Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.


[70] ICHS – Part Three

In a fairly random pattern I will continue where [62] ICHS for Boys Part One and [66] ICHS – Part Two left off, looking next at some more subjects and their teachers from the first three years.


As a core subject we had English for one period a day from the First Form to the Fifth Form. In the first year our teacher, Mr Lowe, was known as ‘Selwyn.’ Don’t worry, I’m not going to do every teacher of every subject for every year! I can’t even remember most of them.

Selwyn was in his last year of teaching. He seemed pretty old to us and was a bit absent-minded. He lived in Fremantle Road just a few yards away from the school and it seemed as he had always been there.

English lessons were supposed to come in five categories and unfortunately I can’t remember exactly what they were. They could have been Grammar, Poetry, Drama, Essays and Comprehension but there were also plays and books.

What I do remember is that at the beginning of each term he would tell us which days were which – maybe Monday Poetry, Tuesday Grammar … He asked us to remind him and every day he would ask. Needless to say the boys said every day what they wanted so the mixture was not what it should have been. We didn’t have essays as often as we should have done!

In those days everyone at school took English seriously. We studied grammar and were always expected to use proper English with perfect grammar and spelling. In exams, this applied to all subjects.

I will come back to English Literature around the Fifth Form, for reasons which will become obvious then.


It was always assumed that all the staff at a Boys’ School should be men. As for so many things, perhaps we just assumed it without any evidence.

There were two exceptions. The school secretary, with her own office opposite the Headmaster’s office, was Miss Glasberg. Typing and secretarial work were so much jobs for women that it would have been very unusual for a man to do this. (See [20] Sex Discrimination.)

The other exception was Miss Scott, a French lady who taught us the language in the First Year. Again with no evidence to go on, she was presumed to have been employed in exceptional circumstances in the post-war situation. We had no idea what these circumstances might have been.

Having done a little training as a teacher I now see how our teaching was influenced by the education of the teachers. I think Miss Scott had done a course at University on pronunciation!

We spent the whole of the first term learning how to speak French properly while learning virtually nothing of its vocabulary or grammar. We went through its sixteen numbered vowel sounds in order, picking up just a few French words as examples. We learned some of the vagaries of French spelling, with its accents and cedillas, much easier that English spelling. We must have been taught thoroughly because I can still remember much of it. (It did take a whole term just for pronunciation.)

The first four vowels, numbers one, two, three and four, were approximately as the English vowels in ‘meet’, ‘mate’, ‘met’ and ‘mart.’ Number five is a longer sound, a bit like number four, as in ‘marsh’, then six, seven and eight are heard in ‘mott’, ‘moat’ and ‘moot’ (Not as in ‘mute.’)

The second half were a bit more difficult, starting with number nine, best seen as the German ü. It’s a mixture of numbers seven and eight. Ten and eleven were similar to each other (but different!), both a bit like the first vowel in ‘murder.’ Somehow French ‘eggs’ and ‘ears’ managed to use both sounds. (In the singular ‘un œuf’ and ‘un œil.’ In the plural the vowel sounds changed for ‘des œufs’ and ‘les yeux.’ Don’t ask me which were ten or eleven!)

Twelve is the unaccented vowel of the word ‘the,’ known as a schwa. (I only learned that in studying Russian. We think of it as unaccented and insignificant but it gets accented in Chinese, even carrying different tones.) That just leave thirteen to sixteen, the four nasal vowels sounds.

I remember nothing else of Miss Scott. Perhaps she only taught us for one term, or perhaps we had a whole year of pronunciation. I can say little of her successor, Mr Loeser except that he was Czechoslovakian, with an accent, possibly another refugee from the War. He may have spoken good French but his English was sometimes hard to understand.

He was followed by Mr Stenner, who was strict and taught boringly and rigidly by the book. We worked through the text book by chapters. First we had time to look at the book and learn the new vocabulary listed at the start of each chapter. Then there was new grammar – things like verb tenses.

Then we went round the class one by one in alphabetical order. (For many classes in the early years we sat in alphabetical order as directed by the teacher.) We read the set text of the book, sentence by sentence, getting the pronunciation perfect, and we translated it into English – going over it again until he thought we had the best English equivalent. Sometimes it seemed that it was not so much the literal translation of the words but getting perfect idiomatic literary forms of English.

Mr Stenner will get another mention later.

I don’t think I have mentioned homework yet. We didn’t have it at Junior School but it started at ICHS – carried home in those leather satchels – two or three subjects every night – or each subject once or twice a week. You have to know about it for the next topic.

General Science

We had General Science for the first two years before splitting into Physics and Chemistry with Mr Bown. (He was known as ‘Pinhead,’ perhaps because he had a small, bald head.) He was not popular. He was strict and bad-tempered, sometimes threatening violence in a believable way. We were frightened of him. He may never have actually stuck any of the boys but we thought he might.

He was one of the worst teachers and was notorious for not marking homework. Homework was always collected when due but would be unmarked when returned to us. Every few weeks he would try to catch up, rushing through an attempt at marking the work he had missed. Partially marked books would be returned and he would be in a bad mood – always blaming the problems on us!

I remember in particular what could have been the best lesson we ever had, demonstrating the effects of water on sodium, potassium and other metals. He had tried to mark a few week’s work, gave us back our books and punished the whole class for poor work by saying that we would not have the demonstration. We had to spend the lesson in silence, copying up what we would have seen if he had been bothered to do it for us. (Maybe he didn’t like this demonstration and did the same every year!)

I don’t think anybody liked him and it was a relief to end General Science.


I cannot remember the name of our Latin teacher, perhaps because we never used it. We had the same teacher up to the fifth form. I am told that it was a Mr Morrow, which is vaguely familiar. He was known as ‘Solly.’ (I don’t know why.) We liked him because he spent much of the time talking about things that had nothing to do with school, sometimes about sailing. In those days Latin was a standard part of our education. We learned all the declensions of nouns and conjugations of all the tenses of the verbs, which helped both in understanding grammar in English and French and in the meanings of English words with Latin roots.

He wasn’t very strict and we didn’t behave perfectly in his lessons – but we were never really disruptive.

I remember our first year Latin exam. Exams were in our form room and as we were ready he delivered the papers to the invigilating Mr Jermy. He announced to the class that he had put in a word by mistake that we hadn’t covered yet in lessons. The word SAXUM meant rock, which he wrote on the board. It’s strange what useless things we remember in later life!

We had to study one book of the Gallic Wars by Caesar and went through it chapter by chapter. I think by the time we did ‘O’ Levels we could do many of the chapters from memory without needing the Latin!

Gym and PE

We called it PE (Physical Education) but it was nearly always in the school gymnasium with its wooden floor and all the standard gym equipment. There were wooden ladders at the side which we could climb; ropes hanging downwards; a long wooden vaulting horse; benches, mats and medicine balls.

We weren’t taught much about actual gymnastics. Often it was more like circuit training. Sometimes there was a game called ‘Pirates,’ a sort of tag version of tag, which involved staying off the ground.

I think I was vaguely interested in Gymnastics. Once I went to Gym Club, which did give the opportunity for a little bit of individual tuition. But it was about five o’clock, after waiting around at school, and just wasn’t convenient (or perhaps I wasn’t that keen.) I only went once.

For PE we just wore shorts, vests and the standard black plimsolls that were still the only gym shoes available


Games were outdoor activities (in all weather), for a double lesson each week. The teacher had two classes of 32 together so there was not much in the way of individual tuition. I can’t remember the names of any Games teachers but we didn’t have Ron Pickering. He taught at Wanstead, another Grammar School in Ilford.

Through the winter, games meant Football. We played three separate matches, a first team, second team and third team. I presume that the teacher selected the teams somehow and he looked after and refereed the first team match. Second and third teams looked after themselves. I was third team material so I never had a word of education about football, apart from what I noted in [61] Match of the Day.

I’m not sure why but football wasn’t always on the school field at the back of the school. Sometimes we went somewhere else.

Just once, when the weather was really bad we were told about offside. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I grew up without a love of football. (For football we had to buy football boots and socks.)

In the summer the sport changed to Cricket. The arrangement into teams was as for Football (and again I was third team material) so I was never told anything about the rules of the game or how to play it. I have picked up a lot from watching it on television but it far too complicated. I think if the ball hits the body it should be LBW whatever else happens – much simpler!

You well be getting an idea already of my memories of how we were taught in games. I mustn’t forget Athletics. Once a year, for just one double lesson, in the summer out would come shot put, discus, javelin, hurdles, high jump and long jump and the teacher would do his best to tell some of something about each of them. Yes, without worries about Health and Safety, a few boys would be left throwing the javelin on the school field. I always felt that I might be good at long jump but there were no other opportunities for athletics.


It wouldn’t be the same without a bit of side-tracking and backtracking. This is about water.

My earliest memory is of being dropped in the bath. I think it was my father and I must have been about one. I also remember at a very young age, on holiday somewhere like Margate or Clacton, stepping from a very small seaside pier on to a small boat and falling between the two into the water. I grew up with a fear of water, especially a fear of putting my head under water. It’s not quite so bad now but it’s still with me.


At some time we moved to a sort of rota where a third of us went swimming every week. We had to catch a bus and walk to the swimming pool at Ilford. We took swimming trunks in a rolled-up towel.

Lessons started at the shallow end. All we had to do was glide from the middle to the side to gain the confidence for proper lessons at the deep end. I could never do this. Soon teaching concentrated on the able pupils and a small number of non-swimmers entertained ourselves at the shallow end. I never learned how to swim, never developed the confidence to glide to the side and kept my fear of water. I don’t think the teachers were interested or even aware of me or other non-swimmers.

There was a brand new swimming pool and a new gymnasium built somewhere around the time when I was in the Fifth Form or Lower Sixth. I still couldn’t swim. In the Sixth Form I remember standing at the shallow end while a classmate showed me how to do two lengths underwater!

[At about the age of fifty, I did gradually learn to swim a little. At first I could only swim along the side, now I can manage a length in some small pools.]

 I have made a few minor changes about names and nicknames, thanks to those whose memories are better than mine.

Sorry, it’s been a rambling blog with no pictures. Before you get the wrong idea, I want to make it plain that I loved almost everything about my years at school. I have always enjoyed learning new things. I loved Mathematics and Science and languages (because of the logical structure of their grammar.) I liked reading and writing and anything that didn’t involve too much physical activity. The only times when I didn’t enjoy lessons were when Mr Bown was not in a good mood.

More to come …


[61] Match of the Day

For absolutely no reason I have just promoted the subject of Sport by about forty positions. It was the last one on my provisional list; now it’s at the top! As usual I will start with a little diversion.

Advertising, Television and Money

As you know, back in the fifties television was virtually non-existent (and, basically, very poor quality,) so there were few opportunities for televised sport. The BBC effectively controlled the very few sport events every year that were shown and it kept very strictly to its policies of no advertising. You can see already how things might have differed from today – when many sports are driven by vast revenues that come from advertising and television rights. Back in the fifties sport did not play such a major part in the world of entertainment.

Much of what follows is either about changes in televised sport or general changes that have arisen from television. Other changes have been driven by technological changes.


Professional Football

I have to start with football, effectively our national sport then, as it is now. In theory, we did football at school. (More, later about school football. For US readers, ‘football’ means ‘soccer’ not American Football.)

My earlier post, [12] Football Pools said a little about professional football in the UK. We knew that it existed and anyone interested could follow results on television or in newspapers. Primarily it was spectator sport just for those fans who went to matches and watched from the terraces.

I think it’s fair to say that actually watching live football was more of a working class activity then. Tickets were much cheaper, in real terms, and most were in stands or terraces, without seats. (My experiences of actually doing this are virtually nil.) I suppose our local team was Leyton Orient but no one in our family ever supported a team well enough to be interested in weekly results. My father followed the football pools, so the time around 5 pm on a Saturday was sacrosanct (revealing the results over poor quality television.)

It was before the split of the Premiership and the strangely renamed Championship, so the leagues were named more sensibly – Division One to Division Four. Promotion and relegation were simpler, based just on positions at the end of the season. There were no play-offs. (Now relegation extends to the bottom of Division Two – what was Division Four – with promotion from the Conference. Back then, the bottom two teams just reapplied for inclusion, generally successfully. We knew nothing of the Conference.)

In addition, we had (and still have) the F.A. Cup, a knockout competition, which messed about with fixtures a bit. (Probably not much has changed over the years.) At all levels, drawn Cup matches were replayed at a later date – even the Cup Final. There was no such thing as a penalty shoot-out. Apart from Cup matches, including replays, and matches postponed because of bad weather, all matches took place at the same time – three o’clock on Saturday afternoons and Bank Holidays. (There was no point in matches at different times or on Sundays until they were televised.)

I was thinking this would be a short post, with a couple of line about each sport but there is a lot more about football …


At the time of writing, the football leagues are officially the Barclays Premiership, Sky Bet Championship, Sky Bet League One and Sky Bet League Two. These sponsored names would have been unthinkable in the early days of televised football, when the BBC would not show any form of advertising. Now we see sponsorship all the way round the touchline, on players’ shirts and behind the manager when interviewed on television.

We also now have news, pictures and interviews with individual footballers. Many are so famous that their wives and girlfriends have also achieved celebrity status. When the game was first televised, football shirts just had the player’s number. They were named by the commentators (just the surname) and that was about all we knew of them.

The Game of Football

I keep thinking of more differences. Even the ball pictured above, with its familiar design of hexagons and pentagons, is relatively recent. It used to be a much harder ball made of stitched leather.

I am not a fan of football but it is now so popular on radio and television that it is unavoidable. I don’t know all the changes (and I’m not going to search the Internet for such unexciting detail) but here are some obvious changes.

As noted earlier we never had penalty shoot-outs. We didn’t have extra time either. (I’m not totally sure about this.) If the result was a draw and one side had to win, the match was replayed. Substitute players were almost unused – they were only available when players were injured.

The referee was helped by two linesmen and that was all. We had no television or other technology to replay dubious decisions. (Television was live. The ability to replay just a few seconds was very limited at first.) The only means of timing a match was the referee’s watch. If he allowed extra ‘injury time,’ the amount was up to him. If he didn’t notice the time and forgot to blow the whistle, they just kept playing.

We didn’t even have yellow cards and red cards. A player could be warned by the referee or sent off. The official would make a pencilled note in his notebook.

I know virtually nothing about the rules of football or its tactics but I do remember the only two lessons I ever had at school about the game, when it rained too hard to send us outside. We had the offside rule explained on a blackboard and we had a plan of the field showing positions. The eleven players were arranged as five forwards (outside left, inside left, centre forward, inside right and outside right) three half-backs (left half, centre half and right half) two backs (left back and right back) and a goalkeeper. The possibility of other arrangements was not mentioned.

Well, now, forwards are ‘strikers’; halves are ‘mid-field’; and backs are ‘defenders.’ There are extensive discussions on various formations and now no one plays what we would call a 2-3-5 formation (or is it 5-3-2?)

As with so many things, it was all so much simpler then.



On Saturday afternoon at home, we always followed the final results of the football matches. They were always in the same order. Firstly FA Cup matches, then First Division down to Fourth Division, then the Scottish Leagues. (I’m not Scottish, but Scotland was simpler then – also without its Premiership and Championship.) Then a summary of the pools figures and possible pools winnings. Then there might be a short discussion of one or two matches and the new League tables.

Then, almost as an afterthought, we had results of the rugby matches. There were lots of matches, presumably in alphabetical order of the home team. They were just friendly matches with no leagues and there were never any league tables. Rugby was an amateur sport and nothing else was ever said about the rugby results.

That was about it but once a year we did have the Five Nations Internationals (now Six Nations).

I’m sorry but I can’t say much more about rugby. I don’t understand it. Sometimes I have watched it and I can just about understand tries and scrums. Beyond that, the rules are still incomprehensible to me – as are the positions – and the differences between Rugby Union and Rugby League. (And I can’t understand why they think England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are nations, but then the same goes for Football.)

It has changed since the fifties. Like football it is more of a significant television activity (but in Britain it’s still overshadowed by football.) It is no longer an amateur sport, and fixtures have moved from winter to summer!

American Football

I just mention American Football in case I have any American readers. Back in the fifties and sixties it was almost unknown to us here. Now it is mentioned sometimes and some matches are shown on some channels. We have so many channels now. The time difference is a problem but at least one channel, somewhere, will show the entire Superbowl. Its result is even mentioned the next day in the sports news.



In a quaint, historical way, English cricket was run by the MCC – Marylebone Cricket Club, which defined the rules and ran the national cricket team at home and abroad. When the team played Test Matches abroad, until the mid-seventies, it was not called England, it was MCC. (I think for cricket, England has always included Wales. County cricket included a team from Glamorgan. In practice, traditions and the colder weather have not been conducive to cricket in Scotland.)

Even up to the nineties, the MCC, based at Lords, governed everything to do with cricket. Now we have the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB). The MCC remains technically in control of the laws of the game.

Cricket in the fifties was mainly the County Championship, just a straightforward single league system of three-day matches. There were also Test Matches against other countries. In those days England, Australia and the West Indies were the main international teams and we always played a series of six Test Matches – one series at home and one away.

[There have changes in the cricketing ‘counties’ but they were never unduly influenced by changes in local government. The county of Middlesex disappeared in 1965 but even now they still manage to provide a team for the county in cricket!]

National or International cricket was never played on a Sunday, so Test Matches were always six days – Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, with Wednesday as another day off.

There were one or two extra matches. Oxford and Cambridge Universities had their teams and there was the annual Gentleman versus Players match (professionals versus amateurs.)

As for other sports, it was low key without advertising and players were not paid vast amounts.

As for football, I am not an expert, but I can more or less follow what’s happening with the game. There must have been changes to the rules but I can only speak about two areas. Firstly, the length of a session used to be nearly always fixed at two hours but now it’s more often defined by the number of overs. We also sometimes have longer sessions when rain was limited play earlier.

And secondly, (no surprises) it makes more use of technology. Umpires now use light meters to determine if light levels are suitable and they use predictive action replays to decide exactly where the ball went – and would have continued! Originally if you missed a wicket on television you might have another chance to see it, only if you waited until close of play for the edited highlights. You certainly never saw the same action from different camera views.

The biggest change, which I have left to last, is the use of limited overs. Over several years there were experiments with various numbers of overs. Now, One Day International matches take place about as often as Test Matches and we even have Twenty-Twenty, allowing two or three matches in one day. To someone like me, these are quite interesting, but they are not cricket!

Match of the Day

I will go back to football, with a bit of help from Wikipedia to look in more detail at television coverage provided for many years by the BBC as Match of the Day, shown on Saturday evening. Its first broadcast in 1964 had an audience of about 20 000, less than half the attendance at the ground. There had been earlier live broadcasts, starting with an FA Cup semi-final in 1958.

Generally it showed First Division (now Premiership!) level but in the early years it had to show Second Division, even sometimes Third and Fourth Division matches. Some clubs tried to block its extension in 1965 but the BBC agreed not to reveal the actual location until after the day’s play had ended. It’s hard to imagine such an arrangement today!

Kenneth Wolstenholme and David Coleman presented the shows until the mid-seventies. After this the BBC gradually lost exclusive rights with some football being shown on ITV.


I think these three are our major sports and this looks like a convenient place to have a rest. More sport to come …