Mixed/Negative Memories of WGS                                                    Home Page

In searching web sites for information written by WGS boys, the great majority of comments are very positive:

Happy memories of Charlie Ward (yes I did 5b!) and Chunky Pine who were so supportive in athletics. Chunkie's starting gun was like a cannon! Johnnie Butler's claim to fame must have been getting me through pure maths, not forgetting Ernie Huddart as well as Terry? Sulch. Brian Mason 1954 

Even though I couldn't play rugby or cricket I have only happy memories of WGS. Particularly remember Cloddy Barker' (maths, ex-Japanese POW) and the way he spat his teeth out if you got him in a big enough rage ….. John 'JB' Butler (maths) brilliant Brett Tussler (geog) ran the war games club 'Beery' Ward (econ) nuff said, legendary 'Chunky' Pine (phys) ditto Ernie Huddart (phys) ee bye gum lad .  Nick Tompkins 1969

WGS was a fine place to be and I still have many fond memories of some great characters. Harry Wrenn and his staff did a fine job for many years. Who was most influential? A difficult question - probably Miss Bavin and Jock (and his wife).   Neil Sinclair (1958)

However  several comments are mixed:

Like many others I have mixed feelings about WGS, I wasn't madly keen on the class and homework aspect, but it gave me a good all round education and career prospects with "encouragement" from teachers such as "Buzz" Temple, Tony Sparrow and "Nick". I much preferred the sporting arena with support from "Chunky" Pine, Johnnie Hyde and "Beery" Ward amongst others and even Johnnie congratulated me when I beat his 12 year old Senior Long Jump record. Tony Bayes 1954

Brilliant memories of school sports but not much on the academic side. I probably got hit by everything in the school but did avoid Beery's infamous 'Cuthbert' leather slipper. Keith Shurville 1960As

Does anyone remember Cloddy Barker whacking Steve Hardman for some misdemeanour over the head only to find a lot of blood around after the incident? Cloddy was apologising profusely to him only to discover he had gashed his own hand somehow and carried on the rest of the lesson sucking his wound.  Derek Hornbuckle (1970)

My schooldays were not happy days for me. I left at 16, and did my A levels at evening classes. However, in retrospect my time at WGS was well spent, and it is good to have one's memory refreshed by photos of long forgotten teachers. They all seemed to be such characters. No one seems to have mentioned "Albert", the maths teacher, and his trusty "twanker". There is no mention of Lenny Bratt, teaching French but often falling asleep in the process. One day his nap coincided with the end of the period, and we all left quietly leaving him asleep. He wasn't pleased at all! Years later, when stuck alone in rural France, I was very grateful for the little I had learnt from him.  Brian Parker (1946)

WGS was a unique institution (thank God!) - you either loved or hated it, but apart from the Public Schools, there are not many schools that engender such a following, so long after it's passing.  When you left, the Masters became human; I have spent many happy hours reminiscing with John Huddart & John Butler, to say nothing of pints many with David Wilson!   Richard Partridge  (1967)

John Maddock wrote the following, in response to a query from the webmaster, as to the year he belonged to:

Unclassified? That's probably a good summing up of me.

Firstly, it's not clear to me what the definition of a 55er is. I started in Autumn 1953 so I would call myself a 53er. Am I right so far?

In my first year, 53/54 I was in forms 1c, 1b, then 1c again.  My second year 54/55 was entirely in form 2c 'Idle and inattentive' was the comment of 'Trigger' Davies.

55/56 I was in 3c at the end of which year I got a terrible report, and my parents gave me, deservedly, the worst 'rocket' that I've ever had.

56/57 I bucked my ideas up and actually came top of the form in form work and exams. This was in form 4c.  I was so far ahead of the rest of 4c that 'Harold' interviewed me and it was decided that for 57/58 I should go into 5A2.

57/58 Having been the best of the worst, I was now the worst of the best, and struggled to keep up with the rest of the class who in the main were a year younger than me. (It did give me a good advantage on the Rugby field). I did manage to get 6 O levels including Chemistry, Physics and Maths so I went on to the Lower 6th Science.

Predictably, I struggled with the A level pure and applied maths and decided to get a job. I left at the end of the Christmas term and joined Midland Bank. .... Sorry that this has been a bit long winded but the answer to you question is in there somewhere.  John Maddock (1953).  Interesting scenario: Was it the teachers or John who failed in his first three years at the school?   Definitely the basis for a good debate (Graham Tall, 1955)

but, four of the reports were wholly negative:
I hated WGS with a passion. Remember doing cartwheels down Dodd Rd.the day I escaped! Fetched up in London before hitting the road and ending up here. Lately I've been curious to find out how people are. A lot of the comments trigger memories. Most of the teachers I couldn't stand seem to be highly thought of. Must be me!
David Lodge   (1954)

Some terrible flashbacks of rulers, canes, slippers, tubes, pipes.....anyone remember the psychopathic Halliwell (Latin, I think) who used to take running kicks at little lads' backsides? Frightening stuff.    John 'JB' Bergson (1961)

My time at WGS was so awful that I must have blotted it out....  Glad that I wasn't the only one persecuted by Cyril Pine, or who felt that Spike Jackson was a very silly old person. Who was that teacher (sorry, Master) who used to "ruler" you? Frank Chambers  (1961)

The fullest negative comment was a 'C' streamer's recollection of the worst years of his life (1958):
'Jake' Dunning 1   Jake 2                    Punishment  1  &  2                           Failure first time round
'Father' Holmes                                                                                           Eventual Success
Dr ‘Spike’ Jackson
'Gus' Leftwich                                     sex education
'Tinbum' Nicholas 1 & 2
'Eddie' Phillips                                    options
‘Chunky’ Pine                                    Chunky's: Newton's Laws 'equal and opposite reaction'
Graham Ridge                  
Mr Stratfold
'Charlie' Ward
Harold Wrenn
Student Teachers

Caramba! - is that the only Spanish I learnt in six years?

As I reflect on my time at WGS (1958-64) my emotional state is as it must have been for those plucky chaps who, in the ’fifties, wrote all those books about their time at Colditz - "we absolutely hated the place but, by jove, we love looking back at it all from a distance with a certain fondness". Frankly, I think some of the chaps at Colditz probably had it relatively easy.

I graduated to the Grammar School via an 11+ success from Victoria Junior School, Wellingborough. I loved Junior School and I was expected to pass 11+ which was, essentially, a basic intelligence test coupled with a bit of story writing. Like most of my peers, I spent the summer of 1958 getting used to the new bike I got for passing the 11+ and looking forward to coming to terms with life in Doddington Road. This was certainly the high point of my full-time academic career!

For in September 1958, I was captured by the enemy, Northamptonshire Education Authority, and sentenced to a six year imprisonment with no possibility of remission. On day one, just as I was reflecting on the fact that I was, apparently, one of the most ‘intelligent’ eleven year olds in quite a big geographical area (there were people with me in 1B from Rushden, Irthlingborough, Earls Barton, Ecton and places in between I’d never heard of), everything that could be done to bring us down to earth with a bang was done. It was made clear that we would be taught not by ‘teachers’, as we had been hitherto, but by ‘masters’ - a professional nomenclature deliberately chosen, no doubt, to clarify incontrovertibly the institutional pecking order. While we were known only by our surname or, more usually, a derogatory version of it; masters were known as ‘sir’. This, it seemed, was to be no equitable educational partnership!

Our introduction to the Grammar School life came at Morning Assembly where some six hundred boys, of which we were by far the smallest (and the only ones in short trousers), crowded into a hall that doubled as a gymnasium. We listened intently to the headmaster read out a few notices (one of which, on my first day, was that an old boy - David Frost - was to make his first television performance that evening on ITV - "but don’t waste your time watching") and a prayer; a prefect offered a Bible reading and another man (who we later learned was Mr Nicholas - aka ‘Tinbum’) merely stood there mum-chance on the platform, with the other two, undertaking no apparent role. In fact, he stood there with no evident purpose every school morning for six years. We were then expected to join in the singing of a hymn without the benefit of having been provided with a hymn book. We were instructed to stay behind in the gym ‘to be streamed’ and we followed our new classmates in a crocodile line to our Form Room - a wooden construction that had clearly been salvaged from the nearby Doddington Road allotments.

A few seconds of acclimatisation followed, during which burgundy coloured calendars on which one had to write the timetable were handed out, then we launched straight into French. I’d never heard anyone speak French and I had no reason to believe I ever would. Our Form Master and French master were one and the same Mr Stratfold - known, for some reason, as ‘Jasper’. He was the first teacher I had ever seen in a black gown - Junior School teachers all wore those brown tweedy jackets with leather elbows. Jasper’s gown was so badly ripped that the hem line was a mass of knotted material. It seems that the way of teaching French in 1958 was to speak to small boys in French and then hit them over the head with one of the knots in one’s gown when they didn’t understand and reply in a language they couldn’t speak. The less they understood, the bigger the knot that was selected from the array at the hem. Needless to say, this strategy worked so well in my case that, in Year 2, I dropped French and was put onto Spanish instead.

After break - during which I was put in ‘detention’ three times by less than empathetic second formers - I made my way, without the aid of maps, compasses or any other help, to the Chemistry lab for my first taste of science. Since my dad worked for Boots, I instinctively thought I should be rather good at Chemistry. How wrong I was. The Chemistry master was a kindly looking man by the name of Mr Holmes - nicknamed ‘Father’, presumably in deference to his advancing years - to this eleven year old, ‘Father’ appeared to be at least ninety. ‘Father’ was disabled and confined to a wheelchair. Having no secure knowledge of where the science labs were, I arrived at the Fleming lab later than most of my cohort, I found myself on the back bench, what seemed like a hundred yards from the action at the front - the ‘action’, of course, being the head and just the top of shoulders view of ‘Father’. Consequently, there was next to no engagement with either ‘Father’ who, for self-evident reasons could not come and visit us at the back, and even less engagement with the subject of Chemistry.

Following several weeks of trying to learn a series of ‘Laboratory Rules’ and copying them down in our exercise books, we got down to some proper Chemistry - making Copper Sulphate crystals. I recall vividly pouring some liquid or other into a vessel, putting it on a tripod and setting fire to a Bunsen burner. The liquid began to bubble and from a hundred yards away, through the roar of thirty other Bunsen burners, came the faintest of instructions to dip a glass rod into the mixture. If crystals formed, we were then told to ‘pour off the mother liquor’. Obviously, I hadn’t the slightest idea what a ‘mother liquor’ was and, frankly I still don’t. Six years of hard scientific graft and that’s all the Chemistry I remember! As far as I know, I haven’t poured off any ‘mother liquor’ for nearly 47 years.

The last period before lunch was another eye-opener. The timetable said ‘English’ with Dr Jackson back inside the garden shed form room. Outside surgery hours, I’d never seen a ‘doctor’ - and I’ve never, ever, seen another like Dr ‘Spike’ Jackson. I was anticipating a serious looking ‘doctor’, perhaps tall, elegant and well turned out. What we got, few of us were prepared for - a small shambolic looking individual with wiry national health glasses perched on a hooked nose beneath which sprang a moustache that seemed to have its own eco-system. He ambled along as if none of us had a care in the world. As he greeted us cheerily, it became all too apparent that his eccentric looks were matched by a pronounced lisp (pronounced ‘lishp’).

English, it transpired, at Grammar School level consisted of pushing all the furniture to one side, dividing up into four teams, dressing up in smelly tattered clothes and unsavoury headgear and taking it in turns to act out a scenario in the available six foot square until Spike had had enough and rang a bell (known as the ‘tocsin’ er… ‘tocshin’). In this precursor to ‘Whose line is it anyway?’, Spike would award a number of points known as ‘goods’ (goodsh) with a top mark of six goods (shix goodsh) being greeted with a combination of delight and anxiety for the amount of spittle heading in one’s direction from the adjudication point. The real objective - and the way to clinch victory for your team - was to get your column of desks back in place in a straighter line than those of your competitors. The teams, of course, had to undertake this task by eye, but Spike umpired this most crucial of deciders with the help of the pole that had originally been designed to open windows. He would close one eye and, pretentiously peering down the pole through his closed eye, would bark out ‘four goodsh thish row’; ‘three goodsh for you’; ‘very good - shix goodsh’. Now why can’t UEFA come up with a tie breaker like that? In the event of a draw, it’s not the lottery of the penalty shoot out competition - it’s the team that can line up straightest for the national anthems.

Home for lunch, where I implied to my anxious parents that the morning had ‘gone OK’ - a strategy I used every day for years; they never challenged this analysis despite a succession of abysmal School Reports. After lunch, Mathematics was going to be fine - I’d always been good at sums at Victoria. But this wasn’t just sums. Mr CJH Ward (Charlie, not to be confused with the easily identified 'Beery’ Ward) was a very well meaning teacher although he made his mind up very quickly that every one of us would end up in Bedford Jail. He soon got down to introducing us to the delights of algebra, trigonometry, geometry and arithmetic with logarithms and, astonishingly, made it all fairly interesting - and, best of all, his teaching methods did not incorporate any gratuitous violence of any kind.

The first day concluded with Geography with Mr Dunning - held in the next room to Mr CJH Ward’s except for the Headmaster’s office. I set out for Mr Dunning’s room only to be apprehended by a stocky lady (the only one in the entire school) we came to know as ‘Nora’, who explained quite forcibly that I was not allowed to go down the front corridor. To go the fifteen yards from Mr Ward’s room to Mr Dunning’s involved what would, nowadays, involve hiring a fleet of mini-buses for the kids to make the circuitous journey around the other three sides of a grass quadrangle - it was, it transpired, an even greater transgression to set foot on the quadrangle.

Mr Dunning, we got to appreciate, always started his lessons bang on time, irrespective of the number of pupils present. My confrontation with Nora meant that I arrived part way through his explanation that the earth was divided into 24 time zones and each time zone occupied 15 degrees of the earth’s circumference. He proceeded to tear up a couple of sheets of an exercise book into scraps of paper about two inches square and told us that it was 5pm in San Francisco, 120 degrees west and asked us to calculate the time in Cairo, 30 degrees east. Whilst this seems like a doddle 40-odd years on, the crucial missing part of the explanation and a certain pressure to get this right completely overwhelmed me. Noting that a minority of us had not entirely covered ourselves with glory in this basic piece of geographic calculation, Mr Dunning explained that he would scatter the scraps of paper at us at the beginning of each lesson until all of us got the correct answer every time. The fact that we were still being thrown scraps of 2x2 well into the second year was testimony to his perspicacity and our (er…my) abject failure to grasp the basic idea. Obviously, Jake never tried a further explanation or coming at the problem from a different direction to help the educational process; I just had to get it right.

This first day was a microcosm of my entire WGS career which lurched from crisis to bigger crisis. The far from impressive performance in Year 1 resulted in relegation, in Year 2, to 2C. WGS was renowned for fast-tracking its brightest boys in the A stream through to Oxbridge - and the A stream kids earned the school a truly impressive academic record. However, life in the C stream was an altogether different experience - in hindsight, if the A stream was probably where the staff got their professional gratification; the C stream was certainly where they got their target practice.

The back of the head was, it seemed, the only place through which staff felt knowledge could be imparted at C stream level. I suppose it worked to a point; I can still remember, courtesy of Mr Nicholas’ left hand, the five relative pronouns: ‘who’ [crack] ‘whom’ [slap] ‘whose’ [biff] ‘which’ [bang] ‘that, meaning which’ [thud]. Although I can’t remember the relevance of having to learn them. Mr ‘Chunky’ Pine had a predilection for deploying the Bunsen burner pipe to ‘encourage’ a love of Physics Q: Definition of ‘work’ - all hands shot heavenward immediately (anyone not raising hand slapped with pipe as punishment for visible ignorance) A: load divided by effort, sir? Correct [thwack].

Chunky’s triple-psycho approach to education was, at least, entertaining when one’s form colleagues were on the receiving end. A rare treat unfolded before our eyes when, in order to demonstrate Newton’s Laws of something or other, Chunky proceeded to line up about 15 boys and stood them shoulder to shoulder across the front of the lab. After opening the door, he walked to the other end of the line, took a run up and shoulder charged the boy at his end of the line. To universal acclaim (except from the boys at either end of the line) the boy at the other end of the experiment flew forcibly off the end of the line, out of the open door into the wall on the other side of the corridor. In 2001, I attended the funeral of Jake Dunning (expecting, of course, to find the service sheets on 2x2 scraps of notebook) and Chunky gave the eulogy. Over the cuppa and ham sandwiches, I reminded him (still calling him ‘Sir’, of course) of the Newton experiment which he feigned to know nothing of - and, having Bunsen burner piped me several times a week for many years said, to our mutual relief, that he had no recollection of who I was, either! Chunky’s biggest disappointment was that, as I described it, it appeared that he had only injured two of the 15 boys - 13 missed opportunities..

However, Chunky apart, science was, of all faculties, the one used as some form of light relief from the punishment blocks of languages and humanities. It was here we encountered Mr Leftwich (Gus). Now I’m sure he was a brilliant Biologist; the walls of his room boasted the usual Rolls of Honour - boys who had gone on to study biology at Oxbridge - and these achievements bore testimony to his professional talent. But for 2C, Gus was the ideal antidote to work and flying board rubbers. On one memorable occasion, by making a hissing sound at the back of the room and suggesting that there was a smell of gas (and when he went to investigate, the ‘gas leak’ had mysteriously moved to the front bench) Gus spent over twenty of the forty minutes allocated to his lesson chasing a hiss around the Cockroft lab (known, of course, as the Cock-up lab). You can imagine our delight the day Gus locked the Cockroft door, nervously drew down the blind and proceeded surreptitiously to unroll a diagram of the reproductive organs of the rabbit; Gus provided the only formal sex lesson I ever had - about ten minutes in total including some impudent questions which Gus just about managed to fend off..

Science faculty time-tabling for C stream boys seemed to throw up a disproportionately high number of student teachers, adding to the air of light relief. One student meticulously set up an experiment called, I think, Fletcher’s trolley. This basic piece of kit had a trolley, a couple of feet long and about three inches wide, onto which a piece of paper was pinned. The trolley ran the length of the teacher’s bench on glass to minimise friction and was pulled by weights which were set up on a pulley overhanging the end of the bench. By dipping a paintbrush in ink, putting the inky brush on the paper, plucking the brush assembly and letting the trolley go, the weights were meant to make the trolley accelerate and the wavy line produced by the paintbrush could be analysed to demonstrate that the trolley got faster. Fine in theory, except that the student teacher, from his viewpoint at one end of the bench (so maintaining, understandably, full responsibility for the inky paintbrush) didn’t pick up on the fact that one of our colleagues at the other end of the bench could reach the weights with his foot, unseen, and interrupt their descent. The series of outcomes included the theory that falling weights can slow down as well as speed up or, alternatively, slow down and then speed up alarmingly again - ‘probably an atmospheric thing, sir?’. Clearly, it’s a good thing that 3C were not assisting Sir Isaac.

If science was the most entertaining time I could contrive (not, of course, because I learned any science other than the names of the experiments we cocked up or apparatus that could be used to generate an awful stink - Kipps was an all-time favourite), Spanish was definitely the very least appealing way to pass the day. Acknowledging the disclaimer on this site - to the effect that all comments are intended as affectionate and shouldn’t be taken seriously, and writing in that spirit, it would be best to draw a suitably lacy veil over Spanish and my relationship with the [allegedly] charmless Mr Graham Ridge. In all honesty, even 40+ years on, I couldn’t think of anything at all I could say about this individual that would come even close to ‘affection’. We absolutely detested one another with a passion. Mr Ridge can be viewed on www.wellingborough.gov.uk in his role as a Councillor in the Borough Council of Wellingborough; those of a nervous disposition might choose to keep their pointers well clear of the hyperlink.. Since my former adversary gives a passable impression on the site that he is still alive, and, hence, remains in a position to sue I’ll restrict my memories to the irrefutable facts - he failed to teach me any discernible Spanish in five years and, to his further credit, spurned all the usual instruments of torture that were readily available - books, knotted gowns, sports equipment, slippers, et al, preferring just to use his bare fist on me. Gratifyingly, I long ago discovered that it is not impossible to enjoy a visit to Spain without speaking any Spanish.

On the other hand, I quite liked Art. Eddie Phillips taught us a few things that have since proved useful and encouraged me to take an interest in architecture. It turned out that I could draw and paint reasonably well although, when the matter of the subjective assessment of our efforts in art examinations reared its head, it always seemed remarkable that those who were members of his puppet club did just that bit better than those of us who weren’t. Despite Mr ‘Beery’ Ward’s best efforts, I also liked History. In Year 2, my two best exam results by a long way were in Art and History. Consequently, it came as no surprise that at the end of Year 2, it was announced that a decision on future options had to be made that involved dropping either Art or History. There was no possibility of dropping Spanish or any of the sciences at which I was pathologically incapable - I had just two reasonably good subjects and had to drop one of them and persevere with Spanish.

Further up the school, similar options needed to be made but, as I was just about bottom in everything but Art, the impact of the choices was far less damaging on what passed for my academic career. There were some inexplicable consequences of various choices that can only be explained by the fact that there were ‘x’ teachers, ‘y’ subjects and ‘n’ kids and, so, the number of lesson options was probably something like n/(x:y) with the remainder doing what was left. Consequently, for example, if you chose to do Geography, you were, inadvertently, also choosing Engineering Drawing and, hence, dropping Music and English Literature. Alas, nothing you could choose would make Spanish drop out of the bottom of the equation’s discard pile.

At the end of five agonising years, I gained one ‘O’ level with a top grade in Art - obviously the examiner was misled into assuming I belonged to a puppet club. My attempt at the Spanish paper had clearly not taken the examiner too long to mark and could still be the lowest mark ever achieved in a language ‘O’ Level. To no one’s great surprise, I failed every one of the science papers - presumably unable to concentrate on the questions without the encouragement of a Bunsen burner pipe between the shoulder blades. The final rendition of ‘Lord, dismiss us with thy blessing’ and the last end of term service navigated, it was off home for the ceremonial burning of the school cap and to hand over the last-ever school report to bewildered parents. That, I thought, was almost certainly that. One last trip round the perimeter wire with Billet and Perkins, under the vaulting horse and out through the escape tunnel under Doddington Road and thence the freedom of the workplace.

What the escape committee hadn’t counted on was the school’s practice of making the last school report especially rosy - even with the most unsuccessful boy. This was, of course, the report that prospective employers would get to see and the usual ‘He’s completely useless’ battery of comments would not exactly reflect well on the school. So my Summer 1963 report was not recognisable as one of mine. Any poor grades were described as ‘unusual’ and, despite setbacks, I showed ‘great promise’ and, with the ‘application we all know he’s capable of’ success was said to be ‘assured’. Astonishingly, my parents were also convinced that the appalling set of ‘O’ Level examination results were inconsistent with what they perceived as my true ability and they wondered if I should be given another year to see if I could prove everyone right. Even more astonishingly, Harold Wrenn agreed with them and signed the order paper that extended my sentence for another year in the Fifth Form. There was no Board of Appeal - could I not have the decision overturned by Graham Ridge?

The thought of being returned each year to the Fifth Form until I was in my thirties apparently did the trick. Head down, nose clean, I managed 6 ‘O’ Levels - no sciences, of course, and still rock bottom at Spanish. Thanks to the wonderful Open University, I later managed to astound John Dunning by gaining a geography based degree and now can even calculate the time in any part of the globe. I’ve managed to do without algebra, trigonometry and logarithms since 1964 and, having developed a serious aversion to Bunsen burner tubing, leave the sciences in the hands of others. And I still have absolutely no plans to see whether, even with a decent teacher, I could improve my Spanish.

Graham Sharp (1958)