Reminiscences of Paul Danon, 1966-73
Although my parents and I were pleased when we heard that I had got a place at HCS, the
school terrified me when I visited it in summer 1966 for an induction-evening. Aylward
primary school hadn't been a particularly cuddly place, but Harrow County was nevertheless
forbidding to an only-child squirt from Stanmore whose life till then had been pretty
Harrow County's reputation was riding high in the mid-60s and we had read excellent things in the papers about its examination-results just before I heard that I had got in. Although revolutionary Marxism was just beginning to seethe in my scrawny bosom, I was still proud to become a pupil there, though a rather frightened one.
HCS was big, noisy and dirty and the elder boys simply huge. On the first day they
tried to send us around the wrong way so we would have been late and I was slightly
surprised to find that we had a different teacher for each lesson. Even Don Kincaid, the
form-master for 1K that year, didn't take us for anything and, instead, we had a very
smooth Mr G Mason for French.
Speaking of smoothness, the biggest academic impact on me during that first year came from Mr Clive Ian Anderson of the English department. His methods were unorthodox in that he claimed to teach the same lesson to all years, from first to sixth. He would talk to us about martial arts, soul music, black culture and America. He seemed completely in tune with the clandestine movements which I read about in Private Eye magazine and heard about on David Frost's satirical TV programmes. His approach appealed to the revolutionary in me and, happily, helped foster the interest I had in English and on which I subsequently based what I have laughingly called my career.
Other good teachers were John Ling and Jock Lafferty, as well as the late Geoff D'Arcy and Walter Lane (God rest their souls).
Jim Golland asked me to join the staff of A2, the English department bookroom, and I
had my picture taken for Gaytonian
1967 as a young hopeful. I got into the A stream and things looked promising. Friends
at that time included John Abbott, Derek Wolfe and Paul Kutner.
Running A2 then were Michael Portillo and his friends. They were lionised by the HCS establishment and lived up to their reputation while at school and afterwards. It would have been most uncool and unfashionable to have said it at the time, but they interested and inspired me, contributing significantly to my education. I also formed friendships among them, though one was sometimes reminded that they were in the school-year above me. The shy but intelligent Philip Smith became a good friend but we lost touch. I believe he now banks in south America.
Work in A2 involved not just looking after books but also helping run the school's cultural life. Portillo and Co. were not only involved with the school-magazine but they also founded Convergence, the dramatic society which included pupils from the girls' school in Lowlands Road.
I shone at English, gleamed slightly in other arts subjects, struggled with Latin and loathed games and PE. Later friends (in addition to A2ers) included Mark Gilbert, Martin Steele, Nigel Sedgley, Nigel Stein, Mark Blazek and Jacek Strauch. The last two helped run the Slavonic society, under whose auspices assorted liquors were consumed and other fun had.
Early on I was told that extra-curricular activities looked good on one's university-entrance form, but I took this advice too much to heart. School soon felt like a full time administrative job with lessons irritatingly slotted-in between the real work. My guardian angel must have intervened to keep me in the A stream and let me scrape into the lower sixth at 15 with unremarkable O levels.
Having ditched sciences with much relief, I was only too pleased to specialise in arts and to continue to benefit from Clive Ian Anderson's sardonic but usually positive encouragement. In the sixth form (after Mr Anderson had puzzlingly left for a post in a comprehensive somewhere) I did English, French and history with, among others, Graham Wells, currently head of modern languages at Alcester Grammar School, Warwickshire.
Strauch and Blazek continued good friends and I also got to know Simon Gardner, head boy, T David Williams, the Farrow brothers and Brian Doggett and his loyal entourage, about which I dare not speak another word.
If the first four years had been busy extramurally, the sixth form was a maelstrom. I was occupied not just with drama and Gaytonian but also with the school council and with being an outwardly strict but actually quite ineffectual prefect.
When I edited the magazine and the school was about to go comprehensive, I injudiciously described the large number of masters who had resigned as being like: "the proverbial creatures leaving the proverbial ship". Mr Avery was not amused and I quaked in my elasticated bootees as he lectured me, quite restrainedly, on the awesome power of the written word. Happily, the magazine was loose-leaf that year and could be rescued. The headmaster was merciful in the circumstances, I was contrite and it was perhaps a turning-point.
The Gaytonian with the cartoon on the cover was the logical consequence of all the institutional shakeups and general dumbing-down which the Wilsonian cultural revolution of the 1960s had ushered in and the 1970s had made into the new orthodoxy. Although we all worked hard on that issue and learned a lot, I am not proud of it in retrospect. We were the generation that, consciously or unconsciously, were burying the old Harrow County. For those of us on the political left, this seemed only logical and, in many ways, the old place's just desserts. How wrong we were.
Having surprised myself with three Bs at A level but being impatient to get on, I ducked out of the scholarship sixth by filling in a premature UCCA form. English at Sussex was my goal but the forces of conservatism had already started to exert their hold on me and I declined a place there because the pot-ridden campus was too trendy. I actually plumped for English at Leeds where I again jeopardised everything by being president of both my hall and of student broadcasting, as well as doing student politics and other crazy stuff.
When I left the school after helping produce Zigger Zagger in spring 1973, Harrow County had become my life and, in a very real sense (if I may purloin the phrase), my love. As an experience, it was every bit as stimulating as university, and I naively thought that all schools were like that. My subsequent exploits are recorded at www.danon.co.uk/cv.htm
The seeds of faith were planted in my mind while I was at Harrow County and, at Easter 1976, the most important event of my life took place, namely my baptism in Leeds cathedral. Although that was, by far, the greatest blessing of HCS for me, it was by no means the only one.
My heartfelt thanks go to staff and fellow-pupils. Do contact me at email@example.com