I was at School between '59 and '67, the twilight years of Dr Simpson's reign. Anyone there during his tenure will not need reminding of the nature of his headship. I have fond but mixed memories of those years, but it is true for me that School counted amongst the best periods of my pre-adult life. However, School (i.e. Dr Simpson) when I was there, focused on high achievers, be it in the academic, regimental, service or sporting spheres. This was regularly emphasised by the head and deputy head boys being in charge of various CCF sections or scouts etc. That was all very well, but I estimate that 'achievers' accounted for only around 10% of the School. What of the other 90%?
Well, this is where I come in: I was a reasonably able pupil, along with most of the School. However, A.R.S made sure I knew my place in life when he wrote in my 1964 report, "he is an average student who will never attain Oxbridge.' (I had expressed an outline interest in those institutions at a careers convention.) After overcoming that piece of motivating script, I achieved good ''O' levels, moderate 'A' levels and acquitted myself well during higher education. I know that there were many HCS boys like me, many of whom have done extremely well in their professional lives through hard work, self motivation and clear goals.
Many times in the intervening years I have asked myself why I did not do better at School, when my ability was proven in later life. I think the School was 'pot hunting', trying to top the league table before league tables were ever invented. A great deal of resource was put into a limited number of exceptional boys at the expense of the majority. This majority was taught to a standard that ensured that they did well if they had the ability to keep up. If they didn't, tough. Despite this policy, it was clear to me that some of my teachers attempted to spread this focussed resource: Messrs. Bevan, Groombridge, Golland, Lafferty, King, Crinson and Mees immediately spring to mind. I actually believe that if the School had taken this more balanced approach to its education policy it might be around in some recognisabie form today.
I am fortunate enough to be able to afford private education for my children, but I object (but my wife has her way!) to paying for an educational environment that came free at the Harrow County Girls and Boys schools. The only advantage private schools appear to have over the old HCS is that they are very careful to monitor and help all pupils whatever their ability. Perhaps I hear you say that it is easy for these schools to take the cream of pupils through entry testing, but I can assure the reader that it was as difficult to gain a place at HCS in the sixties as it is to gain a place in a decent private school now.
Despite what I've just said, school was good to me, but was I good for the School? George Cowan might have an opinion on this! It's fair to say that throughout my later school years I sailed fairly close to the wind as far as discipline was concerned. As an average boy, I had no significant redeeming achievements to compensate for misdemeanours, although I achieved notable success on the stage staff of the Dramatic Society and as a fund raiser for the School in general. Very many of the other 90% gained similar achievements outside of Oxbridge, the CCF and sport. The Dramatic Society, if it were around today, could easily produce better drama and light entertainment than many of the adult amateur groups with which I am currently involved. I can now appreciate that some of the work produced under the tutelage of Norman Anderson and Paul Oliver in the Art Department was significant considering the age of the artists. I do not believe that these activities were recognised at high level, because they were mainly populated by 'average boys' of doubtful career prospects. Does anybody remember the Simpson 1960's tirades against yobbo wearers of long hair, winklepicker shoes and tapered trousers? Well, some of these boys of slightly non-conformist attitude produced the aforementioned drama, music, art and writing and are hopefully still doing so today. Martin Walker, Bruce Liddington, Bernie Eustace, Francis Matthews, Jon Hall, Chris Elvin, Ronan Knox, Rob Thomasson, Harvey Schildkraut and David Duff spring to mind.
Talking of tirades, Nixon's Watergate had nothing on HCS. Between about 1963 and 1967 I recorded, with the collusion of the staff, around 20 or 30 School assemblies which contained A.R.S. rants about issues of the day. Perhaps they should be known as the Countygate tapes! The last time I saw them was in JAGO's staff room cupboard. What JAGO didn't know was that I also bugged the headmaster's study with a miniature transistorised device that I designed and built myself in the School Radio Club. I was rather proud of it and it is possibly still there today powered by an old-fashioned selenium cell (no batteries). Unfortunately, my pocket money did not run to a small portable tape recorder and so no tapes were made. It made better listening than the Archers!
This minor foray into specialised electronics inspired one other member of the 90% to become a leading expert on defence microwave electronics. The supplier of the selenium cell (plenty of pocket money!) now owns a computer company in Switzerland and is close to being a millionaire.
Where did the average/non-conformist Vlth former hang out? Certainly not in the prefects' common room, as A.R.S would not have dreamed of elevating us to the prefecture. This was great, as this loss of status was more than adequately compensated by free lunchtimes, breaks and after-school periods in which to deverop and continue our average/non-conformist activities. The answer was HUT C!
Hut C was the third of a line of four postwar asbestos huts running along the Sheepcote Road side of the School field which were overflow classrooms and home to various elements of the CCF. Officially home to a jet engine, Hut C also housed the unofficial School common room. We were naive enough to think that few staff knew of its existence, despite George Cowan spending a fair amount of his early years at the School trying to prise us out of the place.
It kept a lot of young lads off the streets, was much better that the Vlth Form Society for developing our social graces and facilitated relationships with certain Harrow girls which are still in place today. We planned many School dances in Hut C which raised thousands of pounds for non-core (non-conformist?) interests within School. It was amazing that in the sex and drug crazed years of the swinging sixties we had 700-800 young people dancing to a live band and disco in the new School hall with no trouble, no fraud and no drugs, all with firm but minimal supervision by Jim Cook and his colleagues. Regrettably, the very senior masters hardly ever recognised successes of this type achieved by various members of the 90%. What could have been encouraged was the training in basic management and organisation skills that was gained by many boys, and which would undoubtedly benefitted their future careers.
I have mentioned George Cowan: I have grown to have a lot of respect for that man, although I thought differently when I was at School. GHC joined School to underwrite Dr Simpson's quest for absolute excellence, and replaced the very kind but incompatible (with A.R.S.) Billy Duke. We 3rd/4th formers thought there were a dozen Georges as he appeared everywhere at once and knew everything that was going on. His memory was, and still is, prodigious. He had the difficult task of whipping the School into shape whilst still appearing human and fair. I now realise that GHC performed this balancing act with rare skill although I didn't think so at the time. I believe he and the rest of the staff found it difficult to maintain their high standards after Dr Simpson retired and his more relaxed successor arrived. HCS changed for ever.
I hope this piece is not read as a criticism of HCS. As a parent of early teenage children I inevitably try to do my best by them, and my thoughts often turn to what I did at their age. Maturity, I hope, has brought some wisdom, and I write to express thoughts and questions that have been in my mind for many years.
First printed in the Old Gaytonian, 1994