Thursday, 3 September 2015

First day at big school...

It’s that time of year when the schools start up again and children are off to school for the first time or making the transition from one school to another. Life’s full of transitions, change is constant, but moving from my junior school into what we called ‘big school’ was one of the most daunting experiences of my life. I dreaded it for months and when it happened it lived up to my dread for a while. Everything was so different. It was a whole new world.

My school was made up of boarders and day boys. I was a day boy and day boys were treated like crap – or at least I felt that I was. On my first day I was greeted at the school gates by a group of boarders demanding to know if I was an 'x' or a 'y'. I had no idea, but turns out I was a 'y'. I was in New House, the lowliest of the low, we wore grey suits, our masters wore caps and gowns, the prefects sported brocade waistcoats and army greatcoats and the matron wore a nurse's uniform straight out of a carry on film.

The head (Stosh as he was known colloquially) played croquet on the lawn with the prefects in the summer and on Founders Day (founded 1575) there was an ‘old boy’ v ‘school’ cricket match and a speaker in the morning. Some I remember are Lord Longford, Robert Morley, David Tomlinson (whose two sons were boarders) and Jan Pieńkowski the illustrator – or did he give a talk in art class?

It was no environment for weaklings, and unfortunately I think that I was. We were addressed by our surnames by the masters, senior boys and other boys in class; nicknames were used by friends. I think that I was always Height, although for a while some boys called me ‘Tank’. We did five mile cross country runs on a Monday morning in the winter, went to school Saturday mornings, had detention in the refectory, kept homework diaries of our three hours homework a night, sang in the school choir, gave our house points in weekly at a meeting in the Chemistry Lab to cheers or jeers, had to carry a prayer book in our satchels, played rugby, learnt Latin, kept cave, had cold showers.

And straight into this from an educational syllabus of ‘All things bright and beautiful’, country dancing in the school hall and making gonks. It was a real shock I can tell you.

There was an Afghanistan prince boarding, lots of boys from Ghana whose parents lived away, a viscount, the heir to the Amey building group, the son of an MP, an émigré harmonium maker’s boy - and me. At least that’s the way it felt.

The prefects used to beat us, the teachers threw things at us, the sports master would make us stand in the rain for hours. One boy was so bullied that he tried to hang himself. It was all very 'If' (the film) when I first went there with ACF and CCF and a shooting range and sixth form boys (men) rebelling and singing the red flag and lighting a fire under the stage (which sent the masters scurrying for safety) on one very memorable end of term assembly. It was great really, a few years (three I think) out of time, stuck in another era where Tom Brown and Flashman would have easily fitted in.

As time went on my school mellowed into blandness; the girls came and the old rituals were replaced by new ones, the boarding house was not as full, the curriculum widened to include less academic subjects, teachers needed to be qualified not just bloody minded, slightly disturbed, ex-servicemen. Yes, it became a place of sanity and education. A school in short.  

It's a mixed comprehensive now, or whatever they call schools these days, and a good one I am led to believe. But I will never forget those early schooldays, and these days I look back and see only the good things; the dread has gone and I am left with memories of pranks and curry for school dinner, winning rugby matches, carol concerts in the local church, and walking two miles home on bitterly cold winters evening in the dark. Such is the stuff that dreams are made of despite the tears I shed over my homework and the fear of asking for help as it would always end badly.

Yes, my first three years at Lord Williams’ were a character building affair. It was one part Hogwarts, one part Greyfriars, and one part Monty Python – such a great mix really. I think I enjoyed it taking everything on balance (including the social layering), even if it was much in the same way that some inmates end up enjoying prison.


  1. Lindsey Messenger Yeah spotted you
    Like · Reply · 3 September at 18:47

    David Jones Yes far right! You make it sound better than it was!! lol
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 18:49

    Andrew Height The rosy glow of distance David.
    Like · Reply · 3 September at 18:50

    Andrew Height Pretty aren't I Lindsey? That was a few weeks after my first day, I must have been 12ish. That's Bones the biology master conducting. He was a strange one.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 18:55 · Edited

    David Jones I think today Andy he would be on some kind of register ( along with a few others too!!)
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 18:57

    Andrew Height You are right David. Most of our masters were a bit odd, mainly single, ex-army, public schoolboys or absolute bastards who just enjoyed hurting people. Happy days!
    Like · Reply · 2 · 3 September at 19:00

  2. Andrew Height By the way David. Did you fancy matron? All the boarders did despite her mustache wink emoticon
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 19:04

    David Jones No! Seem to recall she looked like Joan Simms in the Carry on film! Jackie Keirs and Penny (Busty) Harrison were more my thing lol
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · 3 September at 19:10

    Andrew Height Ah Miss Harrison. I was once alone in her room with her on a field trip to somewhere. She was drinking wine and giggling. Do you remember how Miss Kiers used to walk around while we were lying on our backs in drama?
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 19:20

    David Jones yes and sit on the desk at front of class crossing and uncrossing her legs! Terrible!! Scarred me for life
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · 3 September at 19:24

    Fraser Stewart Sounds a great school. Did you know Billy Bunter? Or a Master called Quentin?
    Like · Reply · 3 September at 19:24

    Andrew Height It really was a bit like 'If' Fraser. If you haven't seen it it's worth watching. Malcolm McDowell's first major role.
    Like · Reply · 3 September at 19:34
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    Andrew Height She was such a tease David . Some of the French assistants (Mademoiselles) were pretty hot too, especially the one that got caught in bed with two sixth form boarders.

  3. Bernadette Doyle Spotted you - love the fringe.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 20:15

    Andrew Height I was going for the choirboy look. It paid off, before I knew it I was touring the country and even appeared on Songs of Praise.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 21:08

    Kevin Burke Far right Andy
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 20:21

    Andrew Height It's the eyes that gave it away isn't it Kevin?
    Like · Reply · 3 September at 21:09

    Fraser Stewart It maketh the man.
    Like · Reply · 3 September at 20:36

    Chris Glanville Was that in Thame Andy?
    Like · Reply · 3 September at 21:22

    Kevin Burke The cheeks Andy
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 22:19

    Andrew Height Yes, Thame born and bred Chris. Why?
    Like · Reply · 3 September at 22:59

    Cloe Fyne What a great pic ;/)
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 23:05

    Chris Glanville Coz I played rugby against that 'posh' school and got soundly beaten: obviously, I went to a comprehensive!
    Like · Reply · 3 September at 23:05

    Andrew Height Who did you play for Chris? I played loosehead prop for the school and Oxford county under 15's until I got injured. Dragons were our posh rivals. I seem to remember that we won though. We had a bit of a reputation back then with 9 from Lord Bill's in the county team.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 23:18

    Chris Glanville I played hooker for Gosford Hill 1st XV and also had (just the one) county trial. Who knows, we may even have met before Dale...
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 23:22

    Jeanette Jefferson-Brown Not changed a bit !!
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 3 September at 23:23

    Andrew Height We always beat the shit out Gosford Hill Chris. To be fair though we were pretty vicious and played rugby every day of the week. I think you are quite a few years younger than I am, but you may have been a squirt on the sidelines and marveling at my technique and prowess wink emoticon
    Like · Reply · Yesterday at 00:02 · Edited

  4. Gloria Brown Is that Barry Manders n Martin Lilley near you?
    Love the pic, also Chris Stuart sorry if spelling of surnames are wrong!
    Like · Reply · 1 · Yesterday at 01:58

    Andrew Height Yes, that's Barry Manders and Martin Gloria. I struggle to remember names for the others though. Anyone help?
    Like · Reply · Yesterday at 07:32

    Kevin Parrott I enjoyed reading that Andy......... We had to always carry our hymn book in our blazer pocket, which rubbed a hole.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · Yesterday at 07:51

    Pete Wright Great photo and brilliant blog, well done Andy.
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · Yesterday at 08:04

    Andrew Height Funny old times Kevin.
    Like · Reply · Yesterday at 08:55

    Andrew Height Cheers Pete.
    Like · Reply · Yesterday at 08:55

    David Jones The one behind Barry Manders was someone Holland?? Yes great rugby team Andrew went from u/13 right through virtually unbeaten.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · Yesterday at 09:02

    Andrew Height Yes, Paul Holland I think.
    Like · Reply · Yesterday at 09:03

    Phil Ogden It's the eyes...the same expression through all those decades...
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · Yesterday at 09:08

    Andrew Height I only have the one Phil.
    Like · Reply · Yesterday at 09:19

    Andy Lloyd As a scholarship boy and son of a postman in a school full of fee payers, I completely understand your feelings.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · Yesterday at 09:21

    Andrew Height I fondly remember my school days Andy. But then I've always been a masochist.
    Like · Reply · Yesterday at 09:28

    Nick Jones You're the one at the front on the left.
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · Yesterday at 10:38

  5. Steve Castle Andy, the picture must be from when you were in second form as Chris Stuart was the year below. I want to say Robert Holland. I remember you having trouble with Bobby Howlett before Pete Burnett put him in his place. Vivid memories of Jackie Keirs. Colin Brookes was a great teacher. He died a couple of years ago.
    Like · Reply · 9 hours ago

    Andrew Height You have a great memory Steve Castle. Wasn't it Paul Holland?
    Like · Reply · 1 · 5 hours ago

    Steve Castle Paul doesn't sound right, but Robert doesn't either. Our second xv used to play Gosford first xv. It sounds as though you found the change of school more traumatic than me. But I did have an older brother there and a father actively involved in the school through the OTs.
    Like · Reply · 4 hours ago

    Andrew Height Yeah Steve, I think it would be fair to say that it took me a while to get used to the environment and by the time I did it was changing anyway. I've never been a fan of regimented environments, perhaps that was it and why I never joined the police or ...See More
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 hours ago

    Andrew Height Actually It just came to me. It was Roger, I used to call him Rog.
    Like · Reply · 2 · 3 hours ago

    Steve Castle Yes, Roger. I don't think I minded the regimented environment, but did and still do have trouble with authority. I disliked that we were supposed to join one of the armed forces corps and remember getting out of that with Luke Doyle by doing gardening for old folks. Likewise I could never have been in the armed forces.
    Like · Reply · 3 hours ago

    Steve Castle Do you remember Henry Blyth - latin teacher. He is stll
    Like · Reply · 2 hours ago

    Steve Castle Do you remember Henry Blyth - Latin teacher. He is still living in Thame. I found out recently that he was a Japanese POW and suffered badly.
    Like · Reply · 2 hours ago

    Steve Nuttall Looks more like Barlow Studios!
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 2 hours ago

    Andrew Height Yes Steve, I knew Henry pretty well from his time at Thame Labour Club. He was another strange one. I remember that he once lost his temper so badly in Latin class that he smashed his hand down on the desk and broke his wrist. He asked us boys all to leave the classroom. I knew that he was a Japanese POW, I saw some photos of him in uniform one time when I visited his house.
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · 2 hours ago

    David Jones What about Dick Proctor (Prick Doctor) now there was an odd one!!!
    Like · Reply · about an hour ago

    Tim Preston As I started reading this I was thinking of Michael Palin's Tomkinson's School Days and the bit where they nail the kids to the wall
    Unlike · Reply · 2 · about an hour ago

    Andrew Height Not quite nailed Tim, but there were rituals and punishments to be endured. Like having your balls periodically kneed and then having them sprayed with ralgex. What a wizard wheeze! Yarroo!
    Like · Reply · 9 minutes ago
    Andrew Height

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    Andrew Height David, his brother Patrick has become very collectable. Dick had a couple of prints on his wall and a painting. The prints go for about a grand a piece, god knows what the original painting was worth.

    Works and information about PATRICK PROCKTOR from The Redfern Gallery

  6. Pete Bevins
    The only thing missing from that picture is Joyce Grenfell conducting

    Andrew Height
    I think she was teaching PE at the time Pete.

  7. Maz Powley haha i remember he came to teach us, and we(Steph Rogers, Lorraine Shorter,Carol Webb,Michael Davey and David Lacey) had watched st trinians the night before...... so someone!! decided to jump out of the window and get a saw from the woodwork class and cut through his chair and 3 legs of the table, we pilled chairs up to the door so he couldnt get in and sat and waited..... he was not happy so went and got the depity head, by that time we had moved the chairs, Lorraine was sitting on the window ledge and i pushed her out, so when they walked in all they saw was Lorraines legs and hands sticking up from the bush outside the window, then he sat down grabbing the table and it all fell to bits...... how much detention did the whole class get lol..... DO NOT DO THIS DION Dion Whitfield

    Andrew Height Happy days Maz

    Maz Powley yes, still not grown up Andrew lol, if there is a little trouble to be got into i tend to be there somewhere!

    Steph Rogers Hahahaha!!!! Yes Maz Powley I do remember that well!!!! Xx

    Maz Powley it was so funny xx

    Steph Rogers I'd actually forgot about that!! You have a good memory! Bet nella can remember it as well? Xx

    Andrew Height You were very naughty girls!