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News > Archives & History > Owen's Memories Part Two - For Our Younger Readers

Owen's Memories Part Two - For Our Younger Readers

"However this was fraught with danger because, as all pre-1971 Old Owenians will know, entering the school through that door was a capital offence in itself"

After Part One of my memories of Owen’s was originally published, I managed to dig out one or two of my old reports from the 1960s. Before taking up where I left off I thought readers might like to see how I fared in my first term in 2WJC. So here’s the report for my first few months in Flossie Cutler’s form. It would have made an appropriate addition to the first episode of my memories but unfortunately I didn’t have it to hand.

You can see from the photo that it was a very short term we were about to begin after Christmas! Strangely it was indeed a bit shortened for me as it was soon after Christmas that I fractured my ankle and had to take some time off.
Anyway, where was I? You may recall how, partway through my second year, our form was taken aback by the sudden death of Mr Lloyd-Williams, our form master. I can still recall the roll-call of my form mates at that time and I’m sure any of them reading this may also remember that unsettling period after Mr L-W passed away. I wonder if any of these chaps also remember me:

Jimmy Baker, Roger Biggs (lived in Geldeston Road, Clapton and had a younger brother, Jeff, at the school), Malcom Brown (who was a fine trumpeter, had an older brother at the school and lived in Brixton), Derek Callum, Mickey “Potty” Chambers (lived in Upper Street), Peter Connelly, Richard French, John Gibson, Trevor Harvey, John Jacobs, Derek Johnson, Graham Kendal, David Knowles, Laurence Lacey (dad owned a furniture store), Stephen Langston, Alan Lockyer (had an older brother, Malcolm I think, at the school), Tony Martin, John Matthie, John Morgan (lived in Chalk Farm), Paul Oliver (had an older brother at the school who was tragically killed riding a motor scooter), [Me], Philip Reed, Bob Sanderson, Philip “Wormy” Saunders, Peter Savidge, Albert “Abbo” Swinson,, Philip “Toby” Tobias (lived in Osbaldeston Road, Clapton), Martin Vigon (lived in Evering Road, Stoke Newington, now I believe resident in his native Canada), Dickie Wilmore (lived in St Kilda’s Road, Stoke Newington) and Graham Woodward (had an older brother – Ronald, I think - in the school).

I hope I’ve not mistaken any names or left anybody out. Apologies if so, but it has been more than sixty years!

Most of us seemed to get on well and I had a few particularly close friends. Davy Knowles was one of them. He lived at the top of Crouch Hill and I would sometimes cycle there after school. It was a slog to the top of the hill and Davy’s Mum would ply me with a much-needed cool drink upon my arrival. Martin Vigon, Dickie Wilmore, Roger Biggs and Toby Tobias were also among my circle as we all used the 73 bus to get to and from school. Most bus routes away from the Angel carried a few Owenians soon after 3:40pm during term time but the 73 was particularly popular.

A few changes had taken place as I began my second year. That year saw the retirement of Mr Burroughs and the arrival of Gerald Jones as Headmaster. Head Boy Paul Kelly had left and I seem to recall his immediate successor being Lathrope, though there may have been somebody in between. I never knew Lathrope’s first name and it seemed few others did either, with the possible exception of his parents. He was huge and was a positive asset to those seeking law and order within the school. Among the other prefects I recall were the Mace twins, Eric Le Sueur, and, of course, Bill Hamilton-Hinds.

The team striving to continue the battle with our ignorance had also changed somewhat and in fact continued to change as we made our way through the Third, Remove and Fourth forms. Among those I remember, Dr Cast took us for French, Dave New and Mr Stephenson (Room 13) helped us grasp simultaneous (and later, quadratic) equations. Mr Stephenson employed a “Heath-Robinson device to clean the blackboard which consisted of a cylinder vacuum cleaner which was hung on the wall. Connected to it, by a length of tubing, was a specially modified board rubber. The vacuum cleaner would be turned on as the board was wiped clean and the chalk dust sucked away into the cylinder. Mr Copping also assisted with our numeracy and I shall explain a little more about some of his strange idiosyncrasies in a later episode. Mr Dare took over where Mr Williams had left off with our history (somewhere between the Stone Age and the Vikings, I think) though Gym Chant took over at some point as will be seen from one of my later reports. Ron “Siren” Crocker took the helm in the Physics lab. Meanwhile Mr Hamilton initially continued with our Chemistry though “Oscar” Legge went on to teach us how to blow things up, boil various toxic and corrosive liquids and set fire to a multitude of substances to produce different coloured flames. I vividly recall one practical lesson with him where I had to dash to the toilet with a handkerchief stuffed in my mouth. I’d taken a mouthful of sodium hydroxide solution when sucking up the caustic liquid into a pipette. I have no idea what we were doing with the stuff - that aspect of the lesson didn’t stick very well. But one thing I did learn from that session (and which has stayed with me forever) is that sodium hydroxide and human tissue are not good bedfellows! I also recall Fred Whitham taking over with Biology and “Hattie” Jacques taking us forward with Geography.

Malcolm Stuart “Bert” Fellows taught us English in his velvet smoking jacket. He was a member of the TV and Screen Writers Guild, a member of the executive council of the Writers Guild of Great Britain and he penned an episode of Armchair Theatre entitled "The Truth About Helen"; which won the Television Play of the Year award. And, no, I don’t know why he enjoyed the nickname “Bert”! Ted Lindsay and a Mr Cosham also expanded our literary horizons. My only recollection of Mr Cosham is his uttering “Today we shall do Julius Caesar properly!”, but little else. I don’t recall whether we ever did Julius Ceasar properly or not. In fact I don’t recall doing Julius Caesar at all!

From the beginning Mr Chant and I didn’t get on. Although I think he could have been a little more accommodating, it was mainly my fault. I could not play football very well at all and to Gymbo Chant that was worse than being unable to read and write. Added to that, my prowess in the gym was nothing to write home about. I was a reasonably mediocre cricketer, making a few runs here and there when the occasion demanded, but that was no saviour. Fortunately, when progressing to the Remove we had the option of a wider range of sports and I chose to row at Kew but for me, life in Gymbo’s Third form was a troublesome time.

Apart from my lack of sporting prowess, by far my biggest shortcoming was my timekeeping. I was frequently late and, even though there was a five minute grace period to 8:55am, I was often on the wrong end of “late class” (30 minutes detention after school – or sometimes a little less if the prefect supervising it wanted to get away). Mr Lloyd-Williams scarcely left the main building except to go home and was unconcerned about my lack of punctuality. He probably took the view that if I was daft enough to prefer to spend 30 minutes detained after school rather than to leave home ten minutes earlier in the morning there was not much he could do to address my stupidity. Gymbo, however, took a very different view. It seemed to me that whenever he had a spare moment he would roam the school looking for miscreants. The names of the recipients of “Late Class” and “Prefects’ Detention” were, unfortunately, posted for all to see in the window of the Prefects’ Common Room on the ground floor of the art block. That practice would probably be prohibite today under “data protection” or the right to privacy but no such safeguards existed in the 1960s. He would scan the contents of the lists hungrily almost every day, believing that any members of his form who were subject to those sanctions were tarnishing his name and bringing his form into disrepute. He would take angry delight when he found my name there (which he did - frequently) and would seek me out to give me an ear bashing. Our brief exchanges usually went something along these lines:

DEAC: “Owen, you have two late classes. Why is it you‘re never on time?”
JO: “Well sir, there’s been quite a bit of trouble…”
DEAC (Interrupting): “I come from Pangbourne. That’s forty miles. You only live a few miles up the
road [which I did, in Stoke Newington]. I can get here on time, why can’t you?”
JO: “But Sir, I think….”
DEAC (Interrupting again): “I don’t want to hear any more of it. Just get here on time or I’ll beat
you.”

Of course it was fortuitous that he always cut me off because realistically I had no answer. I had often considered offering an explanation for the discrepancy between his punctuality and my lack of it along the lines that he must obviously enjoy getting up far earlier than me. Fortunately I always thought better of it. Instead my usual tactic consisted of suggesting that the vagaries of the 73 bus were to blame. It’s fortunate that I was rarely allowed to get very far with that argument because it would not have cut much ice. As I mentioned earlier, plenty of boys used that bus route and few of them were regularly late as I was. The plain truth was that I simply did not allow myself enough time to reach the Angel by ten to nine. It was a constant bone of contention between us, even more contentious than the (one and only) day I came to school sporting green “Hush Puppies” and white socks. For younger readers, Hush Puppies were suede shoes, popular with “Mods” at the time and were definitely not regulation issue. That only lasted a day and would have lasted considerably less than that had he seen me earlier than the last period of the afternoon. Most unusually, I must have been late for registration that morning! But Late Classes and the accompanying admonishments from Gymbo were to become part and parcel of life.

I adopted some interesting strategies to avoid detection. I realised that the prefects on the gate sometimes left soon after assembly began and there was a slot where one could sneak in between then and the beginning of the first lesson at 9:20. Wet weather was also an opportunity to avoid being apprehended as the prefects would take shelter on the steps to the entrance hall and would often be somewhat unsighted. The best approach was from the Goswell Road end of Owen Street as the stretch past that end of the school curved slightly and was out of sight of the main entrance. A swift entry could be achieved via the official route down the stairs to the basement and past the dining room. However, that was often thwarted as some of the prefects took to posting one of their number at the foot of the steps. Approaching from the St John Street end avoided this and if one kept tight to the railings after rounding the “Crown and Woolpack” it was often possible to sneak in, without being seen, through the Armoury door. However this was fraught with danger because, as
all pre-1971 Old Owenians will know, entering the school through that door was a capital offence in itself – it was strictly exit only. I can recall on one wet morning adopting this strategy, silently turning the cast iron handle on the door and sneaking in. I closed the door quietly, congratulating myself on my subterfuge. However, my euphoria was short lived as I found, to my horror, that I was facing Lathrope looking at the football team listings posted on the notice board inside. He handed me not only a prefects’ detention (PD) for the Armoury Door offence but a Late Class as well! I tried arguing along the lines of “double jeopardy” but my pleas were dismissed, backed up with the threat of a clip round the ear. Half an hour spent in PD seemed a decent trade off when weighed against a “clip” from one of Lathrope’s paws, which to me at that time seemed more to resemble three pounds of pork sausages than a pair of human hands!

The windows of Flossie Cutler’s room (6) are to the left of the door’s porch whilst those of room 7 (Mr Williams) are immediately to the right. Both of those rooms are mentioned in part one of my memories. The year 1963 was, of course, 350 th Anniversary year. The Reverend “Tubby” Turner had been recalled from retirement to oversee the fund raising exercise (we had no world-famous musicians among our alumni then as we had fifty years later!). The target was £30,000 and progress against this target was measured on a “thermometer” which was installed in the well of the main staircase. I believe it was graduated in £2,000 increments with the target figure being located somewhere between the first and second floors. I don’t know to this day how the ever-growing red line was adjusted on the device. Today full scaffolding would have to be erected in the stairwell no doubt with safety nets. A comprehensive risk assessment would have to be undertaken before anybody was allowed near the site and anybody making the adjustments would have to be fully trained and
kitted out with a hard hat, ear defenders, hi-viz jacket and steel toe-capped boots. But this was 1963, the Health & Safety at Work Act was more than a decade away and the red line did grow (adjusted, I imagine, by somebody leaning over the tiled balustrade, perhaps with an assistant holding on to his legs). Eventually the target was reached and the funds, if I remember correctly, enabled the school to buy a large house in Sussex which was to be used by both schools as a “rural centre”, with enough left over for the pipe organ which sat at the back of the main hall. In September 1963 my form mates and I became members of “The Remove” and Mr Chant continued as our form master. Our form room for our second year had been room 15 (Mr. Lloyd- Williams’s old room). On graduating to the Remove we were relocated to room 3 (the first of the rooms in the “cloisters” under the hall). Alas my bad timekeeping continued to plague both me and
Gymbo. Looking back I don’t really know who suffered the most as he seemed to become increasingly exasperated at his inability to improve my punctuality. To be perfectly fair his threats of corporal punishment (at least for my lack of punctuality) were never carried out. But he (quite justifiably) badgered me constantly. Here, for all to see is his scathing assessment of my timekeeping in my December 1963 report. This is the first time this historic and very delicate document has been made available to the public. I handled it with white cotton gloves as they do in documentaries on the History Channel, so take care when reading it!

I think his figure of 80% lateness is a little harsh. I would have put it closer to 50% myself but even now, sixty years later, I am still programmed not to argue too much with Gymbo so I must reluctantly accept his figures. Readers will also notice his determination to “see to” my deficiencies in History himself and his belief that I was “rather an imp in behaviour”!

Despite all that, being in the Remove opened a host of new opportunities including a choice of sports. For me this meant a half day out of the clutches of Gymbo and the relative peace of a couple of hours on the Thames. There’s lots more to tell about this, of the “mass slipperings”, my (perfectly legal) avoidance of conscription into the school’s Army Cadet Force, some further news on my timekeeping and a little bit more. Alas all that will have to wait until the next episode, so watch this space!

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