End of Tripod material
  Previous | Contents | Next

Bilborough 1957-2000
Portrait of a College

Part II - Bilborough Grammar School

Friends for Life - Judith Atkinson (English, 1965-69)
Years of Great Significance - Jenny and John Davie (Geography / English, 1966/65-69/71)
Father-in-Law - Frances Williams
A Great Place To Be - Elaine Golding (née Straw) (1961-68)
BGS Memories extracted from correspondence from John Martin (1961-68)
Somewhere Special - Janice Ware (née Matkin) (1961-68)
A Sign of the Times - Roger Huxtable (1964-71)
Memories of Bilborough Grammar School - Richard J Bass (1965-72)

Friends for Life

Judith Atkinson (English, 1965-69)

From the moment I stepped off the bus and began to walk down the drive towards Bilborough for my interview, I felt sure that this was a school I would like to work in.

I and John Davie, who was appointed on the same day, joined a close-knit English Department which met every lunch and coffee break round the same table in the staff-room. They were exciting days, when, led by Robert Protherough and later by Trevor Stratford, we were encouraged to try new approaches, introduce new books and discuss together how best to make English lessons enjoyable as well as valuable. For a young teacher who'd spent two years in an unpromising first job, it was a stimulating environment. In that first job I'd had to make my own way, with little support or guidance from the rest of the Department. At Bilborough I felt part of a group of teachers who enjoyed working together, who would plan and try new ideas and then rush back to the staff-room to share successes and failures.

This sense of shared enjoyment extended into collaborations with other staff, and with students. I remember with pleasure the very unsolemn sessions spent planning concerts and 'events' with Colin Jones and David Day and the after-school rehearsals for plays and music. It's a collaboration with Colin which stays in my mind more than any other, when we directed together Benjamin Britten's 'Noye's Fludde'. The striking set and costumes were designed by a student and there was a huge cast, which, at the climax of the opera filled the whole stage. When, as teachers, we collaborated on a staff play, it seems typical of Bilborough's mixture of fun with academic 'edge' that we should choose to perform a translation of 'The Birds' by Aristophanes.

At the reunion in 1997, several past students commented on the unity, energy and commitment of the staff they'd worked with. Some had gone on to be teachers themselves and had looked in vain for a 'Bilborough' atmosphere in other schools. Since leaving myself I've worked in several schools but have never again found what I now think of as characteristic of Bilborough as it then was - a sense of shared enjoyment and commitment to the best teaching and learning, and optimism. It's no coincidence that the colleagues I grew to know well in my time at Bilborough continue, some thirty years later, to be among my closest friends.


Years of Great Significance

Jenny and John Davie (Geography / English, 1966/65-69/71)

In September 1966 Jenny joined the Geography Department at Bilborough as a recent graduate. Inevitably she wondered how her first teaching job would turn out but had no particular thoughts about its leading to marriage as she already had a boy-friend, John, from University days. This was to cause considerable confusion in the staff-room six months later on Valentine's Day when she thanked the wrong (now the right) John for a bouquet of red roses!

John had been at Bilborough for a year and was already well established in the English Department in his second teaching job. However, thoughts of marriage may well have been floating in his subconscious as he had witnessed six marriages between members of staff at his previous school.

Our paths soon began to cross as Jenny was invited to join the English Department break-time coffee group (the rest of the staff all preferred to drink tea). After a few weeks Jenny, who had been lodging in the heart of the catchment area in Bilborough, was asked by Marion England to share her flat in Wollaton. Marion had friends in the English Department and it wasn't long before our social as well as our professional lives began to cross. Our friendship soon turned to romance and, with Jenny living in the catchment area, its progress was eagerly followed by many of the pupils, particularly Jenny's sixth-form. Our lives in school too became more entwined as Jenny started to teach some English and also became involved in John's school productions of plays such as The Insect Play and The Imaginary Invalid by helping out with costumes; John was invited to join the Geography field weeks in the Lake District and Swanage. Together we ran the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme and also formed a Service Group to give pupils opportunities to help in the community.

We became engaged just a year after our first meeting and were married in July 1968. Many of the staff joined us at our wedding together with a couple of the sixth-formers and with both of us now living in Wollaton our lives never really escaped the school's sphere of influence. By the time we married we felt we knew each other better than most couples did in that there had been very few days we had not spent most of the time together.

The pupils' interest in our personal lives probably faded somewhat after we were married. Jenny continued to teach at Bilborough, having now also expanded into the PE, RE and General Studies departments, until the birth of our first child, Richard, in 1970. John continued in the English Department and also became Head of General Studies until he moved in 1971 to Nottingham College of Education at Clifton (now Nottingham Trent University).

Naturally we look back at our years at Bilborough as being of great significance to us but also we reflect on a school of academic and sporting achievement, of discipline and tradition (at the time we arrived most members of staff still wore gowns and Speech Days were an annual event) but in which equally there was a happy atmosphere, good relations between staff and pupils, and a community where everyone looked forward with confidence.



Frances Williams

As one of Ivor's daughters-in-law I have many personal, musical and humorous memories but as a professional I remember Ivor well - I was a young teacher in my second year of teaching - a Head of department in a large inner city comprehensive when I took Ivor on a guided tour - ''That's where all the money is going'' he said quietly.

As a new entrant to the profession and not from a teaching family I hung onto every word and still remember many of them now. (How he would be feeling now about me being an LEA inspector I think I can guess - the LEA was not always his most favourite area for discussion!)

The three memories that I retain amongst many were:

The evening during the power strikes of the three-day week when a school fund-raising evening could have come to an abrupt halt as the power was cut - but no, the head sat at the piano and entertained everyone until the power was restored!

The 'Mind Your Head' notice over a short flight of stairs adjacent to the entrance to the Art Room - a nice 'double-entendre' - that reminded me of the 'Loneliness of the long distance head' and that 'the buck does stop there'.

The most memorable of all in education - 'Do allow room for the butterflies'. That comment has been with me throughout my career.

These last two anecdotes are from Ivor's last speech day. Mike Robinson kindly sent me a copy of part of Ivor's last Speech Day Oration of 28th March 1972 which I was privileged to have attended. I have read this to many of my headteacher colleagues on my patch this term - twenty-seven years on - it still has the same magical impact - and it has brought tears to more than myself.

[The complete last paragraph of the speech was as follows:- I know little about flowers, but I have constantly to remind myself of the final words of a lecturer who ended his hour's talk on flower arrangement with these words:- ''And now that you have absorbed all my hints, and arranged everything in the vase according to the rules and regulations - don't forget one thing - Do allow room for the butterflies!''. Ed]


A Great Place To Be

Elaine Golding (née Straw) (1961-68)

That was then ...
Mid-February - first day, new school, wrong uniform, maroon and gold: transfer from Mundella Grammar School, 'Red and yeller - Monkeydella' was the cry of the local secondary mods. This taunt was later to become 'Bilborough Grammar snobs' to which we replied when we dared 'Billy Blunt yobs'. Hardly politically correct was it? But I digress . . .

I was collected from the foyer by a small dark haired girl named Lesley Taylor (whose friendship I still share). I was to be in Class 1C, in room 1.1 - it took a few years for the significance of the room numbering system to register with me, but proved useful later when I did some teaching at the alma mater. The tutor was called Miss Cherry, she also taught History, and, as at Mundella, she wore a black academic gown. The class went to great lengths to tell me about Susan who had left and how wonderful she had been; somehow I felt like a poor substitute. I was placed next to Valerie, who turned out to be the cousin of a friend at Mundella. It was a small world even then. The desks were in rows, alternately boys and girls, which was very useful in later years when you 'took a shine' to someone and wanted to sit and look at them.

That first year passed without much event except for the birth of another brother in July, the same night that the first pictures were received from Telstar. I became absorbed into the school, and slowly acquired the proper uniform, some of which was purchased through the second-hand shop. The blouses were of a colour called 'air-force blue', but after years of washing with Persil I stood out like a sore thumb on Speech Days. The school prided itself on its modernity: a new purpose built Grammar school in the heart of a council estate. It would not teach the 'dead' languages of Greece and Rome but would fit its scholars for the world of science, with Russian and German. Yet we had a Latin motto on our school badge 'Summa Fide ac Probitate' (with utmost faith and integrity - I remember not knowing what integrity meant), and the uniform unashamedly copied that of the High School, whose second-hand books, together with those from Forest Fields GS, we used, while the school scarf imitated Eton's colours. There was 'assembly' every morning and a sure sign that you were maturing was the move from floor to seats in the third year and to the raised platform at the side in the sixth form. When staff entered the hall (and classrooms) all pupils would stand. These entrances were grand affairs; a flourish of academic black as the procession filed neatly onto the stage to the strains of Beethoven's Fifth or Handel's Water Music. There were hymns, a Bible reading and 'notices', that long-lost art of delivering information speedily, efficiently and without recourse to sheets of paper.

By the second year things were looking up. We were placed in sets for different subjects and our group 2R would study Russian as well as French. The boys longed for the days when lunchtime netball practice preceded P.E. for the class as they could ogle the long brown legs of our form mistress (Deana Loach - they were distraught when Jim Sullivan won her affections) - our own being too pale and thin to merit a glance at the time. But we had Benny, who threw board rubbers at the inattentive, and a young chemistry teacher, with a penchant for wine-gums, who had the gift of making the Periodic Table and its symbols come alive: 'Tidy benches tidy minds' he would recite. It was to become a mantra, to be used whenever we sought to retrieve the memory of days long past. I remember the year that we were given TB 'jabs'; it was very hot, the Bunsen burners were blazing, and as always we had to wear blazers in class. I fainted. I was escorted into the prep-room by the afore-mentioned chemistry teacher much to the envy of my classmates. At the end of every term we had to polish the benches with hard pink polish and rock-hard, greasy cloths. Today it would be a punishment for the unruly; then it was made to seem like a privilege. The area around the science labs, C1 and C2 in particular, had its own characteristic smell, not acid, nor alkaline, nor even organic, but an all pervading mixture of vapours that had somehow collected there over the years and was reluctant to dissipate.

When I think back to those times I can hardly believe what teachers did to keep pupil behaviour in check. There was the thrower of board-rubbers or on a good day chalk; the believer in a 'sharp tap on the head with an exercise book'; others would pull ears and make miscreants stand at the back for whole lessons or outside the door. Then there was detention, lines or essays - for lateness, missed homework and not wearing caps or berets, or wearing them incorrectly, or, as in my case, for having it thrown out of the window in 0.2 during an adolescent scuffle with a boy I fancied. The Headmaster (political correctness had not yet been invented) was everywhere, an all-seeing, all-hearing power, who kept a cane in a corner of his office. And yet this man was fairness personified and I do not recall anyone feeling 'hard-done by'.

The fourth and fifth years brought options and Additional Mathematics, end-of-term dances, and a lunchtime Scottish dancing club where our partners would swing us ever faster in order to glimpse the frilly 'long johns' that were the height of fashion beneath our skirts. Some of us sat Ordinary Level examinations early in the autumn of 1965; I clearly remember the results being read out in class and being told that I should have got a 'one' in French not a 'three'. I wonder what those grades would equate to now?

The school became a builder's yard during 1966 as the long-awaited sixth-form block was constructed. We were its first occupants. There were tall steel lockers, big enough for a hockey stick and sports bag; tutorial rooms with 'writing-arm' chairs; a common room, a dining hall and coffee facilities at break. The library was extended and carrels for private study were installed, though I am not sure how much use they got.

I had briefly toyed with the notion of leaving school at 16, but a boring holiday job during the summer and lots of parental nagging soon cured me of that. And so I came to the sixth-form during the days of Flower Power and the warm after-glow from winning the World Cup. Again Bilborough was different as we had years six and seven not Lower and Upper Sixths as elsewhere. We envied friends on arts courses as they had 'free periods' but we had smaller teaching groups. I became a member of the Debating Society and gained a reputation for coming second; there was also the Literary Society, and drama and rock-climbing clubs; I excelled at none but thoroughly enjoyed each.

General Studies and Use of English were compulsory then as were two none academic interest options. Pupils, for students then were mortals that only existed in higher education, completed UCCA forms that demanded that university choices were ranked: if you hoped to go to Bristol best not to put it second to any other university. Then, just as we were on the verge on moving on, they did the unthinkable. Forward thinking as ever, Bilborough had introduced an elected sixth-form committee who succeeded in getting uniform regulations relaxed. No more berets or seamed stockings, and very soon no uniform at all for sixth-formers. This seemed like the ultimate privilege to those of us reared on measured skirt lengths, regulation drab colours, and strict dress codes - 'How many buttons on your cardigan Elaine' asked the senior mistress; there was one too many on the hand-knitted cardigan that I wore.

But this is now . . .
Then one day I was back again, but this time on the other side of the demonstration bench. There was the same old smells and even some of the same old staff! The staff-room had failed to benefit from any of the improvements meted out to other areas of the College, (for now Bilborough Grammar School was no more) and I am sure that the dusty Swiss Cheese plant in the corner was a relic from 1968. My age showed when I kept referring to the 'sixth-form block' in what was now a Sixth-Form College. C1 was now B1 and the Domestic Science room was used for Home Economics, which soon disappeared from the curriculum leaving way for the Art department to spread its easels. The Assembly Hall now houses a thriving Art's Centre, where student 'Goths' aspire to stardom, but the stage curtains still hang in shreds. The rose-beds at the front of the building have been grassed over - never again will students become glassy-eyed and faint as the smell of fresh, steaming manure filters into the English room. The playground has inevitably become a car-park, while the bike-sheds conceal smokers, except that now it is not out-of-bounds nor is smoking an offence. The cloak-room corridor houses vending machines; the original music room is now part of the staff-room; the Music block has created space for the outsize desks of the Geography department and the Music department has squeezed itself into 0.1 only to be squeezed out again to make room for enlarged office space. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

But the atmosphere that was essentially Bilborough, a caring, secure environment has not changed. There is still the pursuit of academic rigour carefully combined with the spirit of nurture. It is people that make places great and Bilborough was, and is, a great place to be.


BGS Memories

extracted from correspondence from
John Martin (1961-68)

The conservative Mr Bartlett, music teacher, and the radical Mr what's-his-name, with the wild wavy dark hair brushed back [Anthony Pither? Ed] who introduced us to John Cage's 4' 33''. Assembly always closed with classical music. Thank you Mr Bartlett (or Mr Williams) for bending my ears at such a tender age. That and my mum's preference for BBC Radio 4 at home led me on, once I could afford it, to become an avid symphony and chamber music concert-goer.

Miss Loach taught tennis to the girls in the last two periods of the afternoon. Miss Loach taught us French in the first period of the afternoon in her tennis gear. Fortunately she also taught us French during other periods in regular clothes or we may never have learned anything - the boys I mean. Miss Loach was gorgeous. Rob and I both had a huge crush on her. One time she found us out of bounds and grabbed us both by the scruff of the neck. Neither neck got washed for several days. She married Mr Sullivan to our disgust.

Mr Kirton introduced us to the wines of France in the sophisticated ambience of the Metalwork Shop. Thank you. I'd never tasted wine. My mum's family abstained except for a small bottle of brandy that came out for upset stomachs or toothaches. My other grandfather liked port, perhaps a little bit too much. The two rules I remember: when the sommelier pours you a sample he is simply asking you to check that the wine is still good - a brief sniff is all that is required to tell whether it has turned to vinegar - this isn't an opportunity to reconsider your choice on the grounds of taste; and the second rule was be prepared to break the rules.

Mr Yarnell. Wal liked to turn his pronouncements into The Sayings of Yarnellfucius. The only one I remember had to do with the fact that the load presented by an electric motor was not resistive: ''Thou shalt not boil water on an electric motor.'' At the time, Mr Yarnell drove an Austin A40 Somerset, circa 1952-54, a vehicle for which I had enormous affection because my dad had two in succession and the last one became mine for a couple of years. We took great delight in speculating that Mr Yarnell's instrumentation would be accurately calibrated in gram-centimetre-second units. Thus the speedometer would be in centimetres per second, the odometer in centimetres, the fuel gauge in cubic centimetres, the ammeter in ampéres, the oil pressure in dynes per square centimetre, and the water temperature in degrees Kelvin. If there'd been a fuel consumption gauge it would have been calibrated in square centimetres. Our fearless physics master dumped his luminous watch when the lab geiger counter went off-scale.

Mr Sturman and Elaine Straw marching around the entrance hall learning vectors experientially.

Mr Bristow in his little Wolseley hammering along Cockington Road before or after school, his head barely visible over the steering wheel. Mr Bristow was always the lead in the numerous Gilbert & Sullivan productions that the school mounted. My first ever visit to the school was to see The Pirates of Penzance in February, 1961. Later in life, I fell in love with a young woman who had a dog called Sullivan, a hamster called Gilbert, and a dad who sang in the local operatic society. Getting used to calling our teachers by their first names in the 6th and 7th Forms.

Feared teachers
Mr Downing, Miss Betts, Mr Jacob (who was actually a really nice guy when you got to know him).

Mr Wibberley, who threw chalk and the occasional board rubber at chatterers and sleepers, and once asked Widerson, with Widerson's earlobe firmly between his thumb and forefinger, ''Widerson, why are you standing up?''

The mixed blessing of being taught special maths by Dr Peake (who turned out to be not only a good maths teacher but also a really interesting guy).

My A-level Qualitative Chemistry Practical. Wandering up to the front of the lab for a particular reagent and obtaining the most glorious yellow precipitate. Mr Robinson's silent grin was almost as glorious. I returned it, also in silence.

A break-through in obtaining the roots of factored polynomials when I approached the teacher after class and told him I just didn't get it. Without his patient explanation I may have hit the wall.

Being told we could not use W5 (which was what was wanted) at the end of geometry proofs instead of QED (quod erat demonstrandum) by Mr Wibberley in the 1st Form. Nobody had heard of W5 before, let alone been tempted to use it.

Earning the comment ''very elegant solution'' for a problem in trigonometric identities from Miss Louden. Dutifully QED'd I'm sure.

Wearing down Mr Newcomb's patience with some German grammar exercises. He'd kept a bunch of us behind after school. I was the last one there and still messing up. Eventually he sent me home with the advice to take a cold bath.

[The excluded 2000 words will form the nucleus of John's autobiography. Ed]


Somewhere Special

Janice Ware (née Matkin) (1961-68)

On my first day there was a feeling of total apprehension - it was 1961 - and having got all of the uniform on the list and read the book of rules it reminded me of a kind of school which figured in girls' comics at the time. Most of us had indoor shoes dyed with Radium dye, which stank, in our school shoe bags - strange how they disappeared after the first term. Also the entrance hall had knobbly floor tiles and Miss Lowe used to sit at the end on Monday mornings collecting the 5/- dinner money. We had tables at which we were served by 3rd years, who always ate all of the seconds themselves and didn't share it out, unless it was awful in the first place!

By the time we'd discovered the opposite sex there were ploys used to see the object of desire - like waiting by a certain radiator until he/she walked past. Even the location of your class in assembly was crucial as you had to be able to see the promenade; also leaving the premises had to be timed perfectly to be able to see the favoured person. In 1962-3 the sixth-form used to play records in the Music Room at lunch time and we used to vie for seats on the wall outside so we could hear the Beatles over and over again. You had to be at least three feet away from a member of the opposite sex but we all used to log members of staff going off on to the top field for walks in the summer. When it rained on a Friday lunch time there was a dancing club held in the hall - usually if fine it was an 'OUT' day so that's where we'd be, huddling together for warmth outside Chemistry 1 whilst your teeth chattered until the bell went. Some prefects were more tolerant than others about the gaggle in the girls' toilet back-combing hair and spraying it with lacquer.

We did work however - very, very few people did not finish homework, as detention on a Wednesday night was awful. We had exams twice a year with class positions and effort and progress letters. The majority of teachers had nicknames - nowadays, with a few exceptions, it's just OLD so and so, or so I've found. It's strange how you don't forget things. When I was in 2G I played (very badly) the violin and was in the school orchestra for a while. Our form room was 1.7 in the science block and that was where I'd left my violin, in the cloakroom. The science block was out of bounds in the lunch hour but I needed my violin, so in I went. I heard footsteps and hid. Malcolm Carter, prefect, arrived as did Mr Robinson. As I was somewhere I shouldn't have been - although without violin I wouldn't have been much use in the orchestra either, I got a punishment - 6 diagrams, labelled for the next day - 2 × preparation of oxygen, 2 × preparation of hydrogen, 2 × preparation of nitrogen. It took me hours! Next morning I handed them in and they were ripped up in front of me (to prevent recycling?) - but I never did forget how to make those gases. In fact I think I could draw the diagrams even now, 37 years later.

Bilborough was really like nowhere else except that we didn't realise it at the time. Having spent 24 years in the teaching business and in numerous schools I think it was probably somewhere special, even allowing for time differences.


A Sign of the Times

Roger Huxtable (1964-71)

In many respects, Mr J I Williams, former head of the school, was an enlightened man. He abandoned the public school pretension of the 'house system', withdrew the institution of prefects and allowed sixth-formers the privilege of not wearing school uniform. However, he was not afraid to stand up for his principles against those who took advantage of his liberal-mindedness. The infamous double-haircut incident of 1969 allowed him the opportunity to show his mettle.

One sunny day in the middle of September my friend Michael Chester and I were marched into his office and informed with commendable force that our hair styles were unacceptable. These were no doubt a couple of weeks past the short-back-and-sides stage, and we were happy to take his money and disappear to the barber's shop for a couple of hours. Our return was marked by the predictable sniggers of fellow students and more surprisingly by the incredulity of the headmaster. He did not believe that we had been to the hair-dressers at all; he must have thought that we had skipped off to the local pub.

In consequence we were bundled into his Rover limo - an old-fashioned marque where the rear doors opened out backwards - presumably to be driven to a remote corner of the city and left, each of us with a bullet in our skulls. In fact we were taken to the dungeon salon at the Crown Island shops, and there compelled to suffer a second crop. ''Do you think these boys have had a hair-cut today?'', asked Mr Williams. ''Yes,'' replied the bemused snipper - 'yes' being a euphemism for 'of course they have, you silly old fool'.

On the return journey, however, the world was put to rights. Mr Williams showed his gentler side and offered us a sweet. And that as far as we were concerned was an end to the matter. We could not be bitter; after all we had each had two free hair-cuts at the man's expense - and a sweet! In any case, Chester and I had not the least interest in education at the time. We were writing songs together and offering them to music publishers. It was only a matter of time before we received the call to become the next Lennon / McCartney.

Darker forces were at work however. A mutual friend - a care-not heir to the family business - took umbrage when he heard what had happened, and sent an indignant, partly literate letter on the matter to the local Evening Post. No doubt the letter found its way rapidly into the office waste paper basket, but still there was the scent of a story and the full resources of the press were mobilised. A junior reporter was dispatched to the young heir's house. I went round to spill the beans.

The story was given a couple of columns in the local paper, graduated to a whopping six-by-one inch paragraph on the inside pages of a number of nationals and even filtered down as far as South Africa - probably a devious attempt to turn the human rights issue back in the face of British Imperialism. It was not long before the lunatic fringe took over. Student activists from the local university appeared at the school gates, handing out seditious leaflets, doubtless with a promise that, come the glorious day, Mr Williams would be first one up against the wall of the school gym. Strenuous rebuttals appeared in the local press from those pupils clamorous to attest their loyalty to the hairless Head.

Chester and I remained aloof. From our point of view the most entertaining episode in the whole affair occurred during a history lesson on the day that the story first appeared in the newspaper. From our privileged position at the back of the class we were able to gaze down into the Headmaster's office and watch a continual stream of teachers march in with the dire news, waving copies of the nasty broadsheet in the air. It was fun to observe the Headmaster's body language, becoming increasingly florid and impatient. If we had been in possession of a pair of opera-glasses, we might have been able to see steam coming out of his ears. ''Yes, yes, I know it's in the paper, do you think I haven't read the thing?''

These were the halcyon days of late summer; celebrities at last, on the brink of super-stardom. Fate had one more card to play, however. Before Christmas, Chester left the school for good to join his mother in Leeds. The song writing stopped. Unlike the hair-cut story, the details of this tragic loss to British popular music were not recorded in the daily news.


Memories of Bilborough Grammar School

Richard J Bass (1965-72)

For those who were at Bilborough at the same time as myself perhaps the most abiding memory has to be the then Headmaster, J I Williams, in full flood at the piano in the school hall, cloak streaming behind him and hissing through his teeth like some newly emerged demon from the nether regions whilst he gave us the first few bars of the 'Grieg Piano Concerto' or, for variation now and then, the 'Rachmaninov Piano Concerto'. Willie, as he was known when we were being polite about him, seemed not to know more than the first bars of those works, for he would always break off after a thunderous beginning and continue with whatever subject he had chosen for the day. His love of the music, though, and his desire to fire us with the same love, came through at full volume.

Another favourite memory of mine was the time when Cyril Jacob was giving a lesson on the poet Coleridge. He had a habit of writing on the blackboard whilst still watching the class. Presumably this made it impossible for him to see what he was writing, for he spoke of the poet's 'Annus Mirabilis', but wrote 'Anus Mirabilis'. Those few of us who knew sufficient Latin to spot the error started tittering. Mr Jacob demanded to know what was so funny, and was instructed to look at what he had written. When he spotted it, he fell about laughing! Perhaps Mr Jacob remembers the incident himself?

Then of course there was the delight of French lessons with Miss Allsop. Those lessons always seemed to take place in the Portakabin next to the front drive of the school. The heating system used to make some dreadful noises - at least it did on the rare occasions that it was working - and I used to sit right at the back with my mate Phil. We'd lean our chairs up against the radiators and slumber more or less peacefully through the lessons, until interrupted by the fearsome clatter of an accurately aimed wooden board rubber landing on the desk in front of us, thrown by Miss Allsop. This would always be accompanied by the command for one or other of us to approach the board and complete the explanation of whatever point Miss Allsop had been teaching. Complaints that it 'wasn't me miss' were dealt with by a sarcastic 'victimisation is the word you are looking for' and a flourish of the chalk.

One of the favourite themes of Mr Williams the Headmaster was that once we had reached the sixth-form we were no longer children but young adults. Accordingly, the sixth-form were much admired by the lower school for all their freedom and privileges. We had our own sixth-form block, common room, free periods, a record player and a separate assembly conducted by sixth-formers . . . all on the strict understanding that with freedom went responsibility. Mr Williams trusted us, and it was the breach of this trust which he used so often to bring arrant sixth-formers to heel!

As to that record player, there was no plug on it, and the bare electrical wires were pushed into the wall socket and held in place by two matchsticks! It was also the cause of many an interrupted lesson in the sixth-form block. I remember our earnest discussions on a play in French being interrupted by the looping guitar introduction of a record by 'Free', who were popular at the time. Full volume was forbidden, even during non-school hours. Mr Kendrick struggled to follow his train of thoughts all through the record, but strode from the room in fury when the record started up again! There was sudden silence from the sixth-form common room, followed by muffled shouting. Mr Kendrick returned, but after a while the volume on the record player began to creep up again. I think it got confiscated by Mr Williams for about a week after that! We were all given the usual lecture about privilege and responsibility, followed by the 'You've all let me down' speech.

Then there was the Art teacher, Charles Stone. During a fifth-form Art class one day, he carefully explained that the stack of newspapers used to protect surfaces from the ravages of would-be artists had been moved from its usual place. I think he'd done this because we'd been using up the supply too rapidly and he wanted greater control over the supply. Anyway, he'd moved them into the cupboard. Mr Stone then went on to lecture for a while on what he wanted us to do during the double period, then sent us off to get started. Within moments the first of many inattentive pupils went up to him and asked, 'Please, Sir, where are the newspapers?' After a while, the normal bustle of twenty or more pupils concentrating on their masterpieces was interrupted by an almighty crash. All eyes turned instantly to see an irate Charles Stone standing atop a desk. On the floor where he had just thrown it was the large pile of newspapers. 'NEWSPAPERS!' yelled Mr Stone. I need hardly add that nobody ever asked him again where to find the newspapers!


Mike Robinson
18th September, 1999

URL: http://bilboroughgrammar.tripod.com/1957-2000/part_ii_atkinson_et_al.htm