Remembrance of Things Past

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


[98] ‘Evening, All’

I have done several blogs about Television, from its origins and Children’s Television. I have so many memories of television. After looking at some early heroes and a whole list of famous characters from television and radio I still had a few people and television programmes that I had kept back. I couldn’t fit them into my last television blog so here are the rest – it may still be too many for one more post! It’s a fairly random bunch left, in no particular order. (I have not attempted to be chronological.)

Dixon  dixonDockGreen

Dixon of Dock Green

This television series ran from 1955 to 1976 and like so much early television most of the episodes have been lost. It was about petty crime and the police at a police station in the fictional London area of Dock Green (based on Paddington Green.) Central to the series was its eponymous hero PC George Dixon played by Jack Warner in all of its 432 episodes. In those days it was all live television.

Dixon was a typical ‘bobby’ patrolling the streets and knowing everyone sympathetically. Policing used to be mainly done on foot in contrast to later series such as Z Cars from the mid-sixties, which reflected more violent crime and more aggressive police culture.

(Jack Warner was a well-known comedian and actor from before the War and was sixty when Dixon started. In later series he was too old for an active PC and the character Dixon became a desk sergeant as shown in the picture above.)

It was a very popular series and was well received by police forces for the way it portrayed police life. Another character was PC Andy Crawford, a new recruit at the beginning but soon to become a member of the family by marrying Dixon’s daughter – so in many ways Dixon was a paternal figure.

Every episode started with Jack Warner saluting and saying ‘Evening, all.’ (At first it was ‘Good evening, all’) And they would end with a few words of wisdom from Dixon and a final ‘Goodnight, all.’ He was so much seen as a real policeman that he would end each series saying that he would be on holiday for a few weeks.

I could say that we never missed an episode but in those days there were no other channels to watch.


The Lone Ranger (and other Westerns)

I suspect they all came from America but in the fifties and sixties Westerns formed a major genre for films and television programmes. They were about the early years when everyone carried and used a six-shooter and the Sheriff was the only law enforcement. As children we played ‘Cowboys and Indians.’ (It was long before political correctness and the ‘Indians’ – or ‘Redskins’ were always the baddies, routinely killing and scalping the cowboys. Nowadays we call them Native Americans – or at least that’s what they are called in the USA. We don’t have cause to talk about them here now that we don’t have Westerns.)

In particular, the Lone Ranger was a regular series on Children’s Television. The Lone Ranger was a character associated with books and films but mostly from television, running through the fifties on US television and repeated in the UK. It starred Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as his faithful Indian companion Tonto.

Every episode started with the hero on his white stallion, Silver, dashing off to the cry of “Hi-yo Silver!” And every episode ended with someone asking, “Who was that masked man?” with the reply, “He’s the Lone Ranger,” while the two galloped off into the distance. Other catch-phrases were Tonto calling his companion, “Kemo-sabe,” which meant something like ‘faithful friend’ in the fictional Indian dialect of Tonto; the use of silver bullets; and Rossini’s William Tell Overture as signature tune.

The Lone Ranger was supposed to be the only survivor from a group of Texas Rangers. To conceal his identity he wore a mask and was never unmasked. (Sometimes he used disguises without the mask.) The Lone Ranger kept to a strict moral and behavioural code: He used perfect grammar without slang; he never shot to kill, just to disarm; he never called himself the Lone Range but might sometimes present a silver bullet; he never drank or smoked – saloons looked more like cafes and he would drink a ‘sarsaparilla with a dash of cherry.’ [Wikipedia associates this with another Western series but I think it was the Lone Ranger.]


That Was the Week That Was

Known more often as TWTWTW or just TW3, this programme was a landmark in television with its satirical look at politics and World affairs – often aimed at the Prime Minister (Harold Macmillan) and his cabinet. Until then the Establishment was largely uncriticised. TW3 was not afraid to criticize politics, the monarchy, racism, the class system and even the BBC. It relied on up-to-the-minute news and ran live. It ran for just two years in 1962 and 1963 but introduced many familiar figures, especially David Frost.

I remember Bernard Levin, once punched by the person he was interviewing; Lance Percival with his improvised calypsos; Willie Rushton, Roy Kinnear and the singer Millicent Martin (local with Ilford connections.) The programme opened and closed with Millicent singing the theme tune with words about the news of the week and that particular broadcast.

It ran on Saturdays, late in the evening, and would over-run or under-run as the cast more or less improvised. Despite large viewing figures it was not continued after 1963 as the BBC feared it was affecting its impartial status.



Fondly remembered for its two main characters, Steptoe and Son was a comedy series of the mid-sixties (with a few more in the early seventies) about a father and son team of rag-and-bone men, perhaps a little after such employment was common. It was often dramatic and tragic in parts but the overall impression was of comedy. It was the first UK situation comedy to use actors rather than comedians.

(It originated from a single half-hour comedy in the Comedy Playhouse series of 1962, which was so well received that it generated the series later.)

The father, Albert Steptoe was a ‘dirty old man,’ in many senses, while his son, Harold had social aspirations and wanted greater things. [Wikipedia says of Albert: ‘He is lazy, stubborn, narrow-minded and foul-mouthed, and has revolting personal habits. He is content with his place in the world, utterly unpretentious and downright cynical. He can be extremely vindictive and does everything he can to prevent Harold, his son, from improving himself.’ Of Harold, it has: ‘He wants to move up in the world — most of all to escape from the family home and his stifling relationship with his father … He likes to see his business as antiques rather than junk.’]

The episodes generally revolved around disagreements between the two, Harold’s attempts to bed women and momentary interest over things found on his round. Much of the humour derives from pathos, especially Harold’s continually thwarted attempts to better himself and the love/hate relationship between the pair.

Albert almost always comes out on top, and routinely and effortlessly proves himself easily superior to his son whenever they compete, for example in their frequent game-playing, such as snooker, Scrabble and badminton. Harold takes them desperately seriously and sees them as symbols of his desire to improve himself, but his efforts come to nothing every time. His father’s success is partly down to superior talent but is aided by cynical gamesmanship and undermining of his son’s confidence. In addition, Albert habitually has better judgement than his son, who blunders into all sorts of con tricks and blind alleys as a result of his unrealistic, straw-clutching ideas.

The Good Old Days

This light entertainment show, which ran from the early fifties to the eighties, modelled itself on Victorian Music Hall. It recreated an authentic atmosphere with the audience dressing in period costume. Leonard Sachs was the compere and the audience joined in the singing, especially the closing song, ‘Down at the Old Bull and Bush.’ Over its long run it featured so many famous singers and comedians that it would be impossible to list a significant subset.


The Goons and the Goodies

The Goon Show was a radio comedy show of the fifties broadcast on the Home Service (which became Radio Four) with occasional repeats on the Light Programme (later Radio Two.) It was created by its main writer Spike Milligan, who was also one of its main characters. The others were Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe. (All three continued long after the Goons, Milligan as a comic, Sellers mainly as an actor and Secombe mainly as a singer.)

Its humour was surreal, often with bizarre sound effects, and it affected much of later British comedy.

There were regular character roles such as Neddie Seagoon, Eccles, Bluebottle, Jim Moriarty and Major Denis Bloodnok, each with their own contrived voices and several regular catchphrases which quickly moved into the popular speech – such as: “He’s fallen in the water!” “You dirty, rotten swine, you! You have deaded me!” and variations of “Ying Tong Iddle I Po.” You will, of course remember the novelty hit song “The Ying Tong Song,” from my blog about holidays and the third one about Music.

The Goodies, a television series of the seventies, was equally zany and surreal. (Yes, I know, it shouldn’t be here if it was seventies, but it’s my blog.) It was written by its three stars Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie.

The series’ basic structure revolved around the trio, always short of money, offering themselves for hire — with the tagline “We Do Anything, Anytime, Anywhere” — to perform all sorts of ridiculous but generally benevolent tasks. Under this loose pretext, the show explored all sorts of off-the-wall scenarios for comedic potential. The show featured extensive use of slapstick, often performed using sped-up photography and clever, low-budget, visual effects.

Royal Command Performance

I remember this annual event as a spectacular variety show from early times. Wikipedia is not clear when it changed its name to the Royal Variety Performance or when it started being televised. It has always had major international stars performing there and the television presentation starts with the arrival of HM the Queen (or her representative from the Royal Family.) After the show we see the cast being presented to her before she departs. Of course it used to be live but now we have it the week after and its significance has diminished.

Sunday Night at the London Palladium

This was a British television variety show that was hosted from the London Palladium theatre in London’s West End, originally produced for the ITV network, from 1955 to 1969. The name was changed to The London Palladium Show in 1966. (There have been revivals in the seventies and this Century.)

Regular hosts included Tommy Trinder, Bruce Forsyth, Norman Vaughan, Jimmy Tarbuck, Jim Dale and Ted Rogers but it is mostly remembered for Bruce Forsyth. There were many other guest comperes for one or more shows

I remember it as a bit like the Royal Variety Show as it featured various acts, generally with a very well-known finale. It started with the Tiller Girls (glamourous synchronized dancers in the style of Busby Berkeley) and lesser acts in the first part and then there was the game show, Beat the Clock, the format of which was rather like Bruce Forsyth’s later programme, The Generation Game.

Current Affairs and Science

Panorama is a BBC Television current affairs documentary programme first broadcast in 1953 (and still running.) It has been presented by many presenters, but I remember mainly Richard Dimbleby, from 1955 until his death in 1965.

Tonight was a BBC television current affairs programme presented by Cliff Michelmore and broadcast live on weekday evenings from 1957 to 1965. It covered the arts and sciences as well as topical matters and current affairs with some light-hearted items. Reporters included Alan Whicker, Fyfe Robertson, Kenneth Allsop, Chris Brasher, Julian Pettifer, Brian Redhead and Polly Elwes.

The style was informal with no attempt to hide studio equipment. Sometimes Cliff Michelmore perched on the edge of his desk, unfazed by his desk telephone letting him know about technical problems. There were regular appearances from Cy Grant, singing a topical calypso (Like Lance Percival in TW3,) and folk singers Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor. Cliff Michelmore was known for his catchphrase when closing the show, “That’s all for tonight, the next ‘Tonight’ will be tomorrow night. Until then, good night!”

It was during an edition of Tonight broadcast on the evening of Friday 22 November 1963 that BBC television broke the news of the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy to UK viewers.

Horizon is an ongoing and long-running British documentary television series on BBC, running since 1964, covering topics in science and philosophy.

Tomorrow’s World was a BBC television series on new developments in science and technology, transmitted from the mid-sixties until 2003. In its early days it was hosted by the former Spitfire pilot Raymond Baxter. (Raymond, who also gave radio commentary at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the funerals of King George VI, Winston Churchill and Lord Mountbatten of Burma, and the first flight of Concorde, was born in Ilford and educated at Ilford County High School, from which he was expelled after being caught smoking. He did not go on to a college or university. He was the only famous Old Parkonian I ever heard about while at school.)

Ok, I give in. I will split here; still more to come …



[82] ICHS – Part Five

I have done my school days in roughly chronological order, so I am left with the Sixth Form at Ilford County High School. But because it’s been a bit rambling, there will be lots of other leftover bits as well!


You will, of course, have read Parts One, Two, Three and Four already.

I have described the school and its location but have only recently found this picture. It shows the school frontage, which is largely unchanged today and the local church that we sometimes used – for inoculations, medical visits and GCE O Level oral examinations.

But also shows this large rough field to the front. You will remember, from Blog [36] that fireworks on the Fifth of November used to be much more common. This feature would have a rough bonfire and some of the boys might gather with bangers. Organized Fireworks night events were unusual – they were just informal gatherings.

Sixth Form

It was assumed at Ilford County High School (ICHS) that all students would move on to the Sixth Form to study selected subjects at A Level and there were very few exceptions to this rule. There was just one boy in our class who left after O Levels.

GCE A Levels were the only option for us. (AS levels did exist but I never heard of anyone taking them. The other qualifications below degree level were OND, HND and HNC. There were Further Education Colleges doing things like these.) A few scholars who failed to achieve the necessary grades could re-sit and catch up later with A Levels. The general standard – for continuation into Sixth form, or for many jobs elsewhere – was five subjects at O Level, including English Language and Mathematics.

As for O levels there was no element of coursework in our studies.


I will do things the other way round and start with the options available to us, the classic subjects which were more or less the only subjects generally available at University, so they were the main subjects available at school.

There were the sciences: Physics, Chemistry, Botany and Zoology; Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics; Languages: English (which at A Level meant Literature,) French, German, Spanish, Latin and Ancient Greek; and the arts and humanities: Art, Geography and History.

[I may be wrong about Botany and Zoology. It may have been just Biology. I am not sure how a few had managed to get to O Level Greek. Music, PE or RI may have been available but were rarely chosen.]

For the Sixth Form we picked three subjects. Probably not every possible combination was available. Those doing Mathematics generally did four, like me, usually Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.

ICHS Today

AS Levels have come into use as the first half of A level courses and the School now starts the Sixth form with four AS subjects selected from quite a long list. Their web site suggests that any combination of four subjects is acceptable. These are usually cut to three in the final year for A Level study.

Sciences are Physics, Chemistry and Biology with the addition of Psychology and Computer Studies. (In the fifties and sixties, Computer Studies did not exist and Psychology started at University level.)

Mathematics and Further Mathematics are both available (replacing what to us were Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics.)

Languages are English Literature, French, German and Spanish. Classical Civilisation is available, replacing the Latin and Greek of our days, which sadly seem to have disappeared as school subjects. (There is also English Language and Literature.)

Art, History and Geography effectively complete all the options available in our day. (Music, PE and RI are still there, probably still very much minority choices.)

With more stress now on real life and business, they have the three additional options of Economics, Government and Politics, and Design Technology (Product Design).

I must add this section with the following, taken from the School web site: “The Sixth Form at Ilford County High School is one of the most successful in the UK and in 2012 the Department for Education cited it as the most successful state school in England for progression to university.”

I think it was pretty good back in the sixties!

Sixth Form Studies

Then, as now, the Sixth Form was different. We were taught in much smaller groups in a way that was slightly more relaxed and informal. (I suspect that all teaching is much more informal nowadays!) We had free periods when in theory we did private study and the Library was allocated for this use. I am not sure to what extent we were allowed to leave the school in free periods but we certainly did sometimes. We used loose-leaf files instead of exercise books.

There were some other things in the timetable. There was a new thing called ‘Use of English,’ for one period a week with an examination at the end of the Lower Sixth. It was designed, I think, to side-track English O Level for non-native speakers of English – it may have included an oral exam.

There was also something called General Studies, which covered some odds and ends of real life to avoid a blinkered sphere of study. (Don’t ask me what was included. Perhaps politics, economics, British Constitution, current affairs.) The School now includes an AS subject called Critical Thinking which develops analytical and writing skills it develops. This looks like the successor to General Studies.

It was at the height of the importance of Russia and the USSR and we had a teacher who I think came back from a year learning the Russian language. When I started in the Lower Sixth, there was an optional O Level Russian course available.

[It clashed with something so I couldn’t do it. I bought the standard text book, which in those days was effectively produced by a department of the USSR government, and could only be ordered by post from Moscow. I taught myself while at school and University and took the O Level a few years later.]


Back to subjects – I have left until last those I did at A Level and next on my list is Mathematics, always known as Maths. (US: Math) I think I always knew that I would go on to study Maths at university. It was always my favourite subject but I can’t remember the particular Maths teachers. It was just Maths up to the Fourth Form, taking O Level Pure Mathematics early, then Additional Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics in the Fifth Form – and Pure and Applied for A Level. I think Mr Taylor, the deputy Head (known as Gat) taught some of the A Level Applied Mathematics.

I remember Mr Rigby as a Maths teacher but I am not sure if he actually taught us. He was near to retirement and, in a time when all teaching was done on a blackboard, he was allergic to chalk dust. He wore gloves when writing on the blackboards and would write everything for the day before lessons started.


I need to go back to the earlier years of Maths, when we did algebra and geometry and the geometry include various constructions with triangles and circles – things like bisecting angles and bisecting the sides of triangles. We all had geometry sets, often in a little tin like the picture above.


A geometry set always contained two set squares (US: triangles) of different proportions (90-45-45 and 90-60-30), a protractor for measuring angles up to 180, a pair of compasses for drawing circles (now sometimes just called a compass), and dividers (like compasses but with two points). It may also have included a six-inch ruler, coloured pencils and a pencil sharpener. The picture above is, of course, far too modern. Set squares, protractors and rulers were wooden, not plastic, buy otherwise modern equipment is similar.

Later we did trigonometry and learned to use logarithms. I think slide-rules were not used until the Sixth Form. (Calculators were just emerging but were not yet allowed for use in schools.)

We did trigonometry round about the Third Form and some calculus in the Fourth Form. I think our syllabus reflected changes so that the calculus was new.

For A level much of what I remember for Pure Mathematics was more calculus – including trigonometric expressions and natural logarithms. For Applied Mathematics we did uniform acceleration, statics and friction – basically mechanics. There was none of the statistics which has come in later to the syllabus.

I can’t comment much on how the teaching of Maths has changed except to say that by the early eighties (when I taught for a few years) it had changed little. In the eighties calculators had replaced logarithms and slide rules, probability and statistics were included, but the basics were similar using textbooks.


There was a very popular combination of Pure Maths, Applied Maths, Physics and Chemistry and those were the subjects I did. For Chemistry I am pretty sure that we had the same teacher through O Level and A Level but I can’t remember his name. For reasons that were not clear, we did O Level Chemistry half a year early, in January – presumably to allow more time for the A Level syllabus.

Chemistry was heavily based on practical experiments – something like two theory periods each week and two double periods of practical experiments. I definitely preferred practical lessons. There was a Junior Chemistry Laboratory (JCL) for O Level and Senior (SCL) for A Level. Chemistry theory seemed relatively boring – just a new element every week – reading about its sources, mining and extraction and uses etc., just reading learning by rote from textbooks.

Conical-Flask1 Flaming Bunsen Burner Against Black Background

Practicals, done in pairs, involved chemicals in conical flasks, burettes, pipettes, Bunsen burners and litmus paper. (Pictures above of conical flasks and a Bunsen are far too modern.) We always wore our own white lab coats for practical lessons. For Chemistry we also had to supply a small metal spatula at our own expense.


We had chemical balances that would weigh to 0.001 grammes.

The balance was in a box like the picture above. It was so accurate that it was sensitive to air movements.

Normally we knew what the result of the experiment would be, having done the theory. But for A Level we developed a complex flowchart of tests to identify a simple sample. The A Level included a three-hour practical exam – we were allowed to use our flowcharts.


I loved Physics and might have chosen it as a subject at University. We were taught by the senior Physics teacher, Mr Landau, always known as ‘Tonks.’ (He took the Jewish boys for separate assemblies and I am told that his nickname derives from his piano playing abilities.)

He was by far the best teacher at ICHS, on a level with the revered Mr Adlam from Highlands.

As for Chemistry, lessons were mainly practical. Tonks instilled in us the need for rigour in experimentation – often doing things in two or four directions and averaging results. We had to write up each experiment formally in a special exercise book. Unlike all others (small 80-page standard school exercise books) the Physics practical books were black, larger and semi-hard bound.

Every experiment had a description of the apparatus, with a diagram, and a clear Method with Results and Conclusions. Only when it reached his standards of excellence would he initial the page as a true representation of work done. His aim was that for those doing Physics at university, work approved by him would not have to be repeated. (If the work was imperfect he would put a note on a piece of paper slipped into the book – so that the final approved pages would be all in our own writing as our work.)

(Somehow I lost my Physics practical exercise book. I regretted this fifteen years later when I taught Physics briefly in a minor capacity.)

In describing the apparatus everything had to be included. For work with electricity this always included dccccw – double cotton-covered copper connecting wire. It was well before the time of plastic coated electric cabling.

Physics included electricity, heat, light, sound, and things like Hooke’s Law – for the expansion of a wire under stress.

Lab assistants

For Chemistry and Physics there was some work to be done in preparing for practical exams. Each year one boy from the Upper Sixth was selected to help the teachers for a few hours each week. They were paid real money for this. (About a pound a week?)


To complete my notes about ICHS there are a few more bits. As for most schools then, there were prefects with prefect’s badges and the power to give minor impositions (essays) to erring pupils. Among other things one prefect would ring the bell between lessons. (He had to go to the school Office to do this.)

They controlled the boys in school dinners and made sure that only those with notes from parents could leave the school grounds at lunch time.

Up until our year more than half of the Upper Sixth would become Prefects. With the much larger numbers in our post-war bulge a tier of sub-Prefects was instituted. I didn’t make Prefect but was a sub-Prefect. [If you haven’t read about the War or our bulge year, don’t blame me. It’s there if you look.]

School Life

I can’t add much to what I have said already to represent what happened in the Sixth Form. After about the first year I always walked to and from school – about two miles each way – and I gave up school dinners.

In the Sixth Form we didn’t have the 32-strong forms but were in smaller groups, and I mostly associated with those doing Maths and sciences. Sometimes a few of us went to the Curry Emporium at Gant’s Hill. It had just opened and was for many people their first taste of Indian cuisine. A prawn biriyani cost, I think, 8s 6d. (That’s 42.5p) I liked it with chappattis.

You can read about my initiation into alcohol with a few school friends.

I spent too much of my spare time in the Upper Sixth form playing Three Card Brag, something like Poker but with just three cards. Stakes were very small staring at a penny. (That’s an old penny, less than half a modern penny.) I wasn’t particularly good at it.


Finally this is me, a bit earlier than the Sixth Form.




[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 …


[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 …


[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 …


[62] Ilford County High School for Boys – Part One

I’m afraid I am running out of sensible ideas for cryptic titles. This is the first of several blogs about my experiences at Secondary School.

The school is still there and from the outside it hasn’t changed much. You can find it from Google Maps if you search for ‘Ilford County High School.’


It’s still a selective grammar school for boys only and it has its own web-site now at so I will leave it to you to find out about it now. I will take you back over fifty years to how I remember it – from 1958 to 1965. (It no longer calls itself Ilford County High School for Boys. I think the equivalent school for girls, near Gants Hill, was more short-lived.)

I am hoping that I have enough for two or three quite long posts about my school life here, only roughly chronologically, but I have to go back a tiny bit to say how I got there.


Younger readers will need to know this to convert forwards. Oldies like me may need it to convert backwards. Those in between probably know already. But there won’t be a test! OK, we used to have Primary school (Infants and Juniors) then we moved to Secondary School where we had First Form to Fifth Form; and finally Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth.

These are now called Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 (Infants), Year 3 to Year 6 (Juniors), Year 7 to Year 11 (Secondary), then Years 12 and 13 (still, just to confuse us all, sometimes called Sixth Form). This is just for England! Wales is fairly close but not exactly. Don’t try to understand Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have different systems of education – they always have done. In what I write, I will stick to the old designations – so at ICHS I went through First Form to Sixth Form.

Selection at 11 Plus

Selective schools are relatively uncommon now but then they were to be the norm. Back in the fifties there were no comprehensive schools (and none of the more modern versions, Free Schools, Foundation Schools, City Technology Colleges, Academies and whatever else subsequent governments may invent.) The break between Primary and Secondary education was very important, called ’11-Plus’ and it involved selection by examinations for all.

For my early education see [15] Highlands School (1) and [16] Highlands School (2). My equivalents of Year 4, 5 and 6 were at Highlands School. We all knew that the 11-Plus was coming and I suppose that our last year there was intended to prepare us for it.

The test was in three parts – English, Arithmetic and Intelligence.

I think that my parents assumed that we would pass but there was a bit of ‘cramming’ to help us. (Observant readers will note my use of the plural and perhaps remember my twin brother.) I remember two large books, something like A3 size but thin and card-backed, plain greyish brown. They were full of typical IQ questions, words, numbers and symbols with analogies like: ‘Horse is to Foal as Sheep is to ???’. Like all such tests in those days, the intelligence test didn’t only measure intelligence, it also depended on memory, vocabulary and culture.

From 1945 to 1970 in England and Wales there were three types of school. (Wales used to be part of England.) Those who passed the 11-Plus went to Grammar Schools. Ilford had about ten Grammar Schools. Those who failed went to Secondary Modern Schools. (Technical Schools, which were few in number, were alternatives to Grammar Schools. Many local authorities did not have Technical Schools. Ilford had just one, West Hatch Technical High School at Chigwell, now West Hatch High School.)

I don’t remember anything about taking the actual exams but we both passed and went to Ilford County High School. There was a process by which parents had put down their choice of Grammar School. I think they put about six of them in order. With an older brother already there, ICHS was the obvious choice.

Before I continue, here are three short notes about selection. (1) There was then no National Curriculum, no SATs, and nothing like them. (2) Three of us at Highlands were offered the chance to take Scholarship exams to the local Public Schools – probably Brentwood, Chigwell and Bancrofts. My parents declined the offer because even free fees would have left them with extra costs such as uniforms and travel. (3) In those days those with physical difficulties and learning difficulties (not called that!) had separate education. Now Comprehensive Schools more or less have to take everyone. (Sweeping generalization alert!)


Ilford County High School for Boys – School Location and Building

I will say so much about it that I will call it just ICHS from now onwards. The picture above, from the current web-site, is very familiar. (Of course, we didn’t go in through the front door.) On the map now there is a roundabout by the school. That wasn’t there. The triangle of land to the West, directly in front of the school, used to be open land. Now there are blocks of houses. We walked up Fremantle Road from Barkingside, which was as far as the bus took us.

Looking on the satellite view from Google Maps, the buildings have expanded but the original parts are still there. There were two quadrangles joined by the school hall in the middle. Round the quadrangles were classrooms and five science laboratories – two for Physics, two for Chemistry and one for General Science. (There was an option to do Biology, which I didn’t do. There may have been a Biology laboratory.)

By the entrance to the main hall were the Headmaster’s office and the Secretary’s office. Above this we had a Library. The picture shows lines of classrooms, with the office and library section in the middle.

Outside, the school still has a playground and a large school field. It looks as if some additional buildings have now encroached into the playground area but the large field behind it looks untouched.


As new First Form pupils we came on our own the day before term started for an introductory day. This was a useful, calming experience. We had sometimes heard tales of bullying of new boys by older pupils on the first day but I think these were apocryphal. We were told not to worry. We were shown round the buildings and told a little about procedures. My older brother, four or five years ahead at the school, had already given me some useful information and an annotated map.

School Rules were always prominently displayed on every class notice board. The thing that always struck me was that they also covered the journey to and from school and any time we were wearing school uniform. There were rules against smoking and we were expected to be polite and well-behaved on busses. (Yes, of course we were!)

In those days the rules about school leaving allowed pupils to leave at the end of the Fourth Form but at Grammar School we had to stay to complete our studies for ‘O’ Levels (GCE, the precursor to GCSE.) As a requirement for acceptance, parents signed an agreement to keep us on to the Fifth Form.

There was also the ‘School Fund,’ which was not exactly compulsory but I don’t think any parent ever refused to pay it. Five shillings a term (25 pence) was collected to cover extras such as transport costs for school teams in sports. We paid reduced rates as a family with more than one boy at the school. I have just checked my receipts. Early ones were for 2s 6d, and later 4s. (Yes, I know, I am a bit of a hoarder.)



I think Junior Schools like Highlands School had uniforms but they were pretty optional and I don’t remember ever seeing them. Grammar School uniform was compulsory and each school had its distinctive colours. For ICHS it was grey creased flannel trousers, white shirt, school tie, maroon blazer, grey socks and polished black leather shoes.

The modern uniform has the same badge and is almost unchanged but there are two differences. In the First Form we all wore short trousers. There was no precise age rule but we moved to long trousers around the second form.

In the uniform list, which we took to the appropriate shop in Ilford, was a school cap. I think it was plain maroon to match the jacket. Most boys bought them, some wore them for the introduction, but it was soon evident that nobody at school wore caps any more. The one boy in our year who wore one after the first day was severely mocked for it.


On a daily basis, we reached school in time for Assembly at 8:40. There were seven periods each day, many of them taken as double periods. In theory there were five minutes between lessons to allow us to move round the corridors and line up outside. From 9:00 to 10:30 we had two periods, then a break with two more from 10:45 to 12:15.

In the afternoon three periods without a break lasted from 1:45 to 3:50.

I cannot remember whether the classrooms had clocks but pupils generally did not have watches. Watches were expensive luxuries. My first watch was a present from my godmother on my confirmation at about thirteen. Time in the school was regulated by a prefect. At the appropriate time, the bell prefect went to the Office and pressed the button to ring the school bell in the corridors.

When the bell went we continued working. It was a guide for the teacher. He would stop the lesson and tell us to leave. We never went into the next lesson uninvited. We lined up outside and waited.

[OK, a diversion about time. We never used expressions like 8:40 or 10:45. They were ‘twenty to nine’ and ‘a quarter to eleven’ respectively and the school day ended at ‘ten to four.’ In general conversation, I don’t believe anyone used more accurate time than the nearest five minutes. Before ‘ten to four’ no one would ever say ‘twelve minutes to four.’ It might be ‘just after a quarter to four,’ or, perhaps, ‘nearly ten to four,’ or ‘between quarter to and ten to.’ Train timetable and bus timetables might have been more accurate – but I don’t want to imply that public transport ran on time!]

Hall and Assembly

The hall was an impressive room with its stage at the front (used sometimes for school plays) and gallery at the back. It could just about seat the whole school of 800 pupils and we came in by classes, in silence, for Assembly every morning. Classes sat in rows with the form teacher at the end. The gallery was for the Sixth Form.

I have talked of formality in an earlier posting ([40] Formality.) Schools have always been relatively formal and Assembly was the most formal point of the day. Some teachers had their gowns from university and those teachers always wore their gowns in Assembly.

When we were ready, the Headmaster, HS Kenward (known to the boys as Harry when no one was listening,) came from the back of the hall and we would always stand in silence for his entrance. (The class always stood if the head came into a lesson.) He would mount the stage with the Deputy Head, Mr Taylor and ask us to sit down.

Somehow we knew that talking in assembly would be dealt with severely. There was the possibility of … having your name announced in assembly with an order to see Mr Taylor afterwards. (That happened occasionally. The deputy head was feared, in quite an affectionate, respectful way. We didn’t know what would happened if called for an interview with him and we didn’t want to find out!)

As at Highlands, assembly was a primarily a short Christian service. For many years the only legal requirement in the school curriculum was that it must include this religious act – a requirement that gradually came to be bent or ignored in the eighties and nineties.

It started with a hymn from a pocket hymn book which fitted neatly into a blazer pocket. I suspect it was Hymns Ancient and Modern as used at church. Unfortunately I threw mine away about two years ago as part of a long term project to declutter, so I can’t check.

There was a small orchestra of about half a dozen instruments at Assembly, teachers and pupils. Not everyone sang enthusiastically but there was enough support to produce the tune and the words.

After the hymn there would be reading, not always from the Bible, and a few words, perhaps ethical or philosophical rather than religious.

Then we had prayers, always including the Lord’s Prayer, in the archaic language described in [3] Religion.

Finally, there were normally a few notices, including internal and external school events. We stood as the headmaster made his exit, then we left to return to our form rooms in preparation for the first lesson.

Classrooms and Teaching

Teaching was very formal using the old-fashioned ‘chalk and talk.’ Classrooms had desks lined in rows, four by four pairs of desks making room for the normal class size of 32 pupils. We lined up outside the classroom until asked to come in.


We did actually use desks like the picture above for all of our school work. Moreover, we used the desk in our form room to store all our text books and exercise books. We would take with us just what we needed.

The teacher’s desk at the front was on a raised platform and most teaching was done with the help of chalk on a blackboard. I may comment on individual teachers and their teaching styles later. (I have done a few years teaching so I will be a bit sympathetic.)


It was more or less one text book and one exercise book for each subject, issued by the teacher at the start of the year. Exercise books, between A4 and A5 in size, had 80 pages. When they were full you could take the full book to the office and get a new book, issued by a prefect.


All of our written work, especially homework, was in an exercise book using fountain pens. The only ink I ever saw was Parker’s Quink SOLV-X, normally blue-black.

We had to write clearly and neatly, so we had rough books, then copied work out neatly. We could write what we wanted in rough books, in ball-point pen or pencil. The paper was poor quality and you could not use a fountain pen.

Although it was never mentioned, we changed immediately from the printing style of Junior School to ‘joined-up’ cursive writing from the beginning of the First Form.


Before I end this introductory ICHS blog I have to show you this. It looks very similar to the satchel we all had, but very new, probably still smelling of leather. (The picture may be imitation plastic but ours were leather.) We all carried one to school with our homework and it came round with is to each lesson, at least for a few years. My memory is uncertain and I think we may have changed to duffel bags later on.


I still have a lot more to say about ICHS, maybe another two or three postings …















[60] Young and Innocent

I think that I managed to live a sheltered life, without knowing about what may have been going on in the world around me. By modern standards, we were all very young and innocent. How did I manage to grow up in ignorance and innocence, without being introduced to all the sins of the world?

To put things into perspective, we have to remember two general points. Firstly, people under 21 were children and were treated as children. They had some limited rights at eighteen, such as drinking alcohol and getting married, but 21 was the age of majority, the age of voting. By some quirk you could be persuaded to leave home and join the army as young as sixteen. I could never understand that.

Up to the age of 21 you were generally considered to be a child, under the care and control of your parents. School teachers also acted in loco parentis, so that they had as much power over children in the daytime as parents when at home. (If you grew to be over 21 at University, they still kept some control over you in loco parentis. They certainly tried to keep the male and female students apart!)

Secondly, information did not spread openly as it does now. [13] Secrecy has illustrated how little we knew about life outside of our families. With the general standards of society, originating in the very Christian and moral standards of Victorianism, it was as if people deliberately kept adult topics away from children. Newspapers were generally much more prim and proper and with the advent of television, the BBC (sometimes known as Aunty BBC) was even more prim and proper. There was no blatant sex or sexuality in television, or newspapers, or on the streets.


Reproduction – the ‘Facts of Life’ (or the ‘Birds and the Bees’)

Children were protected from what today we might call ‘adult’ topics, including everything relating to sex. We had no idea of where babies came from or how they were produced. Mum would say that ‘the Stork brought them’ or, ‘they were found under a gooseberry bush.’ (Yes, people really said such things.) As we grew a little older we knew that these ideas were not true, but we also knew that asking again would not get a more accurate or more sensible answer. What surprised me in retrospect was that I presumably never noticed women in the advanced stages of pregnancy.

We knew that there were boys and girls, who would grow into men and women but we didn’t know the difference. (With three brothers and two sisters I had some evidence to go on.) Without knowing anything about physiology, we knew and accepted all the stereotypes of men going to work; women staying at home as housewives; boys playing with toy guns and cars; girls playing with dolls. None of this was ever questioned.

When I was about ten, my younger brother managed to borrow a book from a boy living next door. It had a picture showing a baby growing inside its mother, which was enlightening. The book was soon whisked away, as if it was something evil we should not be seeing. Nothing was said about it. It was our first knowledge of the origins of babies, a somewhat surprising revelation.

I must have been about thirteen, in the Second Year at Ilford County High School, when things became a little clearer. A group of about six of us spent the dinner hour walking round the school playing field. One boy had acquired a book about the facts of life. (I think his father was a doctor. In those days there were introductory books for maturing boys and girls. Not everyone saw these books – I suspect that they were given out occasionally by doctors rather than being available on sale.)

As a general rule most children, like us, grew up in blissful ignorance of the ‘facts of life’. They certainly learnt nothing about sex (or children, or married life, or relationships between men and women) from school and many children learned almost nothing from their parents. As they reached adolescence there was a permeation of knowledge from gossip, from neighbours, from elder siblings and from schoolmates. This probably covered the basic mechanics of sex but little else.

They may have been taken aside for a short, embarrassing chat when they reached 21, (perhaps earlier) or left home, or approached relationships with the other sex, and given a furtive limited explanation of a few things. There were still plenty of men and women who entered marriage without knowing what was expected of them. But at marriage there was the possibility of a talk with parents, religious ministers or doctors, and some educational books were available. I know that my parents would have been far too embarrassed to mention the topic. When I was older there were vague hints that if ever I wanted to know anything, perhaps I could ask my older brother.

It was, of course, generally expected that no sexual conduct should take place before marriage. Of course some did, but only in a furtive, guilty way, and in some cases with dire consequences. There was little in the way of publicly available contraception. (More about relationships in a future blog.)


While it is not true that homosexuality did not exist, that was the impression that was given by the press, radio, television and books. It was simply not mentioned openly. There were references to it in introductory books about sex, where it was generally described it as, at best, a psychological disorder. I remember being told by a friend that I should not use the word ‘queer,’ as it referred to people who were half men, half women. We had no idea what that meant, perhaps it was a vertical bilateral division – like the black and white men from an episode of Star Trek.

(The Star Trek episode was an analogy with racial discrimination. There was a world where one of these two races was dominant – either black on the right or black on the left. The Start Trek crew did not notice the difference at first. The moral was, not surprisingly, that we should not judge people by the colour(s) of their skin.)


Agony Aunts

There used to be a small number of magazines for women, generally covering the life of a housewife – cooking recipes, knitting patterns, fashion and perhaps a short story. The main ones were Woman, Woman’s Realm and Woman’s Own. One of my mother’s luxuries was Woman, which she read every week.

These magazines always included a page with an Agony Aunt, answering letters about relationship problems, sometimes indirectly alluding to sex. They were as near as we could get to finding out about such things. It was the only page of the magazine that interested me.

Evelyn Home in Woman was Peggy Makins, but this was not revealed until she retired as Evelyn Home and was seen at times on television. She wrote the column from about 1937 to the seventies.

Other well-known names were Claire Rayner (Woman’s Own) and Marjorie Proops, both of whom, like Peggy Makins, branched out into radio and television after retirement.

(In the late sixties, Claire Rayner was one of the first to write an introductory book on sex, primarily aimed at adolescents. They were a little too late for our time.)

Yes, I know, there are still agony aunts, some serious and some amusing parodies.


Going to an all-boys school (of which more later,) I had virtually no social contact with girls after leaving Primary School. (I may have been shyer and more naive than the average adolescent boy of the time.) As for several topics in this post my maturity began with Youth Club at St Andrew’s Church (again, more later,) at the age of about fourteen or fifteen. It was there that I first met and talked to girls – but always in a group with other boys and girls. Sometimes a few of us went to one of our homes where would play cards (Crazy Whist or Black Maria) or play snooker, while listening to records.

At the age of about sixteen there were one or two parties. Alcohol was limited and controlled and parents remained on the premises. I had one such party on my sixteenth birthday.


As I have said, we were young and innocent and at these parties we played a game called ‘spin the bottle’ (not really related to the illustration above.) Wikipedia describes it as an embarrassing kissing game popular among teenagers. That describes it very well. For most of us it was our first experience of (very innocent) kissing.

I will say no more of my experiences with girls after the age of sixteen.


Nudity and Pornography

There was no Internet. Newspapers did not have pictures of topless models. (They couldn’t do pictures except very low resolution dots in black and white.) The BBC kept to middle-class, Christian values. I am not sure how much pornography has been regulated by legislation in the past. There have been changes to the laws and prosecutions which have changed the interpretation of the law. Until 1968 theatre productions were censored by the Lord Chamberlain.

Broadly speaking, in the fifties and early sixties pornography (although it must have existed) was not publicly displayed or on sale. I did not see any provocatively dressed (or undressed) women or pictures of them.

As an adolescent at an all-boys school, our talk outside lessons was not always about our education. Some boys seem to have a constant supply of obscene jokes. One or two occasionally obtained books (not really books, magazines, smaller than A5) of nude ladies (not even nude, topless). They were very tame in comparison with those that more recently have featured on Page Three of the Sun for many years. It was, of course, before the days of cosmetic silicone implants.

Pornography, including what has now become known as glamour photography, was generally seen as illegal and wrong – or perhaps it was just hidden from the young. Changes came from the late sixties with the introduction of magazines such as Playboy, some legal test cases and the later widespread use of the Internet.


Cigarettes were an accepted part of life and smoking was very common everywhere. It was not publicly seen as harmful. Cigarettes were widely advertised in newspapers and shops and on hoardings (and later on television) and were shown with a more positive image.

My father smoked constantly including at home – Players Navy Cut in packets of twenty. The house must have smelled of smoke but there was also the smoke from coal fires. Tobacco smoke was common – people smoked in shops, pubs, trains and busses. (I think smoking was only allowed on the top deck of busses.) Dad knew it was harmful. He used to say that every cigarette was a nail in his coffin. He did manage to give it up some time around 1960.

It was much easier then for children to buy tobacco and cigarettes. They were openly on sale, widely advertised and without health warnings on the packets. I don’t think it was illegal for children to buy them (or to smoke) but in our general ignorance we assumed that it was not permitted. If you were bold enough to ask, you could buy them in shops. (Maybe shopkeepers assumed that you were buying them for your parents or perhaps they didn’t care.) There were packets of ten and five for the cheap brands and some shopkeepers would sell them one at a time to children with their pocket money.

Somewhere around the age of fourteen, with friends (brothers and friends from choir, cubs and scouts, later Youth Club) we experimented a little. I remember at the back of St Andrew’s making ‘cigarettes’ from tea leaves rolled up in paper, and taking occasional puffs from real cigarettes bought by others. (I was not the sort of bold child who would have asked for them in a shop.)

I spent much of a weekend Scout patrol camp (where there were just half a dozen unsupervised boys) smoking inside the tent. But I never inhaled, never saw the attraction, and never did it again. I always say that I gave up smoking before I was fifteen. I think I was lucky with tobacco.

The regulation of cigarettes has changed gradually and in general it has become almost universally socially unacceptable. Pubs are no longer full of smoke. Those who still smoke now know that in other people’s homes they are expected to smoke outside in the garden, if at all. (Many don’t smoke inside their own houses.)



I saw very little consumption of alcohol. In our house it never exceeded a bottle of wine at Christmas and occasionally sherry on Sundays. We were brought up to be honest and law abiding so my first experience of drinking in a pub came soon after my sixteenth birthday. A few school friends met at a pub in Barkingside one evening. We bought rounds of drinks, as was customary and at the end of the evening I had consumed five pints of bitter.

I don’t remember all of the journey home by bus. The next day was my first hangover. I did eventually acquire the taste for beer, in moderation, and other alcoholic drinks but gave up about fifteen years ago.


There have always been illegal drugs. In the fifties, as far as I know, there were heroin and cocaine. With the popularity of cannabis, the sixties was supposedly the age of free drugs (and free sex and lots of other things). Later on, Ecstasy and related drugs appeared, and now the Internet provides ‘legal highs.’ They all passed me by. In my life, have never seen or heard of any illegal drugs or anyone selling drugs. I have never met anyone who admitted to having used illegal drugs at any time. Perhaps I was lucky with drugs. I was always firm in my intention to avoid drugs but never had an opportunity to test my resolve.



There were no Betting Shops until 1960 and when they did come they were not the sort of place for children. I have never dared to enter a Betting Shop (and never wanted to do so.) I was always aware of Dad’s betting on horses but never knew how much money was involved. It seemed to depend far too much on following the horses closely to study form.

In the Upper Sixth form at school we often paid three-card Brag in breaks for small sums of money – only pennies, but a penny then was worth something. It’s like Poker but with three cards instead of five. I would have been about eighteen and may have lost more than I should have done. But at school we didn’t have much money anyway. (There was no freely available credit!) I was never led seriously into gambling.


I can remember as a young child, presumably at Christmas in the context of the Virgin Mary, asking my mother what a ‘virgin’ was. After some thought she said it was someone ‘who was very pure.’ Later, something on television ended with an accusation of rape so I asked Mum what ‘rape’ was. Again she thought and her reply was that it was ‘something that only happened when people were married,’ although it was obvious to me that those concerned in the television programme were not married.

Both answers were given in the same tone that was used to say that children were brought by the Stork. I knew that they were perhaps not the whole truth but I also knew not to ask further.

My ignorance continued in the same way about the four-letter Anglo-Saxon expletives. By the time I reached the age of St Andrew’s Youth Club, I had only ever heard one of them used. I remember someone telling me that I had to be sixteen to find out what it meant. I also remember on two separate occasions having the definition given to me of an expletive that had been looked up in a dictionary. They were words I had never heard used before.

My parents did not swear. The only expletives I ever heard used were ‘bloomin’ and ‘bloody,’ with ‘Bloody Hell’ the most powerful. Sadly television and books now all too frequently use words as expletives, words that I can manage without.

I also grew up in an environment where the Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord Thy God in vain’ was respected. Until the late nineties I did not hear people saying ‘My God!’ Now we have the strange use of OMG, as if using initials makes it less offensive.

Crime and Violence

It’s hard to say whether violence and crime were less common then but that was the impression we had. I think that where there were violent crimes, they were not publicized so dramatically. I have never seen a crime of violence. I have never seen or heard of anyone carrying a gun or knife – although television and the press sometimes give the impression that violence is everywhere.



So, up until about fifteen, I led a very sheltered life, with some mild introductions to the ways of the world when I started Youth Club. As a postscript, I am sure you will like to know that I grew up into a polite, honest, law abiding, clean living, non-smoking, teetotal citizen! This may be another of my sweeping generalizations but it’s (approximately) true.