Harrow County School for Boys

Neither Worth nor Birth, and an Uphill Battle!

Graeme Young, “D” stream 1947 to 1953.

I came to HCS from a small private school at Sudbury Hill in the Autumn of 1947. The 700 plus strength of the new school was highly daunting to an unremarkable 11-year old whose childhood was fundamentally happy until then, though the protracted bad health of my mother had made me self-sufficient and prematurely independent.  My father was Scottish and a product of the Scottish education system and his views on my experiences of HCS were inevitably biased towards Dr Simpson and Major Bigham at the time. The first day did not begin too badly, in fact, and form 2D held a collection of good fellows under the benign leadership of Mr P.R.Heaton.

Being neither an athlete, a studious classical scholar nor in any sense militarily inclined I soon fell foul of Swanny Amos, Dr Simpson and Major Bigham.  I could never touch my toes, do a forward roll or more than a few press-ups, and being rather quiet and possibly marked down as a bit dim, Amos persecuted me for my shortcomings from the first week.  Dr Simpson, on learning my father was Scottish and a product of The Royal High School Edinburgh, Hillhead High School Glasgow and a Glasgow Technical College, also marked me down as a very poor example of Anglo-Scottish youth.  Major Bigham viewed me with distaste also, for I rejected his Combined Cadet Force. I was already in a Scout Group, the 10th Roxeth. This group was affiliated to Christ Church, Roxeth, and I had been going to that church from an early age. This scenario sets the tone of my five and a half years at HCS.

The winter of 1947 was a hard one and the coke stoves of “The Huts” were kept well stoked, some of us turning up early to get some heat going before we had to sit still at our desks. Assembly was held in the hall and led by Dr Simpson. George Thorn played the grand piano on its raised platform, leading the enthusiastic singing.  In those years of the late forties George Thorn came across as a benign figure, but it was a time of upheaval too, with Dr Simpson settling in and with sweeping staff changes. We had French with Sammy Watson, an interesting man in himself and his teaching inspired me to great heights with the language and my knowledge of French has been a boon throughout my career and into semi-retirement. Harry Mees taught us History and made it come alive. Britain was in the upheavals of the post-war period and Harry’s asides on the events leading up to the prevailing situation were enlightening. In later years we did The Reformation and the sole Roman Catholic in the class had a bad time. Anthony Edward Nikolai Thomson Pitman was the son of a West Indian father and a Romanian mother and he played a great Shylock! I felt sorry for him as he was, as with most of us, a follower of his faith by reason of custom rather than conviction. 

The ‘new buildings’ were empty shells then and out of bounds, the “bogs” were a line of cubicles, freezing cold in Winter. In the 1947-48 winter I developed Otitis Media and went rather deaf, so was moved to the front of the class so that I could hear properly. I was also forbidden to swim – further annoyance for Amos in the Spring of ’48 when the school swimming baths opened on May 1st  The combined shivers of 2D must have been felt in Station Road.  Ill health is not always unfortunate! The Otitis developed further into Menière’s Syndrome, and swimming was out for the whole of the remainder of my time at HCS. Although I was no good at any physical education an “F” remark appeared in my school report for it one year. Swanny Amos immediately descended upon me and accused me, incorrectly, of forgery. Simpson got involved, my father took them to task over it, but they persisted and my character was besmirched. Since I was little interested in Gymnastics or Sport I was baffled about their reasons for thinking I needed to represent myself fraudulently as being good in those fields.  I discussed the problem with Harry Mees who advised me to accept the blame and move on. “You won’t win “, he said, “its unjust but unalterable, they will always prevail against you”. It was a miserable time, but nothing beyond my expectations.  Harry understood and did some damage limitation behind the scenes but I resigned as form captain and handed this duty over to Brian West.  

About this time Simpson introduced “Citizenship Days” on a Friday. Cadets and Scouts went about their parades and I, one of the dissenters, spent my Friday afternoons in the Art Room sign-writing under the guidance of Paul Oliver. However, not all members of staff were happy with the regime at HCS and dissenting voices from surprising quarters were heard discreetly on occasions. I had ingratiated myself with the man from the Education Committee who came to HCS to set up and operate public address equipment and one sports day I was operating the equipment for him. W.T.Heys was making the announcements as his clear and accurate English speaking voice went over the loudspeakers very well. Two microphones were in use, one for headmasterly proclamations from the steps of the Pavilion and the other for Spadger Heys for the general announcements. Simpson had just finished one of his other-worldly diatribes and I had shut down that mike as Spadger turned to a couple of other staff members and said “I wonder what the fool will think of next!” Fortunately his mike was not open.

 Chemistry was a joy under the tutelage of Mr Butler, Maths became less of a mystery under Mr Allan, English became enjoyable under Mr Snowdon and Mr Connelly. I took up rowing and tore down to Hammersmith every Thursday afternoon on my bike to join the team that was going to crack the Head of the River race. Dr Bradley led the proceedings from the towpath with megaphone and bicycle. I formed a Radio Club, a gathering that regularly blew fuses and sometimes jammed the CCF radio nets, and joined the Film Club and Music Society. The latter had acquired a new record player system from Imhofs and this magnificent, expensive, and powerful unit soon filled the tiny room off the central staircase with some of the most gorgeous sounds around.  Thanks be to George Thorn for my love of music. Thanks also to many of my classmates for their support and friendship – John Green, Tony Dickins, Johnny Herbert, Tony Stocker, Graham Streets, Geoff Winter, Peter LeVoir, Tony Pitman, Peter Harris and many more whose names, due to age, I cannot remember now.

Many of the staff had served in one form or another in the war just over and were clearly not minded to continue in matters military. Derogatory remarks about “The Fifth-Rate Tin-Pot Band”  were not uncommon as the CCF band blew up a storm outside the classroom windows with bugles, fifes and drums. Diminutive khaki-clad figures patrolled round the grounds bearing wireless sets with enormous whip aerials, and the cry “Hear tuning and netting call, net NOW!”  echoed round the quadrangle and the 7MHz airwaves. Beyond the establishment of the net I don’t recall any meaningful radio traffic taking place, for alone in the art-room on those Friday afternoons I monitored them surreptitiously on the radiogram there.  The end of my academic career was approaching and the urge to enter the real world of work was strong.  I left in the Spring of 1953, worked for the BBC around Coronation time in Television Designs Department and late in ’53 went to live in Johannesburg for three years.  Despite the climate of fear and the victimisation I suffered at the hands of Amos, Bigham and Simpson, I had good cause to be grateful to many of the staff members at HCS for equipping me for life, not just for the serious business of earning a living and developing a career but for the ability to enjoy some of life’s pleasures and to recognise the bullies and bigots out there.

Spadger Heys was a strict disciplinarian but he showed his friendlier side and my form, as we divided and went our several ways, presented him with a book on photography as a ‘thankyou’ for his excellent teaching of physics.  He was visibly touched.  Simpson was unequivocal about my future prospects as a man of substance, he said I’d never shine at anything and would do menial jobs for the whole of my life.  Such encouragement was totally expected and strengthened my resolve to prove him wrong. The Amos’s and Bighams of this world have never bothered me since my days at HCS, big fish in a small tank, they’d be incredibly lost in this big bad world outside!  I have done well enough and am satisfied that I have done my best.  If beaten – try again!

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