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Bilborough 1957-2000
Portrait of a College

Part II - Bilborough Grammars School

Work and Play - Barrie Cholerton (Biology, 1/1960-69)
Bilborough: A Personal View - M D Clark (History, 1961-65)
A Warm Welcome - Mike Robinson (Chemistry, 1962-97)
Bilborough Remembered - Robert Breckles (1959-1966)
Good Sports - Mike Upton (1959-66)
Bilborough Grammar School based on correspondence from Melvyn Hill (1962-67)

Work and Play

Barrie Cholerton (Biology, 1/1960-69)

The Biology department was started in 1957 with Dr A Pennell and Mr R Slatter and had its first full five-year O-level course established by 1961 when it took in its first A-level students. Up to 1961 a certain amount of pre- O-level Biology teaching had taken place at both the William Sharp and other sites preparing pupils for both O-level and ULCI examinations.

During these early years all the O-level teaching had taken place in the lower laboratory (B1) which had windows bordering the drive and tennis courts as well as on the stairs which led to the upper laboratories in B block. Views into the laboratory from these windows as well as from outside meant classes were taught with an appropriate 'Goldfish Bowl' exposure. Explosions of class laughter were produced as they recognised that their teacher had been observed by other children or members of staff who had stopped to watch. Additional distractions were always present from the adjacent tennis courts. Recollections of this period include the frequency with which one could easily fall off the teaching bench rostrum end whilst in the full flow of teaching (it always seemed very high) and the Monday morning discovery of clouds of houseflies which had hatched from an overlooked culture.

Over many years the department welcomed students from the University Department of Education, Loughborough and Nottingham Training Colleges who spent part of their School Practice with us. Student teachers always commented on the helpful nature of the classes that they had observed and taught.

The need for additional Biology laboratory space had been recognised earlier and, previous to 1961 work was started to convert an upper room in B block into an advanced laboratory, B2. Its small size and consequent lack of storage space were always to be a problem but it soon became established as the A-level laboratory. Over the period 1960 to 1970 the teaching staff of the department increased to support the development of the subject and we were pleased to welcome V Lezemore, D Hay, A Frodsham, J Sillitoe, D Gingell, J Jarvie, P Sherratt, D Bland.

A personal interest in athletics and sports led to involvement in these school activities from the start. Having been associated with County schoolboy Rugby for several years previously, I was 'recruited' (under the strict guidance of the PE department) to help introduce and teach the elements of the game to the first year pupils. To those boys who knew little of the principles of the game - the majority - the first lessons were always confusing, but always fun! Preventing thirty players converging on the kicked ball was always the difficulty at the start, but as each boy established his playing role recognisable patterns of forwards and backs began to emerge. Subsequently each first year provided a school representative side - a team of energetic, enthusiastic and knowledgeable players - the under 12 XV. As they developed an understanding of the game regular fixtures were played against local schools. It was always a pleasure to be associated with such a keen, young side.

During the early part of the development of the school it was realised that no arrangement had been made for swimming activities. A Swimming Club was soon formed which allowed for a short period of voluntary swimming to be available for both pupils and staff at Radford Baths after school. Attendance varied, and although recognised as a 'recreational' activity, the occasions remained a very satisfying fun-pursuit. For some wishing to take advantage of the opportunity to swim it was a chance to learn and improve their swimming.


Bilborough: A Personal View

M D Clark (History, 1961-65)

It was the Gręco-Roman costumes that did it. Lurid turquoise costumes at that. The sun helped, I suppose, but walking down the drive towards the main building for the first time, with a class of girls playing netball on the tennis courts looking for all the world like extras from a Leni Riefenstahl film, I decided that this was the place. Everything seemed vibrant and exciting. I could even see a Victorian folly over the roof tops (it turned out to be the Elizabethan Wollaton Hall). After three interviews that week looking for a first post after PGCE which were heart sinking experiences (though I would have accepted any one of them, I suppose) this time, I felt instantly that this was where I wanted to be. The feeling never once went away all day and my only worry was that, being so terribly tired, I would give the impression that I was uninterested in the post.

We, the candidates, assembled in the staff room and were first addressed by a kindly looking deputy head who had no office of his own but kept his desk in the main staff room. People greeted us very cheerily and, indeed, cheer was the operative word. Why, I thought, is everyone so happy? They all seemed to be, except the caretaker I was sitting next to. I knew he was the caretaker because he wore a sports jacket that had seen better days and he made liberal use of an adjective at that time not normally in polite use. He was also very glum.

Then I noticed an O level history paper in his hand. Oh dear, I thought. Perhaps he is a history teacher. Surely not. At this point a woman who clearly was a teacher (she was wearing a gown and was very smartly dressed) came up to us.

"What did you think of today's paper, Jean?" asked the weary sports jacket.

"I thought it was rather difficult," replied Jean.

"Difficult? Difficult?" said the sports jacket, "I thought it was a bloody sod!"

I was right first time. He had to be the caretaker. I tentatively turned to him and asked if he could point out the head of history to me. "That's me," he said. "It's a bugger, this interview thing, isn't it? Are you the rugby player?" Roy's colourful language was not the norm in the Bilborough staff room; indeed, it was the exception. He was excused this particular eccentricity because of his generosity of spirit, his expertise as a teacher and his enthusiasm for under 15 rugby. And, yes, I was the rugby player and I got the job.

Roy later told me that the only tricky part of my appointment process was when the Head had to persuade the Chairman of Governors that a candidate should not be eliminated simply because he had fallen asleep during the interview. I was introduced to the head of PE who had so much energy it wearied me looking at him but the warmth of his welcome, and indeed, of everyone I met that day, was wonderfully encouraging. As I was leaving the head of English sidled up to me and said, "I see you've done a bit of acting . . . " Good Lord, I thought: did everyone read my CV!

My impression, formed at that first meeting, that this was a happy staff room proved correct. It was appreciably younger in feel than any other staff room I had visited (my teaching practice school in Tiverton issued zimmer frames each term with the registers) and quite visibly and audibly buzzed. Only Harry Peake would have been able to verify this but, having selected his departmental heads for this new school, it seemed as if he set out deliberately to recruit young, energetic and ambitious teachers to fill those departments. You get more mileage from young willing horses than tired old nags seemed to be the philosophy and many of the assistant teachers were in their first posts.

It was certainly policy that young teachers were encouraged to take on responsibility additional to their teaching. Much of this work was purely voluntary and concerned extra curricular activities. It was a rare Bilborough teacher indeed in those days who did not give up an early evening and/or Saturday morning to provide the pupils of the school with a very broad curriculum. Some of the responsibilities, however, involved administrative duties and these not only provided in-service training but also allowed for special responsibility allowances to be paid. Quite where all the 'points' came from I cannot tell but I can only assume that the funding arrangements for grammar schools were very generous.

The staff had no difficulty in finding fading athletes among its ranks, seeking glory late in sporting life, to turn out for staff sides against the pupils. The staff also contributed heartily to musical productions - perhaps too heartily, for whether it was Purcell or Sullivan a pupil had to be exceptional to get a solo part ahead of a teacher. This did, however, have the beneficial effect of the pupils witnessing at close quarters the camaraderie among their teachers. This was a staff which worked and played together - there was an active social life beyond the school. Mutual support was a rounded thing.

I cannot recall any teacher opting out of assemblies for non-religious reasons in those days and these were unashamedly and overtly Christian acts of worship. It would, I believe, be true to say that there was a positive Christian ethic in the school, not simply because of the Head's own beliefs but because, broadly, the essence of those beliefs were shared by a substantial number of the teaching staff. Any observer of Bilborough, not just in its grammar school days but also during its subsequent life as a sixth form college, might comfortably come to the conclusion that, whether by design or accident, that ethos remained a characteristic feature. This has never been a proselytising or overbearing force but has been a gentle acceptance that there is a morality more important even than curricula, entitled, national or otherwise.

Like all those young teachers of my generation I was encouraged by Harry the Head to look for promotion and I moved on after just four years. I did, however, return to Bilborough in another guise some years later - as a parent. Two of my children elected, with my blessing, to have their sixth form education at Bilborough. I had been away 13 years, so to speak, and the grammar school was now a sixth form college but, curiously, it had much the same atmosphere. The building was in need of a coat of paint and the Gręco-Roman kit had gone but the atmosphere in the staff room was much the same - indeed, some of the staff were the same. Perhaps the policy of recruiting large numbers of young teachers had given way to a more pragmatic appointments policy but two essential qualities of the school I taught in were still very apparent: there was excellent care and guidance for the students and first class academic teaching.

When I came again to Bilborough in a third guise - as a consultant in continuing education - I was struck by how warm, in the friendly sense, the college still was. They were difficult days and even darker storm clouds were gathering but clearly a great effort was being made not to transmit teaching staff worries to the students. The Senior Management of the college was insistent that it would not abandon the principle of providing a broad based, high quality curriculum within a structured environment for 16-18 year olds, even though the funding arrangements for colleges seemed to be demanding that quantity of provision was more important than quality.

First impressions linger long and my first impressions of Bilborough were all good. The first person I spoke to after my appointment was Ivor Williams, that silver-haired deputy head who had first greeted the interviewees.

"My name is Ivor," he said, "we use Christian names here - except the Head, that is. This is my office", he went on, gesturing the desk in one corner of the staff room, "and this", waving his arm round the staff room generally, "is yours. There is no order to stand on here; we are all in this" - pointing through the window at the main tower - "together".

United in purpose, and that purpose to provide the best possible education for the youngsters who came there, in a wholesome and caring atmosphere. This would seem to me to have been the spirit of Bilborough throughout its life and it is certainly the vision that Ivor Williams tried to pass to his new charges. He was, of course, a classicist which makes him, I suppose, a sort of Gręco-Roman: which is where I came in.


A Warm Welcome

Mike Robinson (Chemistry, 1962-97)

A warm welcome was given to me when, having been appointed a few months earlier, I called to discuss my timetable for the coming September. Having arrived early, I was asked to wait in the prep room off C2, a windowless room, some 12' square, with pyramid-shaped glass ceiling-cum-roof and little ventilation. The water-still was on full blast - with its four bunsen-like flames roaring beneath the boiling chamber. With the glass ceiling seemingly magnifying the heat of the sun, for 15-20 minutes the room resembled a sauna. It came as no surprise to me, as I examined the bottles of chemicals on the shelves, to find those of aluminium chloride, chromic chloride, chromic nitrate, ferric chloride (to use the nomenclature of 1962) contained extremely soggy crystals, a clear-cut reminder of the meaning of the word 'deliquescent'.

The 'heat remained on' as a few minutes later I was given my timetable - a form in each of years 1-3, a class in each of the 4th and 5th years leading to O-level, three sixth-form and two seventh-form sets for organic and a practical afternoon with each of 62 and 712. I re-learned an awful lot of chemistry in that first year, and the names of 200 pupils and students, not counting those in the two General Studies classes.

In the 712 practical classes, students worked in pairs on different experiments all requiring keen supervision. The impact was heightened - if that is the word - in that I, at 5' 8", was the smallest person in the laboratory. The experiments included preparation of organic compounds and measurement of colligative properties, and one pair was working on polarographic analysis, something rarely encountered in an A-level laboratory. By the end of the decade, the scope of experiments had been widened to include conductiometric and potentiometric titrations in the area of physical chemistry, and in organic, the preparation of 2,4-D (a weedkiller) and the extraction of natural products, such as caffeine from coffee and cystine from hair. For the latter, the student was charged with the responsibility of providing the necessary starting material, 50 g of hair! Inorganic chemistry seemed the poor relation. To some extent, compensation came via two research projects. Initially Alan Sanday had obtained funding from the Royal Society for original research carried out by students under his guidance into the preparation and properties of sodium nitrosyl. Substantial progress was being made when two things happened - Alan moved to a new post, and a German group published a paper on the same topic. However with guidance from Professor C C Addison initially and later Dr Logan, both of Nottingham University Chemistry department, we moved on to research into anhydrous nitrates, first developing appropriate techniques in preparing anhydrous copper nitrate before tackling original work on gallium. Again we were pre-published; a more detailed account appears in Magazine No 13 (for the academic year 1969-70) under the names of Stephen Fell, Christopher Allen and David Funnell, though others had worked hard on the project in the preceding two years. Some twelve years later, Robert Morris, working on an F111, a gas-chromatography instrument acquired from John Player following one of our many visits, developed a technique for determining the percentage alcohol in samples of beer.

Two of my 'non-contact' periods coincided with boys hockey under the whistle of Maurice Tebbutt who kindly let me join in - my first real games of hockey, a game I continued to play for another thirty-something years. Bilborough had very strong 1st XIs in the mid-sixties owing to the combination of a large number of skilful players and John Ewan's coaching skills. I still meet some of those 'lads' at local competitions. And then there was cricket - often umpiring the U12s at home in the morning and taking the 1st XI away to Newark Magnus or Melton Mowbray or somewhere in the afternoon, and occasionally, in one season, concluding the day with a 'de-briefing session' with the skipper in the Admiral Rodney. At one time the staff were able to field an XI nearly all of whom played club cricket. But don't mention staff rugby, or the occasion when after a brilliant inside move by the centres (I am informed) I was put away on the wing to score an easy try . . . only to put my foot over the dead-ball line in trying to ground the ball behind the posts - my first game of rugby, my star moment, my humiliation.

At Whit, one year, a party of staff and students maintained the tradition of a few days in the Lake District. On this particular morning, we ascended the first of the Langdales in quite dense mist, walked down and round the bog and up towards the second Langdale, and then down into the valley to meet up with the bus - still in dense mist. The walk seemed longer than anticipated, and Juliet Skedge and I at the tail-end of the crocodile maintained morale by encouraging the students to sing songs, always accepting a fruit-gum when proffered - the origin of a certain nickname. By mid-afternoon, our properly-equipped leaders recognised that we were in the wrong valley, but how it came about we never discoverd. It was rumoured that somewhere along the path, compass bearings had been ignored in favour of the evidence of the (changed?) direction of the wind. Surely not.

The final contribution to the original warm welcome occurred as I was walking across the landing towards C2 when suddenly, 'snap, crackle, pop, bang!' - there was a series of small explosions beneath my tread and the sound of muffled laughter coming from members of 72 within the laboratory. I am fairly sure that I know the name of the perpetrator, the joker who had at some stage prepared a dry crystalline sample of nitrogen triiodide and sprinkled it on the floor, a lad with interests in common with a famous scientist born in Pisa in 1564 and renowned for his far-sightedness!! But I'll not let on.


Bilborough Remembered

Robert Breckles (1959-1966)

I well remember standing outside Bilborough Grammar School's main entrance on my first morning in September, 1959, with the other 120 chosen ones who had passed the 'Eleven Plus' earlier in that golden summer. Steph Turner from next door had been at the school happily for a year, and thanks to her, pals from Fernwood Junior at Wollaton, and an introductory school visit the previous July, I was quite looking forward to the Bilborough experience, save for two misgivings.

One was as to whether I would be bullied by boys who had come up from the Bilborough junior schools. Wollaton was a relatively genteel area. Sorry about the generalisations, but there was a difference in the jobs a lot of our parents did, in the schools many of them had been to, and not least where they came from - many of them were from other parts of the country, which was less usual for Bilborough parents. Because of this and because even our Nottingham-born parents had dropped their Nottingham accents to 'get on in life', accent was a tell-tale sign of many little social differences, which were evident, for example, at the Trowell Road railway bridge which was the meeting place of 'the two cultures' - train-spotting was the big thing for eleven year-olds in 1959. We Wollatonians were less inclined, for example, to walk over the line on the gas pipe high above it, make rude signs at passing engines we had previously 'copped' (and when we did we didn't understand them very well!), or to 'mix it' with other eleven year-olds, than were some of the Bilborough lads. So, having with my pals been occasionally the victims of minor bullying by 'rough' lads from the other side of the track who regarded us as snobs and softies, we mainly kept to the Wollaton side of the bridge, despite the poor view it offered us of the steaming 'half fourer'.

Now, we had to venture into their territory. The blue Midland General 'E1' took us that first morning across the railway bridge, through unknown parts of the estate to the Bramhall Road terminus, from where we walked through William Sharp to our new school. And there weren't that many of us. All but a handful of the 51 pupils in Fernwood's upper 'A' stream had passed the 11 plus - thanks to Mr Fielding's intensive coaching - but half had gone to Mundella and other schools. We remaining ones were heavily outnumbered by the Bilborough intake. As a teacher read out names in the forecourt allocating us to the four classes, my concern increased - I was one of only a handful of Wollatonians in '1D' (a mixed ability group named after Miss Dix our form teacher). One strange unfamiliar name conjured up a picture of a real bruiser. When we got to our room and Miss Dix read out the register, he turned out to be a small gentle lad with specs, and my first-morning fears quickly evaporated. Everyone seemed anxious to be friendly and break the ice (thanks, Ian Wright, for your still-remembered friendliness that day; likewise to teachers, amongst whom Miss Dix herself, Pat Butler, Ian Wibberley and Bill Bristow stand out, who combined perfect order with great graciousness to us young ones); background soon took second place to personality, and new friendships quickly formed. Bilborough was to be a place of social mixing, which had an effect on changing the outlook and aspirations of many of us; it helped root me in my local culture in a way I doubt would have happened if I had passed the High School scholarship exam I had taken and gone there instead; others, it helped via university onto the stockbroker belt. The latter was in accord with the aspirations of many of our parents, from Bilborough as well as Wollaton, eager for us to take advantage of the 1944 Education Act which was a cornerstone of the better world they had literally fought for. It was also more in line with the intentions of the school. Under Dr Peake's determined rule it was clearly on encouraging us as far up the educational ladder as we could go. He conveyed his message mainly through the daily assemblies, such an important part of the rhythm of school life - an orderly entrance to a record of classical music (does anyone else remember Dr Peake's choice for his last assembly? 'Harold in Italy', I believe. Though some resented it as not their kind of music, I loved the entrance music and can recall much of it - Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony, Beethoven's 7th); a hymn from 'Christian Praise' (I still have my copy, covered in brown paper on Miss Dix's first-day instructions; though not then a church-goer, I loved those traditional hymns); a Bible reading; a prayer; notices; a second hymn; a blessing. Through Dr Peake's assembly talks and notices announcing academic and sporting successes we picked up the message that Bilborough was not going to take second place to longer-established grammar schools. I think most of us were happy to take up the challenge. I was, though I drew the line at rugby, which game, I guess, was part of the plan to integrate us with the grammar/public school/university world, but which was alien to most of us, and my reaction to which was, looking back, part of what shaped my attitudes to my aspirations and even political views.

For compulsory rugby was my other misgiving on that first day. Though I loved sport I was shy of any formal games, and I certainly didn't want contact with either mud or heavier lads (wherever they came from!). I wasted too much of my first three years on the wind-blasted playing fields cannily avoiding the action, at the price of having inactive knees which turned the same colour as my light-blue Clumber House shirt. I resent the game to this day. Likewise PE teachers - even though I wasn't one of the 30 boys lined up and slippered on one memorable occasion for not having well-blancoed plimsolls! My only bright moment on the rugby field was when my pal Michael Winkley (tragically killed in a car crash as a teenager, as later was my first-year pal Richard Bailey), who considered rugby to be part of his Yorkshire heritage, led an otherwise reluctant charge on a conversion kick. He was so busy turning round to yell at us to follow him that he got the muddy ball full in the face and sat down sharp. I'm afraid any sympathy gave way to mirth as he turned to us looking as though he was about to perform an Al Jolson number.

I can claim only one significant lower school achievement. I was the last boy in my year, by then the second year, to go into long trousers - more to do with my natural conservatism than the quality of my legs, I'm afraid. I was possibly also the last to grasp the facts of life. Bilborough's contribution to this aspect of our education was a single biology lesson in the first year and a talk by a doctor in the fourth. My first year biology teacher felt it better not to talk to us about it and instead told us to read a relevant section of a text-book. Unfortunately for me I was a slow reader, and I hadn't reached the interesting bit when the bell went. I only just grasped what the doctor was talking about three years later!

Religious studies - strangely, considering Dr Peake's strong Christian faith and the fact that he seemed to have purchased a job-lot of staff from university Christian Unions - and the arts and crafts were also given scant time and were hit-and-miss. Otherwise, teaching was very sound, though generally dull - we were expected to just get down to it, and we did. For those of us in the L for Latin stream - we were streamed from year two - it was relieved by Ivor Williams' idiosyncratic style. The basics of Latin remain in my mind, but more so Ivor's professorial air and memory aids. I think of "straw-berry-jam-pot" every time I look in the food cupboard, but for the life of me can't remember its relevance to Latin verse - and what was it that had to go "out the window"? And who was "Mrs Hippo" - and why? The other teacher who stands out in my mind, and for similar reasons, is Mike Clark. His lively style made history live for me for the first time, and altered my academic future. History replaced geography as my favourite subject, as my interest in politics and society began to stir.

With my father's support, I resisted the pressures that seemed to push most of the boys towards the sciences - "the thing of the future" - it was the year of Harold Wilson's "white-hot heat of the technological revolution" speech - and did a mixture of O-level courses. I enjoyed my work more, though not the extent of the pressures to achievement many of us felt and which made us work very hard. I think there was just one of my group who took things easy, and each year he won the 'Effort' prize! I also enjoyed games for the first time - I jumped at the chance to throw over rugby for hockey, and went on to play for the school, college, and for ten years for South Notts Hockey Club which Mr Ewan introduced me to. I also enjoyed the deepening friendships; and contacts with staff, helped by the fourth year holiday near Annécy in the Alps at Easter 1963 (first time abroad for most of us - an early start from Nottingham, Mike Robinson waking me up as I dozed on the London underground, the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry, sleeping in wagons-lit and awaking among the Alps; snow on the mountain-tops; lizards on the railway track between the hotel and the lake; and was that horse meat on the dinner-plate?! Return via a tour of Paris.); and by clubs. The hockey club, of course, of which I later became secretary; then I particularly remember the excitement of the Film Club run by Mike Clark and others - 'Jour de Fete', 'Julius Caesar', 'On the Waterfront', 'History of Mr Polly'. And I treasure a variety of strangely-shaped ornaments which remind me of my efforts in the Pottery Club. My pals the two Richards (Edwards and Gill) got me into that, and also into school assistant librarianship. I found a niche there. I loved the books, the smell, the quiet, the responsibility Cyril Jacob affably let us have, the camaraderie of the stock room - and some of the girl librarians were quite nice as well. Then on the shelves I found three volumes of Marx's 'Capital' and read all 800 pages, and for a time thought I was a Communist - in the outside world the supposed new dawn of the 1964 Labour Government was happening, education and much else was developing as we baby boomers came through, optimism was abroad and everything seemed possible.

A social revolution was on its way, in fact, and by 1967-8 many of us would be caught up in student demonstrations about everything and nothing. There wasn't much sign of it in my sixth-form years, however, beyond a bit of grumbling about minor rules and regimentation which I took to be ordinary adolescent rebelliousness. They were certainly the happiest years of my school career, helped on by great pupil camaraderie and intellectual stimulation, quite a bit of it developed in the lounge bar extension of the 'Admiral Rodney' on Friday nights. And in my experience there was a super relationship between sixth-formers and staff, helped by the smallness of 'classes' - usually about six or eight strong. Then we geographers, for example, enjoyed a field trip week at Swanage with our staff; we English students were frequently whipped in by Miss Skedge (thank you for bullying me into reading a Shakespeare play each week for my first two terms with you, Miss Skedge - I sort of enjoyed it, but in any case I have got my own back by seeing only one Shakespeare play in the last 25 years) to go off to some theatre to see one of our set texts performed. There was sport, hockey with Mike Robinson, sixth-form football, and clubs. I think it also helped relationships that Ivor Williams became Headmaster at this time; he had a warmth and readiness to listen which was in tune with the changing times. This may have been more my perception than others', for I spent a lot of time with him in his early months as Head. Near the end of Dr Peake's time my father was summoned to the headmaster's study. Roy Downing had suggested I sit the Oxford admission exam, for his old college St Edmund Hall, which I did in late 1965. I was awarded a place conditional on requirements including Latin O-level which I did not have, and Mr Williams, amidst all the other new demands of Headmastership, came into school early and on Saturday mornings to give me and three others a crash course. Duncan Hunter was one of the group, and went up to Oxford in October 1966, the first Bilborough pupil to do so (several had previously gone to Cambridge); I followed in 1967, Roy rightly thinking I would benefit from a year's further experience.

So I had an extra term at Bilborough concluding with an Oxford scholarship exam; a sort of Indian Summer, comprising with Phil Baker the 8th year - it was good preparation, I imagine, for becoming a 'grand old man' in later life. We had some special classes, in my case history with Roy and Marion England, French with Miss Thompson - so pleasantly approachable compared to when she had been my lower school teacher - Latin unforgettably taught by the charismatic Mr Day; we joined in with sixth-form groups - T S Eliot with John Davie. There was lots of time to discuss, and in my case to help Cyril Jacob get the library extension in the new block operative, and to begin to understand Christian fellowship through the school Christian Union - which included young Jim Cowley, who deserves a footnote in Nottinghamshire's history for his splendid later work in helping to start Macedon House for the city's homeless. As with all Indian Summers, it was enjoyable but poignant. My friends had moved on, and I felt I was on borrowed time.

I guess I moved on without too many backward glances. Thanks to Bilborough's help, there was a lot to look forward to, and I did. I went on to gain qualifications at four universities. I never felt that my secondary school education had let me down; and in retrospect, I would say that the sixth-form, with the interplay between many different subjects and students, was intellectually one of the most stimulating as well as socially most supportive in my life. Thank you to all concerned.

I have gone on too long. With this essay as with Bilborough and quite a few things in life, I have been apprehensive about beginning and then reluctant to finish. And hark! I think I hear Mr Beadsworth opening the library door and shouting.

"Mr Jacob an' 'elpers! Five o'clock! Let's be 'avin' yer!"

"Coming, Mr Beadsworth!"


Good Sports

Mike Upton (1959-66)

'Upton, you will become the first seventh former in the history of this school to receive a detention', said Mr Williams to me in January, 1966. This followed my answer to the question 'Poetry is an art form. Discuss' in that year's O/A level English exam. I had responded to the effect 'Why should I be forced to listen to a teacher rant on about some long-haired twit in knee length knickers, when I could be spending my time much more productively on the sports fields?' A very free-thinking and progressive approach for the Nineties, but far too radical for the mid Sixties - and one that did earn me a detention. So when I received a missive from the Editor asking me to write a few words on Sport in the early Sixties, it was with trepidation that I started, as you can see that my previous efforts in the literary field were not of the same order as Booker Prize winners.

So we start - my first recollection was the whole First Year being assembled in the school hall on our first Games lesson, September, 1959, and Peter (PE) Robinson inducting us into this strange game with a ball that didn't bounce correctly and a point system for scoring. This was followed by a practical demonstration on Snowdon (the pitch on the hillside) and surprisingly, I showed an aptitude and was selected for the school side. For the next five years I played as centre, hopefully in the style of Jeremy Guscott, but probably more like Jeremy Beadle. In spite of enthusiasm and effort, we always struggled - and couldn't live up to the standard of the previous year, who had giants like Mellors, Wheat, Hunt and Connolly, and steam-rollered all before them. Our own gutsy players were Geoff Shaw and Johnny Allison in the tight five, Chris Davy and Pete Esden were two flankers with speed, tricky scrum half Colin Simmons, Bob (Tabs) Brown at fly half, and speedster Rob Allwood on the wing. We had a second row in Chris Bostock and Duncan Hunter, both over six feet tall, that a current team would kill for, but we still couldn't win consistently.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time and still recall away matches to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Manor Mansfield and Newark Magnus - all on a school bus - and we left in lesson time, which was a very good reason to be selected. Matches were generally played Saturday mornings - except Nottingham Boys High School, who were in lessons in the morning, and so we had to give up our afternoons, not a satisfactory situation, especially as they hammered us on every occasion. The annual away match to High Pavement Grammar School comes to mind - we all had bus tokens given to us on the Friday as their school was inside the City boundary and we used City Transport buses. Until the late Sixties, Trinity Square was a bus station around a church. We met in the old Empire Café on Forman Street, now a high class restaurant, but formerly a greasy spoon type of establishment where a sticky bun and mug of tea was about sixpence (2½ p). On the return trip, about midday, we always called into the old Empire Billiards Hall on Goldsmith Street. We were not allowed onto full-size tables, but there was a ¾-table inside the door, which served our purpose just as well. All this in school uniform - if only Dr Peake had known!

At this time, inter-House rivalry was encouraged and fostered by the Staff (how times change!) and there were annual House matches between Welbeck, Rufford, Annesley and Clumber - we in Welbeck never faring exceptionally well, as I believe Rufford had all the 'big boys'. The annual Staff versus Pupils match was held late afternoon, and whilst I never played in it, I can remember Barry Johnson (2 years older and selected for England) weaving his way through what seemed an elderly but enthusiastic Staff defence. Roy (History) Downing will always live in my memory as the personification of a classic fly-half - lean to the left, pass to the right - or was it just his baggy and faded track-suit top? The end-of-season Schools' Sevens at Notts Rugby Club at Beeston was to be looked forward to - not because we won anything, but because it was the only club venue we played at, and in true tradition they had a communal bath, a novel experience for pubescent teenagers. The advantage of being knocked out of the competition early was that you got the bath before some of the other teams, who washed their kit and boots in it!

Summer - and the cricket season. Nets, with coconut mats set up on concrete bases alongside Hanslope Crescent - Colin Simmons emulating Fred Trueman - a sharp riser off just short of a length and a ball under my chin. I think that incident put me off batting for life. Instead, I took up wicket-keeping, not brilliantly but sufficiently workmanlike to be selected for school matches again. I never took to cricket like rugby - too long a time for too little action, and therefore my recollections are fewer. I do recall being admonished once (by the afore-mentioned Roy Downing) who was umpiring at the bowler's end in a school match on the top pitch. At the end of the over, he came to me and the bowler and berated us for not appealing for lbw sufficiently. 'I can't give them out if you don't appeal' he said - how I wonder what he would say now with all the shouting in today's game.

1964 and the sixth form was a milestone - options were available at sport - rugby, football, cross-country and others. At the beginning of the season a rugby trial was held, and now both sixth years were combined into one team. I was selected at full-back for the Possibles - and the afore-mentioned Hunt, Mellors, Wheat and Connolly were forwards in the Probables. Being one of the smallest sixth-formers, it was only after one tackle that I hastily reconsidered my options and joined John (RI) Ewan and Bob Robinson with the men's hockey team - a decision that became seminal in my life and one I have never regretted. I have played hockey now for 35 years and I still believe that the School forward line of 1965 was the best I have been involved with - from right to left, Rod Knight, Alan Barr, Pete Goldthorpe, Keith Hale and Mick Upton. I was the junior in that formation (all the others being seventh formers) and occasionally vacated my position for Alan Fox. I did not mind that as he was smaller than me and I always felt I could reclaim my rightful place at will. Together with a defence that included Chris Allard, Brian Jones, Mick Leahy and Mike Davies, we went a whole season winning every match - and I was the only forward who did not win a County cap. (I saw Chris Allard and Mike Davies at the 1997 reunion - still looking just as good - Mike has been secretary of the RAF Hockey Association and is still his club secretary.)

In 1966, I was sent, with others, to Mundella Grammar School playing fields alongside the River Trent (now Nottingham Forest's training ground) for school County trials. Still playing left wing, a goal in the first ten minutes did not do my case any harm. Unfortunately, it was against my own school keeper who was playing for the opposition - Rod Pilkington was less than impressed. In spite of this I was never selected for the County Schools - a decision that still rankles as I found out later that I was called up, but by a misunderstanding, I never received the message. Incidentally, years later, I made good my wish by Captaining the County 2nd XI against Yorkshire - and then retired. The 1966 hockey team suffered as a result of the previous year's exceptional success - but there were stalwarts such as Dick Edwards (who I see occasionally on his push bike in West Bridgford), Rob Breckles (who joined South Nottingham HC and then the Ministry), Duncan Hunter (who followed me from rugby) and Pete Pitchford. We never had the flair of the '65 team, but Bob Robinson's enthusiasm helped us along.

Indoor sports centred on basketball, which was enthusiastically supported - especially by the sixth-form girls! I suffered again because of being vertically challenged, but with Rod Lewinski and Colin Simmons I tried hard to get into the school team. This time I was unsuccessful, but still hung round the fringes. I remember going with them to watch training matches at Glaisdale School, which eventually paid off as on one occasion I was selected to play for City Schools against Birmingham Schools. Nobody had informed the Coach of the match - and there were only six Nottingham pupils there, including me who had only gone along to watch. We lost 54 - 12 but I did not mind, I scored 3 baskets and was joint top scorer!

Cross-country was an excuse for the sports staff to give the pupils something to do for an hour when the pitches were unfit fort real sports - so is expounded the Upton Theory on Stamina Sports, as I hated this particular event. It became an excuse for the smokers to have a fag in the dilapidated house on the sandy track around the old quarry on Catstone Hill at the rear of the school. I regularly came in the last half-dozen, absolutely knackered and wondering about the point of it all. (This was the only time in my life that sitting down and reading poetry seemed at all attractive.) Other reminiscences of 7 years of sports are: PE Robinson's plimsoll - applied in an accelerating downward motion across a horizontal posterior; missing out on the showers and going to bed at night with mud on my kneecaps - we had rugby again the following day and I could not see the logic of washing mud off only to have it re-applied the next day; and going in the showers, having had the cane the day before for going to the fish and chip shop on Bracebridge Drive, and showing off the bruises as 'badges of courage'.

Wonderful days, when I used to go into school for sports periods only having been off ill for all academic lessons, and when staff gave freely and willingly of their spare time (or appeared to do so). Corinthian days - possibly not, but I wish I could do them again.


Bilborough Grammar School

based on correspondence from Melvyn Hill (1962-67)

I started at Bilborough Grammar School in September, 1962, and at that time uniform was considered very important. Full uniform had to be worn every day. Boys had to wear caps and girls had berets, and we had dark gabardine coats with school scarf for outdoor wear in winter. There was a variety of games kit, even house colours. Later, in the fifth year, we were allowed to wear white shirts instead of grey. Jackets and ties could come off only if it was exceptionally hot. I seem to remember the sixth-formers were allowed to wear suits. Discipline was fairly strict, from a cuff around the ear off Mr M for being lippy, to detention for misbehaviour, to the dreaded cane. I had them all. Looking at the state of things today, it wouldn't be a bad idea to bring back that cane.

The entrance hall at that time also served as a dining room. The meals were pretty ghastly, cooked at Players School kitchens and transported to BGS in special flasks and then re-heated. The pig bins out the back were always overflowing. Later, a new sixth-form block was built with more changing rooms, and proper kitchens enabling us to have our meals cooked on the premises. The poor old pigs must have starved to death after that.

During my time at Bilborough we had some very successful sports teams, notably the intermediate cross-country team, who managed to beat the two athlete-specialising public schools, Dr Challoners and Millfield. I remember also the cross-country course. It was a real grueller. The starting point was at the bottom of the Bilborough Road driveway. We turned left onto Bilborough Road and then right onto the sandy part of Strelley Lane and up towards the village. Just beyond the village, there was a left turn over Catstone Hill - no motorway there at that time - and then left into an open-cast site and through a lot of deep black mud if the weather had been poor. The route then took us across to the sand hills and then right onto sandy Strelley Lane again, left onto Bilborough Road and then right into the school drive. The M1 motorway was built in 1964/5 effectively cutting the course in two. We used to train along the canal at Wollaton. The Nidderdale houses have been built on this site since then.

I remember going on school trips. In the summer term, our form teacher would ask if we fancied a hike somewhere. If there was enough support, and there usually was, she would hire a Camms coach and we would split the cost, usually something like 4 shillings for the day. I can remember when Nottingham Forest was due to play a second replay in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, I think it was, around 1966, I know it was against Swindon and to be played at Villa Park. One of the teachers hired a coach for the evening and we all paid our share. We also used to go on a five day trip to the Lake District. Autumn half-term was only Monday to Wednesday in those days. The fourth and fifth years were able to go on a youth hosteling trip. I went twice. The first year we stayed at Keswick and Ambleside, and the second time it was Keswick and High Close. The clocks are always put back on the Saturday of half-term, and I remember being kept awake at Keswick by a dance in the Pavilion next door. They were great outings. Over the two years we climbed Scafell Pike, Helvellyn, Great Gable and Green Gable, walked across Striding Edge and also walked up the Old Man of Coniston. I can also remember scree-running near Harrison Stickle. On a sad note, one of the trips came the day after the disaster at Aberfan. On these trips, we had a great rapport with the teachers and really got to know them well. These trips inspired us to join the YHA and do our own walking holidays, including nine of us doing the Pennine Way in 1967.

I can remember there being a whole host of after-school activities. Of course there were the sports practices and games, but in my first year, I joined the History Club which was run by Miss Cherry. I also joined the Railway Society and the Junior Scripture Union, both of which were run by Keith Flinders who I think was in the fifth year at that time. The railway club was really a tribute to the closing years of steam trains and we went on trips to Crewe and Derby locomotive works, trips around the Eastern Region of British Railways, and we practically haunted Colwick engine shed. In the 4th and 5th year, I joined the Senior Christian Fellowship and the Stamp Club which was run by Mr Jacob.

Bilborough Grammar School was built when very few people had cars causing the place to have abysmal parking facilities. I remember some of the sixth-form lifting Miss Scott's mini into the gymnasium. The place had double doors leading onto the playground otherwise this would have been impossible. Can you remember an Austin 7 type of car belonging to Miss Trail? It had running boards and fifth-year lads were always standing on them. One amusing item is often raised for a laugh in our family. A notice was sent home to parents about what to do in the case of sickness. It actually said in the letter "The secretary cannot take massages by telephone".

Twenty one years after I left Bilborough, my own son, Mark, came to what was by this time Bilborough College. I did go and look around, but so much had changed. I believe Mr (now Dr) Jacob, Miss Betts and Mr Yarnell were still there, but thankfully, Mr Yarnell could not remember the hard times that I had given him 20-odd years earlier. I am glad to say that my own son left Bilborough with much better results than I did.


Mike Robinson
18th September, 1999

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