SLOUGH GRAMMAR SCHOOL IN THE 1960s – by D.J. Browne
As our Editor reminded us, she was the first girl to be allowed to take classes at SGS, thanks to her father, who was Head of Maths, because Slough High School did not offer Economics. Thus, I became the first man to have a female pupil at the School. Glenys has asked me to write about my experiences of working at SGS in the 1960s, and as I am now approaching 80 and the coronovirus is in full swing I thought I ought to write this article now, even if it is published posthumously!
I arrived in September 1964, straight from the London School of Economics and the University of London Institute of Education. I had been educated in the private sector at St Albans School (exact contemporary of Stephen Hawking) and done my teaching practice at the excellent Haberdashers’ Aske’s School, so I did not know what to expect from the state sector. I soon found out and nearly ran away after one week. This would not have been a record, as there was subsequently a chap who arrived, was sent into a classroom without even meeting the head of department, said ‘shut up’ 128 times and legged it! Somehow I survived – for 32 years- so here are some memories of the Masters who taught at SGS in the sixties – my apologies to anyone I have forgotten. I wrote similar articles for my own school’s magazine, recalling my first days there in 1952. As one gets old I find it easier to remember the distant past than more recent events.
The Headmaster was DR WILFRED LONG, a small, ascetic, humourless teetotaller of the ‘old school.’ He ruled with a rod of iron, always addressing staff, even the Deputy Head, by their surnames only, but he had strange weaknesses. On my first day I was amazed to hear him being barracked by the Sixth Form during assembly. His ‘sermons’ went on long into first period, to everyone’s delight. He had no interest in games. He used to arrive just before assembly and was in second gear by the time the 4pm bell went. His Deputy, a kind, gentle man called JOHN COLLIN, used to arrive early and leave late – but he went home to lunch, so I often wondered if he and Dr Long ever met. John Collin was a man of habit, who brought two biscuits and a flask of orange juice every day. STUART BOARDALL, a German teacher, had been offered a biscuit during his interview and, wondering if this was part of the selection process, had left the chocolate biscuit. John Collin had been at the School for many years, was thoroughly devoted to it, and and had had the unenviable task of writing condolence letters to parents of boys killed during the war. Dr Long’s other blind spot was ‘Queen Anne’. He had invented, for the first period on Wednesday afternoons, a lesson where every department taught the Sixth form something related to the period of Queen Anne. What he never realised was that everyone went off to games (there were numerous teams of all sorts in those days of cheap coach hire) so Queen Anne never actually took place! Dr Long was a linguist and he insisted that all pupils studied a language throughout their careers. Thus, there was a large languages department and a huge section of the Library was devoted to foreign language books – which nobody ever seemed to read. They ended up being presented to Reading University. Until 1964 there were regular plays performed in French. The languages offered were French, German, Russian, and when ALUN HUGHES, who is still alive, came Spanish was added. Dr Long also favoured music (a compulsory subject for all) and RE.- he was a very religious man and, I believe, a lay reader.
In deference to the editor, I must next mention GEORGE DICKINSON, Head of Maths. No-one ever knew his Christian name – he was Dick to his colleagues and GAD to the boys. He did the timetable – and started by giving himself a free period last lesson on Friday. As I played golf with him, I received the same privilege. The timetable was done by plugging-in variously painted golf tees into a pegboard. Years later, BRIAN ROBERTS, a deputy head of renown, and a fine cricketer, was mortified to find that the cleaners had knocked over this board as the timetable neared completion. Dick was a superb bridge player, who played every lunch time. Indeed, at one time, there were two if not three tables in play during the lunch hour. RAY RICHARDS taught Maths, and was famous for riding his bike to school at a remarkably slow speed without falling-off. He took a very dim view of bridge and card games in general. Sadly, he died prematurely. Frank Blagrove arrived in 1961 after doing his teaching practice at SGS. He had lived in Southern Rhodesia, as it was the, and the old shooting brake he drove was nicknamed the safari wagon. His nickname was Spud. GAD described him as ‘the best mathematician in the department’, including himself. JIM BOGGIS, a very nice man, also taught Maths but never recovered from bouncing in to his first class saying ‘ Good Morning boys – my name is Boggis’ which apparently resulted in a voice saying ‘ never mind mate, you’ll get over it.’
My Head of Department was JAMES WHARMBY, Head of History, known quite unfairly as ‘Killer’. As my tribute written several years ago showed, Jim was a nice man, whose experiences as a Chindit in Burma during the war had marked him. One of his sons, incidentally, became a Brigadier, despite having failed his 11+, and his last command was of all the cadet forces in the country. Jim, of course, ran the ACF unit alone until I arrived to assist him. He was often correctly referred to in the School as Major Wharmby. He became well-known for his lessons on ’Big Bulgaria’ and Prince Eugene.
BOB PORTUS was Head of Geography, known for the detailed coloured maps he drew on the blackboard. He once told me that he has made his teaching notes in the 1930’s and never changed them since. Not surprisingly, this was noted by the inspectors one day. Bob was an ardent socialist, a local councillor and had once stood for parliament against the then Minister of Education. He was another bridge player and played badminton as well.
BILL WALL taught French. He was rarely seen without his gown, even at lunch time. Bill was a Roman Catholic, who took Catholic assembly every morning (including the collection). His son was a Jesuit missionary in South America. He did remove his gown occasionally – mainly when he came to support the Rugby team. He was universally known as Max, after the comedian of that era.
WILFRED HAMPSHIRE (‘Hants’) was head of Classics. He was a quiet, ascetic, rather distant man, whose idea of Christmas relaxation for his pupils, was to issue the Latin Newspaper. He took the A stream and always insisted on keeping one chapter ahead of the B stream. Sadly, he died less than a year after retirement.
TEDDY MORGAN was Head of Chemistry. A jolly, competent man, like most scientists he tended to keep to the lab area and did not appear too often in the staff room. He was always relaxed and cheerful.
REG VIVASH, born as ‘Vivashoff,’ was a mysterious figure of Eastern European origin.. He was Head of Physics and a keen tennis player. He was known as ‘Beaky’ because of a prominent proboscis but an enterprising sixth form in later years changed this to ‘Mozam’ (work it out).He is reputed to have re-wired his house on the budget of the Physics department and, when he retired and bought a boat, all sorts of items like sextants appeared in his stock book. I hasten to add that this us all hearsay. Reg rather went his own way, as his assistant DEREK CLARKE, found out.
STUART BINSTEAD was Head of Biology and later, like Jim Wharmby, became a deputy head. He lived into his nineties. As masters’ Christian names were generally unknown to the boys, he was always called Sam or Sleepy Sam, as he is reputed to have fallen asleep in class – again this is hearsay. He was also known as Dagwood, which I never understood.
GEOFF MYATT was Head of PE and he was never afraid to order equipment or resources to a school which, until 1963, had not even had a gym. Games flourished under Geoff, and he had many colleagues willing to assist by running teams or introducing new sports. Geoff was a very nice man, who later became a county PE Advisor. In the 1960’s buses and coaches were cheap to hire, Lascelles Playing Fields were available and Slough Rugby Club provided a pitch so the School fielded many teams. When he was formally thanking Dr Long for his support on the latter’s retirement, Long remarked ‘ Yes, you should be grateful Myatt’ I remember myself taking 50 Rugby matches and a dozen cricket matches in one year – plus the Cadets! It beat classroom teaching at the time!
HARRY DONCASTER was Head of Woodwork and took the 1st XI soccer side. A former amateur player of great distinction, Harry produced some excellent sides. I remember one cup match which resulted in victory over a top London side, including future international Kenny Sansom. He also ran a Morris Dancing group in the 1950s, apparently.
GEORGE SHIELD taught metalwork and I took over the Rugby side from him. His successor, MIKE CURRY, was an excellent Hockey player and once scored 81 not out as the staff beat the 1st XI in the annual cricket match (by 9 wickets!) for the only time. GERALD PAINTER, who had succeeded Dr Long, as Headmaster also took four wickets.
Several assistant masters of PE came and went. ANDY HENDERSON was an excellent cricketer and subsequently once turned out for Sussex in a county championship match. ALISTAIR McGINN was an international Hockey player and still has a high profile in the National Hockey Association. PE teachers were dreadfully paid in those days. Andy once had his pay cheque stolen – £30 for the month. Another nameless PE teacher left teaching to go ‘on the bins’, collecting refuse, as it paid better. STUART INGER was a later Head of PE, who still has a high profile in ESFA and played for the famous Corinthian Casuals.
My other Head of Department was KEITH NORRIS, from whom I eventually took over the Economics Department. Keith was one of the bridge school and he introduced me to a poker playing group, which lasted about 50 years. He took a soccer team and was a racing fan – both horse and greyhounds (he also introduced me to greyhound racing). I even persuaded him to play a few games for Iver Heath Cricket Club. Incidentally, but for SGS, IHCC would have folded, as I must have taken well over a dozen pupils to play there at one time or another. Keith took up a post at Brunel University and eventually emigrated to Western Australia to a university post. As far as I know he is still alive in Perth, having introduced trotting racing to his betting portfolio.
FRANCIS GIBSON was Head of English – a feared figure, but actually somewhat undeserving of that reputation, though he did not suffer fools gladly. He even forgave me for smashing his coffee flask – I think. Although it was not apparent at the time he was a cricket fan, subsequently writing letters to cricket magazines.
GLEN FALLOWS taught English and produced some fine school plays. He was a trifle eccentric, with unswerving views on most things, including the fact that English was by far the most important subject while some others were ‘easy options.’ He described Economics and Business Studies in denigrating terms despite knowing nothing about either of them, until, after an exam invigilation, he admitted to me in wonder that ‘Business Studies looks hard – I didn’t know it was so mathematical’. Well, Glen, sadly it isn’t any more – the syllabus has been decimated – and I am still after 30 years a senior A level Business Studies examiner.
JOHN MOUTRIE was Head of Music, and DAVID JOYNER, an enthusiastic clumsy man, who died recently, his assistant. I remember John saying to me that 1871 was a black day when education became free because ‘if they had to pay for it they might value it a bit more’
DICK TAYLOR, another bridge player, came to replace Ray Richards. An ardent smoker, he could barely get to the staff room quickly enough for a drag between lessons. His wife, Val, taught at the High School, and was subsequently Head of Maths when the schools merged. Dick was quite happy to play no 2.
IAN STRACHAN came to teach geography and I remember accompanying him on a school trip to the Dolomites. He ended-up as a Principal of a FE College.
PETER WILLS taught Russian. He was a useful cricketer. He eventually left teaching to become a shepherd in a remote area of Scotland – rather unique? He died just a few years ago.
I started on the same day as JOHN HAYWOOD, a very nice New Zealander who went home after a year, and STUART MASON, one of the poker school to which I became initiated, a keen tennis and bridge player, whose eccentric life included having a brain seizure while hang-gliding. He went off to Further Education in Northampton and subsequently lived in Jersey and Brighton. He was rather fond of smoking and died a few years ago..
So now we come to the survivors from the early sixties, of whom I think there are only four. ALUN HUGHES I have mentioned – he was careers master and eventually left to run a bed-and-breakfast hotel before switching to other careers.
Head of Art was ROMEO DI GIROLAMO, who, as well as being such a talented artist that his paintings still sell for several thousand pounds, was a fine amateur footballer. He eventually held a very high position in the art world and his paintings were displayed on Gerald Painter’s study wall for many years.
TED DUTTON was a German teacher, and is still active in the local drama world. Ted is a good raconteur and he could add a great deal to the piece that I have penned here. He is always ‘good value’ and has a host of stories, particularly about the caretaker, BERT CHARMAN, who was described by Dr Long as ‘full of faults.’ Bert’s Old Broom Cupboard is fondly remembered, as are the huts over the road, which only fell out of use the year before I started.
DAVID ROGERS taught the classics and it was his job to remain one chapter behind Wilfred Hampshire. I do not need to say much more about David as he has worked tirelessly for the Old Paludians for decades, despite a lifelong bronchial problem. He has been a rock of stability for years for both the School and the Old Pals. He held the signals section of the cadet unit together and the school were winners of the national inter-school radio competition on more than one occasion. The trick was to contact schools as far away as possible, as points were awarded on distance as well as number of contacts. Fortunately, he just escaped from France where he had been celebrating his birthday, the day before the lockdown this year.
Then there is me… I had stayed for 32 long, weary(?) years, introduced Business Studies, became a Chief Examiner in A Level Business Studies, am still involved in work for the Cambridge Board, wrote a couple of textbooks, and various articles, watched Luton Town for 999 games (then got married, which stopped that!), and still try to play golf at Gerrards Cross GC( at one time in my forties I was playing golf on a Sunday morning and Cricket in the afternoon). I am a member of Middlesex CCC, go to geriatrics keep –fit (I ruptured my Achilles tendon on my first appearance 23 years ago), attend advanced French lessons, was walks organiser for the Chiltern Society for many years, collect stamps and generally try to keep the senility (and hopefully the virus) at bay. I think my golfing career might be at an and as all but one of my mates are dead, the winter rain, which caused a six month buggy ban, and now the lockdown means I have not played since last September and my current handicap is 27 (the lowest was 12 many years ago). So it might now be time to go. If I had my time again would I pursue the same path? One of my earliest pupils, who became a senior civil servant in the Treasury, once told me; ‘You are worth better than this’. We shall never know. What I do know is that I am a member of the ‘lucky generation’ who ‘never had it so good’ and it was as good a time as any to be a teacher.
As FRANCIS GIBSON once said ‘They will remember you long after they have forgotten everything you taught them’. Hopefully, this may be true of many of the names mentioned in this article.
I cannot end without mentioning a pupil, who came to the School a year or two after I did. He returned as a teacher and remained for 36 years – a lifetime of service, even longer than David Rogers’, if his time as a pupil is included. He was a decent cricketer and I told him that he would have got an international cap if Poland ever raised a team. Take a bow MAREK GAJDUS.
Slough Grammar School for Boys 1964 to 1996