Dr Simpson, Scottish accent echoing round the great hall, lecturing us on one of society's many evils. Every week it was something different but I remember best his frequent tirades against 'elastic sided bootees.' (Go on, say it in a Scots accent and feel the memories flooding back.) I think his second favorite was the complaints received from the (we believed) gin-soaked headmistress of the girls school up the road about our frequent expeditions to admire the forbidden fruit of the opposite sex, especially if they were playing netball!
The morning assemblies were always a ritual. The rows of begowned staff on ordinary chairs, the three high chairs front centre of stage, the highest backed one dead centre. Kind old Billy Duke sitting on one side, the humourless Head in the centre. (I cannot remember who had the other hallowed seat.) The boys sitting on green canvas seated chairs, youngest at the front, Fifth at the back and, upstairs in the balcony, the Lower and Advanced Sixth. Bill Haley at the organ, playing Jerusalem with gusto.
I have never forgotten Dr Simpson's retirement, The whole stage had peen rigged with hundreds of balloons in a net above the staff, When it was released, at the same time as the Sixth dropped a banner over the balcony, the Doc was rigid with anger whilst the rest of the staff has hysterics, along with the entire assembled hall. He went, as he had always ruled, with a scowl on his face. Oh yes, and his car was chained to the fence with the bio lab skeleton in the driving seat, hand on steering wheel, foot on clutch. Such a pity that no photos were taken.
The arrival of George Cowan as new Deputy Head presaged a change in the way things were. Billy Duke was kind and gentle and did his best to balance the severity of Dr Simpson, but Mr Cowan was startlingly different. I think he gave us our first taste of bureaucracy: the det. slip. I remember him measuring our hair with a ruler - it had to be so much above the collar or one ran the risk of being sent home. He was ruthlessly efficient and most boys seemed terrified of him.
I was never going to be the star pupil; in fact, it was a mystery how I got there in the first place. Anyway, I suffered the humiliation of having to repeat the first year having abysmally failed to get any decent marks in the end-of-firstwear exams. The School had very high standards and a reputation second to none, It often compared extremely favourably with public schools with its academic achievement. Even if one was not brilliant, one was proud to wear the uniform. Well almost.., we hated the caps. How many times were you caught outside without your cap by a prefect? Remember the joy on entering the Fifth of never having to wear one again? Instead, we had a blue stripe sown around the sleeve of our blazers near the cuff. Yellow for Lower Sixth, and black blazers for the Advanced Sixth.
The Advanced Sixth were a very elite lot: allowed to use the main entrance, their own private common room up the steep and narrow staircase to one side of the main doors and general contempt for anyone below them. I think this was the strongest similarity to public schools,
I was 'pressganged' into the cadets, Army section, without any say, as my late father was a real soldier, Captain of the Royal Engineers. So my Friday miseries began: wearing an oversize uniform that chafed constantly, having the school bullies tramp on your shiny toe caps, being shouted at and prodded by numerous ogre-like NCO's. Remember Dickie Thwaites? I think he had a pathological dislike dislike of all junior cadets even though it did seem it was only me at the time. I was a permanent member of that exclusive club, 'defaulters'. Any chances I ever had of making some kind of progress in the Cadets was ruined during one annual parade by my father turning up in full dress military uniform, spaghetti on the hat, the works! Not only did he probably upstage all the officers, including dear Col Bigham, but he made me number one enemy of pretty near all the NCO's as well. Strangely, I survived to become a corporal - promoted to my own level of incompetence, perhaps?
Fond memories of camps at Browndown. Punch-ups with rival cadet corps on the beach. Anybody remember the catering lot who were very upset with us over a rocket? Manning the radios on a night exercise as my blisters prevented me from joining in, and listening to the trawlermen on our radios holding their expletive-riddled conversations. And getting caught by an officer. (Can't remember which one.)
Being given a bren gun (silly idea!) and shooting the target and its support into matchwood. Watching with admiration as Morrie (60 fags a day) Venn stood, a 303 jammed to his shoulder, and loosed off two magazines without blinking The rest of us on the ground suffering sore shoulders and an inability to hit three targets down never mind the one we were supposed to hit!
Wading into a river during an exercise, having been assured it was perfectly safe to cross, and sinking up to my armpits in the smelliest foulest shit ever, with some prat shouting 'keep your rifle out of the water, keep it clean.' I was bloody drowning, but no-one seemed to care The concept that rifles were replaceable and I wasn't hadn't occured to anyone at the time.
What other memories? Oh yes. apple-pied beds with clumps of gorse strategically placed, my pyjama legs being sown up with gorse down each leg. I can tell you, that was avery painful experience. The culprit's bed ended up on the water tank the next night.
The ear-destroying early morning bugle or bagpipe call to get up. One poor bagpiper, in full gear, wandered into the washroom, bent over the sink to shave, and got a bucket of very cold water stirrup-pumped up his kilt.
Doing the Duke of Edinburgh's stuff in the New Forest with Alisdair Brown and Chris Kinman (where are you, Chris?) and Chris kicking the billy of boiling water over his legs and feet. When Ali and I first heard the screaming, we thought it was Chris mucking about - it did not take us long to realise it was serious.
Doing one of the initiative exercises and getting stuck at Towcester on the A5 in a howling blizzard, bottling it and ringing for rescue And, best of all. doing arduous training in Scotland, climbing up and down endless hills with half the world in a rucksack on your back - camping by a river, cooking compo in a billy (remember the mashed potatoes?), getting wet constantly as the Scottish weather did its best to demoralise us, and watching the '66 World Cup final whilst up there.
The arrival of Mr Avery as the new Head started a new era in the School's development and had a profound effect on attitudes. It seemed as though he cared more about those who were not making it, and more encouragement was given in that direction. He was a very different person from Dr Simpson. and I for one certainly felt more comfortable there. I think my end of term exam results began to improve - they could hardly have got worse!
I joined the Dramatic Society as a stage hand. I had previously starred in the School choir, until the voice broke and singing E flat really was flat! Up until then my soprano was much in demand. If I sang Handel's Messiah once, I sang it a dozen times. I couldn't read a note of music but made a great show of following the score on the stand I remember wearing a kimono and singing in the Mikado. I still get embarassed when I hear 'three little maids from school are we' Three little maids my backside - three boys dressed in drag staging in very high voices would be nearer the truth! Ah, it was such fun.
Meanwhile, back at the stage. What a wonderful discovery it was! Harry Mees was in charge - couldn't get any history into my head, but we seemed to get along O K on the stage He did get a trifle upset when his bike was 'kidnapped' and left suspended from the beams until the ransom was paid. It was all for charity of course! The wonderful world under the stage - the scenery store - also the card den, the tea room, and the smoking room for those of us allowed in. Whatever happened to Bob Locker, Tim Bush on lighting, Rappaport with his marmite on toast samies, the sound engineers who created the sound of galloping horses that literally ran round the hall (remember, all this was in the 60's) through speakers placed above the hall ceiling. The sound of Jim Golland's voice playing God echoed round the hall during one play. The set of The Dumb Waiter had to be changed in 30 seconds flat; and that was no mean feat! We rehearsed that as hard and often as the actors did their lines. The magnificence of Macbeth. including the amazing swords made in metalwork class. Oh yes, and the introduction of girls (yes, that's right, girls!) to play various scenes.
Being on the stage was a bit handy, as one got close enough to have first or second pick! Many a brief romance began behind the stage I remember taking one girl up to my classroom and showing her my desk - well it was a good excuse for a quiet snog away from prying eyes. Open the desk lid and there was her name emblazoned in biro in a heart with an arrow through it - all the other ones having been hastily erased the day before, of course! How many remember the Christmas Ents with the pupils getting their own back with some sometimes quite vicious mick-takes of the staff And the groups, the best being EPISODE SIX. I believe Roger Glover was the bass player at the time: and didn't he do well ending up in DEEP PURPLE with the likes of lan Gillian? Somewhere in my junk box, I've got almost a full list of every group that played at Harrow County in the mid-sixties.
There are thousands more memones evoked by writing all this and I doubt whether readers can bear much more, but, does anyone remember the mock Funeral? The Pipe band was dressed in full marching blues and it paraded around the entire school, up and down every corridor, accompanied by boys carrying a wooden coffin which was then buried on the school field on or near the cricket pitch. When was it, and why did it happen?
I should write here a note of apology to all the staff who have the misfortune to recall my inglorious stay from '61 to '67. I am sorry: I always felt that I had let the School down by being so unacademic. Some of you tried hard to get it all into my head but out I went, having dismally failed to get any O's at all. Yet I have very fond memories of the place. It taught good manners and good discipline which have always stayed with me. I would love to see the old place again, to see what has changed and what hasn't. Does Form 5i still exist for all the no-hopers like me? Anyway, thanks to the Editor for the opportunity to roll back the mind 23 years or more and dust down some memories.
Originally printed by Colin Dickins in the Old Gaytonian Magazine 1990