End of Tripod material
  Previous | Contents | Next

Bilborough 1957-2000
Portrait of a College

Part II - Bilborough Grammar School

Those early years - Adrienne E Thompson
The English Department - Robert Protherough
From HP to HJP based on conversations with Alan Sanday
Bilborough Played Its Part - Roy Downing
A Rare tabula rasa - D K (Ken) Rowat
Early Drama based on correspondence from Alan Gill
Four Very Happy Years - Arthur Gilliver
A Reminiscence - Ian Bartlett
My appointment to Bilborough was a fiddle, of course - John Pick

Top


Those early years

Adrienne E Thompson (Senior Mistress, 1957-69)

Schools are traditional institutions but Bilborough gave us an opportunity to re-examine our experience of school traditions and decide, if not unanimously at least by consensus, what Bilborough's could be.

The calm, orderly first day owed much to detailed pre-planning by all involved, especially Harry Peake, Ivor Williams and Bill Bristow. A timetable operating smoothly before lunch was a matter of pride. Others watching recent Station X programmes may have recalled the squared paper, sharp pointed pencil poised . . . a good timetable would always be in place to provide a sound structure in which curriculum could develop and change

Although the colour and style of the girls' winter uniform and PE Kit was decided well before my appointment there remained that for summer. An appropriate gingham was found, Junior and Senior dress styles considered, with an open necked short sleeved blouse to offer as an alternative for seniors. Students modelled them and gave their views before a final choice was made. Balancing cost v quality was crucial. The blazer badge was made available as a separate item and a 're-cycling' scheme was set up. The extent to which it was used bore witness to its value for many parents, but perhaps an added bonus was to see the pleasure of a soon-to-be First Former wearing our uniform for the first time. The standard of grooming expected was high but admirably achieved.

The door label read Girls Rest Room, but that would only encourage girls to find reasons to use it - a single Medical Room was deemed sufficient. Room 1.2 became a base for the Service Group who spent lunch hours making blankets and garments for despatch to a Displaced Persons Camp in the then West Germany. Gifts of materials from parents and friends encouraged us; the drawings and letters from the Camp were reward enough.

High academic achievement was a prime goal, but two early decisions ensured that other qualities received recognition - there would be no football league of promotion and demotion; prizes for Effort, based on regular assessment in all subjects, would be awarded. Prize Days are memorable, smooth running occasions. All prize winners were primed to accept without demur the book handed to them, but moving lines of students, however well managed, do not always synchronize with static piles of books. I hope there were not too many errors, but I did appreciate the smiling aplomb with which a prize was accepted, even if the title was at best a surprise, at worst deliciously inappropriate.

Sir John Hunt's presence at one Speech Day reflected the boys' success in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. The girls waited impatiently for it to be established in the City for them. Colleagues, parents and many others helped in running appropriate modules. The first Gold Award winners attended the summer Presentation of Awards at Buckingham Palace in 1968. Silver and Bronze holders were close on their heels.

1960 would bring the first School leavers. In good time, a Careers Library was set up in Room 0.2 - chosen to allow students access when free of classes. Subsequently, a second Careers Library was established in the new Sixth Form Common Room, appropriate for those making post A-level choices. There is no greater privilege than that of working with young people at moments of crisis or key decision points in their life. I know that Bilborough strove in all it did to develop in them the academic, personal and social skills needed to fulfil their aspirations and move into adulthood.

I remember reading the lesson at the first Assembly. It spoke of another venture to build a temple that would endure and serve the community. Many will share my sadness that Harry Peake and Ivor Williams cannot contribute directly to Bilborough 1957-2000 . . . circumspice.

Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.
If you seek a monument, gaze around.
(Inscription in St Paul's Cathedral, attributed to the son of Sir Christopher Wren.)

Top


The English Department

Robert Protherough (English, 1957-66)

I was at Bilborough for its first nine years, was very happy there, enjoyed the teaching and out-of-school activities and made many lasting friends. It was only the awareness that I was in danger of becoming a sort of Mr Chips figure and a nagging sense that the English Department needed an injection of new ideas that persuaded me to leave. Like many other Bilborough staff, I found that my 'career' moved in the direction of teacher education, where I became equally happy.

Before Bilborough I had been teaching in a very traditional country grammar school, King Edward VI at Retford. An energetic young music master from Nottingham University, David Gray, came to the school, and he and I combined in a number of musical and dramatic activities, including a school musical that we wrote called 'Round the Mulberry Bush'. David moved back to Nottingham to teach at Forest Fields, and it was he who urged me to consider applying for a post at a new school just being built on the west side of the city, so that we could continue collaborating (as we did in the joint Nottingham city schools opera of 'A Christmas Carol'). I'd just completed my research degree and was looking for promotion, so I visited David in Nottingham, looked around the nearly-complete buildings, read the details and applied for Bilborough. The interview - the first of three in a week to which I had been invited - was held in the Council House and conducted by Dr Peake (the appointed head) and by Ken Baird, then deputy director, who did the bulk of the questioning. It was a very professional and probing session, in which I was given the opportunity to put a number of my own questions, and when I was offered the post of Head of English on the spot (scale C, I think it was at that time) I was happy to accept - and never really regretted it.

There was a great deal to be done before the school opened: not only framing a first English syllabus and ordering books for class use, but stocking the library from scratch and equipping the stage for theatre work. I can't remember much about the preliminary meetings except for the fact that we were anxiously aware that every decision - however trivial - was going to bind us and others for some time to come. Much was done quite informally in the staffroom before school and over coffee, with Ivor Williams benignly watching from his desk in the corner. It was his feeling that a deputy should be in the staffroom, not shut away separately, if he was to represent the views of staff to the head (which he did very effectively). One of Harry Peake's great strengths was his willingness to listen to views that disagreed with his own, and I recall a number of instances (one was over 'Lady Chatterley's Lover') where he accepted my policy choices against his own convictions. He and his wife, Christine, were very helpful during the time when Margaret, I and our two boys were settling in Nottingham. We got a house near theirs (in what is now a distinctly rough part of the city) and he and I normally travelled to and from school together, at first by bus, changing at Canning Circus (a sign of the times that hardly any of us, including the head, owned a car). The days were long, because lunch-times were always filled with activities, and I never got away in the evening before 5.15 or 5.30 pm, sometimes having to placate the caretaker.

As I think back, my chief impression is how busy we all were - students as well as staff - on a huge range of activities. In my own area, I feel that the school owed a great deal to those student-librarians who cheerfully worked at lunch-times and after school cataloguing and marking new stock, tidying the shelves and maintaining order. The school magazine, with Ken Rowat's cover design based on the architects' plans, drew on the work of many young writers, artists and editors. Students gave up time, sometimes at week-ends, to rehearse for plays and operas, to design and build sets and to create costumes. In the course of one school year, I remember, we worked out that over three hundred people had worked on stage or backstage in Bilborough productions. Nottingham itself was a splendid resource. In addition to the free Playhouse visits provided in those enlightened days by a generous education authority, we were able to organise trips to the two theatres (usually in the gods at the Theatre Royal, only one and sixpence), to the Theatre Club (now in the Lacemarket) which then had an innovative programme, and to the classic and foreign films at the Cooperative Arts Centre.

It's very difficult now, forty years on, to be precise about the chemistry that made Bilborough fizz. There was a sense of something new and exciting among the students and staff - most of whom were young and generally idealistic. The English Department seemed to attract some strong personalities whose teaching styles and methods were unconventional but popular and effective (when I left there were seven A-level English groups in the sixth-form). We were keen to challenge the assumptions that had labelled nearly a hundred of the first intake 'failures' at 11+, and certainly the examination results supported us. We believed that education could make a radical difference to people's lives, and - most important in those days - we naively believed that it would change society. We were lucky to be working in the days when teachers' professionalism was assumed, and before there were too many external pressures on the curriculum and methodology.

Top


From HP to HJP

based on conversations with
Alan Sanday (Chemistry, 1957-64)

Mr Gilbert Potter, MA (Oxon), head of the Department of Applied Mechanics and Physics, and Director of the Instructional Workshops at Oundle School, Northants., was appointed as Headmaster to High Pavement School in 1929, and made public his intention of raising the standard of academic achievement in the school as measured in terms of the number of Oxford Scholarships awarded each year to 'his scholars'. It was into this atmosphere of academic pressure that Harry Peake stepped in 1934. In September, 1941, when I moved into Form 1B and Forest House, housemaster Oliver Barnett, Harry was appointed School Captain. By the time I reached the sixth form Harry had completed his degree at Oxford and returned to teach at Pavement, and I attended his physics classes. In my turn, I completed four years at Keble College, including a year of research, a year which convinced me that my future did not lie in that field, and I applied for a National Service Commission in the Royal Air Force.

There must have been at least 100 Officers on the Appointment Board, and in my interview I was asked two questions, the first, 'What is your name?' and the second, 'What do you know about Post-impressionists?' I had an answer to both questions, and in due course, in my two years with the RAF I taught fitters and mechanics, and also completed a Teacher Training course. In my main teaching practice at Claremont Boys School*, at that time under the Headship of Oliver Barnett, my former housemaster, I recall doing some 'research' on the frequency of use [abuse?] of the taws. My rather startling conclusion was that this means of maintaining discipline was used in some part of the school every 13 minutes!! This was not part of my style, and neither did I adopt the '1. Lecture, 2. Copy notes from the board, 3. Test' lesson plan which was the recommended practice of the day. Shortly after I introduced such elements as 'discussion' and 'practical work', I was called upon to give a demonstration lesson to the permanent staff. My stock was high with the pupils, but with the staff . . . . .

In my third year of teaching, this at King Henry VIII, Coventry, I spotted an advertisement for Head of Chemistry at Bilborough Grammar School, to be opened shortly under the Headship of Dr H. J. Peake. I made enquiries; yes, it was the Harry of my previous acquaintance. He, together with an officer of the Authority, carried out the interview, and against an opposition of one I was appointed.

I spent many days during the summer of 1957 ordering (in triplicate copy) apparatus and chemicals, and many hours unpacking and storing, and on the first day of term we were ready for off. In my memory, I am sure we were in full teaching mode by mid-morning. Which Examination Board? Which syllabus? We started with the Cambridge Board, for reasons which escape me, but possibly to do with finding a Board which could take us or, and more likely, abiding by a decision taken by the Head. As far as I know, the 6-day timetable, the blue of the uniform, the house system, were all ideas which HJP 'borrowed' from one or other of the Public Schools.

I think it fair to say that HJP ran a benevolent dictatorship, the practice of the day, except that in some schools there was rather less benevolence than at Bilborough. The Head was always prepared to listen and to discuss, he collected all points of view, and then he made the decision. (I wonder if many of our teachers today would prefer it to be this way?) He decided the content of agendas of staff meetings, though staff were free to add items. Classroom practice was the responsibility of the head of department, and to my knowledge, the Head did not observe any classes being taught.

In the timetable, prepared by the Head, we were given an average of one period per 7-period day non-contact time. In the very early years, classes came over from William Sharp School, in science, always the boys separately from the girls. When someone noted that I had no discipline problems with the girls' groups, I pointed out that most of the girls were in my wife's Guide Company, and the girls would not want to 'lose face' there!! This overlap came about because the Parish of St Johns, where I was a churchwarden and lay preacher, mapped very closely to the Bilborough catchment area, and in one sense, we were a 'community school' before the term came into regular use.

My interview for and subsequent appointment to the post of Science Advisor in Coventry came extremely late in May, 1964, and gave HJP very little time to resolve the problem of finding a replacement - for which he did not thank me, but these things happen, and I'm sure things worked out for the best.

[*From the Annual Report of 1918-9, we learn that the site on which Clarmont School stands was bought in 1918-9; 26,066 sq yds at 6/- per sq yd, costing £7,819-16-0 in all. Ed]

Top


Bilborough Played Its Part

Roy Downing (History, 1957-87)

Memories tend to fade with age. Events of no consequence, small details, often remain fixed in the mind while large and important events disappear into oblivion. One of the fixed images in my mind of the early days of Bilborough was of Colin Rains (Head of PE) marching up and down in the gym a pupil (whose name I can't remember) who was swinging his left arm and leg forward together and found it impossible to march correctly - it was hilarious and gymnastically nearly impossible for anybody else. Yet, although I was there, all I can remember of the official opening of Bilborough Grammar School by Hugh Gaitskell was standing outside the main entrance to school with a group of pupils waving goodbye to him and his entourage as they disappeared up the drive! Memories are idiosyncratic, often eccentric, even prejudiced but a wonderful comfort when remembered in tranquillity!

However, the beginnings of Bilborough Grammar School in September, 1957, will always remain with me. I responded to an advertisement in the TES in the Spring of 1957, for the post of Head of History (SRA Grade B) at Bilborough Grammar School which was to be opened in September, 1957. The interview was held in Nottingham at the Mansion House in Town Hall square and I was interviewed by the prospective Head of the new school, Dr Harry Peake, and two city administrators. I was offered the post and promptly accepted. The new school was to start with the first three forms, who previously had been accommodated at Forest Fields Grammar School, plus two forms of 13+ transfers from other city schools. The school was to be selective, taking 12-15 % of the 11+ population plus 13+ transfers. (This compared with 40 % in my previous school.) The 'parity of esteem' of 1944 hadn't worked and Crosland wrote at about the time Bilborough opened that 'the school system of Britain remains the most divisive, unjust and wasteful of all aspects of social equality'. At least Bilborough started in a little way to correct this. Many of the 13+ transferees seized the second chance enthusiastically and went on to be successful at university. At a later time the Sixth Form College that developed out of the Grammar School also played its part. One student, I remember, had to sit English Language twelve times in order to enter university and now has a Ph D. Another entered College with no O-level qualifications and is now a barrister.

After appointment the new Heads of Department had to devise syllabuses for their department in preparation for September. The History syllabus was a fairly standard chronological one for the first three years with nineteenth century British and European History for the Cambridge O-level in years four and five. The sixth and seventh years were to study the Tudor and Stuart periods with the equivalent European History for the same exam board. It was intended to be as flexible as possible to allow for some project work and local history within the framework to accommodate individual enthusiasms. Text books also had to be ordered and I received an allowance of £300 to start off the History section of the library (it had been £15 at my previous school!) We were consulted about our subject rooms - hence the wash basin and draining board and the large number of pinboards on the walls in 1.4 (the then History room)! We also looked round the new school buildings and met Ivor Williams on one visit (against the left-hand lion in Market Square!) The first day of the new school was, it seemed to me, a culmination of a miracle of organisation. At 9 o'clock the pupils all assembled on the broken car park in front of the school and form teachers called out their form and led them to their form room. All the administration was then done (register, timetables, etc) including giving the pupils a map so that they could find their way to classes. After break at 11.00 am we were teaching our first classes! Everything was available - sufficient desks and seating, books, exercise books, chalk, etc. School uniform had been designed and was obtainable - this was one area it seemed to me where discipline was strict especially for the girls under the control of Miss Thompson. Attendance at morning assembly was also strictly enforced by Dr Peake. The timetable had been prepared by Dr Peake and worked, as far as I was concerned, without any hitches. Gradually members of staff got to know one another. It seemed to me that they were all very young, very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their subjects and the school. Harry Peake had a very strong and strict personal Christian ethic and Ivor Williams was a very gentle humanitarian - an ideal foil in the hierarchy. Miss Thompson kept a strict control on the discipline and welfare of the girls.

Staff enthusiasms and loyalty to Bilborough showed quickly on the sports field as well as in academic work. Staff mostly gave up free time for coaching and Saturday matches and Bilborough became a force in local sport. We produced County players at both rugby and cricket and a junior rugby international. I well remember when the U15 rugby team beat the High School 65-3 (Bilborough had five County players in the side). As rugby developed we were able to tour Cumberland and Westmoreland successfully.

The early Speech Days remain in my mind. Since numbers were still small it was possible to hold them as pleasant family gatherings in the school assembly hall. One of the early ones had David Sheppard as the guest speaker and presenter of prizes. At one Speech Day Dr Peake turned up in his gardening shoes and had to borrow Ivor Williams' shoes for the evening. One later Speech Day was nearly a disaster but for the good-heartedness of some parents. The main guest was Sir John Hunt of Everest fame. The demand for seats was so great that an overflow was planned in the gym with extension speakers wired from the main hall. Unfortunately the swing doors at the top of the gym stairs cut the cable just before the meeting began. Parents in the gym couldn't hear a thing. Some crowded onto the promenade at the side of the hall; some stood at the back of the hall; some sat in the gym throughout and some went quietly home! Soon after that, as numbers grew, Speech Days had to be moved to the Albert Hall.

Top


A Rare tabula rasa

D K (Ken) Rowat (Art, 1957-61)

The four years I spent at Bilborough Grammar School following its opening in 1957 proved to be among the most interesting and rewarding of my 23 years in education. With new, purpose-built premises, newly-appointed staff and a three-stream intake comprising forms 1, 2 and 3 only, it was a rare tabula rasa. The first forms were drawn from primary schools as is normal, the second and third from existing grammar schools in the city. I was interviewed early in the Summer of 1957 at the city education offices (Market Square) by the deputy director of education and the headmaster elect, Dr Harry Peake; no one else was present. The deputy director asked: "Whenever I visit an art class in progress I find either complete silence or absolute chaos; what would I find in yours?" They must have approved my evasive laugh.

Newly-appointed staff in Nottingham schools were invited to a reception in the education offices. A tall man standing next to me was surveying the throng speculatively; he said "Now - where is there an attractive young lady to whom I can make improper remarks?" It was Robert Protherough, Head of English, and I felt reassured to know that at least one of my new colleagues had a sense of humour. At the first staff meeting (all of us sitting comfortably in brand new armchairs) Dr Peake took command at once, making clear his intention to pursue excellence and outlining his proposal to adopt a six-day timetable. He was a meticulous organiser, a big factor in getting the school off to a good start (though some saw him as a bit too zealous for comfort in his eagerness to get everything to his liking). Less well organised, hyperactive, friendly and very helpful was deputy head Ivor Williams (a viola player as well as a classics scholar, he took charge of music throughout the first year). Following my appointment Ivor not only showed my wife and me over the barely-finished school building but took us on a tour of Nottingham in his car, calling at Wollaton Hall.

For several members of the staff it was a first appointment, but for those of us with experience in other, long-established schools, that first term was exhilarating. The staff-room was refreshingly free from cliques, most of the appointees were young and all were enthusiastic. My first encounter with the new pupils was a delight too good to be true. I had been teaching in a tough technical school for boys near the dockland area of Portsmouth where severe caning by senior masters was rife; after that experience teaching at Bilborough was a piece of cake. When, on the first day, an orderly queue of sparklingly clean boys and girls dressed in fetching turquoise-and-black uniforms filed into the art studio I could hardly believe my luck. Teachers of today will envy the amount of money available to us; I could literally order anything I fancied in the way of materials and equipment, and when I suggested a built-in display cabinet outside the art studio Dr Peake approved my design with enthusiasm; it was constructed and ready for use within a few weeks.

From the start Robert Protherough was a prime mover on the arts side: we collaborated in editing the school magazine, rejecting dull, conventional reporting in favour of creative writing and illustrations by the pupils. The mag. received very favourable comments in the press. (My cover design incorporates a ground plan of the school as it then was.) When John Pick arrived to join the English team a big fillip was given to the arts side; he got his kids to present a performance of Romeo and Juliet that was close to professional excellence and genuinely moving. As designer of the school prospectus and art editor of the school magazine I knew that I could always count on Harry Peake to find money for expensive professional printing including the reproduction of pupils' art works. Plays and other events were presented regularly for which I'd design posters, programmes and tickets, often incorporating art work by the pupils. The studio was well-equipped for pottery and I made coffee mugs for all members of staff, having pinned up a notice asking each to nominate a size. John Pick impressed me favourably by writing "I'd like a small, beautiful one please". Do any of those mugs (each with the owner's initials) survive, I wonder?

As an alternative to morning assembly for the whole school, once-weekly house assemblies were held in classrooms or laboratories. In the case of my house, Welbeck, I shared this responsibility with Housemistress Dr Anne Pennell and we used her biology lab. Anne was young, spirited, ready for (almost) anything and we quickly agreed to make our assemblies as lively as possible - to get the day off to a cheerful start. Surrounded by aquaria and vivaria we'd conduct the obligatory prayers as quickly as possible without appearing irreverent, then play jazz records. No doubt the pupils would have preferred Cliff Richard (then appearing over the pop horizon) but mainly we played my vintage 78 recordings from the New Orleans/Chicago eras or jazz by revivalists like Acker Bilk and Chris Barber. I also played jazz records during my weekly after-school art club meetings. Hearing old recordings of the MJQ or Roy Eldridge's lazily driving mainstream trumpet on the radio always reminds me of those life-enhancing hours when the volunteer pupils would be engrossed in their painting, clay modelling or potting to the sound of Softly as in a Morning Sunrise or Tin Roof Blues. Sterner stuff was offered at school assemblies when I'd sometimes collaborate with Ian Bartlett to present classical music with visuals, occasionally featuring 20th century composers like Schönberg, Berg and Webern - much to the discomfiture of some members of staff.

I think it was in 1959 that Ivor Williams organised an Easter trip to Italy for senior pupils. Unfortunately, having made all the bookings he fell ill shortly before the departure date and asked me to take over. Rashly, I agreed. Not having been to Italy previously and having seen our pupils only in their school uniforms I was unaware of a factor that was to cause me considerable anxiety throughout the trip: no one had foreseen the electrifying effect that our now nubile girls in their summer dresses would have on the youth of Italy. Lads with scooters would wait outside our Rome hotel literally all night, then follow us all day. My wife and I were awakened one night by an urgent banging on our door. "There's a man in my room!" screamed a distraught girl. One of the budding lotharios had somehow got hold of a key and was calmly sitting on her bed.

One member of staff fell ill and senior mistress Miss Thompson stayed in Rome to look after her while the rest of us went on to Naples. Groups of youths followed us at close range through Pompeii and since our excited girls were inclined to disappear into the labyrinthine ruins I was usually in too anxious a state to contemplate the scene of ancient devastation properly. After that, being propelled into Capri's Blue Grotto in rough seas (the cave entrance was only briefly visible at intervals in the heavy swell) seemed relatively stress free. On the return train journey soldiers in a stationary troop train responded to the waves of a couple of our girls by jumping down from their carriages and running across several tracks to climb ours. Later I had to man-handle a Sicilian soldier from a girl's compartment: fortunately he was a stoic and just shrugged in incomprehension. The girls loved it all of course. I kept a photographic record of the trip and some pupils may still have prints.

Dr Peake decided to opt for the Cambridge Examination Board because he thought it the most rigorous and wanted us to be judged by the highest standard. As the time for the first examinations approached he invited me and the headmistress of Nottingham Girls' High School to accompany him on a trip to Cambridge in his new Austin car (of which he was very proud) to study work submitted in previous years. His propensity for working at full stretch had a touch of schoolboy enthusiasm about it and he drove to Cambridge and back flat out, a couple of times nudging me and pointing to the speedometer: sometimes we approached 90 mph.

I can't answer for all subject areas - I collaborated mainly with Robert Protherough, John Pick and Ian Bartlett, all brilliant teachers in my view - but my recollection is that everything went with a swing throughout those first four years. GCE examination results were excellent all round, but - more importantly - I feel that the Bilborough pupils were extremely lucky in that they gained a well-rounded education based on a curriculum interpreted sensitively and imaginatively by a body of staff who were not only emotionally involved in doing their best for their pupils but were relatively free from the heavy burden of administrative pressure that now appears to sap the enthusiasm of most teachers.

Top


Early Drama

based on correspondence from
Alan Gill (1957-63)

From a mere glance through my souvenir drama production programmes from those early days it is apparent that a 'stock company' of artistes soon established itself - the same names crop up time and time again: Gillian Dennis, Frank Winter, John Chambers, John Sterry, Dennis Smith, Michael Yard, Malcolm Gill (no relation), Tanya White, Robert Boot, Robert Prew, Daphne Place, Wendy Bignall, etc.

From the start the Headmaster, Dr Peake, and the staff must have decided to 'hit the ground running' because I have never known a school (and I have taught in secondary education for 28 years) with such a varied and lively outlook. For example, in 1960 there were productions of 'She Stoops to Conquer', 'Toad of Toad Hall' and 'Romeo and Juliet' and also a Summer Concert. The following year saw productions of 'The Pirates of Penzance', a Junior Playbill, three one-act plays, and 'Dido and Æneas' with 'Trial by Jury', a double bill. This staggering list of achievements was done by a school that did not have a lower sixth-form until September, 1960, and this list does not include sporting achievements and a myriad other clubs and societies.

As you may have gathered, I was involved in the drama productions. I started by helping to paint the sets, then was allowed to design them. From the age of about 14 years, I and my pals Eric Tomlinson and David Cannon haunted the art room and the stage every time there was a production in the offing. The stage was quite large and very well equipped. Sets could be built up to a height of 14 feet and a width of about 40 feet. A stock of flats, weights and braces was available from the start and there was (for that era) a good lighting system.

We painted the flats on the patio outside the art room. Sometimes we mixed the paint with size which makes a very strong smell. Luckily the art room was large and airy. The finished flats were carried round the side of the school past the staff-room on their way to the hall. The staff became used to the sight of flats that had apparently sprouted legs going by. The sets were designed by the art teacher, Mr Rowat, but when he realised I was hooked I was allowed to design some myself including 'She Stoops to Conquer'. I suppose the paint stains on the art room patio have long gone, but I sometimes wonder about the large black splodge on the floor of the stage near the back wall, the result of a nasty accident during the painting of 'She Stoops . '. We never managed to remove it.

The production I remember most vividly is 'Romeo and Juliet', produced by John Pick. He was my form master and taught English. Like all of the staff he was enthusiastic and energetic and R & J reflected this. It was a modern dress production which seemed to lean towards 'West Side Story' as much as it could. Mr Pick designed the layout of the set; I and my gang constructed and painted it, adding as much as we dare to the original design. It was the biggest set we had attempted. On the audience's left was Capulet's house. The front of the house was partially removed to reveal Capulet's living room complete with awful wallpaper and TV. Behind this, on a raised section, was Juliet's bedroom. The balcony projected into the street, built in the middle of the stage. Capulet's newsagent's shop was there, with buildings receding in perspective. On the right was a set of stone archways that doubled as the church.

The action often spilled down the steps of the stage into the audience. In 28 years of teaching I have never seen a production which bettered this one, especially as regards the acting. The review in 'Bilborough', November, 1961, by A.G. (Mr Gilliver) states that 'Never before had we seen a production in which the entire cast .. . merged their own identities into the parts they were playing'. The writer put this down to thorough rehearsal and the transposing of the play into modern dress. I would add that the personality of the producer, Mr Pick, was such that he could make the plot resonate in the minds of young people. That, in a working class grammar school on a housing estate is a great achievement.

To single out one teacher, however, is not wise because the entire staff of B.G.S. could not have been better. We were all in the right place at the right time. Everyone seemed to pull together. I'm sure this is not rose-tinted spectacles. In the photographs of the school interior in the Official Opening booklet can be seen wallpaper in the library, entrance hall and even on the back wall of the hall. That there was never a mark made on the wallpaper says it all! In fact I remember the fuss made when the initials B.J. were found on a geography room table. A one off. Later, the same B.J. was punished for being seen smoking in Nottingham, 3 miles away. He was in school uniform.

It came as a surprise to me when I began teaching that not all schools were like Bilborough Grammar School. It was very special. The deputy (later the Head) Mr J.I.Williams (another teacher I could write pages about) would stand on the stage in assemblies and talk about the 'Bilborough Spirit'. I wonder if others remember this, and if they would agree that Bilborough definitely did have a 'spirit'; a remarkable thing for a brand new school with no history.

Top


Four Very Happy Years

Arthur Gilliver (Modern Languages, 1958-62)

"On the plains of muddy Strelley
Lie the play-fields of the school High Pavement"

When I first read these lines, which were part of a poem (after Longfellow) which appeared in the school magazine of High Pavement during my third or fourth year there, I little thought that some time later, after one year's service in Dad's Army, attendance at three universities, nearly three years' service in the Royal Navy and nearly 6 years working as a bank employee in South America, I would begin my real teaching career on those self-same plains, but now, in 1958, no longer 'muddy Strelley' but the brand-new school, Bilborough Grammar School, which had already been in existence for a year.

What a place to begin a teaching career! The place was bubbling with excitement. A dedicated staff teaching pupils who were for the most part keen to learn. The staff were not only dedicated, they were all highly qualified and ready to give freely of their spare time to organise out-of-school activities, especially, but by no means exclusively in the realm of sport. And everybody was so friendly! I think this was in no small part due to the way in which we were appointed. Harry Peake, who knew exactly what he wanted, conducted the interview, accompanied by one representative from the local education committee. (My subsequent interviews for other posts were quite a different matter!)

During my first two years, I was form-master of 4S and then 5S. S stood for Spanish. I had been told that these pupils had made very little progress in French during their third year. I said to Dr Peake, 'Any chance of them starting Spanish instead of French?' He said, 'There's a bit of money in the kitty. Yes. Why not? They're not going to make GCE in French in two years' time anyway'. I think they enjoyed their two years' Spanish, even though none of the 15 pupils got a GCE O-level in Spanish at the end of it. (One of them, Judith Prat, eventually obtained one in the VIth form.)

Shortly after I began teaching at Bilborough, my wife, Molly, gave birth to our first child - stillborn. As a form a rehabilitation, we were able to join Ruth Betts and Pat Butler on the skiing holiday Ruth had organised in Kitzbühl in December, 1958. I think another member of staff dropped out to let us in, but I'm not sure about that. The main things I remember about the holiday itself are that one girl broke her leg and had to be left behind in an Austrian hospital when we came home and when the kids asked for 'chips' in a restaurant in Munich on the way there, they all got potato crisps (the Germans call them 'chips').

On the subject of foreign visits, perhaps I should mention the exchange visit with Ettlingen, an old town a few miles south of Karlsruhe, which I organised in Spring, 1962. I was accompanied by Ann Lee, who looked after the girls. I think it was a successful exchange, although it would have been better if more of our pupils had spoken German. Still, they enjoyed it, and so did the Germans who came to Nottingham in August. We are still in touch with the two German teachers (a married couple) who came with them. When they came back from Germany, I asked our pupils to jot down their main impressions of life in Germany. One of them wrote 'The Germans are more friendly than the English'. Food for thought.

During my four years at Bilborough I managed to teach French, German, Spanish and Russian. (My degree is in French and German, although I did study Spanish in my third year at Cambridge, and of course the work in South America was mainly in Spanish.) The Russian I acquired through evening-class work (Adult Education). Harry Peake had sufficient confidence in my linguistic and teaching ability to give me a class of 33 second-formers to teach Russian to in 1961-62. They were first-class material and took to it like the proverbial ducks to water. Non-linguists say, 'Oh, that funny alphabet. How can they learn that?' Actually, the Cyrillic script has many letters in common with the Roman alphabet, and, introduced gradually, it did not present a problem. Unfortunately, I moved after one year, but HJP was able to find a successor to continue the good work. I trust none of the pupils were permanently scarred by the experience. They seemed to enjoy it at the time.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the musical entertainments set up by Ian Bartlett, especially the G&S. I still have the rubber boots I bought to help make myself look like a pirate in 'The Pirates of Penzance'. 'Dido and Æneas' was perhaps a little over-ambitious, but, under Ian's expert tutelage, we all set to with a will, and in the end we produced a quite creditable performance. One of the best aspects of these shows, as also in the amateur dramatics produced by Robert Protherough and John Pick, was the intermingling of staff and pupils in the cast. This surely contributed greatly to the friendly atmosphere and the 'spirit of Bilborough' which so dominated the school.

Another contributing factor was of course the sportsfield. The school got off to an excellent start, especially, dare I say it?, in rugby football. By the time I left, in addition to the 1st and 2nd XVs, there were teams representing all the age-groups who played in matches against other schools most Saturdays. I helped Barrie Cholerton with the under-12 team (although he did most of the work). How proud we all were when we went to Twickenham to cheer on Barry Johnson, who had been selected to play for the England under-15 team.

Those were really four very happy years of my life.

Top


A Reminiscence

Ian Bartlett (Music, 1958-62)

From my vantage point, seated as I was at the piano on the left at the front of the hall, I glanced upwards becoming acutely aware of the feet, encased in a pair of robust, highly polished black shoes, visible beneath the table positioned in the centre at the front of the stage. One foot was awkwardly crossed over the other while both of them moved about restlessly as if seeking a position of repose which neither of them could find.

The occasion was a Monday morning assembly at the beginning of one of those special weeks during which the usual, and normally perfectly innocuous, 'music in assembly' interlude would instead be devoted to the presentation on records of a challenging piece of contemporary music, preceded by a verbal introduction. The shoes, whose image has remained to this day the most vivid recollection of my time at Bilborough, belonged of course to the headmaster, Dr Harry Peake. The music, which evidently provoked such anxiety and tension was a then only recently composed work by the Italian composer Luciano Berio called Circles (1960) - now regarded as a classic of twentieth-century music. The impact made by the innovatory stylistic features of Circles, in particular the fragmentation of the text by E E Cummings and the fractured vocal line sung by Cathy Berberian, must surely have been the consequence of 'the shock of the new' rather than merely a confirmation of Braque's well known dictum that 'all art disturbs'. However, whatever the degree of discomfort felt by the headmaster in being confronted by Berio's music within the formalities of a school assembly, his subsequent reaction was entirely characteristic. Assembly continued to take place in the normal way for the rest of the week while the five extracts from Circles were taken to their conclusion - but Ivor Williams, Harry Peake's deputy, who was later to succeed him as Head and who had, as it happened, taught music as well as Latin during the year prior to my arrival, was asked to preside at assembly from Tuesday to Friday. No fuss, no conflict, the perfect diplomatic solution!

This episode may be seen as symbolic of the best features of the school in the early period of its history under Dr Peake's leadership. Concerned to adhere to the finest traditions of the English grammar school, at the same time it looked forward to the future. Among other equally laudable aims, it sought to offer its students opportunities to widen their cultural horizons through direct contact with the literary, dramatic, visual and musical arts, both within the formal curriculum and through a wide range of extra-curricular activities. Above all, not only was it clear that Harry Peake was committed to doing everything that he could to ensure the success of the new school as a whole, but he was also prepared to encourage and support his staff and pupils alike whole-heartedly in their individual endeavours and ambitions.

As a young teacher in my first post, I too was able to benefit greatly and in many ways from the environment in which I found myself at Bilborough. A single incident will serve to illustrate this. Through the benign but stimulating influence of my colleague, friend and 'best man' (and one time landlord), Ken Rowat, a founder member of staff in 1957, I was brought into closer contact with the art world. When I was later being interviewed for a new post and pressed by a member of the panel to substantiate the broader interest in the arts which I had professed, I found myself claiming some acquaintance with the action painting of the then newly emerging young abstract expressionist, Jackson Pollock. This chance and unpremeditated reference seemed to stop the panel in its tracks, for after a silence that seemed an eternity, they returned to safer ground (safer for them but more difficult for me) such as who my favourite composers were! As it happens, nearly forty years later, as I write these words, a retrospective exhibition of Jackson Pollock's works is being shown at the Tate Gallery. A review of this event by Laura Cumming published in The Observer (14 March 1999) opens: 'There are some things you may only catch once in a lifetime - a comet blazing across the heavens, a total eclipse of the sun, a meteor crashing to earth. Jackson Pollock has been compared to all three.' I rest my case there.

As for more generalised recollections of Bilborough, the musical events which I still remember with particular pleasure are the junior choir's singing of Bartók's 'Breadbaking' and the recorder group's rendering of Benjamin Britten's 'Alpine Suite'; the performances of Handel's 'Zadok the Priest' at one Speech Day and of his 'Foundling Hospital Anthem' at another; the school's first operatic production of The Pirates of Penzance and the later double bill which brought together Trial by Jury with Purcell's Dido and Æneas.

Finally, I am delighted to have the opportunity, belated as it is, to record with gratitude the great support and active collaboration I received from so many colleagues and pupils in the various musical enterprises we embarked on together. I cannot mention them all, but in particular I shall always remember two pupils, Catherine White and Wendy Smith, an inseparable and insuperable pair of singers. Where colleagues are concerned, I would like to refer to Ivor Williams, an able pianist and viola player, ever supportive; Robert Protherough, erudite producer, actor, singer; Bill Bristow, exuding infectious enthusiasm for G and S whether as producer or participant; Terry Newcombe, an outstanding clarinettist and singer; Brian Carlson, a fine pianist and singer; and last but not least, Ruth Betts, Pat Butler and Margaret McFarlane who sang with skill and zest and played leading roles on the stage. Many of these colleagues supported 'The Bilborough Singers' and some also joined 'The Nottingham Singers', an independent choir which grew out of the various vocal activities which took place in the school itself. Those were the days!

Top


My appointment to Bilborough was a fiddle, of course

John Pick (English, 1959-61)

The ancient grammar school which I had attended just after the war was, like many another, down-at-heel, staffed by venerable old codgers, some reputed to be old boys, and smothered in ivy (the buildings, that is, not the codgers). It is fair to say that up-to-date scholarship and a keen interest in contemporary events generally ranked low in the staff's interests - but I nevertheless acquired an education there. This unlikely outcome was due in large part to the fact that during my second year, there arrived on the staff a new young teacher, a non-smoker (itself sufficiently rare to bestow on the newcomer a mildly Messianic status), a man who had chosen to do his National Service as a Bevan boy rather than join the colours, and who therefore didn't drone on about his war experiences (another unusual quality in schoolmasters of the early fifties). Most startling of all he seemed to have read a number of books by people who were still alive. He endeared himself immediately to the school by walking nonchalantly into school assembly wearing a pair of bright yellow socks to set off his dark red shirt. In the faded grey ranks of King Edward VIth School, the young Robert Protherough - almost literally - shone like a beacon.

We have to fast forward a bit here. I went on to University, completed a degree and in 1959 was well into my postgraduate year of teacher training. Doing the training was of course a way of extending my University time, but I had long suspected that teaching, if not quite the romantic life I had dreamed of, was at least much easier than any of the other ways in which a highly-educated arts graduate - inevitably lacking any sound practical skills - might conceivably have earned a living. Moreover teaching gave you long evenings, and even longer holidays. So by the Spring of 1959 I had more or less resigned myself to joining the staff of Leeds Grammar School (a post which my tutor had kindly set up for me). By day I was ready to join the fogies, to become in due course indistinguishable from the other chalky old gits that shuffled about its corridors, ready to be pointed out each autumn to the new boys: 'There goes poor old Picky - no, not him, the one next to him, the one that's just bumped into the milk crates'. By night, I had privately decided, I would emerge, like Count Dracula, and pursue my own interests.

It was then I saw the advert, and everything got more complicated. It seemed that this Bilborough Grammar School required a teacher of English. My eye was drawn to it not just because I had suddenly remembered that I liked the city of Nottingham rather better than Leeds, but because the name of the school struck a chord. Surely it was to this place that Robert Protherough had gone and - if memory served - had written glowing accounts of to all of his acquaintance. Bilborough was, by all accounts, a newly-built school, innovative, interested in the contemporary scene, with lively arts teaching, and - a point on which Robert laid some emphasis - it not only taught girls, but had a large number of young women on the staff against whom, so to speak, one could daily rub.

It was the work of a moment to tell my tutor that I had thought again about giving my fresh young self to any ancient masculine piles ('I hope you won't live to regret it, Pick'). Surely not! I now saw myself swinging into the sixties as a very model of a modern interlocutor: long hair, corduroy jacket - yellow socks even - dazzling classes with raw modern literature, staging challenging plays, arguing fiercely about modern art with lively colleagues in the pub in the evenings, going with school parties to the playhouse and the latest films, later on inviting one or two of my more nubile colleagues back to my comfortable bedsitter to listen to my jazz records . . . And in truth life in Nottingham did turn out to be much like that - except that no female colleague was ever persuaded to enter the shadowy cellar in which I actually took up residence. The only one who ever got as far as the doorway sniffed meaningfully, muttered 'I thought you'd live somewhere like this', and scuttled back to the safety of West Bridgford.

I winged off my application. Shortly afterwards I received a careful letter from Robert, in which he said that although he had welcomed my interest, he could not of course show any special favour to me at the interviews. At them I should be grilled by the formidable headmaster, Harry Peake, who was a man of great insight, whose eyes could not have the wool drawn over them. Fortunately, this turned out to be hogswash. Far from seeing through the callow youth who presented himself (in a rather dashing red shirt) for interview, Dr. Peake pronounced me eminently suitable. Moreover - and it is here that the fiddle comes in - when Robert was asked if he was satisfied with my appointment he kept judiciously silent about all that he had known of me in my teenage years. No word of my laziness, weak will, moral prevarication or filthy personal habits - all of which he knew at first hand.

It was a fiddle for which I soon had reason to be grateful. I had two happy years as a schoolie (and I have kept the memory intact: I have never worked in a school since). Robert's main English-teaching colleagues, the demure Eileen Lynch and the Falstaffian John Lowe, were wonderfully welcoming. In those early days when you could still smell the cement drying under the rubber tiles, when the door handles were still razor sharp and shredded the newly-purchased gowns of the young staff, it soon became clear to me that the school was really run, not by the all-seeing Harry Peake or by his kindly lieutenants, but by the caretaker, Mr Beadsworth. This tidy-minded man preferred the school equipment, if it were to be used at all, to be used sparingly. I recall that the moment an evening rehearsal finished on the stage, he would appear with his high-powered polisher to restore its brilliant gloss. The result was that when they took their places at the following morning's assembly, the staff would advance in a curious slow shuffle, nervously clutching each other, like novices venturing on to treacherous ice.

Apart from that, I remember little about the building and even less - just as well - about my actual teaching, but the rest of the staff I do remember. An institution is always made by its people, not by its buildings nor its rules, and some of the old Bilborough staff became friends for life. Robert, of course, still as patrician, and as tolerant of youth's follies, as he ever was. Then there was the indefatigable Ian Bartlett, in perpetual motion with teeming choirs and orchestras, record recitals, instrumental classes (with a stern part-time teacher whose name was, I'm nearly sure, Gertrude Schmid). Ian filled every break and lunchtime with music, and then there were the evening classes, and the musical weekends . . . Once, in a Nottingham pub, eyeing the sheets of music bulging from his huge briefcase, the landlord asked him if he would care to play for his customers in the saloon bar in the late evenings. I started to laugh, until I saw that Ian had actually got out his diary and was looking, quite seriously, to see whether he couldn't fit a few extra sessions in.

So many memorable people. Bill Bristow - whose arrival down any corridor was heralded by long exerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan, whose entire works he seemed to have committed to memory. Jenny Daibell, who would unnervingly whisper 'I saw you in Slab Square last night' as we solemnly sat in assembly. Norman Kirton, pipe percolating noisily, doing little deals about the scenery. And of course the remarkable Ken Rowat.

My first encounter with Ken was in its way a useful pointer to the future. Behind Ivor Williams' desk, in the corner of the staff-room, ran a shelf, which in those early House and Garden days was generally kept brightly polished (Mr Beadsworth again) and clear of clutter. However one morning we saw that Ken had propped up on it an elegantly inscribed notice. This announced that he intended to fire some more staff coffee mugs in his kiln, and invited colleagues to put down their names if they wanted one. A second column invited the would-be recipients to stipulate what kind of vessel they would prefer. Some wrote 'With strong handle'; other, greedier souls, wrote simply 'Big'. I took a bit of a punt when I came to my name, and wrote that I should like 'A beautiful one'.

The keyword with Ken is always 'quiet'. He will do things powerfully, decisively, dramatically, nay terrifyingly - but he will always do them quietly. So, when I glimpsed his black crepe shoes moving stealthily over the staff room to collect his notice, I looked on from behind my marking. In the old type of grammar school it might have been seen as a bit of a pansy remark, something to be ignored. It might not register as a coded gesture of friendship, even with Ken. I watched his shrewd eyes pass down the list until they lighted on my entry. A quiet smile came to his lips. He sidled over and murmured in his gentle Gloucestershire burr 'All depends on what you mean by beauty of course. Shall we talk about it over a drink tonight?' That is more or less what we have been doing ever since.

For almost two years Bilborough seemed too good to be true, but there was a growing thuggish tendency abroad. Increasingly, as he glanced in my direction, Peake seemed to be indicating that the wool had now fallen from his eyes and that something would have to be done about all this blatant artiness. One became aware of a sinister thump of medicine balls, a rise in preachiness, ever more fussing over hemlines and well tied ties. Smoking, like drinking, started to be a secret activity. One or two senior pupils mysteriously disappeared from the school roll overnight. Then one Spring day I was suddenly accused of one of the most terrible of Harry Peake's crimes - wilful scruffiness. One day, as he sat with me in the sunshine on the little patio outside the staff-room, a twitchy Ivor passed on to me Peake's final judgement - I must get my hair cut forthwith if I were to remain on the staff. I left Bilborough at the end of the Summer Term.

Top


Mike Robinson
18th September, 1999

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