Remembrance of Things Past

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


[111] It Ain’t Half Hot Mum

I have been putting this one off because it could involve a lot of research – but I have to do it. I want to try to explain how much political geography was different in the Fifties and the best way to illustrate it is to say something about how it has changed since then.

By way of background it is worth reiterating that we knew very little about what was actually happening in the World. There was some international radio and we just about had some limited unreliable telephone contact abroad – but there was no Internet and no international television. Even within England we relied on news from newspapers printed overnight after laborious typesetting.


My knowledge of countries overseas came from two sources – a World atlas and stamp collecting. I think that stamp collecting was a more common hobby for boys then. I had a stamp album and I think there was a little shop somewhere. I used to get a small packet of mixed stamps for a few pence.

So I learned the names of lots of foreign countries – in their own languages. I knew that Magyar was Hungary and Osterreich was Austria. And, of course I also learned the units of foreign currency.

Political Geography

The World was very different. Britain still had an Empire which included much of Africa and a lot of other dependent territories such as Aden (now Yemen) and Cyprus. France had dependent territories abroad which also included large parts of Africa. There were other dependent countries belonging to Spain, Portugal and Belgium.

I will do a whistle-stop tour round the World. Please understand that my one-line comments often summarize fifty or sixty years of complex History. They may be wildly inaccurate or just woefully inadequate. And, of course, whole countries will be left out.

South America

I start in an area of little dramatic change. Countries and their borders through this continent remain have unchanged although there have been political revolutions. This is not the place to talk about Evita, well-known now from the musical production and film – or the Falklands.

There has always been the trio of countries on the Northeast coast. British Guiana became an independent Guyana in 1966. Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana) is now part of the Netherlands and French Guiana remains part of France. (It’s the way France has always worked. It doesn’t have overseas territories. They have the same internal status as other parts of France.)

I have already mentioned Brazil. Its capital used to be Rio de Janeiro until vast chunks of Amazon rainforest were cut down to make Brasilia.


In the Fifties almost all of Africa was still looked after by European countries. Independent African states emerged from about 1960, more often than not accompanied by minor uprisings or long and bloody civil wars. I can’t begin to consider the reasons but the process has been dramatically badly managed. Here it is in vaguely North-to-South order.

Morocco was under Spanish and French protectorates until 1956; Tunisia was part of France until 1956 and Algeria was part of France until 1962. I remember the Algerian freedom fighters were always in the News until they won their independence.

French West Africa until 1960 included the modern countries of Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Fasso, Benin and Niger. Similarly French Equatorial Africa has become Chad, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, the Congo and Gabon.

Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was effectively a British colony until Egypt persuaded Britain to give independence in 1956. There was then no Aswan Dam and the Nile flooded every year in Egypt. (The emergence of South Sudan as a country is much more recent.)

The Belgian Congo has been independent since 1960. I remember the television news when it went straight into a bloody civil war. It is now Zaire.

Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika were British until given independence in the early Sixties. (Tanganyika merged with Zanzibar to become Tanzania.) Kenya is the only country I can think of that has changed its pronunciation without changing the spelling. The first syllable used to sound like ‘keen.’ Now it is ‘ken.’

North and South Rhodesia, British colonies, are now Zambia and Zimbabwe. I remember the Universal Declaration of Independence of 1965, when the colony tried, without international acceptance, to detach itself from Britain. It was resolved eventually in 1980 when independent Zimbabwe was accepted.

Angola was Portuguese. Its independence in 1975 started a long-drawn-out civil war. Mozambique was very similar!

South-West Africa was a largely uninhabited area administered by South Africa. It has been independent since 1988, now known as Namibia.

Madagascar was also part of France – Independent since 1960.

South Africa was a country dominated by the ruling white people, of mixed British and Dutch (Afrikaans) origins. It became a republic in 1961, still part of the Commonwealth. The black and Asian races that formed the main population had few rights under a system of Apartheid, which defined everyone by their racial origin. Apartheid left the country in isolation internationally with boycotts and sanctions, which worked very slowly. Eventually in the Eighties and Nineties Apartheid was relaxed and the transition to a fairer black politics was more or less peacefully managed.

The countries now known as Lesotho (Basutoland), Swaziland and Botswana were separated from South Africa in the Sixties.

[Language note 1: Europeans largely ignore the problems of different languages. The large numbers of African languages are completely different to the Indo-European languages we know. They use suffixes in a way that we don’t attempt to understand. For example, the main ethnic group of Botswana is the Tswana people, hence the name Botswana for its country. The people as a whole are Batswana, one person is a Motswana, and the language they speak is Setswana. Similarly Lesotho and Basutoland are cognate words used for the people who speak the Sotho language. We use Swahili for the widespread language properly called Kiswahili. Of course, Lesotho is not pronounced Lesotho – it sounds like Lesootoo. Let’s not worry about that.]

Middle East

It gets more difficult as we move on geographically because we knew virtually nothing about what happened in Asia.

We knew Persia as a country ruled by its king, known to the British as just the Shah of Persia. He had a playboy image and his name came up most often as an owner of racehorses here. He reigned for 26 years before staging his coronation in a lavish ceremony in 1967. He abdicated and fled the country at the end of the Seventies in a state of progressive ill-health and died shortly afterwards. The country almost immediately became the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Aden was a British protectorate. It is now the country of Yemen. (For a time it was split into two. Its Eastern and Western parts were known, confusingly and inaccurately, as North Yemen and South Yemen.)



Israel is another long story. It had been independent since 1948. The Six-Day war of 1967 led to changes that have continued without ever being agreed. Peace talks continue. The map above is for illustration. I am not trying to attempt resolution of the conflict. The Sinai Peninsula is a desert of sand, now returned to Egypt. The Golan Heights are also uninhabited, maintained as a defensive buffer between Israel and Syria. The Gaza Strip and West Bank territories have had various changes of status and are associated with the State of Palestine (not yet a full nation under the United Nations.) The divided city of Jerusalem is an added complication.

Indian Subcontinent

Until 1947 India was part of the British Empire. It was so important that Queen Victoria was styled Empress of India and we always had the letters IND IMP on British coins. At its independence it was split in some haste into two countries in an attempt to partition its religious differences – India and Pakistan. Pakistan was a country of two parts – East and West Pakistan. After another bloody war of liberation, Bangladesh gained its independence in 1974.

[Language note 2: Europeans tend to modify foreign names. Mumbai was known as Bombay until 1995. Kolkota was Calcutta until 2001. Others are not so obvious. Chennai used to be called Madras. Gradually India and other countries are reclaiming their original names.]

The tiny Indian province of Goa in India used to be Portuguese until 1961.

Tibet, to the North of the Himalayas was an independent country until occupied by China in 1950.

Far East

Communist China with a population then of 600 million (when India was just 200 million) was by far the most populated country of the World. But it was so controlled and secretive that we knew nothing about it. The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have always been the USA, the UK, France, Russia (USSR in those days) and China. But until 1971 China meant the Republic of China on the island of Formosa, what we now call Taiwan. The Kuomintang (Guomindang) government had fled from Mainland China with the rise of communism but they still claimed to be a government in exile.

[Language Note 3: Romanization of Chinese is another problem. There are different systems and in 1982 the standard changed. We now call the capital city Beijing. It used to be Peking. It hasn’t changed but the way we now pronounce it has changed. I suspect that both versions are equally wrong. Similarly we used to call their leader Mao Tse-Tung. Now he is known as Mao Zedong. Of course most westerners are still unaware of the reversal of name order so that Mao is the part we would call a surname!]

In the mid-Fifties the colonies of French Indo-china became independent as Vietnam (earlier North and South Vietnam,) Laos and Cambodia. There have been continued conflicts in that area. (I know, I am glossing over lots of important history.)

Hong Kong used to British but technically it was just on a 99-year lease. I think we assumed that it would always be British. But we negotiated our exit and in 1997 it became – well, not actually part of China but a sort of complicated semi-autonomous region. Macau (Portuguese) suffered a similar fate.

Countries sometimes change their names. Siam has become now Thailand. Its name internally did not changed. Similarly Burma changed the English transliteration of its name to Myanmar in 1989. The Western world seemed to reject this change for a long time because it was associated with its military dictatorship although it seems to be generally accepted now.

[I suppose that was Language Note 4.]

The Soviet Union

You can read about the Soviet Union, NATO, the Warsaw Pact and the Cold War in Blog [51] about Two-Way Family Favourites.

On the map of Europe the main changes were the division of Germany into East Germany and West Germany and the unification of the Balkan states as the country of Yugoslavia. These areas did not change until 1991.


That has been a quick tour and I have missed out some such as the island archipelagos of the Pacific and the Suez Canal. You can perhaps understand why countries around the World have English, French, Spanish, Portuguese as one their official languages.

But I haven’t quite finished yet.


The European Union did not exist in the early Fifties. I can’t begin to look at its various components, its history or its growing number of constituent states. Even its name has changed many times. It continues to add new official languages as new countries join and it now has 24.

The UK joined in 1973 and held a Referendum in 1975 to confirm the decision. I don’t comment on politics but I have to say that I don’t believe in government by referendum.

Local Government and Devolution

Local Government had largely been unchanged for a century or more. Governments have made up for this since the Sixties with at least two separate complete changes to the counties of England, Wales and Scotland; a shake-up of all local authority structures and devolution for Scotland and Wales.

The Referendum about Europe mentioned above was the first ever UK referendum but we have had a few since then. I am not sure that the electorate ever wanted devolution but, briefly, here are some more ideas the government has put to the people by referendum.

For Scotland, a devolution referendum in 1979 failed to meet the threshold for devolution. Another one in 1997 produced a majority in favour with less than half the electorate saying ‘yes.’ We now have a Scottish Parliament. (A further referendum in 2014 voted against independence.)

The position for Wales is fairly similar. A referendum in 1979 voted against. For Wales the second referendum in 1997 produced less than 51% in favour from a turnout of less than 51%. (Yes, just a tiny bit over a quarter voted in favour.) We now have a Welsh Assembly.

The vast percentage of the UK population (from England) were not consulted about these changes.

(You may just detect some of my views on devolution.)

With little experience of Ireland I can’t begin to comment on the position of Northern Ireland. There were conflicts from the Sixties involving the IRA and British troops and an agreement in 1993, which led to a power sharing Northern Ireland Assembly. The UK constitution is so complex that it is no surprise to see different political structures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – with no England equivalent!


It Ain’t Half Hot Mum

It may be a bit incongruous to end with this Seventies sitcom, based on a British army concert party company in the Indian Subcontinent and Burma. It is not now seen as politically correct and has not been repeated.

But it does to some extent show how the British and other colonial countries saw themselves – as benevolent and paternalistic in a friendly sort of way. I don’t think the native populations saw it in the same way.



[78] ICHS – Part Four

I have done ICHS Part One, Part Two and Part Three (and, of course, I trust you have read these three avidly!) We move on now to the Fourth Form and Fifth Form, but it’s still a bit random in the ordering of topics.

In those days the School leaving age was younger. It was possible to leave without doing the Fifth Form (Year 11) but it was always understood that parents opting for grammar school education for their children signed an undertaking to keep them on to complete GCE studies. (Like many things, I don’t know how this rumour spread. I never heard it said officially.)



The web site today outlines the curriculum for what is now called Year 10 and Year 11, culminating in GCSE examinations. Its core programme includes English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and one from French, German and Spanish. In addition Religious Studies, PSHEE and PE are non-examination subjects. It hasn’t changed that much in fifty years.

Option subjects (under review as at September 2015) are Art, Computer Science, DT Product Design, Economics and Business Studies, Engineering, History, Geography and Music. PE and RS are also available as GCSE subjects.

In our time there was a similar choice to be made for the Fourth Form but I can’t give all the details. I only know for sure what I did. We all continued with English, Mathematics, French (or German or Spanish for some) and History. English Language and Literature continued to be taught as a single subject and the whole school always did History O Level a year early in the Fourth Form. I am fairly sure that everyone continued with Latin but Physics and Chemistry were options. Biology was certainly an option, not a subject I was able to do.

We had never heard of PSHEE and the subjects of Computer Science, DT Product Design, Economics, Business Studies and Engineering were not then available – nor were any of them available at A Level. (Economics and Engineering were University subjects then.)

I think my positive choices were Additional Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, so that my list of GCE subjects was: English Language, English Literature, Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Additional Pure Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, French, Latin and History.

I wish I could remember more about those Fourth and Fifth forms but not much remains. Our form teacher in 4A was Mr Pegrum, who I think taught us English. We had a notice board at the back of the classroom and he sometimes posted clippings from papers or magazines or other things of interest. He once posted something that revealed his Christian name. (I can’t remember what it was.) This was a bit of a shock to us. Apart from the headmaster this was the only time we ever knew the first name of any of our teachers. He was Alan Pegrum so inevitably that became his nickname. I cannot remember the names of form teachers in the Fifth form – or the Sixth Form!


I am doing subjects fairly randomly and have three more to look at – before moving to my Sixth Form subjects later.

I always enjoyed Geography, particularly anything to do with maps, but it just got squeezed out when I had to choose. We covered South America, I think in the last year that I did Geography. We learned of the Amazon rainforest, which has continued its rapid de-forestation since then. At the time the capital of Brazil was Rio de Janeiro. A new capital, Brasilia was being formed in the heart of the rainforest.


I remember the teacher (possibly Mr Evans) once spoke eloquently about population. The World population was then estimated at 2 600 000 000, with China at 600 000 000 and India 200 000 000. The prediction by the year 2000 was for a World population of 6 000 000 000, which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. (In those days 6 000 000 000 was six thousand million. The American use of ‘billion’ has crept in and is just about universal now.) Now it’s over 7 000 000 000. (China, despite its one child policy, now has 1 400 000 000 and India at 1 300 000 000 has nearly caught up China.)

Increasing World population is a problem that has been with us for far longer than fifty years. We knew about it then and did very little about it. Now it is still largely ignored but will continue to become more of a problem.


We started History in the First Form with the civilizations of the Tigris and Euphrates, cuneiform writing, the Phoenicians and Egyptians. We progressed chronologically with Roman Britain, (missing out the Dark Ages,) the Renaissance, Tudors and Stewarts, and the Industrial Revolution – going as far as the middle of the Nineteenth Century. The Second World War and even the First World War were too modern for our consideration (although I think A Level History at least covered the First World War.)

I remember two strong speeches from History lessons. One was linked to the question of population when the teacher was considering why families had so many children. Among other things it came down to the fact that in hard times, with no electric lighting and heating, no radio television or computers there was nothing else to do in the dark winters but retire to bed – with consequent results.

The other thing I remember was the description of people through the Middle Ages as parochially minded. In early times people had no idea what happened anywhere else. They were either entirely self-sufficient or lived in very small settlements. They may have only visited the nearest town once a month on market days – a journey that could involve hours of walking each way.

English Literature

English Literature gets a special mention because it’s the only subject I found really hard. I could keep up with Mathematics, science and languages (including English Language) without doing much work but I found English Literature hard.

We did poetry, plays (which only ever meant Shakespeare) and books. From school I remember Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, the Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night. I also have to mention Cymbeline, which was done as a School Play when I was there.

We did Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, which I like. I have read all Jane Austen’s books a few times since then and can watch television adaptions of them every day.

And then there was Typhoon by Joseph Conrad. It was dreadful, so dreadful that I just couldn’t read it all. (I was not the only one.) As the title suggests it was about a storm at sea but reading dozens of pages about a storm (and nothing else) was just boring. I couldn’t finish the book. I don’t remember detecting anything more in the way of plot

I spent more time and effort revising for English Literature GCE than everything else put together but it still produced my worst grade. I didn’t miss it when we went on to the Sixth Form.

GCE O Level

I ought to say something about the exams. When they were just GCE, there was absolutely no element of coursework. It was all three-hour examinations. For the last term in the Fifth Form we stayed at home to revise except when we had exams. Apart from anything else, it was hard to keep up the physical process of writing with a pen for three hours! French had a separate oral exam and Chemistry and Physics had practical exams. (I’m not totally sure about this. They did have practical exams at A Level, of which more later.)

You may be surprised at how we received the results. We each had to provide a stamped addressed envelope. There was no Internet, no mobile phones and no mass television coverage. I presume that the school received a list of results by post and they produced and sent out tiny slips of thin paper with the individual results. We received them by post. I remember Mum bringing up the sealed brown envelopes to us in bed. While it may have been possible to telephone the school during the preceding twenty-four hours, it was made very clear that no exam results would be divulged before the postal delivery.


We just pre-dated CSE. In those days it was GCE O Level or Ordinary Level. (Now you can see why Hogwarts awards OWLs, Ordinary Wizarding Levels!) Pass grades were A to E with Fail grades F, G and H.

CSE started in 1965, as a separate exam, with grades 1 to 5 and it was said that Grade 1 was equivalent to GCE grade C. Grade C was a requirement for many things, including progression to sixth Form and A Level studies. Later the two systems merged to form GCSE, with exams taken at different levels with overlapping results.

In theory the modern GCSE grades A*, A, B and the top half of grade C correspond to the old GCE O Level pass grades of A to E. (There have been many other changes, including the use of coursework, major changes to Exam Boards, and changes in course content and exam methods, so comparisons can only be very approximate.)

When considering ICHS, because the selection process picked only those likely to find upper levels of qualification relatively easy, we would not have considered CSE or the lower grades of GCSE.


You will remember from [47] Standards that corporal punishment was still used in schools. You may also remember from [13] Secrecy, that we generally respected authority much more. As children we tended much more to respect our elders.

As an example, any teacher (or even any adult) did not have to steer a way through corridors of children. The crowds would make way and open up gaps to allow an adult through. I suspect that not showing due deference would have been taken as punishable disrespect. Later, when I taught at a Comprehensive School in the eighties I found myself ignored in corridors, having to wait for gaps in the streams of children.

Most teachers did not have any problem with discipline because we were basically well-behaved children who wanted to learn. The only exceptions were in RI (Religious Instruction) which was not really of interest to us.

There were school detentions once a week for the upper school (from the Fourth Form) and a junior detention for the first three forms. They rarely had more than two or three pupils. I think I was put into junior detention once but I can’t remember why. (It might have been twice and I may have had a senior detention. Not producing homework when due was the most common misdemeanour.)

Above this was the cane, feared more for the associated entry in the Punishment Book than for the actual event. My understanding was that three detentions in one term (or school year) might produce a caning but this may have been apocryphal.

I was caned twice and I suppose I have to tell you about them …

You will remember, from [70] ICHS Part Three, about our Latin master, who we called Solly’. He was easy going, chatted about many things other than Latin, but generally taught us well in an enjoyable manner. I never felt that we were disruptive but we did mess around a bit. He obviously complained at one stage to our form master – I think it was Mr Cully. Probably during lessons with him, or perhaps in form period, he took us outside, one at a time, and had a quiet almost man-to-man chat. I had to accept that we were less than perfect in behaviour in Latin lessons although I never quite understood why I had apparently been picked as one of the ringleaders. Some of us, (I’m not sure how many) were given one stroke of the cane each, on the hand. I don’t think it hurt that much. We were ‘bound over’ to behave better but continued more or less as before.

The other incident was in a French class of Mr Stenner, while the lesson was being taken by a student teacher. As I remember it, my crime was being a little overactive while sharpening a pencil at the back of the class. It was reported to Mr Stenner, again with two or three others. He was known to be strict and supported his student teacher without question. We said nothing when asked to admit guilt or provide a defence. This time it was two strokes and it hurt a lot more. With two strokes you knew what was coming next as you kept you hand out for the second one.

There was no malice in any punishments and no sense of disliking the teachers for what they had done. We just accepted that the teacher was always right.

School prefects could give out Impositions, which were along the lines of: write 1000 words on a specified title. I suppose we more or less respected prefects as well. As long as you did the imposition (generally by writing a lot of rubbish at speed) you could avoid referral onwards.

schooldinners1950s  School meal break

School Dinners

With apologies to ICHS, I have to come to school dinners, a subject that seems to have slipped the net somehow, and it’s mostly very early memories, from the days of Grange Hill Primary School.

When I first went to school, in the early fifties, everyone had school dinners. There was no alternative. They cost a shilling each so we took the equivalent of 25p to school each week. The price was unchanged when I left school! (Memories of paying are a bit unclear for Junior School.)

With a break of just over an hour at lunchtime it was always a regimented procedure. But, of course, we did what we were told and behaved perfectly for the whole procedure. (Well, most of us, most of the time.)

We lined up and went in by classes and sat down on long tables by classes, with supervising teachers everywhere. (At ICHS prefects were involved.)

When we were all there we said grace, generally much more common then, always the simple: “For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful.”

We lined up and received the first course and took it back to our tables. When we were ready we lined up, took our plates back, emptied what was left into a slops bucket (where, supposedly, it was fed to pigs) and received afters.

The first course was awful stuff, normally a slice or two of meat, gravy, a scoop of mashed potato and a dollop of green vegetables of some description. The meat, often mutton, had a lot of fat and gristle, and the potatoes had unsavoury lumps. (I always had an aversion to greens that was probably not helped by school dinners.) We ate what we could as there was nothing else. Afters was either a square of jam tart or treacle tart or rice pudding (or other milk pudding) with a dollop of jam. Maybe there were some days when things were different, perhaps liver or sausages. Memories of school dinners are not my favourite memories.

When we went to Highlands there was an option to take our own sandwiches, which we did. (Sandwiches were never anything other than plain white bread with cheese or ham.)

I’m not quite sure what happened when we moved to ICHS. The option for sandwiches was there but for some reason we reverted to school dinners. Every week we presented five shillings to the form master for it. That was the theory. After about a year we stopped going to lunches. Mum and Dad gave us 5s:0d every week which we kept for our own use – all the way through to the Sixth form. We just didn’t eat at lunch time. By then, we generally skipped breakfast in the rush to get out on time, so a ‘doorstep’ with jam was quite common on arriving home.

School dinners have changed a lot since then. The quality was awful, quantities were fixed and there was never any element of choice. We may have had tap water in jugs on the table but there were definitely no other drinks.

Sorry but ICHS blogs don’t go well with illustrations.

One more to come …


[66] ICHS – Part Two


I have many more (mostly good) memories of my seven years at ICHS. While I will try to look at things roughly by years, I also have to look at specific topics and subjects, so it will be a bit rambling. Yes, I know, it’s always a bit rambling!

As now, the school’s curriculum was split into three chronological periods. I will compare things fifty years ago with modern day ICHS, where many basic points seem unchanged.

Curriculum for the first Three Years

ICHS now teaches the following subjects for the first three years: English, Mathematics, (General) Science, History, Geography, French, Music, Art, PE and Games. So far it’s the same as back in the sixties.

Spanish or German is chosen in the second year as a second language. Well, when I was there we all had Latin as a second language from the Second Year. Spanish or German came later as an option. (Not for me. I think I took Additional Mathematics instead.)

They also now have Food Studies, Design Technology, Information Technology, Philosophy and Ethics and PSHEE, none of which came into our education at any time. The nearest thing to Food Studies would have been Domestic Science (more or less cooking) a subject taught to girls only. (See [20] Sex Discrimination.) Design Technology and Information Technology didn’t exist as subjects but we had Woodwork. Instead of Philosophy and Ethics we had Religious Instruction or Religious Education (RI or RE).

Parents could exclude children from RI and from daily assemblies. Ilford had a significant Jewish population and about a fifth of our class had their separate Jewish assembly and religious education. No one then ever indicated any other religion or opted out of Christian (Church of England) teaching.

If you remember [60] Young and Innocent you will understand that Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (which I had to look up) and, in particular any education about sex, simply did not exist. Anything in these areas would be left to parents, who would probably say nothing.

[I have been juggling with possible timetables on a spreadsheet. I can make the First Year add up to 35 periods, as it must, but I’m not sure what happened in the Second and Third Years. We added Latin so somewhere we must have lost five periods. Maybe Art and Woodwork were just for one year.]

The First Year

We were the post-war ‘Bulge,’ which caused some problems. (See [46] The War) Until we arrived, ICHS had worked on a four-form intake but when we came they had to take six classes of 32. Initially, there was no attempt at streaming so that the first year could be used to sort us out. Classes were named from the form teacher. I was in 1J and I always assumed that Mr Jermy was in his first year of teaching. He was learning what it was like to be a form teacher. I have no idea what subject he taught!

(Some Facebook chat about ICHS suggests that Mr Jermy taught Mathematics, so he probably did. That means that he almost certainly taught us Mathematics. I can’t remember everything!)

They say that ‘boys will be boys’ and inevitably there were those among us who tested the limits to see what we could get away with. But Mr Jermy did learn to cope. We were more or less kept under control and we all survived the first year.

There were also other pupils who suggested that 1L was the class for those expected to form the ‘A’ stream, with the others being generally mixed. As one of the top pupils from Highlands I was disappointed not to be among those in 1L. It was said that Highlands was not one of the better streaming schools and so their pupils were not expected to do so well. I felt the challenge to prove myself capable of doing well. (I suppose I was a bit of a swot. I have always liked learning.)


At the end of every year term we had formal examinations in every subject. Marked papers were returned to us. As well as a percentage score, everyone was given their position out of 32. (Always exams in first and third term, not sure about middle one.)

We had reports, which we took home in a sealed envelope. The report listed every subject with a very short comment, the exam result and position. Then there was a section marked ‘Conduct.’ Dad was always much more interested in our conduct and expected ‘Good’ or ‘Very Good.’ Sometimes it was only ‘Fair.’

Second and Third Years

I remember the transition to the next year, which was unusual because of the bulge. From the Second Year onwards we would always be in streamed classes by ability (and in some subjects, in sets, over-riding class streams.) But for the bulge year this would be difficult. Nobody wanted to be put in the bottom stream of six streams. They invented a new structure with 2A, 2B and 2C for the top three classes. The rest went into 2X, 2Y and 2Z, which were treated equally. We were all called into the Hall and class lists were called out. I went to 2A. Classes for our cohort kept to this structure as we moved up to the fifth form.

I can’t remember all the names or details of teachers but my old Latin dictionary has been useful. This was also pocket-sized, like the hymn book, always carried round with us and my receipts for School Fund were stuck in the blank pages at the end. One for April 1960 is signed by Mr Cully, so he must have been the form teacher in the Second Year. I think he taught History. That’s about all I remember of him. He probably taught us History.

Unfortunately the teacher for the third year just put his initials ‘JE’ on the receipts. I think he was Mr Evans and taught Geography

[It was only long-standing teachers who seemed to come with established nicknames. The headmaster was ‘Harry’ and his deputy was ‘GAT,’ which we all assumed, wrongly, was from his initials. My older brother assured me that it came from an allusion of him with his gown, which he always wore, looking like Batman. I will come to a few other nicknames later but Mr Jermy, Mr Cully and Mr Evans did not have nicknames.

Our respect for authority meant that we always called teachers ‘Sir’ and referred to them as Mister. But when the boys talked about teachers Mr Jermy would become just Jermy.]


From the Second or Third Year some subjects (Mathematics, French and Latin and, later Physics and Chemistry) were taught in sets rather than streams. So, for example, 2A, 2B and 2C had Mathematics lessons at the same times but were taught as 2 Set 1, 2 Set 2 and 2 Set 3.


I am going to end this post with a look at all the subjects we only did in the early years.

I can’t say I remember much about Religious Education. We were growing to the age where we questioned things and no longer took what the teacher said as necessarily true. So belief in God was beginning to waver. Lessons were still effectively stories from the Bible. (Religious Education meant Church of England education. We were never told anything about other religions.)

It was the subject where pupils had little interest and teachers found things like discipline most difficult. I can remember quite well-behaved boys testing the teacher with a bit of messing around and I think several teachers did not last long.

It was one of the first subjects to disappear. It may have been an option for GCE but I don’t think anyone did it.



In today’s world, where Health and Safety concerns permeate life, it may be hard to believe how we did woodwork. With just the supervision of a single teacher, a class of 32 were let loose in a room equipped with hammers, saws, planes, chisels and other pieces of equipment. At the front of the room there was a circular saw and the only safety measure was that we were sent outside when this was in use. (Facebook chat suggests that the teacher may have been Mr Noakes. The name is familiar.)

There were no serious accidents but I do have a line across one thumb, which many years ago was a blood-marked line following over-vigorous use of a chisel.

We learned to measure accurately and to construct in the old-fashioned way – with dovetail and mortise-and-tenon joints and strips of wooden dowel. Measurements were, of course, sixteenths of an inch, not millimetres!


I have to squeeze in Art, which stopped in the lower school. To be honest I can’t remember whether we had one, two or three years of Art. It was more or less a single drawing or painting in a double period every week but we did learn some of the techniques – light and shade using highlights and vanishing point perspective.



Music was a subject that we only did for two years. I wish I could remember the name of our music teacher because it was a subject I enjoyed. I did have the advantage of having had a short period of piano lessons. (See [44] Boars and Antelopes, Craneflies and Earwigs.) We had Music in the School Hall where the teacher could use the piano that lived there for assemblies.

There was no attempt to teach us to play music or to read musical notation.

For the first year we sang. We had song books with the words – usually the sort of song with several verses and a repeated chorus. I suppose the books had the music (or perhaps we just picked up what the teacher was playing.) To be honest, I have no idea whether we sang in tune but that was not the point of the exercise. We enjoyed singing heartily.

There were familiar English folk songs like Barbara Allen, Scarborough Fair, Clementine, Heart of Oak, Early One Morning and the Lincolnshire Poacher; and sea Shanties like the Drunken Sailor.

The Second Year marked the beginning of puberty for most boys, when voices broke. Our music teacher felt that with our changing voices boys would be self-conscious and less keen to sing. So there was no more singing. Instead he played us classical music on an early record-player.

He picked pieces that he could use to illustrate musical topics and would explain everything about the piece before playing it, so that we had something to listen out for. Some of them told stories through music, like Peter and the Wolf.


Danse Macabre

I am sure that you all know that Danse Macabre is an artistic genre, dating from the Fifteenth Century, portraying by analogy the universality of death, showing a personified Death calling those from all walks of life, typically the Pope, an emperor, a king and a labourer, to dance among the graves – to remind us of the fragility of life and its vain glories. (To be honest, I have had a little help from Wikipedia.)

Camille Saint-Saëns wrote a song in this genre for voice and piano and later re-worked it for an orchestra as a piece of music that I will always remember from our music lessons. It uses various instruments and musical tricks to paint a picture of the dance of Death.

I can’t recount exactly what the teacher described to us, but here are some notes, again helped by Wikipedia. The legend is that at midnight on Halloween Death calls the bodies of the dead while he plays the violin. (I will say something about Halloween in a later blog.) The music starts with a single note repeated twelve times for the chimes of midnight. The solo violin is tuned down a semitone so that it can use two strings to make a harsh dissonant sound to call out the dead.

There are then two themes, played on separate instruments through the orchestra, gradually becoming more energetic. After a direct quote from the Gregorian Dies Irae, it returns to its two themes in a full orchestra crescendo.

The ending represents the cock crowing at dawn (with an oboe) and the skeletons scuttling back to their graves. As in another piece by Saint-Saëns (Fossils from the Carnival of the Animals) a xylophone is used to indicate the rattling bones of the skeletons.

This is still, definitely my favourite piece of music, and it always reminds me of that lesson. (More about music in [26] Music (1) and the two follow-ups.)


Although I have lots to say about ICHS, it’s going to be a series with unexciting titles and few pictures. More to come …