Harrow County School for Boys

1966-1972 Reminiscences of Peter "Mini" Vincent (E-Mail)

Part 1. My Career in the "D" Stream

I started in 1W in 1966, then followed a downward spiral - 2D, 3D, 4D, V4, V1 - where I left with just English Language 'O' Level. I cannot even blame the stage staff - I only got involved from 4D... However, I did manage to leave the school without being caned or slippered once - despite a few close shaves ...

The Name "Mini" - Richard Salter invented my nickname when I played football in Outer Quad [illegally for a 1st Former] in the same group as him and my elder brother Nick. In true HCS fashion, instead of just calling me "Peter", he invented a new name to call out before passing the ball - "Mini Vincent" - as my brother was called just "Vincent"! In later years this developed into a nickname of "Min".

Shoe on the Roof 1967 - Although I didn't manage to smash any windows playing football, I did once manage to lob my shoe onto the roof from Inner Quad (wearing shoes which Square, who predated me, would have called "ela-a-astic sided"). It took a rather acrobatic prefect to recover it. I wonder if he remembers this episode?

End of year concert Circa 1969/70 - Does anyone remember when I accompanied David Ventura and his euphonium (a small tuba) on the piano? David and Arthur Haley talked me into this... The euphonium itself has an interesting history of its own. Sometime in the mid 1960s, Jeffrey Maynard discovered a bent, mangled and blackened euphonium on the top shelf in the room at the back of the music room. Mr. Arthur Haley said that it was broken and useless - all the valves were stuck. So Jeffrey took it home, cleaned it and got it working again. He played it in various groups for the Xmas Ents, occasionally in the school orchestra, and developed a personal attachment to the thing until he gave it back on leaving school in 1969. Where is it now? Thinks... "yes here it is" says a current teacher and hands over a bent, mangled and blackened euphonium from the top shelf in the room at the back of the music room!

Memories of V1 1971-1972 - My last year at HCS was in Chris O'Donoghue's V1 form (see class photo) which were the school's academic failures (although full marks to those that got out of this pit). However, if you look closely at the photo, you will see at least two Merit ties (with the badge on a plain green background) and several Colours ties (with the single diagonal band). There are also some proudly wearing their CCF badges - Simon Goodes in particular who dedicated himself to the Navy section. Others were to get awards later in the year... So they couldn't have been all that bad?

Awards and Prizes - I was awarded the coveted Merit Award and tie for "Distinguished and Loyal Service to the Stage in Lighting" during the Diamond Jubilee Year 1971. So I did get to shake hands with the Head at assembly, which very few boys did...

My Academic Progress - although I left HCS with just a single 'O' level, I am pleased to announce that I now have a BA with 1st Class Honours degree (which I got by passing exams - not mail-order from the USA!), as well as being a Member of the British Computer Society.

Otherwise... - Some people might be surprised to learn that after leaving HCS, I was a Radio Operator in the Royal Naval Reserve, reaching the dizzy heights of LRO(G) - which qualified me to be responsible for the communications of a minor warship (minesweeper, minehunter, or patrol craft). One of my last sea trips included a voyage around Lands End in a hurricane (Force 12 to landlubbers) in one of these small, flat-bottomed, and wooden ships. My first was in 1979 on the much larger destroyer HMS Coventry D118, which was later lost in the Falklands War.

Part 2. Memories of Teaching Staff

Note: It is not my intention to be disrespectful to any of the Masters mentioned below. I will gladly correct any inaccuracies.. PV

bulletMr. Roy Avery (The Head) - who pulled some strings to get me into an Electronics course at Willesden Tech (the Electrical Engineering head's son, Dunmore, who was a pupil at HCS also helped). It was this chance, bypassing the normal entry requirements, which put me on the road to eventual academic success. I might have been a poor academic prospect, but I was never one of the "Shabby Minority" nor one of the "Few Grains of Sand".
bulletMr. George Cowan (Deputy Head)- who was 100% fair to everyone, and knew the names of all the 900 odd pupils. "The Ploughman Homeward Plods His Weary Way" for 30 mins after school for us, and "Gayton Fair Returns - the following boys to report to me after assembly..." followed by a list of nearly the entire school for him!
bulletCol. Bigham - here is one which some other "three brother" families can verify.. My two brothers and myself all had Col. Bigham teach us Biology in the first form - 1960, 1963, and 1966. One day I happened to show my day's notes (which were dictated by Col. Bigham sat at the front reading from a book - rather than his usual practice of writing them illegibly on the board) to an elder brother who thought they sounded familiar. Further research quickly produced three copies of the same notes! To think, photocopiers weren't in general use yet...
bulletMr. Burt - Apologies to him for my series of essays on the superhero "Burtman"! This was pretty daring for a 3rd former in 1968 when whackings were still commonplace...
bulletMr. Deakin - who despite being one of the first masters without a degree upon arrival (1966 or 1967), was THE Physics teacher. "Loook lad, I'm going to choock you straight thru that wall!".
bulletMr. "Viv" Edwards - Three fond memories...
  1. The first was playing rugger in the 1st form when I was selected to take a conversion: Mr. Hartley was screaming at me to take it, even though I could see Viv still coaching the other team. "TAKE EET!" yelled Mr Hartley again - so I did - and the ball hit the crossbar squarely, then Viv right in the middle of the head!
  2. The second episode was playing for my year's Welldon House 2nd XV (with Wynn as captain?). I was the last defender and there galloping along with the ball was one of the school team regulars, weighing several tons, charging towards me... "Tackle him, BOY - you DAM RABBEET!" called Viv - so I did (to the amazement of everyone including me). I can still see Viv's jaw dropped open like a cartoon character!
  3. And finally, I remember playing basketball in about the second form and shaping to take a shot from just inside the halfway line. "YOU DARE!" called Viv reaching for his slipper - but I did, and luckily for me the ball went straight in!
bulletMr. Ghupta - who can forget those immortal words - "Cum eer. Cum eer. I vont to be your frrreend..." [now lifting you by the ear] "...But if you annoy me, I'll BER-RAKE YOUR HEAD!".
bulletMr. "Reggie" Goff - I can't remember where I saw the description of Reggie's expertise with throwing a blackboard rubber at you, but I remember the time when he had an even better idea.... We were in the old Lecture Theatre B6 in Circa 1970 and he gave the culprit (or should it be victim?) his blackboard rubber and told him to throw it up and down the corridor until told to stop. Several minutes of suitable noises coming from outside, as our lesson continued... Finished by the sound of a door opening and the voice of a furious master "THAT BOY!" - WHACK! Does anyone else remember this subtle form of punishment?
bulletMr. Jim Golland, whom I suspect was one of the few who had higher hopes for me than most and put up with my continual absences during the Diamond Jubilee year on Lighting duties. He also dragged my English set to A Midsummer Night's Dream on a beautiful summer evening at the open-air theatre in Hyde Park - which might not have helped the exam results but was much appreciated. A memorable exercise he set one year was to come up with a slogan for an imaginary product called "Zest" - some wag thought up the unbeatable "Zest, Ze Best!".
bulletMr. Arthur Haley - those unforgettable end of term flourishes on the organ after assembly which just went on and on. He always worked out of the limelight on any musical event without making a song and dance about it, or getting the credit he deserved.
bulletMr. Hartley - who could forget PE with him - "Don't punch the volleyball - SLAAP EEET!" or those complicated explanations of the "travelling" rule in basketball...
bulletMr. Gerry "Jock" Lafferty - being taught Macbeth by a Scot, even if I couldn't understand a word, was a delight! Not to mention "Jabberwocky" (Lewis Carroll) - which until recently I thought was a Burns poem as I had only ever heard it read in the Scots style! The confusion probably arose because we did "Tam O'Shanter" in the same year, which was Burns!
bulletMr "Ubi" Lane - so named I understand because this was the only word of Latin anyone could remember after leaving school. Not true! I also remember... err... um...[although someone else has pointed out that historically it might have been after a character from Just William called Hubert "Uby" Lane].
bulletMr. Jim "Mongie" Maddison - who tried his best to teach us some maths in a humane and tolerant fashion. During the 1971 jubilee year he also spent much time out of hours helping with the stage lighting.
bulletMr. Harry Mees - apart from looking after the stage and being the 4th Harrow Scouts' representative in the school, he was also a memorable history master. Can YOU still sketch a "Mees-type Map"? Backstage he was always prepared to roll up his sleeves and work under the direction of a stage manager many years his junior.
bulletMr. Chris O'Donoghue - my form master of 1W (where he successfully detected my attempt to "exaggerate" some results in the school report) and later did his best with me and the rest of V1. In the Scouts I also had the pleasure of his footballing abilities (I believe he was a 'Pro at one time) - and who can forget his performance as the Judge in "Trial by Jury" (see programme)?
bulletMr. "Speed" Taylor - the long suffering form master of 4D who did his best to make our lives tolerable - even if he won his nickname by insisting on carefully rubbing out the lines on a blackboard graph to save redrawing the axes!
bulletMr. Norman "Nick" Tyrwhitt - and a memory nothing to do with teaching. One year the Scouts arranged an evasion exercise where we had to get to a particular map location during the night - without being picked up by the Gestapo. We were armed with suitably forged ID papers and cover stories... The Gestapo cars were recognisable by the tape across their headlamps, so we could dive into a hedge if we saw one coming. Would you believe it, along comes Nick (with Jack Gibbs the Chemistry master?) in his car to arrest us - with only the sidelights illuminated! However he was sporting enough to allow us to continue after interrogation.

Part 3. Memories from the Stage 1968-1971

Some Members of the Team Over the Years (Corrections appreciated)

  1. Lighting
    bulletStaff : Mr Jim Maddison, Mr Norman "Nick" Tyrwhitt, Ms Enid Mills (HCGS)
    bulletChris McManus, Alan Munns, Bruce Varley, Jane Broker, Pat Healey (HCGS)
    bulletRichie Fowler, Howard Weisebaum
    bulletHugh Abbott, Richard Bunt, Paul Lewis, Peter Vincent, Catherine Davies, Jane Deal, Nicole Jukes, Ann Ritchie
    bulletNick Ball, Steve Maughan, Steve Rigby, Bryan Stephenson, Andy "Tubby" Taylor, Nicky Thomas, Jackie Cooper (HCGS), Anita Hunt, Sue Crook, Liz Gibby, Katie (Walker?)
    bulletCarl Jackson
  2. Stage
    bulletStaff: Mr Harry Mees
    bulletGareth Bartlett RIP, William Buckland (and his Donald Duck impersonations), Davie Gordon, Jerry Krause, Chris Meyer, Dave Munns, Steve Richards, Richard Salter
    bulletGareth Jenkins, Gabbie Marer, Johnnie Morrell, Chris Newbegin, Keith Thomasson, Katie Finch
    bulletRoland Cleaver, Phil English, Malcolm Gardner, Richie Milsted, Alistair Muir, Andrew "Ponky" Nurse, Bob Ritson, David Ventura, Glenys Davis, Ann Goff, Barbara Gordon
  3. Sound
    bulletMike Moradian
    bulletSimon Hill, Emrys Devonald

Memoirs of a Flying Lighting Engineer 1971

I am probably most famous at the two HC schools for the swallow dive at the Girls' School while fixing up their lights which finished my lighting career at the end of 1971 - and put an end to any hopes of decent O level results. 48 hours on the danger list does focus the mind somewhat...

A couple of years ago I helped with the lighting for a school North of London. How different it was to HCS - the teachers did a Le Mans start at 4pm when the car park emptied leaving volunteers like me to provide some outside school activities for the children (I had no link with the school and was just helping a friend while stuck in digs during a long contract). However, the children weren't allowed to do anything - "Electricity is too dangerous", "Ooh that's too high up!"... The kids WERE allowed to do the operating (low voltage remote control affair) - but as they had no part of the build up they were not that interested in developing an interest in stage lighting...

So I take my hat off to Norman Tyrwhitt, Jim Maddison, and Harry Mees who had to take the can when I had my fall at the end of 1971. The HCS kids (Stage and Lights) WERE allowed to do the full business from start to finish which included high voltage (remember when you made the footlights live Tubby?) as well as aerial and rope work. We were all trained during an apprenticeship period by the older ones before being allowed to do anything serious and mine was the only accident I can remember - although nowadays I wonder why we didn't at least wear harnesses which would have left me high and dry but in one piece [100% recovered thanks]. Not to mention Harry's Beam Team (which Alistair Muir talked me into joining one Scout Show) - 20 ft up in almost pitch darkness on three beams and a small catwalk. I see on the recent photos that the beams are hidden now, so obviously the current crew aren't allowed to fly. However - the challenge was part of growing up and I did leave HCS as a young but wiser adult.

The Performance of Stage Lighting - For the benefit of modern stage lighting engineers, it really was a team effort from start to finish in those days - everyone who wanted to be could be involved right through to the performance itself. If you look at programmes from the time you will see a large lights staff - and not just for the hours of work in getting the settings prepared. We literally had to PERFORM the lighting changes just as much as the cast performed the play, as all the dimming was manual with no presets. There were 45 channels if I remember correctly, some of which could be switched 2 or 3 ways. A complex lighting change could involve:

bulletOne person following the script and calling the cues.
bulletOne or two people (sometimes three) on the 27 dimmers of the main board (See photograph).
bulletOne on the second set of 10 dimmers which were on the facing wall (from the old HCGS board I believe and not in the 1965 photographs).
bulletAn additional person to adjust gel-changer settings (wheels of coloured filters fitted to some lights). Even this was not as easy as it sounds - as 99.9% of the time it would make a distracting effect if a gel changer turned whilst light was still emitting from the lamp. So this had to be carefully coordinated with the 2-4 people operating the dimmers.
bulletIn the middle of all this some of the patching might also have to be changed - so dimming on the main board might include some faster dimming to zero, switching to another outlet, then dimming back up to finish at about the same time as everything else!

We used to call lighting changes the "Dimmer Dance", although Richard Bunt originally coined the term on Alan Munns' antics to synchronise the lighting effects of the "Drum Break" during a particular ChrisEnts - which people watching from the audience would have had no idea was achieved manually with zero gizzmos! It might be hard to appreciate nowadays, but the four rows of dimmers on the main board went from the floor to about 4-5 ft up - so changing the dimmer settings was a hands, feet, knees affair - of course much more fun when the girls joined us!

"The Sorcerer" 1969 (see write-up) - it was decided that "John Wellington Wells" (played by Phil Barnett) was to appear coming out of the floor of the stage. Easy at the London Palladium, where they had several such "star traps" - but all HCS had was a hole in the stage (called "The Grave")! This was Gareth Jenkins' "Finest Hour" when he and his team, including the tireless Harry Mees, crafted such a trap from bits of scaffolding, ropes, and sandbags to produce the required effect - but still providing a safe platform for the remainder of the performance. I remember that the authorities which inspected it for safety being much impressed.

ChrisEnts 1970 (see programme) - Paul Lewis' first foray as a Lighting Director. I cannot remember which strike was responsible, but it was a period of power failures. Paul (and others) had arranged a standby lighting system which consisted of:

bulletA hut built of plastic bricks in Inner Quad (from the "Duchess of Malfi" set?).
bulletAlistair Muir manning it in the freezing cold every night the show was on.
bulletA portable generator set-up next to the hut.
bulletCar batteries to provide the lamp power.
bulletCar headlamps fitted into the shells of otherwise normal stage lights (a pair of "ATV"s if I remember correctly).
bulletA set of ropes from which Paul would signal loss of power, and cue Alistair to turn the lights on and off.

I think it was during the Friday evening performance that we lost power during a blackout (a lighting term for when the stage is in darkness and the stage hands are changing the set etc). Paul sprinted for his ropes and Alistair got the backup system running and the lights on (and caught the stagehands still on the stage changing the set if I remember correctly?). Even when Bruce Boyd ran out in front of the tabs to play his virtuoso rendering of the William Tell Overture arranged for cheeks, after saying that the power had gone off and they were figuring out what to do, the audience still thought it was part of the show! In the darkness about 15 feet off the ground, Paul was sat on a scaffolding bar at the side of the stage holding his cueing rope as the performance continued normally - I think it was only when the groups with electric guitars were unable to appear and some music with Spanish guitars had to be improvised that the audience had any idea that anything was amiss. I cannot remember if power came back on before the end (I don't think so), but still a marvellous piece of teamwork by those concerned.

Bryan Stephenson's Strobe Light - I cannot remember which production we needed a strobe (flashing) light for, but Bryan came up with an answer which involved minimal expense - a contraption which looked like a propeller powered by an electric motor which we could fit to the front of one of our spotlights. It was controlled by a train-set controller supplied by Bryan (which I recollect we managed to burn out - much to his annoyance). I wonder how long it remained in use?

Fire Drill Circa 1970 - when during a dress rehearsal Johnnie Morrell called "Fire!" in such a convincing voice that panic ensued and everyone ran for their lives! I remember the Lights Staff, self included, abandoning the lights tower which was about 12 feet off the ground. Who could forget Harry's stern lecture afterwards...

Scout Show 1969 - The "Jingle of the Jungle" in Ultra Violet (UV) light with fluorescent costumes and make-up was unforgettable, and included my classmate Robert Dando. In the same show we also had "Singing in the Rain" - with real water! I believe we had to sacrifice the use of one of our lighting battens to allow a safe haven around the water pipes.

"Duchess of Malfi" 1970 - and THE classic stage lighting effect. The power to each dimmer used a 0->10 scale so that settings could be worked out, recorded, and reproduced for the performance. However, for one scene of this particular play, Mr. Clive "Smooth" Anderson (the English master) called for a single spot to be lit at 1/4 - ie. 0.25! Can anyone beat that?

"This Darkness Suits You Well" - "Duchess of Malfi" Act IV Scene 1 1970. For some reason, in one performance it was uttered with the stage [incorrectly] brightly lit. Am I right that the following night the line was changed to "This light suits you well" - although the stage was now in the planned darkness?

"Hamlet" and "Bartered Bride" 1971 - did the school ever come close to the quality of these two events in later years?

The Lowest Form of Life? - most pupils entering HCS probably thought that a 1st Former was the lowest form of life at the school (other than perhaps a student master!). However, when I joined the Lights Staff in 1968, whilst in the 3rd Form, I found that an apprentice stage-hand was even lower. Apart from all the expected dirty jobs, like cleaning out the lighting store under the stage (was this the "Smoking Room" that someone else mentioned - before a lock was fitted?), we also had to cook the meals of our elders in the canteen when we stayed on after school for an evening performance. I recollect that Richard Salter was a particular fan of ensuring that the apprentices knew their place...

Peter Vincent HCS 1966-1972 (E-Mail)

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