ARTHUR HOWDEN was a long serving member of the staff who writes his side of the story.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DESK.
By Arthur Howden
It was a gorgeous day about the end of March 1958 when I boarded the coach from Rochdale bus station and examined my ticket yet again which stated that I should be arriving in Stokenchurch about 11.30 a.m. After three years of teaching in a cotton town where smoke still poured daily from the large chimneys and row after row of dirty terraced houses were the homes of many, I decided that this was not the right environment for me and perhaps not the right kind of job. As a complete change from the dull routine of a day school and the unimaginative teachers and the petty staffroom conversation, I became involved with amateur dramatics in the evenings and was considering a career in the theatre where there was more drama off the stage than on it and the caretaker was just as colourful a character as the leading lady. I met a policeman, John Savident - now Elliot the butcher in Coronation Street - at Ashton Rep. He was convinced that acting would be his future; I was too cautious about the insecurity of the profession, but decided that a move near to London, where I had already lived during my two years of National Service, would at least put me nearer to the real world of the theatre. An advertised teaching post in a Camp School very handy for the capital and the film studios in the home counties seemed to be an ideal base and so it was that I was on my way for interview at H.G.S.
As the coach left the pottery towns of Staffordshire and wound its way on the old "A"
roads through Warwickshire and Oxfordshire I was attracted more and more to the bright leaves on the trees and the greenery of the grass and the cleanliness of the buildings. When the gorgeous pinky white flowers of cherry blossom appeared to be everywhere in the gardens and along the hedgegrows bright colourful flowers grew in abundance, I knew that this part of the world was for me. But what about the job? The advertisement was rather vague and invited applications for several posts at the school for male teachers interested in boarding education in a camp school. Please state your interests, or something like that was included in the write up. I was no sportsman, I was no lover of the coutryside as I had had none to love in my part of Lancashire, and the one thing that was in my mind was the theatre, and so I opted for that and hoped that I could convince the panel that the subject was worthwhile in a school although I had not the slightest idea how to teach classroom drama.
The coach stopped at The King's Arms at Stokenchurch, where we were all invited to assemble in a very spartan tea-room and savour the delights of the day. I can see it all now: dry cheese sandwiches, cold stodgy pies and sausage rolls, tasteless cherry cake, Rich Tea biscuits and the like - all swilled down with a thick mug of stale tea poured from a large aluminium pot. Like the driver I shunned all this, gave him a cigarette and half a Kit Kat, and he promised to drop me off at Studley Green - an unofficial stop - about a couple of miles further down the road. I alighted at the Post Office with my overnight bag and walked up to Lena's where I saw a group of boys in crocodile marching up the road escorted by a man who had just stopped to light a cigarette from the stub of another cigarette When we all arrived at the school entrance the man in a very unmilitary voice gave the order left wheel and stiffly raised an arm as they all turned into the drive. I later discovered that this was Jim Parsons, who managed sixty Piccadilly per day and on this occasion had probably need of a smoke before lunch and decided near the end of the lesson that as duty master he would lead his class through the woods ostensibly to pick up litter but really to light up and perhaps replenish his stock from the little shop.
On the drive I was met by Jim Livesey who came out of his house, which was later to become the office. He gave me a guided tour of the school, chatted to me about all manner of things and then offered me the job which I accepted; there had been no competition on that day; in fact there had been no competition on any day in 1958 as more than a third of the staff had to be re-placed by: Geoff Goddard - Deputy Headmaster, Ray Hewinson - Rural Studies, Tim Woods - Science, Malcom Smith - Special Needs, Chris Handly - P.E. and me. I turned up for work in the following September and was assigned together with Ray Hewinson to Hampden House, where Pete Webster greeted us and had us pin up lots of shoddy art work of a bacon and egg breakfast painted by the boys of the previous term. It took me right back to primary schools at Christmas time when everyone drew a sort of spherical steamed pudding with sauce and holly for the classroom festive decorations and teachers dutifully put them on show and praised the work of their young brood; neither Ray nor I thought this was the right type of display for teenagers; these "art works" should have been confined to the dustbin. We discovered later that others on the staff were of the same opinion.
After lunch the first of the pupils arrived in dribs and drabs escorted by county officials and then perhaps a coach load would draw into school and our task of suitably accommodating everyone started. Returnees automatically were sent to their old House and newcomers were apportioned according to ages into one of the four dormitories. It worked well and rarely was there any need to make changes unless a sibling was inadvertently separated from his older brother. That evening after supper the headmaster, Jim Livesey, would make his one and only appearance of the term in each House before lights out at 9 p.m. The new term had begun.
The other side of the coin to be continued