on well with physics and chemistry (taught very thoroughly by Kenneth, though I always wanted to experiment more and do less writing).

I found English thoroughly absorbing (taught by Douglas East, then Michael Campbell at junior level and Brian Hill later).

I liked pottery but never got on well with painting and drawing, both by Louis Jones. Again, the problem for me was Louis’s let-it-happen approach. You were given the equipment and you got on with it, and if you had talent you did OK. But if you were like me you needed a lot of tuition, which didn’t happen. Art was another subject I regretfully gave up at options time.

By far and away what most absorbed me was the practical workshop work: Initially woodwork under Frank burgess, then later both woodwork and metalwork under Martin Eden. Everything Martin did, he did thoroughly and to exacting standards (even though he often adopted unconventional approaches). His nickname ("Botch") was not a reflection on the quality of his work but a word he frequently used in castigating us for poor workmanship. He was my great hero. I made every effort always to keep in his best books and I have continued to use the skills that he and Frank taught me for the whole of my life since.


Some of the changes over the next couple of years or so included:-

English (lower school): Douglas East, a young, dark-haired, easy-going man who was also our form tutor in the "remove". The sort of guy you couldn’t help but like.

Bio & Geog: Mary-Kate Deighton, a formidable lady who expertly fielded all attempts by nasty little boys to shock her and always insisted on the use of both her Christian names. She was replaced by Bob Stokes, a worthy, if "other worldly" man who was also into drama and would not tolerate any form of blasphemy(utterances like "good God" were deeply offensive to him). He later stepped aside for Catherine Bolton (who never taught me because I gave up the subjects at the time of her arrival. [Note: after she left, she married a former colleague of a close friend of mine – small world!]

History: John Woods, another devout man who never taught me. He had sleek fair hair, a florid complexion and a disconcertingly penetrating way of looking at you.

P.E.: Frank Leafhead, who attended on a daily basis (he did not live in) and who won great acclaim, not only in his subject, but also as a very competent dance-band pianist. I was one of a small group of thorns in his flesh (sorry, Frank!)

Maths: Denis Blacklock. He was of a rotund form with a round head on which was mounted a rather nondescript, brushed-to–one-side hair style and a pair of thick-lensed glasses, giving him a curious, squinty look. He was into photography (I think he sometimes got the girls to model for him) and amateur radio. He had some amusing stock phrases, eg., "When I applied for this job, I was under the impression it was at a school, not a holiday camp." Or, if people were talking while he was teaching, "There seems to be a lot of QRM at the back of the room" (This is amateur radio jargon for an interfering signal). To begin with, I adopted my old habit of switching off in his classes but, at some point when I’d been sent outside for disruption, it dawned on me that this was a subject I needed somehow to master if I was to do anything at all with my life henceforward. Anyway, he was really a likable bloke and I was also interested in radio and electrical things, so I marched back into the classroom and, in reply to a disgruntled "What do you want?" I said, "I want to learn maths, please, and I promise to keep quiet and listen." It was a turning point and I owe it entirely to him that I managed to pass my GCE O-level maths because he took Ruth (another struggler) and me under his wing with a very intensive course of special tuition and past papers. Denis, I remain eternally grateful!

There were also a couple of "peripatetics":

Mr Lester who taught "wind" (musical instruments, that is!) and

Mr Hall (H. Inchcape) whose day job was at Harrogate Grammar School and who came to us on Saturday mornings and on two evenings in the week to teach ALL of the O-level and A-level physics and chemistry. He was a truly remarkable man. He had the appearance of a veteran heavyweight boxer, which belied a warmth and humanity, and an encyclopaedic knowledge, not only of science but also of art and literature. He was always addressed as "Mr Hall"; in fact, we didn’t know his first name and, even if we had, it would have seemed totally inappropriate to use it. He was one of those quietly-spoken people who automatically command your absolute respect, without any show of assertiveness: a rare quality indeed.


Aside from the people who came up from the junior school with me (Barry Close, Roger Dingley, Sam Doncaster, Rosemary Kaye, Ruth McColm, Anthea Mortimer, et al), contemporaries of about my own age-group around this time were: Richard Barrowman, Judy Brandram, Paddy Butcher, Michael & Ruth Cass-Beggs, Michael Deitman, Christine & Eric De Quincy, John Ellenby, Sue Fell, David Furness, Piers Gyngell, Richard Hall, Tom Hardwick, Jo Henderson, Alan Ireland, Jeremy (?), Peter Kakel, Diana & Peter Lawrence, Galina Lazarides, Myron Lewis, Catriona MacIntosh, Jimmy McCloy, Vivienne McColm, Sylvia McRae, Pat Mitchell, Wendy Shead, Belinda Swift, Joy Surman, Fiona Tennant, Brian Thear, Sue Townsend, Judy Viall, David Whiting, David & Sue Wray (and probably a vast host of others whose pictures have become faded).

More exalted figures in the upper school included: Peter Bell, Michael & Keith Birkett, Mick Clark, Gill Cole, Meg Day, Piers Dickie, Corin Dienes, Jean Ellenby, Roger Hall, Marion Hawksford, Grace Hindle, Brigit Hole, Sue Hope, Tom James, Andrew Lockett, Nicky & Janet Maw, Catherine Moxam, Rex Pitts, Charles Richardson, Valerie Roff, Angela Rogers, Eleanor Spray, Eleanor Sydenham, Martin Teale, Margaret Walton, Angus Watson, Philip Whitehead (and yet more others).




Nicknames, incidentally, were endemic in the culture. I assume Frank Burgess got his ("Birdeye") from a combination of things: 1. a corruption of his surname, 2. being very tall he looked down on the world and 3. he had an amazing capacity for spotting trouble from a long way off. Brian Hill’s bearing had an aristocratic air (and Lord Hill was the then chairman of the BBC) and Hoots was very, very Scottish. Many of the pupils also had their distinctive "handles", most of which I’ve forgotten. Sam Doncaster was (obviously) "Donkey" and Rosemary Kaye was known (very unfortunately, in my view) as "Bulldog" which I assume to have reference to the roundness of her face and figure. (Not being a "doggy" person, I know nothing about the nature of the breed; I can only say that Rosemary always seemed to be good-tempered, quiet and delightful company). Another robustly made individual was Richard Hall whose brother, Roger, in the upper school was called "Pog". Richard thus became "Poglet". There were others which were less polite. For the record, my own nickname at the time was "Spaceship" on account of my obsessive interest in the exploits of Dan Dare et al.



One quickly got used to the routine of the school day and the school week (thank goodness the two-week timetable had yet to be invented). As in all schools, times were marked by bells. Not those awful electric ones they have in modern schools, which double as fire alarms. No, there were two old-fashioned, "real" bells: one like a ship’s bell hung on a bracket in the hall, at the foot of the great stairwell, the other high up on the outside wall of the main building and operated by a clever system of rods and levers from below.

"First Bell" went at five-to-seven and was the wake-up call. In the summer months (about May to early October) it was also the call to those tough diehards who felt so inclined to participate in the "Morning Dip". This meant jump out of bed, grab a towel, rush down to the swimming pool by the quickest route, strip off nightwear and plunge in. When you bobbed back up again, you might steal a look at the girls regaled in the full glory of their birthday suits – or, more likely, you were too preoccupied with vigorously trying to restore life to your own blue flesh to be particularly bothered. I am aware of only two occasions that I subjected myself to this punishment. Once, early on, I succumbed to peer pressure and felt I had at least to try the experience, just once. The second time was later on when adolescent curiosity was beginning to bite and I was persuaded by Vivienne McColm, Ruth’s elder sister. One warm and sunny afternoon, I was hovering outside the open door of the girls’ changing room, hoping possibly to spot something of interest, when Vivienne marched through stark naked. Seeing me by the door she said, "Hello Stuart. What are you looking for? Come in – don’t be shy." Cautiously (and with some embarrassment) I ventured in and beheld Rosemary in the shower, not sharing in the welcome at all and unsuccessfully trying to cover her all with a flannel. So I beat my retreat and Vivienne called after me, "You should come to the morning dip. You’ll see much more interesting things there!" She succeeded masterfully in making me feel very silly but it occurred to me that perhaps she might have a point (or two) and I should give it another go. However, the pool was not heated and I was physically pretty weedy. Even at the height of flaming June, it really wasn’t for me at seven in the morning.

"Second Bell", at ten past seven, said it was time to get washed, dressed and ready for your morning duty. "Third Bell", at seven thirty, was the call to any stragglers to be busy working. The whole school (almost) was grouped into "squads" for performing domestic duties such as cleaning floors, washing-up, peeling spuds, laying tables and bringing the breakfast from the kitchen. Each squad was managed by a "Squad Leader" and its duties changed weekly on a roster displayed in the hall. [Note: at that time, the word "squad" was appropriate in this context and had a military connotation. Sports were played by "teams", not "squads"!]



Meals were taken in two rooms: the large "Music Room" with rows of French windows overlooking the front terrace and the room behind it (known as the "English Room") which had been a billiard room in the building’s former life and was lit solely from a large glass lantern in the ceiling, so it was a less pleasant environment. About a dozen tables were arranged in rows within the two rooms and (except for the smaller "Top Table" on which Kenneth himself presided) each held 12 people, sitting in a very strict order. At the centre, on opposite sides, were two "Servers" – one boy and one girl from the fifth and sixth forms. Next to one of them was a member of staff all and the other seats were occupied by the rest of the school, who moved daily according to a complex rotational system displayed on a diagram in the hall. The idea was to avoid cliques and to get everyone to sit with everyone else – rather like those country dances where you do a forward-and-back, right and left star, dozy-doe, turn round twice and find you’re with a new partner. And the choreography was not dissimilar. The staff member remained fixed (as it were) to the table, the servers moved one table each week (originally together and later changed so that the boys moved in one direction while the girls went the opposite way) and other ranks moved one place to the right (skirting dexterously round the fixed members) each day. When you dropped off the end of the table, the great diagram showed you where to go next. Brilliant, Eh? It worked tolerably well for the most part but could throw up problems if, for instance, you were off sick for a week or two. On the occasion of the great flu epidemic, when whole tables were taken off, the system fell apart.

Breakfast consisted of cereal, porridge (made in the traditional manner by simmering the whole grains all night) or müsli (known as "Swiss porridge) to start with, followed by something cooked, then bread, margarine (butter on good days) and marmalade or jam. The marg or butter had been beaten into a cuboid shape (slightly smaller than a half-pound bar) by the kitchen staff and was marked on top with a knife by one of the servers into twelve equal squares. The heinous crime (which most of us were guilty of at some time) was to undercut the neighbouring square when taking your portion – a practice called "dovetailing" – and you were branded a traitor to the community if you were caught. The meal was washed down with tea which you queued up for from an urn at the end of the room. And this tea was drunk from toughened-glass tumblers which possessed a magical property. They could be dropped on hard surfaces and immersed in boiling water, a certain random and unknown number of times. Once that tolerance level had expired, the glass was prone to explode violently and unexpectedly – most entertaining if someone (not yourself) was drinking from it at the time!

For some strange reason, I am reminded of a couple of experiments I performed at the meal table; both having unsatisfactory outcomes. One breakfast time, I was overcome with curiosity as to the true volume of a packet of cornflakes, so I accordingly crushed the entire contents of a new pack in its greaseproof inner bag and was surprised that it rendered down to little more than would fill a ladle. I don’t think the rest of the table were so enthralled at the result, since I’d sacrificed their whole cereal ration in the cause of this bit of "science"! The second incident caused suffering only to myself. One lunchtime, I had formed the theory that it was really rather pointless dividing the meal into separate courses and, to prove the point, I poured custard on my mashed potato. You cannot imagine how vile it tasted!

At Lunchtime, the seating arrangement was the same as for breakfast. Food appeared on industrial-type steel trolleys and, in my early days, someone from each table was detailed to go and fetch it (also to return the dirties afterwards). Later on a "waiting system" was invented by the pupils and duly introduced. A "waiter squad" did all the fetching and carrying and even attended to individuals when they raised their hands. For some years it ran entirely using volunteers, the incentive being that the squad ate on its own in peace and quiet after the meal, during the time that the rest of the school had gone to their dormitories for "Siesta". In summertime, especially, it was much nicer to have the company of your own mates and possibly be able to sit outside on the terrace, which was normally out of bounds. Also, because the waiters’ meal was dished up separately, the portions were often bigger.

A way of getting a bit extra on normal tables was through a system called "Scroffle" (a word coined out of "scoff" and "raffle"). This disposed of any food left over after standard portions had been served. The servers allocated each person who wanted it a number, then told one of them to go and ask "Fred down at the end of the room" to tell them a number of his choice. Amazingly, it took quite a while to rumble a scam run by two of the older boys who were close buddies. Quite simply, one always gave himself a particular number and his mate always chose it.

At the end of the meal, Kenneth rang a little bell which sat on the middle of his table and a hush descended. This was when Announcements were made. After that a noisy crashing of chairs signalled the general departure upstairs for Siesta. This was a largely unpopular institution based on the theory that the body needs half an hour’s complete rest (lying down) to digest a full meal properly. It bore scant resemblance to the Spanish custom from which the name derives but its memory survives in the quiet cup of coffee in an easy chair which folks of my age are wont to take today. For children, however, it was anathema, and a heavy burden of responsibility for the Dorm Leaders. My one-time leader (a guy called Pete Bell) hit upon a brilliant ruse for keeping us quiet. He read aloud in instalments from "The Wooden Horse" and it transformed the occasion from a chore into a much looked-forward-to part of the day.

Supper (or maybe we called it "tea"), around six, was the last meal It followed much the same lines as breakfast; and it was again washed down with tea from the urn – drunk out of those dreaded tumblers. Except for the fifth- and sixth-formers who went to bed later and had hot chocolate beforehand, that was your lot, mate.


Breakfast was followed by washing-up and other duties, then a whole-school assembly in the Music Room. This institution replaced the morning religious service which was almost universal in schools at the time. Ours was quite varied: a reading or series of readings from a book (not necessarily religious but always with a "message"), a talk on some aspect of music (illustrated with recordings) or sometimes a live performance by musicians among the pupils. All of this was preceded by announcements concerning matters of import given by KCB, other staff members or senior pupils.

An amusing incident which comes to mind was when Kenneth was standing leaning on the piano at the front doing his announcement bit. Now, entry to the room was by two doors: one at the back, from the staff room (and obviously only available to staff) and the other at the front, behind the speaker and before the entire assembled congregation. Therefore, if you arrived late, you had something of a gauntlet to run. On the occasion in question, the latecomer was a very large girl who never seemed to be particularly "switched-on". She entered, looking her usual bewildered self and Kenneth motioned her impatiently toward a vacant chair on the front row. She walked up to it, then just stood looking at it. Kenneth told her in a rather irritated tone to sit down. "But," she replied to the whole of the hushed company, "there’s jam on it!"


Following assembly was morning school: two 40-minute lesson periods, a break, then another three. The break could be a bit of a chore, especially in winter. Just as in modern schools, you were only allowed inside if it was actually raining. And bear in mind that the uniform for boys was a grey shirt, green pullover and green corduroy shorts! (the girls at least had heavy serge skirts with hems below the knee) And this was Yorkshire! Later in my career I got excused the shorts by a curious quirk of well-meaning concern by Frances. She felt that the puny physiques of myself and another boy (Mahendra Patel) were a cause for worry, and she sent us to see the school doctor. Jokingly, I asked him if he couldn’t prescribe long trousers, at which he was quite appalled to learn that we were compelled to survive with so little covering in all weathers. So, to my surprise, his answer was an emphatic "yes". (I’m told that the shorts were ceremonially burned later on in the school boiler). Later still, in my last year, I acquired a wonderful long black woollen overcoat, which I wore at break times, and a delightful girl called Galina would keep her hands warm in my pockets. Ah, what memories!

After lunch and siesta, there were two more lesson periods and, between then and the next meal (on most days) was a period of "Outdoor Work" on the estate. Some of these tasks were onerous but, if you showed aptitude and interest in a particular area, you could usually request your own allocation. I tried wherever possible to get assigned to Martin. He always had interesting projects on the go and I was willing to try my hand at almost anything.

Afternoon lessons either preceded outdoor work (summer time) or followed it (winter schedule). On Thursdays and Saturdays, the whole afternoon was free for you to do (within strict bounds) what you wanted and Wednesday was games. I’ve already mentioned how much I hated games and I appealed to be allowed to do more outdoor work instead. Although it made such obvious good sense and was to everyone’s benefit, the authorities were inexplicably reluctant and it actually took a long time (more than a year I think) for this request finally to be granted. Until then I opted (along with one or two other renegades) to go for a cross-country run as far as the nearest clump of woodland where we could smoke a fag unseen, then return after a suitable interval feigning exhaustion.

The very last part of the day, after tea (supper?) also included some lessons which couldn’t be fitted onto the normal timetable (eg. some O- & A-level science, special tutorials and extra languages) but it was mainly set aside for what in most institutions is called "homework" or "prep". In my early years it had the name "Dalton" (after the great teacher and scientist who invented the atom and a method of teaching with minimal staffing levels). Later, this name was considered either inappropriate or too esoteric and was changed to "assignment" (or "asst"). Thus, our days were filled to capacity from reveille to snuggle-down.


During my first couple of years, Mother continued to work at the school and her accommodation was moved from the cottage to a flat above the girls’ changing room which she shared with the assistant cook (a lively Lancashire lass called Margaret Kinsey who later left and was replaced be a gorgeous little blonde girl called Dorothy. We were all in love with Dorothy and she was reputed to be rather sweet on Roger G). The flat was a wonderful retreat – a haven wherein to escape the constrictions of school life – and my friends and I made good use of it in our free time to go and read the "Eagle", make models and play spaceship games. (It was also the flat occupied by Brian and Irene Hill after they were first married)

I think Mother was generally very happy during that time, although she worked damned hard. There was a good community spirit which was kept alive in no small measure by Hoots, but there was a cloud on the horizon: Mother did not find relations with Kenneth & Frances at all easy and Hoots had already warned her quite frankly that, when he went, she was going to have a rough ride. And, sure enough, as soon as he left, Frances came to tell her that they proposed replacing him with a couple who would fill the roles of bursar and catering manager. Mother stared at her incredulously. She was accustomed to running her own show, which she had done very competently for many years. "So you want me to go, then?" she said. "Oh, no, no, no. We want you to stay on as the cook" hastened Frances. "I see" returned Mother. "Well, if it’s all the same to you, I shall be looking for another job." We shall never know if they wanted her out or if (as is much more likely), it was just another manifestation of flat-footed, ham-fistedness. In the event, the proposed appointment never took place but, from her viewpoint, the damage was done.

By this time, Stanley had rented a flat in our old house in Epsom, where we were able to spend the holidays (the very same one which was the venue for the "Beethoven’s Best" games). Mother got a job at Frensham Heights school, near Farnham and, as we were now resident in Surrey, the county LEA was persuaded (very grudgingly) to cough up about a third of my school fees – Mother having to find the rest from her salary. It was tough going for her but, from my point of view, it was the right decision. For the first time ever, I was settled, contented and getting a good education. And, ironically, independence from Mother’s apron strings meant that I got far more out of school life afterwards.


As I mentioned, Thursday and Saturday afternoons were our own time. Your pocket money allowance (strictly uniform, so everyone in each form had the same) was looked after by your form teacher and you met him at a prearranged time to draw some out. They each had their own method, from a scribbled note on the back of an envelope to proper, Roneoed chequebooks issued to each form member. Then, unless you had been "gated" for some misdemeanour, you were allowed to enter your name and destination on a list in the hall and take yourself off on your trusty bicycle, provided the stated destination was within bounds. So long as you didn’t stretch those bounds too drastically, all went pretty smoothly.

Needless to say, we often did stretch them and, for the most part, managed not to get caught. One Sunday, a classmate called David Furness and I thought it would be fun to visit his home in Ilkley, the other side of Leeds. When he crept up on his dad in his workshop and said, "Working, I see," the old man’s pipe jumped out of his mouth, like in the cartoons. My memory of the follow-up is hazy but I think his dad brought us (and the bikes) back by car and dropped us discreetly at the end of the drive – at any rate, no retribution ensued. The most audacious episode of bounds-breaking was undertaken one weekend by three pupils: two boys and a girl. They went down to the A1 (running through Wetherby and carrying a lot of heavy traffic) and then split up. The girl and one of the boys went and hitched a lift on the northbound side while the other boy went south. The object of the prank was for each to get as far as they could (with time to return, of course) and send a postcard back to the school. I do not need to tell you that the arrival of the said postcards (one from London, the other from Glasgow) was not greeted with merriment – least of all by the girl’s parents, to whom she had been indiscreet enough to send one also!

For the most part, though, we stayed locally. A great summer’s afternoon treat was to cycle into Wetherby, buy a flagon of Tetley’s brown ale, a tin of baked beans and a tin of spaghetti. We’d then make for a cosy little corner by the weir on the river and, with great skill, divide half the beans into the spaghetti tin and vice-versa (I leave you to work out how) and eat it cold, washed down with beer from the bottle. [Note: many years later, roundabout 1980, I found myself working on a new footbridge over the river close by. I took the young lady I was working with to the very same spot by the river and told her what we used to do there. Strangely, she didn’t find it the least bit amusing!]. It was also possible, if we clubbed together, to hire a rowing boat on the river. And Wetherby even boasted a cinema in those days; we saw "High Society" when it was first released: inside the cinema the first time (having bought tickets), then we listened to the music sitting outside the rear exit door the following night.

Bicycles were our main mode of transport and there were very many bits of them scattered around the bike sheds. One or two people who were more serious cyclists had posh bikes, like Sam’s Claude Butler, but most managed happily enough with any old heap which would get them about. I had purchased an army surplus paratrooper’s bike, which folded in the middle (a unique feature at that time) and which came by mail order for £3. 10s from Pride & Clarke in South Wimbledon. It was an amazingly tough and resilient piece of kit. I played for hours on it and frequently tested it almost to destruction. There was an old garage (known as the gym but never used as such) with a wide expanse of green folding doors and a cinder track down a steep hill leading to it. My game was to ride down the track as fast as I could manage, then jump off at the very last moment and see how high the machine would climb up the doors. Alternatively, I could undo the two wing-nuts holding the frame together in the middle whilst riding down the hill and gradually pull on the handlebars until the front wheel was right alongside of me, then steer past the doors just in time. Insufficient skill when executing this manoeuvre resulted in a mangled and bleeding heap on the ground – the bike usually tended to survive unscathed.

Cycle maintenance was an ongoing activity, as a result of which some parts (like frames) were frequently discarded and were plentiful, while others (like standard-sized wheels) were in very short supply. There was a time when a boy arrived at the beginning of term carrying a thing called a "Cyclemaster". This was a standard 26-inch back wheel, in the centre of which was mounted a small petrol engine. It caused great excitement but the snag was that that’s all it consisted of: it needed a bike to be fitted to. Frame, no problem. Even things like brakes and a chain could be found but not, however, a front wheel. Eventually, someone who owned a small- sized bike was persuaded to donate his 24-inch front wheel to the cause. So, for the rest of that year, peaceful, romantic walks in the woods were interrupted by a high-pitched buzz heralding the appearance of a rider sitting bum-up, head-down upon this weirdly cobbled-together machine.


Sunday was a sort of anomalous day; a day which didn’t really belong to the normal weekly calendar but had somehow crept into it by default. It was a free day, your own day to occupy as you wished (within certain, well-defined boundaries) but, unless you made proper plans, it could become rather a something-and-nothing day. To begin with, first bell was an hour later. Twice a year, Sunday morning was also the time when you woke up to find it was actually an hour later or earlier than you expected it to be. In October, the extra hour in bed was of no practical use because most of your dorm mates woke up at seven and chattered. In March, eight o’clock was what had been seven the previous day, so you lost your Sunday bonus. Either way, the clock change was something of a pain.

Morning duties were as normal. Freedom only manifested itself after breakfast. If the weather was fine, you could get on your bikes and go places, or go "bushwhacking" in the woods, or pursue some interest or other, or just loaf about. If it was wet, the scope was much more limited, and wet Sunday loafing is….well, do any of you remember that episode of "Hancock’s Half-hour" on the same subject? At least you were excused school uniform, especially those awful green cord shorts! One possible option, if you felt inclined (and if there was room) was to tog yourself up in your glad rags and take a ride with Kenneth in the Bedford minibus to the Quaker meeting house in York. This was a treat you really needed to try at least once, for York was the stronghold of Quakerism in the north and many of the most eminent members of the Society of Friends could be relied on to feel "moved to speak". On the one occasion I went along, we sat in pin-drop-hearing silence for half an hour – a level of silence that enveloped your whole being as if you were wrapped up in several of those coarse grey school blankets. Then suddenly, with no prior warning, an old biddy rose to her feet and uttered, "I am the way, the truth and the life." And she promptly sat down again, and the silence resumed. I don’t think my spirit was being properly receptive. At any rate, I chose not to repeat the exercise. [Note: For the whole of my life, I’ve never felt at ease in any kind of religious gathering but the established churches, for all of the preaching and funny voices and even funnier smells, do at least have one saving grace: music.]

The rest of the day was much as you’d expect, up until the evening. Sunday tea was different because the kitchen staff were off duty and the meal (of boiled eggs, bread, butter and jam) was prepared on a rota basis by two members of the upper school. Boiling that many eggs decently was quite an art: it was carried out in an industrial electric boiler with a wire basket about three feet across by two feet deep. You could confidently expect to receive an egg which was boiled to some degree, but whether it came out of its shell as a glutinous glob of albumen or something which would serve well as a golf ball was largely in the lap of the gods. Every so often, though, you got one which was perfect.

Once this gastronomic tour-de-force was over, there was an hour devoted to compulsory letter-writing, to ensure that you communicated with your parents (unless you convinced your supervisor that you had already done so that week, in which case you were still required to engage in some form of studious pursuit).

After all of this, we came to what was often the highlight of the day: an event known as Sunday Assembly. This was a sort of ecumenical amalgam of a religious meeting, conducted according to a kind of formula which actually worked remarkably well. It was one of the few school activities possessing a high degree of formality. Attendance was entirely voluntary but was almost always near 100%. Everyone went up to wash off the day’s grime and change into their very best clothes, then they assembled in the main hall at the foot of the stairs, in neatly-ordered lines according to form. Each form group was called in, in silence and starting from the lowest, and was allowed to be seated before the next was called. During this time, the gramophone played some music appropriate to the mood of the occasion (usually from the baroque or classical periods) and this was faded down once everyone was seated in the correct order. The conductor of the meeting then delivered his or her opening address. Often, the functionary in this capacity would be Kenneth but probably just as frequently it could be another staff member or – what we really looked forward to – a visiting speaker from outside. Of these, I particularly remember a Dominican monk who wore a full-length white robe and described himself as one of the Pope’s paratroopers. He had us enthralled with stories of his work and his view from the opposite end of Christianity’s "political spectrum". Another speaker was a man called John Barclay (a close relative of Chris Barclay, one of the founders of Sherwood School). He ran an organisation called "International Help for Children" and was greatly excited by the recent news of the signing of the treaty which started what is now the EU. "Your generation," he extolled with a beaming face, "will see the coming into being of a United States of Europe!" Would that that kind of enthusiasm were still alive today!

The proceedings of the Assembly were broken by a prayer and two musical recitals performed by the pupils. After it was over, the lower school made their way to bed, while the fifth and sixth formers were invited to tea and bickies in the staffroom. (Reading the staffroom notice board was a favourite occupation until the staff got the hump and covered it with a red cloth and a sign saying, "The notice board will be red tonight" – ha, ha!) The Counsellors (who largely performed the function of prefects in more conventional establishments) were invited up to the Boss’s drawing-room to partake of their tea and nibbles.


Television made a brief appearance during 1953, for the coronation of QE II. A set was hired in and installed in a corner of the music room for the benefit of those who were unable to take a brief holiday and to watch it at home. The Management had grave doubts about the medium and, for several years afterwards, it was excluded from the school premises. That is until Martin hired one and had it installed in the staff room, where it was discreetly covered over lest any visitor might believe they actually watched it! Some time after that, the rot set in and Kenneth & Frances actually had one in their drawing-room (only to watch the occasional programme of an educational nature, you understand).

Radio was a different consideration altogether. All of the staff had sets in their rooms. John Woods purchased one of the innovative new VHF-FM sets, which the BBC and the industry were pushing as the only way to get interference-free reception (so they said!). Once a week, the Burgesses invited a selected few to listen to the Goon Show, which soon became the forerunner of avant-garde broadcast entertainment. And Denis possessed a very sophisticate piece of kit which enabled him to "work" amateurs all over the world.

There is a photo in the archives, taken at a school dance, showing a rocket on legs accompanied by a trolley laden with a vast array of electronic equipment, pushed by a dark-haired youth in an overall and glasses. Inside the rocket was Martin Eden; the youth was one William Morris, known as "Wally". Wally was described by the staff as a "special case" (though I never managed to learn why). He spoke with an American accent (insisting, all the while that he was a "full-blooded Englishman") and was given a room in the back stable block which he filled with all his equipment and was permitted to indulge his hobby to whatever extent he pleased. He was very brainy and, as you may gather, a weird and reclusive character. He was the ultimate radio man.

The rest of us pupils were not allowed radios – unless we made them ourselves and used headphones – in which case, it was considered to be creative. I was well pleased with this line of thinking, being a radio enthusiast myself. There had long since grown up a custom whereby those who desired an escape from the confines of dormitory life, and who possessed a tent, were allowed to pitch it on the playing field and live in it during the summer term. You had to move it around from time to time to allow the grass to grow back but otherwise, it allowed a wonderful degree of freedom, including the unrestricted use of your self-built radio. Since VHF was then far too elaborate for the amateur constructor, our sets received long and medium wave broadcasts (long wave was essential, anyway, to get "Top of the Pops" on Radio Luxembourg). This entailed the use of long aerials suspended between trees, but it became apparent that it just wasn’t practical for all the enthusiasts to have their own individual aerials. The solution was to couple several radios to a common length of wire. And, with a bit of juggling, we found we could talk to one another through the headphones. This became the basis of quite an elaborate inter-communication system, which we later managed to extend to some of the girls’ tents as well.

Sometime around my second- or third-form years, my group was joined by one David Whiting. He was the step-son of Hugh Dowding, the wartime head of RAF Fighter Command, and he never seemed particularly short of a penny or two. He was an ardent radio enthusiast and he brought with him masses of ex-government surplus equipment, including a tank radio and a pair of army walkie-talkies. These were nothing like the hand-held units of today. Together with their bulky sets of batteries, they were carried in sizable back packs and were connected to the user via cables and a headset. They were also illegal, since it was forbidden to operate any kind of transmitting equipment without a Post Office licence. But we thought they were enormous fun. My picture of this activity shows us strapping on our back packs and setting off in opposite directions around the woods, chatting away to one another all the while. After some twenty or so minutes, I was startled by a hand on my shoulder. Cautiously turning round, I beheld David with a big grin on his face. He had been following close behind all the time!


David and I invented a coded language, using electronic terms, in which we could talk about other people (example: "I see that the positive triode with the heavy-duty low potential base is producing random oscillations again" – meaning: "a certain short, fat girl with a big bum is winding us up"). We thought this a brilliantly clever ruse until we realised that people saw right through it. Another little trick we had developed involved charging a capacitor from a mains socket and then surreptitiously applying it to the bare legs of girls reading newspapers in the common room. Strangely, this activity failed to induce in them the same degree of amusement that it did for us! We refined the technique a little using a device called a vibrator. Now, please wipe that knowing smirk off your face immediately. This is a serious technical term for a piece of equipment contained in some of those old war-time radios, because they worked on valves which needed high voltages and were powered from vehicle batteries. The device in question, plus a small battery, could be carried around in a pocket, with one of the output wires going down to a drawing-pin in the shoe, the other held in the hand. In this way, physical contact with a girl wearing non-insulating footwear became a truly electrifying encounter! However, David lost interest in all this fun when he found himself a girlfriend.

We continued, though, to get up to other mischief. After lights-out time in the dormitory, we were expected to snuggle down and go to sleep – and not to talk, read, play games, eat, or do anything else. Staff would patrol the landings outside, listening for signs of clandestine activity. We managed to lift a floorboard outside our dormitory door and fit a micro-switch under it. A discreetly hidden wire led to an equally discreetly hidden warning light, so that the presence of any sneaky prowlers outside was immediately known to us. Again, we found we could refine it, using some old blackout blinds and wiring the light switch to another carefully hidden micro-switch. This, the mark II system, allowed us to pursue whatever activities we were engaged in under normal electric lighting. If a suspicious member of staff tried to surprise us by opening the door, the light was automatically switched off. And the really clever bit was that the light switch worked normally if they chose to switch it on.

Talking and noise in the dormitory was a constant bone of contention. Earlier on, I and another boy (Michael Deitman, I think) were hauled out by Kenneth for being the supposed ringleaders of the hubbub. He warned us that, next time, he would have no hesitation in belaying our arses with a slipper. Which he did. It didn’t hurt much but it did a lot of damage. From my viewpoint, it meant I lost almost all respect for him, and for his part, it preyed on his mind as a mark of failure. Very many years afterwards (in fact, on the occasion of his retirement) he confessed to my wife, to whom he’d only just that moment been introduced, that he’d once felt driven to belt me with a slipper (and to depart from his non-violent principles).

There were other folk who were into organised crime on a scale which the likes of me never dreamed of. One such was Alan Ireland. Alan was a tall, very blonde boy of exceedingly fair complexion. In fact, he needed to rub Nivea cream into his face and hands before bed each night and, needless to say, we ragged him mercilessly about this. But he just smiled benignly and was never in the least bit fazed. He had a smile which was totally disarming and exuded an air of charm and complete innocence; he accordingly bore the nickname "Angel face". And he was actually a very likable bloke. Underneath that exterior, however, was the mastermind behind a great many well organised "midnight binges" – feasts, usually taking place somewhere in the depths of the woods and well out of official earshot. Participants were chosen with the utmost care, as was the venue, and a good proportion of the supplies were filched from the school larders using techniques reminiscent of the great WW II escape stories.

A piece of naughtiness, Kenneth’s handling of which did prompt my admiration, occurred on an occasion near the beginning of one term. One of my mates (and I genuinely don’t remember who he was) brought to school a little bag of bullets which he told us he had nicked from his father’s desk. We thought it would be huge fun to see what sort of a bang they made, so we attached tin tacks to their percussion caps with sticky tape and paper flights to the pointed end. We took the missiles to an area of concrete behind the stable block and threw the first one up in the air. It worked and it was very loud, but before we could launch the next one, a couple of older boys appeared and told us to stop, and also that they were going straight to tell Kenneth. We thought they were just having us on but no: they were serious, and we were duly summoned to the study carpet. He didn’t make a great scene; he just brought it home to us that what we were doing was not the harmless fun we thought it to be. It was exceedingly, mind-bogglingly, stupidly, dangerous. I don’t remember being subjected to any dire punishment, but the boy who had brought in the bullets was made to write to his father, telling him what a crass twerp he was to leave them lying around.

Things which explode continued to have a deep fascination for us. When we were able to get access to the science lab store cupboard, we managed to make nitrogen iodide. It’s ever so simple: you just add iodine crystals to a small test tube containing ammonia solution. You shake it about for a while and, so long as it remains liquid, it is perfectly safe. But remove the crystals and let them dry, and you find they’ve converted into a very unstable compound. So unstable, in fact, that the gentlest caress causes it to detonate with a loud crack – immensely satisfying. The possibilities were limitless. A favourite location for using it was the library, a lovely big, book-lined, well-lit room on the building’s eastern side, with a bay window overlooking the lawn-covered area with a mature wellingtonia tree, called the Junior School Playground. We spent many happy hours in there reading, doing assignment work, playing noughts & crosses, or whatever. And, within it, there was always an atmosphere of studious hush appropriate to such a venue. It was an ideal location in which to place a few small deposits of the substance, distributed around the floor. Or even on the chairs!

The science lab store also supplied magnesium ribbon, a short length of which inserted into a bayonet plug made an entertaining substitute for a light bulb in the ground floor lavatories. When anyone switched it on, they got a blinding flash followed by darkness. Or, when you saw that someone was ensconced in there, you went into the next cubicle, dropped some pieces of carbide into the pan and followed it with a lighted match. On a good day, the victim might leave with his trousers round his ankles. We thought it was funny at the time! However, another game we played in that area was well received by all. We took one of the toilet rolls and painstakingly typed out jokes from a book we had on every sixth sheet.


Despite some of the horrendous things we got up to, it was not often we were confined to the sick room. Actually, there were two rooms, one each for boys and girls. It was usually bad colds and flu which put us there, despite efforts to keep such afflictions at bay. The prophylactic of choice was cod liver oil, administered in a manner you’d associate more with the ‘20s than the ‘50s. The capsules so familiar to us health freaks of today were available but considered too costly. The oil was obtained in bulk, in half-gallon Winchester flagons. In the top of one of these vessels was fitted an ingenious glass metering device, with a 4-inch long tube at the back and a spout at the front. It worked like this: a line of children assembled alongside the back staircase and Rosamond stood on the fifth step up with the Winchester. Tilting it back charged the measuring tube with the required dose (around a couple of egg-cupfuls, I should estimate). The recipient stood with open mouth pointing ceilingwards and the bottle was then turned the other way, discharging the viscous fluid down his or her throat. Please pause for a while to imagine what this was like!

There was an occasion when there were three of us in the sick rooms: Roger Dingley and me in one and Margaret Walton in the other. We didn’t feel well enough to be up and about but, crikey, it got so tedious just lying reading or playing I-spy or something of the kind. We asked if we could be permitted to go in together and occupy just one of the rooms. To her credit, Rosamond agreed and we spent the rest of our stay playing numerous lively, therapeutic games of Cluedo. But it was during the great flu epidemic that the health arrangements hit the real big time and were stretched beyond their capacity. People were dropping like the proverbial nine-pins and some of the boys’ dormitories had to be converted to sick rooms. The whole wing effectively became one big sick bay.

With the flu, you want to take to your bed for several days and then, although you’re still groggy, you can get up and move around. This led to a situation whereby the girls who were convalescing volunteered to act as nurses to those of us who were still bedridden. After the initial phase of total grottiness when you didn’t care much about anything, we boys found the whole experience thoroughly enjoyable. So much so that, when we became well enough to leave and go back to normal school (as normal as it was in its decimated state), we were reluctant to do so. Now, Rosamond’s assessment of whether you were fully recovered was determined by the clinical thermometer: above a certain mark, you’re ill, and if below it, you’re well enough to be sent down to supper. Now, the supper menu included tea from the urn and beside the urn was a bowl of something to sweeten it with. Occasionally, this might be sugar but it was more often saccharin, and some of us had read somewhere that saccharin taken in fairly large doses will raise body temperature. Desperate times lead to desperate measures, so it needed putting to the test. And it worked! Two heaped spoonfuls of saccharin tablets in our tea made a disgusting-tasting syrup, but it had the desired result of causing Rosamond to apologise for getting us up too soon and giving us another week of blissful attention. Wicked, wasn’t it?


Mains electricity was delivered to the complex of buildings which the school occupied by way of an 11 kV single-phase overhead line across the fields. This terminated in a grey box up a wooden pole next to the workshop, within which one wall was covered by an array of meters, switches and distribution-boards. This (apart from a single telephone line – also on overhead wires) was the only externally provided essential service. Water was pumped up electrically from an artesian bore beneath the workshop floor, then routed to the cellar of the main building, where resided an agglomeration of equipment resembling a small oil refinery and referred to as the purifier and softener (the latter being something of a misnomer, since it didn’t actually make the stuff soft, so much as convert it from more-or-less liquid essence of limestone into what we normally recognise as water). From there, it rose to a large tank above the wardrobe in a top-floor girls’ dormitory, and from that tank, it overflowed into a very large, huge, enormous tank on the roof of the lower-level part of the building, known as the "wing". (The reason for my recounting this degree of detail will become apparent later). What goes in has, perforce, to come out again and, to this end, we had our own sewage system. This, also, relied on electricity to drive one of those things with four arms which gently rotate and spray the stuff onto a bed of gravel (and a good chunk of the surrounding woodland), supposedly to purify it.

So, you see, that electricity supply was absolutely vital, not only to provide lighting, heating and motive power. It also gave us our aquatic lifeblood and disposed of it afterwards. Generally, it was reliable enough but it was not cutting-edge technology and, every so often, it failed. And, when it did, ingenious measures were implemented to deal with it. Water tended to have ongoing problems, anyway. Not that the underground pump ever gave any trouble, but the softening plant required regular routine attention involving the pouring of rock salt into a vat and manipulating a system of valves to regenerate the system. This was the preserve of Frank Burgess, whose mind, excellent though it was, could not always be relied on to stay on task. Many were the times when the kitchen staff, desperately trying to produce wholesome-tasting food, had to send messengers hither and thither to find Frank because the water from the mains tap resembled that in the Dead Sea.

But brackish water, you might argue, is preferable to none at all. The problem was the design of the plumbing system: almost the entire building was fed from the tank in the girl’s dormitory which, although pretty big, soon ran out under those conditions. By far the largest reserve (discounting the swimming pool) was that lower-level tank on the roof which, by some strange quirk, fed only the staffroom lavatory, or something of the kind. The solution? Well, under a bench in the corner of the science lab was a portable petrol-driven pump (which, incidentally, some of us had conducted experiments on while waiting for a teacher to arrive, and discovered that it would run on Calor gas if you poked the rubber tube into the air filter). The task in question was entrusted to the Fire Squad" – a group of half-a-dozen boys trained in rescue work in the event of a fire (very necessary, actually, since Wetherby’s auxiliary fire brigade had first to be summoned by a siren before kitting-out and making the two mile trip: total estimated time: at least 20 minutes). The pump was dragged up a ladder and through a loft hatch onto the roof. The outlet tube was fitted into the end of the overflow pipe with a specially made plug, the engine was started and water went back into the tank which supplied the school. Clever, eh? Just one little wrinkle, though. We were pumping back up the overflow so, without any automated means of stopping it before, not only the girls’ clothes, but also the entire building was flooded, one of us had to stand on a chair in the girls’ dormitory and peer into the tank with a torch. Then, with the aid of a runner, the command to stop was conveyed to the pump team. A highly responsible and skilful job, this; and if it could be arranged that the operation took place at a time when the girls were in residence, a fiercely contested one!

The buildings were heated by coke-fired boilers under the courtyard terrace (the chimneys for which were at the height of the main sick-room window – it could be that the cleansing effect of sulphur dioxide fumes speeded recovery). But the system was circulated by electric pumps, so a power failure could mark a distinctly cold spell. And, of course, the woods got pretty niffy with the sewage pump not working. Things could get tough at times! Actually, that primitive sewage system did get a thorough revamp later on when John Swift (Belinda’s father, a retired civil engineer) took over the estate management

Three large electric motors drove certain bits of machinery around the place. They were of a similar size to those running the average steel rolling mill and they each developed a massive one-and-a-half horsepower! (because of their age and the nature of the electricity supply, they were astoundingly inefficient). One was in an asbestos shed, powering a large circular saw through pulleys and a ten-foot-long exposed canvas belt. Another one drove a lathe in the workshop, also via pulleys and exposed belts – and a motorcycle gearbox! The memory of these machines brings a smile to me when I think of all the hassle we had with Health & Safety during my days as a school workshop technician. The third motor lived in a small building called the "kiln house", where it circulated the swimming pool water through some hundred feet of underground pipework, then via a cascading fountain in front of a small pavilion we called "Botch’s Palace" (Martin Eden’s bedsit).I remember that motor burning out during one of the early school holidays, filling the building with huge volumes of acrid black smoke and, because its function was vital at that time of year, it was temporarily replaced with the one from the workshop All able-bodied men (including Stanley) were summoned to help with transportation. The kiln house also contained the chlorinating equipment and three huge, long-since redundant, coke-fired boilers which had enabled the pool to be heated (at enormous expense) in the days when it formed part of a rich gent’s residence. Chlorine was injected into the circulating water from a cylinder of the stuff and I recall a couple of occasions when the metering system fouled up, yellow fumes crept around the edges of the door and Martin was obliged to go in and sort it out, wearing a WW II gasmask.

The telephone worked pretty faultlessly most of the time. There was one occasion when a heavy snow fall brought down the overhead line and David and I came to the rescue by rigging up a handset from one of his bits of radio equipment halfway down the path leading to the woods. Brian Hill was observed standing there, making an important call to a parent. This episode later prompted a little experimentation and we found that by coupling the same instrument to a junction box we had discovered in a corner of the laundry room (a little-used area), we could make phone calls at the school’s expense.


The school was particularly strong on the musical side. The quality of teaching in the subject was excellent and most of the pupils were very gifted musicians – many going on to make a brilliant career of it. There were musical recitals on many occasions, both within the curriculum and outside of it, many involving visiting professionals. One of these, a guy called Paul Hamburger who became quite well known, succeeded in breaking the school’s old grand piano while playing Mozart’s Turkish March with great enthusiasm and gusto. So he set up a fund to replace it with a brand new Steinway, which stood beside the original at the end of the music room.

Among the pupils, there’s the lasting image of Angela Rogers slowly perusing the common room newspapers, wearing a bassoon. Or Angus Watson’s French horn after it had been re-modelled by being left on his bed when some of the younger boys were engaged in particularly boisterous play (it was reduced to two dimensions and I believe its tone suffered somewhat as well).

Together with Ernest Churchard, I attempted briefly to learn the recorder, but I hadn’t the stamina to keep up the practice. I did, however, develop an enduring love of music and it makes me very sad that so little of it (or at least, what can justifiably be called music) assumes any great prominence in modern British culture.

The second half of each summer term coincided with the long holiday in a Swedish school with which our school had some sort of culture exchange arrangement. This resulted in half-a-dozen of their pupils (normally a fairly even mix of boys and girls) being billeted with us at that time each year . It was an event usually anticipated with some eagerness by our mob, as it brought exciting new opportunities for liaisons with members of the opposite sex. One year, we had a bonus in the shape of a tall blonde lad of around 17 (called Ulf) who was an absolutely brilliant jazz pianist. At this point I should mention that, while the school was generally pretty broad in its approach to music, certain areas were not as well received as others (Pop, for instance, was considered definitely sub-standard). And while the pupils, the music department and Roger Gerhardt rated jazz to be an art form worthy of exploration, the Boss was quite vehemently opposed to it (how he would get on with today’s pop music culture of tuneless screeching to the accompaniment of industrial riveting machinery or artillery bombardment is an interesting speculation). However, he was forced to bow to overwhelming odds, and the presence of Ulf was the catalyst that ensured there was no turning back.

The lower-level wing of the main building housed the laundry store and sick bay on the first floor, and four boys’ dormitories along with the boys’ bathroom on the upper one. As you entered these areas, there was a short corridor to a lavatory on the left and a longer corridor to a small room on the right. These were Practising Rooms, each containing an upright piano and a stool, and little space for anything else. And it was from there that the most enchanting sounds issued around the time that the smaller herberts were supposed to be getting themselves tucked into bed. The scene inside the room shows Ulf at the piano, Nicky Maw on clarinet and, I think, Andrew Locket providing the bass on bassoon. Outside the room, sitting on the corridor floor and filling every bit of available space, was a crowd of small boys, swaying and stamping to the music. The Authorities were evidently turning a blind eye, since no-one came to send us back to our quarters. Jazz had now arrived, even to the extent that a couple of young enthusiasts were permitted to conduct a week of morning assemblies on the subject, illustrated with gramophone records. (KCB kept his head down and well out of the way).


The dances took place about every term and, in retrospect, were very sober occasions: strictly ballroom, no jive or jitterbug or twist, eleven o’clock finish, no alcohol, grass or pills. And, for a long while, no live music. This latter state of affairs underwent a very refreshing change with the arrival of Frank Leafhead. He brought along his drummer friend and together they alternated numbers with the trusty old gramophone.

We all took great care to smarten ourselves up and look beautifully clean and presentable: no scruffy jeans, no acres of thigh or bare midriff. In fact, the girls looked absolutely gorgeous in their below-the-knee cotton dresses and the style of dancing then in vogue did have the great advantage that it allowed for physical contact – you actually held your partner as you shuffled around the floor. I have always been coordinatedly challenged and was not at all adept at this pursuit. At one time, I did think I was beginning to get the hang of the waltz, in partnership with Judy Viall. She had the remarkable capacity to disregard my random jerks, leaps and twitches and, without actually herself doing the leading, imparted a reasonably smooth-flowing motion to our combined outfit. But, for the most part, shuffling around the floor was the most accurate description of my performance: not so much a case of two left feet – more akin to two left flippers (ever tried doing the foxtrot in flippers?).


Some years after my time, the school got its own proper, purpose-built theatre. In those days, however, dramatic productions took place on a portable, prefabricated structure which was assembled when required at the west end of the music room. The work was carried out by a small, elite, specially selected group of boys called the Stage Hands. Like the fire squad, it was run by Martin and featured most of the same people. After pestering for some weeks to be allowed to join, I was given my induction course. I was presented with a large box of assorted nuts and bolts and required to learn and recognise all of their sizes. Like the London cabbies’ "knowledge" of the street layout, the ability to know a five-sixteenths by four inch (instantly and preferably with eyes shut) was a prerequisite to being admitted to the team. The stage itself was made up from a dozen or so box-section wooden blocks and the proscenium arch and everything else was mounted on to it by a structure made out of scaffolding tubes; the whole caboodle being held together by means of goodness knows how many hundreds of those afore mentioned bolts. Once erected, the structure had to remain in situ until after the last performance. All other normal activities had to be fitted around it: meals, assemblies and girls’ wet-weather PE lessons (which the stage hands were able to watch through little spy holes).

They were wonderful times. When plays were in the offing, normal activities tended to be set aside and the production work allowed to take precedence. As the big night drew closer, the intensity of the activity progressively hotted up. Our job involved a lot of special construction work to do with stage sets and lighting, while the art department spent many hours creating flats and backdrops. The artists also provided the makeup department; I have an early mental picture of some play which Bob Stokes put on about some children on an imaginary desert island. It involved two of the girls dressed only in bra and knickers, being smeared all over with cocoa powder to make them fit their parts as "natives". And not least, of course, there was all the effort put in by the producer and the cast. For me, the lighting system deserves a special mention. It was all controlled from a narrow platform placed high up on the scaffolding behind the proscenium, beside a panel crammed with switches and government surplus rheostats. These rheostats were open wire coils which you operated by turning a knob at the end. They were all live at full mains voltage. Oh, and the panel was on the wall side, so you had to turn round to see what was happening on stage (and be very careful where you were putting your fingers!). Why, I wonder, do I have so little patience with today’s attitude to Health & Safety? We might, rarely, have received the odd "belt" to remind us to pay better attention. Generally, though, it’s memories like, for instance, producing a delightful sunrise effect to the music of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony that remain with me enduringly.

I was not confined solely on the lighting platform, though. I joined the cast in many of the performances and I enjoyed the experience immensely. I found that I possessed quite a useful asset in that, if I read a page enough times, I could get an image of it imprinted on my mind – so, when I spoke my lines, I sort of read them from my mental crib-sheet. Of course, if you did forget them, we had a prompt box, manned sometimes by Frances who, poor thing, was deaf as my grandmother’s bed post (and the box didn’t command a brilliant view of the stage, either). A particular incident which unintentionally sent the audience into guffaws of uncontrollable merriment took place during a scene in Shaw’s "Caesar & Cleopatra". The back of the stage was supposed to represent the riverside and Charles Richardson had to walk to the edge, survey the whole expanse of water and, after a dramatic pause of some length, summon a boatman. However, the dramatic pause was interrupted by a voice from the prompter, who kept on repeating the words "Ho there, boatman", beginning in a whisper and building up to a loud crescendo while Charles doggedly ignored it; only uttering the words himself when he was good and ready! "Caesar & Cleopatra" was produced by Kenneth and featured himself as Caesar, swanning around in a toga made from an old sheet; with the part of Cleopatra being taken by Sue Hope, also clad rather fetchingly in a sheet. I was Theodotus, the librarian, for which I had to put on a squeaky voice and a false bald head, which was several sizes too big.

Other small parts included a spoof melodrama, where Fiona Tennant and I were a boring suburban couple whose tranquillity was burst in on by a gunman, and an amusing one-acter (starring Rex Pitts Margaret Walton, Tom Hardwick and others) where I was Mr Mould, the undertaker, and had to snore loudly. I was lucky enough to land some bigger parts, too. In "The Merchant of Venice", I was Shylock and tried to speak with a Jewish accent (unfortunately, the only Jews I’d known were from Germany, so it didn’t really fit the context very well). I also recall rehearsing the part of Androcles in "Androcles & the Lion" (Ruth McColm as my wife and Sam Doncaster as the Lion), but I don’t think it went on to an actual performance.

My plum role was playing Prospero in "The Tempest" (Fiona as Miranda, Sam D. as Ferdinand, Jeremy as Caliban and Sue Fell as Aerial). It took a lot of learning, but stood me in good stead for English Lit. O-level, as it was one of the set books and I knew it almost entirely by heart. Sue Fell, I remember, gave a particularly lively performance in the role of Aerial. She was very small but she cut quite a striking figure in her costume, consisting of a short, green, shiny tunic over brief little shiny green knickers. The staffroom served as the "green room" during performances and we were waiting one time amid piles of clothing, makeup trays and props, for our entrance on stage. "I really like this costume," she said, smoothing out the front and sides of the little tunic. "It makes me feel sexy," she added, as she made final readjustments and gave a little wiggle.

We put on all sorts of shows with many differing degrees of ambitiousness. There were also some very spectacular productions of Gilbert & Sullivan, but fortunately, no-one ever asked me to sing or dance.


In those days in Yorkshire on November the fifth, there was a curious custom. You had the usual fireworks and bonfire, of course, and there was always enough timber on hand to build a really BIG bonfire. But you didn’t just stand around watching the fire and baking spuds (we did do that as well). No, you grabbed hold of (or were grabbed by) anyone you fancied and wrestled with them in a free-for-all melee. It was all good, clean fun most of the time, and I don’t remember anyone getting seriously hurt but….it was really weird! It was, as you would expect, a mixed – very mixed – activity and I think the Management did get a bit concerned about its implications. Kenneth delivered a little homily one time at the end of supper, just before the festivities were due to begin, in which he strongly urged the boys to take great care with the girls. "Girls," he said, "have places which can hurt like hell." We conceded his point but considered his remarks to bear something of a sexist bias. Would it not be equally appropriate, we felt, to mention that from a boy’s point of view, being sat upon by one of the beefier members of the fair sex with her knee in his goolies was not a great barrel of laughs either?


During one of the school holidays somewhere around this time, Roger organised a week in Paris, for which Mother forked out a massive £10 or so for me to join. There were nine of us altogether but, as I write, I am ashamed to say that memory fails me as to the names of the people I went with, except for the only girl pupil, Sue Wray, and I think one of the older boys may have been Charlie Richardson. It was all (as you’ve probably gathered) done very much on the cheap. We stayed in a very basic hotel with a curious caged contraption in the middle of the stairwell labelled "Ascenseur" which we were forbidden to use. Our accommodation was in three rooms, spaced vertically by some considerable distance. I and two other boys of about my age shared the lowest of them with some items of sanitary ware including a bidet (a great novelty, the like of which I’d never met before and, being of the older-style design, it had a kind of fountain nozzle in the middle – great fun!). Next up, Sue shared with a woman teacher and the teacher’s friend. And, somewhere at the top, Roger shared with two older boys.

For the first couple of days, we took our main meals at the UCJG (the French YMCA), where the food was pretty diabolical. Because of this, we changed to a rather seedy restaurant where the food was marginally less diabolical. But it was a worthwhile and enjoyable trip. We saw most of the tourist "sights": the Eiffel Tower (première etage only – the budget didn’t run any higher); the Sacré Coeur; Les Invalides and a spectacular son-et-lumière display at the Chateau de Vincennes. We walked and rode the Métro a good deal. And, on the return train journey, Roger had an interminable argument with the ticket collector over some irregularity or other. I’ve no idea what it was all about; only that Roger kept saying, "Mais, écoutez, monsieur". It was all very memorable because it was my first venture into places foreign. But I still can’t, for the life of me, remember who I went with!


The "blue period".

Having missed out on Form One, I found myself in the same position again at the end of my Third Form year. It was decided that Ruth McColm and I (whose birthdays are in December, if that has any bearing on it) should be more appropriately assigned to the group above the one we were in. So I never experienced that idle, drifting year in the Fourth Form (the one now known as Year 10) but, instead, was plunged straight into the rigours of serious work for O-level in the Fifth. There were some benefits: we enjoyed freedoms like going to bed when we wanted and using the side door at the foot of the back stairs, which was out of bounds to the lower school.

We also had our very own study-common room (opposite the Butler’s Pantry on the kitchen corridor). Apart from the fact that Kenneth had his photographic darkroom in a walk-in cupboard off this room, so he was liable to burst through unexpectedly, we were largely left alone to do our own thing. The girls were into women’s magazines in a big way and, when they’d finished with them, the boys cut out all the pictures of food (it seemed to be something of an obsession with us at that age) and pinned them up all round the walls. Tom Hardwick had a gramophone which, if used quietly and only at recreational times, was tolerated. And I fixed up a radio (it was actually one that Stanley had built from a kit during a burst of interest in practical pursuits). It was mains driven, so was immune from battery problems, but its works were exposed, making it look "constructional" and it had headphones. And you had to take a bit of care using it. Ruth and Fiona liked to warm their bums by sitting on the cast iron radiator; and I remember Ruth being thus ensconced, reading a magazine and wearing the cans, putting her hands up to adjust the fit on her ears and inadvertently touching the live terminals. She rose from the hot seat in quite a spectacular fashion! There were a couple of old car seats in which we could slop around, too. One of these was often occupied by Brian Thear, who had opted to leave school at sixteen and join the Navy. By some curious chance, he found himself posted to the training camp at HMS Ceres, just down the road, and he had permission to come and socialise with us during his free time. So he was to be seen, lounging back in his bib-front and bell-bottoms, smoking the RN issue cigarettes which cost them about a bob for a pack of 20.

It must have been around this time that I lost my front top teeth. I’ve always attributed the blame for this mishap to the use of steel quarter-heels fitted to my shoes to prolong their life. In a sudden burst of enthusiasm and uncharacteristic athletic prowess (induced by the fact that it was raining), I took a flying leap up the stone steps leading to the raised terrace above the courtyard on my way to the side door. Disaster struck as the bulk of my body was in mid-flight, and my only point of contact with the ground was that thin sliver of steel. Since the coefficient of friction between steel and wet concrete is quite low, and since I’d calculated my point of departure rather badly, my cake hole came down smack on the corner of the step. The result was that my beautifully formed features were a tad less glamorous-looking when I entered the fifth form room (and all the blood didn’t help, either). It was evident that some urgent repair work would be needed but, since this was a Thursday and our usual dentist in Harrogate would not be able to see me until the following week, I felt obliged to entrust the job to the local man. His reputation was less than brilliant, but I didn’t expect such a degree of shoddy workmanship as I received – and which gave problems for the rest of my life. So what did I learn? Well, 1. Take things gently; 2. If you must jump up steps in the rain, choose ones with soft edges; 3. Never, ever wear steel-edged shoes; 4. If you’re stupid enough to slip, make sure that a less vulnerable part of your body hits the ground; 5. Find a decent dentist – and stick with him!


I have no clear idea when they all appeared, but there were also present around this time the likes of: Josephine Kho (from Manila), Dilip Kotetcha, Mahendra Patel (from Gujarat, India), Valerie McQueen, (from Seattle, USA, whose father, she told us, "travelled in pianos"), a Swedish girl called Kirstin (who had stayed on after her summer term visit) and, on the staff, Colin Laird (from Scotland, who afterwards married Viv McColm).


Just as happens today, the year you started studying for O-level, you concentrated on your chosen subjects and were allowed to drop those you were no longer interested in. I opted for English Language, English Literature, Maths, Physics, Chemistry and French. Eng. Lit. and French were enjoyable; yes, they needed quite a lot of work but they were less arduous than the sciences and maths. Eng. Lang. I expected to sail through with no effort, since it was my best subject. I therefore had a rude awakening when I failed it first time and had to re-sit it at Christmas. Maths, I was not at all surprised at having to re-sit and it was at this time that Denis (to my eternal gratitude) took Ruth and me under his wing and got us doing a past paper each week – increasing to a paper each day as the exam date approached. And it worked: I actually passed it with a tolerably comfortable margin on the second attempt. Physics and chemistry were taught us by Mr Hall outside of the main timetable. It was an unforgettable experience. The sessions would be about a couple of hours long with a very short break in the middle. During the first half we’d do, say, physics then, for about five minutes, we would have a little walk about and discuss some topical subject, or the colours of the autumn trees or whatever, and then we’d crack into another intensive lesson, this time in chemistry. You came out feeling utterly drained but he put it over so effectively and he was so methodical and well-organised, it worked.

Science lessons were not all solid graft, though. There was a fair amount of practical stuff to relieve the academic. We made bromine, the vapour from which stung the eyes, impaired the breathing and caused the whole class to shed floods of tears. The room had to be evacuated for the rest of the lesson. We enjoyed the spectacle of the thermite process, in which molten iron was produced in a bright, sputtering flame. We learnt how to turn sugar into raw alcohol; and also read that ethyl formate (made from ethyl alcohol and formic acid) is used as a rum flavouring. We made it and put it in some ice cream, which we ate. Perhaps most memorable was the occasion when we were left to experiment on our own while Mr Hall taught another group. We went through the store cupboard and tipped out a sample of every substance we knew of that was used to make explosives: charcoal, sulphur, saltpetre, sodium chlorate, sugar, nitrocellulose, you name it. And dear old obliging Rosemary was detailed to grind it all together in a pestle and mortar! When Mr Hall got wind of what we were up to, he was extremely put about. In his usual way, he didn’t make a scene. His face was like granite, his teeth clenched. Tight-lipped, he said, "Rosemary, stand well back." And, to one of us, "Take this vessel, at arm’s length, to the woods and bury the contents. Never let me see you do anything of this kind again, and don’t involve Rosemary!" We were suitably chastened.

Since I had managed successively to get five subjects at O-level, I decided (and Mother agreed, bless her) to stay on and do A-level. Unless you were one of those brilliant geniuses who were able to tackle any academic workload with consummate ease (and who were not unknown in our community, Peter Lawrence being one such), three subjects was then considered to be an adequate number. I chose physics, chemistry and French. However, since I was far from being one of those afore mentioned geniuses, I found the sciences very demanding and the extra workload imposed by the French course meant I was slipping ever further behind. I therefore swapped French for English literature (under Brian Hill, who had an entertaining, if unconventional, teaching style) and, though that might sound a strange choice, I was able to cope.

As it turned out, I never completed my A-levels. I left school at Christmas 1958, just two terms before I was due to take them. After I left school, and before I knuckled down to the three-year full-time diploma course in photography which finally set me on a proper career, I dabbled in a wide range of subjects. Amongst them were A-level pure maths and physics, ONC electrical engineering and O-level German and Latin! None was carried on much beyond the first term and certainly not to exam level. However, I have great sympathy with the children of friends and relatives who want to go on to higher education but have not the vaguest clue what they want to do.


Mother and I had moved back to Flint House in Epsom, where Stanley (who paid the rent) joined us in his college holidays. Mother had left Frensham Heights school and was working at a posh, private girls’ day school at Kingswood, a good walk and a bus ride away. It was a job (which paid) and it involved working with children (which she enjoyed). She was well respected and sat at lunchtimes on the exalted staff table next to the headmistress. And, so long as she steered clear of subjects like religion or politics, she was accepted as one of them.

Some time earlier, Stanley had bought a wooden shed which was erected in the garden and which he had then intended to use as his own little self-contained bedsit apartment. He had constructed shelves, a folding table and a bunk bed. He had also equipped himself with cooking facilities, in the shape of a Valor oil stove with an oven fitted on top. This had been briefly tried out one summer season and then stowed away, complete with a layer of sausage grease (it never occurred to him to clean the thing) under the bunk. For certain logistical reasons, these quarters were converted to become my room, after Mother and I had undertaken a thorough deep-cleaning job.

I was allowed to install mains electricity and set it up as a proper "den" (Stanley having come to some arrangement with Robert Morton, the house’s owner, about the cost). I made a lovely control panel with sockets, switches and a neon indicator lamp. That turned out to be a mistake because Robert, being of an old fashioned, frugal disposition, and seeing the little red light on all the time, got very agitated about the waste of electricity. The other wrinkle was that the mains supply was DC. This meant that all the equipment you used had to be "universal" or AC/DC and anything which embodied a voltage changing transformer would not work. My radio set (which came out of a WW II bomber aircraft) had to be extensively modified and its steel case could become live if you weren’t careful. When I experimented with fancy devices which needed lower voltages, I had to resort to some unconventional (though rather ingenious) methods. For instance, I developed a system which opened the shed door when you knocked on it five times (an essential asset to any good home). It used a motor with a gearbox, a system of levers made out of old curtain rails and some switching devices from a telephone exchange. To get this to work, I took a live mains wire through a small hole in the wooden wall to a brass bracket, screwed on the outside, in the open air. From this, the element from an electric fire was taken to an earthing rod in the ground, with wires tapping off the required voltages attached to it. You see, in those days, no-one worried particularly about electrical safety – it was just not an issue. Despite all the fancy gadgetry I dreamt up, however, the place wasn’t half perishing cold in winter.

After a while, though, the Electricity Board notified us that we were due to be converted. This prompted Stanley, who was at that time addicted to jumble sales, to purchase a television set for the vast sum of five bob. It was an elegant piece of furniture, made of wood veneered in polished walnut, standing four feet high and having a nine-inch screen. It was not, of course, the very latest model: in fact it was already a relic from a bygone era. It stood in the corner for about a year, waiting for the conversion and, when the great day arrived for it to be switched on, it was mid summer – just at the start of the test cricket season. Stanley was a passionate follower of the cricket, so he was delighted. The set worked OK (for a while) but the picture was so small and dim, you needed to sit right on top of it with the curtains tightly drawn. And that’s how my future stepfather spent the next few weeks of glorious, steaming, high summer weather.

I don’t remember much in terms of going away together for holidays. However, I did once or twice take myself off with my rucksack and hitch-hike. This was quite a well recognised way of getting about then; partly, I think, because National Service was still in operation and there were always military personnel wanting to get about. Youngsters with backpacks were never expected to have much money and were freely offered lifts as well. It was Piers Gyngell who introduced me to it, when we decided to hitch home at the end of one term to save the thirty bob train fare.

During one summer holiday, I thought I would head north for a bit of walking and perhaps look up a friend or two. Somehow or other, I found myself in the Scottish highlands, in monsoon-like torrential rain, and I went to visit Fiona. I knew that she came from an aristocratic family from what she’d told us, and the fact that her mother visited the school on parents’ days in an elderly Rolls-Royce (wherein she would sit and smoke a pipe). And it was evident that her pad must be fairly grand from her phone number, which was Callander 10. So, partly out of curiosity and partly because I had a very soft spot for Fiona, I wanted to pay her a visit. I phoned up from the post office in the town and she seemed pleased that I was coming. She suggested I hang around for an hour or so and get a lift from the post van. "No," I said, "I’d sooner come straight away. I’ll walk." "But," she protested, "we’re a couple of miles out of town and our drive is six miles long!" Thinking this to be an attempt at humour and being young enough and perverse enough to consider walking in the rain preferable to sitting looking at it, I set out on foot. The rain never let up for one instant – and she wasn’t kidding! The post van overtook me on the last mile and I arrived absolutely sopping, with my scruffy old jeans and anorak spattered with mud and the contents of my trusty rucksack soaked through.

Fiona received me warmly enough but there was a look of consternation on her face. "Have you anything reasonably decent to wear?" she asked, "Only, we’ve got visitors, you see, and we always dress for dinner." The day was fortunately saved by the fact that there was among the guests a young French boy who just happened to have a spare suit and just happened to be about my size. And they certainly did do it all very properly: the Laird in his kilt and the ladies in suitable evening wear. After dinner, Fiona took me by the arm and led me to the big French window to show me the quite spectacular view. "It’s all ours," she whispered, with genuine modesty. "Everything you can see."


Persons of the female gender were a constant source of mystery and puzzlement to me as, I suspect, they are to most adolescent boys (and more than a few grown men). A lot of the time, it was possible to have an easy-going chat with a girl in much the same sort of vein as you might with another boy. Then, suddenly and out of the blue, you might say something perfectly innocent and normal and she would react in a completely incomprehensible manner. Once, when talking to a girl I really liked, I mentioned that I wasn’t quite so keen on the way she had started doing her hair. She didn’t speak to me again for a fortnight! On another occasion, I discreetly suggested to a girl (trying to be helpful) as we were waiting to go into Sunday Assembly, that her skirt was creased at the back. Same again! Say those things to another male and you’d just engage in a bit of light-hearted banter, then go on to something else. And, when the girls got into cliques together, well, they could be a totally different species. Then again, they could be engagingly charming and sexy one moment and change into perfect little bitches the next. And your own, confused male reaction to them could be difficult to fathom as well. Why, for instance, when a group of you were working on some project and all dressed in dungarees, could you accept them as being the same as the lads – yet, when they were dolled up for a dance, you felt altogether differently?

There were quite a few girls I really liked, several I fancied and one or two who gave me pretty severe heartache. As in any community such as ours, there were some boys who were suave, able to turn on the charm and knew instinctively how to approach the opposite sex.. I was one of the other kind. I was gauche, awkward, fumbling and often so bothered about making the wrong move that I missed out badly in the mating stakes. There was a very strict code of etiquette (almost akin to the way things were done in the novels of Jane Austen) which governed who was allowed to be with whom. The procedure was for the boy to ask the girl he fancied to "be a couple" with him (for the girl, it was more convoluted, since she was expected to manoeuvre the situation around so that the boy would ask her). If the girl agreed, they became "a couple". They could broadcast it to the world, they could engage in private little trysts in empty classrooms or go for romantic strolls in the woods, and everyone would consider them, effectively, to be married. When the relationship palled or a new, more exciting proposition appeared on the scene, divorce was easily achieved by telling your partner (or sometimes, rather sneakily, using an intermediary) that you were "chucking" them.

Only once did I ever manage to persuade a girl to enter the blissful state of couplehood. Her name was Liz, she was ginger haired and rather short, but made up for it in beam. It only lasted a couple of weeks and I’m convinced that she only agreed to my suit because she wanted to try being like her friends and no better offer had come her way. Any how, she wasn’t interested in woodland walks or classroom cuddles: she just wanted to sit in the music room listening to Jon Shuttleworth playing the piano, so there I was obliged to sit with my arm placed gently around her ample waist. Later on, I did take a fairly strong shine to one of my classmates but she was playing it very coolly and there was also a rival (in fact, I think there were several rivals, and she was being pretty cool with all of us). I used to go and unburden my soul to Brian Hill, who would sit back in his old leather armchair, puffing silently at his pipe most of the time and, just occasionally, would offer some small piece of consolation. "You have to appreciate," he urged, "that women’s affections are very dependant on the state of their internal chemistry at the time." But the idea of PMT and its associated mood swings was just beyond my level of comprehension. An ironic twist to this, I learned some time later, was that Brian was also acting as father confessor to the fellow I perceived to be my chief rival.


After the departure of Hoots as bursar there were, as I recall, a couple of incumbents, the most notable being a man whose favourite pursuit was to set out with his shotgun and bag a quantity of rabbits and hares. This was presumably intended also to serve the interests of economy, since the product got served up to us in school meals. Jugged Hare was a dish I instantly developed a deep and lifelong abhorrence for: it smelled foul, it looked revolting and it tasted indescribably loathsome. Those were the dark ages but, with the arrival of John Swift, things started to move forward rapidly and Outdoor Work projects took off apace. He organised all manner of high-profile building projects which he designed and got built under his supervision by using members of the school as the labour force. We occupied two or three months of free and outdoor work time, happily constructing a brand new filter bed for the sewage system in reinforced concrete. New tennis courts were constructed, the filter bed was a piece of precision engineering and numerous other facilities were being built. It was a community achievement of which we felt justifiably proud. In a way, it all came a bit late for me. It influenced Piers to follow his chosen career in civil engineering and it fired my enthusiasm as well; though I wasn’t quite so sure since I also liked playing with electricity. (Arguably, though, I pursued it in a kind of vicarious way, since I’ve been involved with making several films on civil engineering work).

The fire squad was an entertaining (albeit essentially useful) pastime.(The roll-call, as I remember, was: Michael Cass-Beggs; Sam Doncaster; Piers Gyngell; John Ellenby; Peter Lawrence and Myself). As well as pumping water, we had to maintain and test the equipment. There was a heavy wooden three-section extending ladder which was hoisted up using a rope and pulley, and it could reach the top floor windows of the main building. I was happy working it but I fought shy of actually climbing up all the way. However, testing the Davey Escape didn’t worry me as much, and it was such fun you just had to overcome your bothers. This was a device installed in a back boys’ dormitory, in an area which could, in theory, get cut off if a fire broke out on the staircase. It had a rope with a canvas belt at each end and a slow-release mechanism which allowed you to abseil down the wall to safety. Getting out of the window was the worst bit but, once you summoned up the courage to let go, you just had to be careful to walk around the bursar’s office and kitchen windows below, and to avoid putting your foot through them.

Another fire precaution which had never been subjected to a proper test was the notion that the water in the swimming pool could be used to extinguish the blaze. The local fire brigade duly turned up one day, equipped with some lengths of hose and a portable diesel pump. It was all rather exciting as we gathered round in eager anticipation. The pump was rigged up on the pool side and started. An impressive jet of water gushed out of the nozzle for two or three minutes before the exercise was terminated. About a third of the water in the pool had gone.

We had already witnessed just what a real fire can do when, one evening at supper time, we looked out of the window and saw the grandstand at Wetherby racecourse in flames. Lots of us dashed out to watch and were promptly headed off by the staff: I was one of a small group who saw what was happening and, by choosing a more devious route, got through the cordon and saw the drama unfold close to. Fortunately, no-one was in the building but they kept a continuous flow of water playing on the neighbouring one in order to save it. Our puny little puddle would have had little effect on anything a tenth of that degree of severity.

At home in suburban Epsom, during any summer weekend morning, the atmosphere was generally pretty quiet; and often the predominant sound was that of a very competent workhorse of the times: the push-along lawnmower. A wonderful piece of equipment this, which if properly maintained, tackled very adequately – and often with little more effort – the job for which it is now imperative to resort to noisy electric or petrol-driven machinery. Our lawn at Flint House needed something bigger, but still human powered. This was a sixteen inch wide machine with a roller at the back and a pair of handles which one of the older boys held on to and steered with, while the twins provided the motive power via a pair of ropes in front.

Imagine, then, the sheer joy of being put in charge of a real lawnmower, with an engine and a seat on the back, at school. The playing field was tended using such a machine and certain privileged boys were permitted to drive it. For the rougher work, we had an Allen Autoscythe – a pair of large wheels with an engine mounted between them and a fearsome reciprocating mechanism like a big hedge trimmer at the front. It worked very well – but it had a little quirk which you could be forgiven for missing. The clutch lever had a kind of gate arrangement which was supposed to hold it in the disengaged position. But it was worn.

Now, among Kenneth’s catholic range of interests was gardening, and he kept some beautiful big round beds of chrysanthemums in the lawns between the front terrace and the swimming pool. They were, justifiably, his pride and joy. During one summer holiday, the lawns had not been cut, so the heavy-duty machine was needed to take it down to a reasonable length, and yours truly was happily engaged in this task. Hearing some girls’ voices I recognised I ventured over to talk to them and, since the machine could be a bit of a pig to start, I declutched it and walked away, leaving the engine ticking over. The girls were doing some weeding behind the shrubbery and while we chatted, we heard it chugging gently behind us for a while, then it stopped. I muttered a curse, as this meant I would have to grapple with the starting cord, and I went back to work. To my surprise, the mower was not where I’d left it. There was, however, a swathe of supine chrysanthemums right across the middle of one of Kenneth’s much-prized beds. On looking harder, the machine could be made out under the branches of a yew tree, whose massive trunk it had tried to sever when it stalled. It was a bad moment and I had to do a fair bit of crawling afterwards!

On a lighter note, I’ve fond memories of a wonderful outing into the Dales in glorious weather. We bathed in a stream and in Malham Tarn. And, in true Wennington tradition, since we were the only folk around at the time, we all just stripped off and went in naked. It felt just wonderful after trekking over moor land for a couple of hours and, for me, it helped that the water was reassuringly shallow. There was never any coyness or silly self-consciousness about this; and it’s a legacy that school life has left me with, that I always prefer, when at all possible, to swim without a lump of soggy cloth around my middle. I don’t fancy the idea of those nudist camps, where people have bare-arsed barbeques and saunter starkers round the supermarket. It’s just that swimming is so much more enjoyable dressed as you would be to take a bath.

The duty roster scene improved as you made your way up the social ladder to the top forms, for you became a Squad Leader and thus issued the orders instead of just obeying them. But, if you got the chance, you could leave the system altogether by being appointed to a specialist job, where you were your own boss. One example was Bodgers the Bog Brush. Angela Rogers was the daughter of a good friend of Mother’s. She was a bit of a loner, a bookish girl and very much her own woman; no-one was pushing her around in any way. Her chosen job was cleaning all the lavatories, for which task she would be kitted out each morning in a scruffy brown boiler suit and carrying a brush, mop and a bucket of strong disinfectant. The boys’ bathroom contained two bathtubs, a row of wash basins and, in a corner, a sluice and a urinal. Angela had to clean the urinal and empty her bucket in the sluice. She was often to be seen standing there, waiting for the boys to finish peeing so she could get on – no pretence at modesty; just an expression of mild impatience.

I formed one half of the two-man lab technician team. We tidied and cleaned it each morning, checked out the equipment and generally looked after the place. It suited me and I felt in my element. I remember an occasion after there had been some sort of competition to find the longest word in the language. On entering one morning we found a message written on the blackboard: "How about this one?" it said, "Sodiumdiaminodihydroxyarsenobenzinemethanylsulphoxylate." (the full name for Salvarsan, the early treatment for syphilis). We accepted defeat.

We let ourselves into the lab each morning using our own key, which hung on a nail outside Denis’s room. That key, though, was to be the cause of a disagreement with the Management. Kenneth, we knew, had his own key and the one we used was for anyone else who was authorised to use it. This was fine, except that people frequently forgot to put it back afterwards, which was really frustrating when we needed to get in in the morning to clean. What we should have done, of course, was to ask for a spare. What we actually did was simply to take the official key into town and get our own one cut. And, for ages, all was fine; until one day when we were working in there and Kenneth had forgotten his own key, so he walked in with the one we were supposed to be using in his hand! Now, you’d think, would you not, that we would have been lavishly praised for our enterprise? But, sadly, that was not the view he took, and it was the precursor to a good bit of bad feeling between us in the months that followed.


Since we were now all into A-levels, we rose to the exalted position of the sixth form, which was divided into the lower sixth and the upper sixth. We had also been appointed as counsellors, so we were now really responsible and upright citizens. Since there were so few of us, we all managed to cram into a small room across the courtyard with a pair of huge carriage-shed doors. It served OK as a study and it was cosy enough, except that the girls missed the big iron radiator and had to make do with snuggling up against a much slimmer model. But the atmosphere was more subdued and serious than in the old fifth form room.


In Britain, we have a parliament and local councils made up of elected representatives of the people. This gives us the belief that we are governed democratically; a principle which always seemed to me to be the best way of doing things. However, as you grow older and more cynical, you come to appreciate that most of the important decisions are actually taken by individuals or small groups, who are answerable to no-one, behind closed doors. Wennington was a microcosm of that setup: essentially feudal but with a veneer of democracy to give you the feeling you were shaping your own destiny. Realistically, it couldn’t be any other way. I know that there are schools which have tried a more serious degree of self rule by the kids, but not brilliantly successfully. However, at that time, I was full of idealism (tinged with a smidgeon of pig-headed bolshevism) and I didn’t see things that way.

The democratic organ was the Senate, which met fortnightly and was made up of two representatives from each form, one for the staff (Brian Hill) and Kenneth and Frances, who acted in their own capacity, with the power of veto (rather like a sort of king and queen before an early form of parliament). There was a secretary to keep minutes and a chairman (which office I held for a short while) and all business was formally conducted through the chair. It did bring about some worthwhile measures like, for instance, the lunchtime table waiters but, when all’s said and done, it was essentially a game. A memorable moment for my contemporaries was when it was proposed to augment the gathering to allow the lower school a bigger say in its affairs. Frances forwarded a motion that the bottom three groups each submit three representatives – preferably of different sexes!


I have already mentioned the custom whereby those of us with tents were allowed to pitch them on the playing field, to serve as home for the summer months. The fact that some of us were Dorm Leaders and were supposed to be responsible for enforcing discipline among the smaller fry was not deemed important enough. We were still permitted to vacate our official quarters and lead a pleasantly sloppy, nomadic existence outdoors. I possessed an ex-US army "bivvy" tent made out of dark khaki canvas of a gauge sufficient to propel HMS Victory. It was basic – no frills – but it was my very own home. As well as a radio, I tried equipping it with its own sanitary facility, to avoid long walks in the middle of the night. This consisted of a piece of iron pipe tucked under the flap on the down-hill side. Intimate congress with this device afforded the desired relief, but it had the disadvantage that the down-hill side was also the up-wind side, so it stank the place out and had to be abandoned!

The camp on the field had become a well-established institution and, so far as I am aware, never caused any problems. But there must have been rumblings somewhere amid parental or school governor circles because, for some reason unknown to us and totally out of the blue, a message reached us via some member of staff or other, that the boys must go immediately and move their tents to a far corner of the field, away from the favoured site below the terrace. Why? Because it was now no longer considered "proper" for girls’ and boys’ tents to occupy the same area! I was with Eric de Quincy at the time this news was delivered, sometime around the latter part of the summer term, when everything was well established. We both looked at one another and said, "Are you going to move?". "Certainly not," we agreed. "Bugger it, that’s just not on."

We felt (and I still think with justification) that if such a change must be made, should be announced before the beginning of the season; 2. it should be discussed in the proper democratic forum – the Senate – or otherwise, at least, with the people concerned by the person who instigated it. At 17 we felt entitled to be treated as young adults; and, anyway we were "Counsellors" so we were part of the establishment. However, at 17 we were also bullish, lacking etiquette and not well versed it the social graces. Kenneth, quite undoubtedly, should have exercised much more diplomacy, but that was not his way. And it is also true that we, despite our youthful impetuosity, should have approached him personally rather than simply ignoring the instruction. The upshot of it all was that we were stripped of our Counsellor status and told we would not be going with Kenneth on the annual end-of –summer-term camp in the Lake District. That was totally devastating to us. It was all way out of proportion, of course, but then we had dared to oppose the Master – and that just could not be tolerated. (It’s such a well-worn, familiar story, isn’t it?)

A little later, I did approach Kenneth with a plea on Eric’s behalf. I said that I would get another chance next year, but that he would be leaving at the end of term, so please could he be permitted to go on the camp? I was too proud to plead for myself but I hoped he might relent. He didn’t toward me but he did for Eric, so something was achieved.

I returned after the summer holiday to resume my A-level studies. But all the attraction of school life had evaporated. I couldn’t associate fully with my contemporaries, since I was no longer a Counsellor: I was not still one of them. I felt constricted; isolated. My position had become untenable. I hated and despised Kenneth and I was beginning to hate the school. One night, feeling deeply depressed, I walked out and hitch-hiked home. It was a tiring journey as I was unable to get a lift between Newark and Grantham, so I walked. When I arrived, in rather a poor state, Mother thought she had better ring the school, since they would be worried sick that I was missing and they’d no idea where I was. But they weren’t. They had not even missed me!

I told her I would go back and finish the term but after that I was leaving: I’d find a job of some kind. Brian, when I told him, made sympathetic noises but said very little. Kenneth just shrugged and said it was my choice (but his face suggested relief at being rid of me). The one who was clearly saddened was Mr Hall. He thought it such a dreadful waste that I would be throwing away four terms towards my A-levels and he urged me to think again. But by now my mind was made up.



I left at Christmas, 1958, a few days before my 18th birthday. I had little idea which way to go or what to do. I was all at sea, and I drifted. I applied for an engineering apprenticeship but it never came to anything. I enrolled in some evening classes and later got a job in a quality control lab in a cosmetics factory. I considered doing a teacher’s training, then got another job in a health physics unit. I continued to bounce around rather aimlessly for the next four years.

Not long after I left school, I had a phone call from Kenneth, saying he was coming to London for a meeting. Would I care to meet him at a restaurant near Euston and he would take me out to dinner?

I never really understood why he did this. I think, in truth, he recognised that he had failed me and regretted it. He bore me no malice (as I had done for him) and he wanted to part on reasonable terms. I also wonder if Frances had had a hand in it, since she had written earlier with a list of companies running apprenticeship schemes and seemed to show genuine concern. Whatever was behind it, I accepted the invitation in what appeared to be the intended spirit. He didn’t say a lot. He asked how I was getting on and we generally made small talk.

The following summer, I attended the Old Scholars’ reunion.

Looking back over a span of 46 years, I see my relationship with this complex man from a long-focus perspective. I still think he was remarkably insensitive and quite incomprehensively clumsy in his dealings with people. I never really forgave him for the shabby way he treated Mother. And I always felt bitterly let down by him myself. He failed to live up to the image which he projected.

For all that, though, I believe he was perfectly genuine in himself. He had a vision, a wonderful vision, and he saw it through. He had failings –serious failings, some of them but then, that’s all part of what makes us human. And he was a very human human-being. I am very grateful for what he helped create; and for all the experiences I had at Wennington, which shaped my life. And I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share those experiences with my contemporaries, some of whom have made a brief appearance in this account



[Footnote: I recently read some accounts by people who were pupils at the school in its declining years. They make very sad reading. Kenneth was obstinate and dictatorial but, overall, the balance of discipline came out about right most of the time. He has been criticised for failing to let go after his retirement and to stand back gracefully. But Wennington was his baby. He and Frances had given birth to it, nurtured it and brought it to maturity. Who would be content to watch their child wither and die like that?]

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