Archbishop Tenisons Grammar School
I suppose I ought to introduce Mr Laidlaw-Brown. My first experience of him was on the first day. Us poor first years were the only pupils in school and on arrival we were all sent to the dining hall. At one end was a raised platform, which we subsequently learnt was where the teachers ate their school dinners. So there we were 90 kids not knowing what the f*ck was going on when this shortish elderly (to me as an 11 year old) chap with grey hair and wearing a gown stood on the platform and told us that he would call out our names followed by a letter and we were to congregate in the area designated for that letter. At the time that meant nothing to me but it was the stream into which we were put, based on our 111-plus result. Now, the thing that I'm sure everybody noticed about this man was that he didn't so much talk as sing. It is impossible in print to convey how he spoke but I'll try. Take the phrase "Good morning class" The "Good morning" bit would be said with a rising lilt followed by the word "class" in a lower voice. So when he finally got to the Ws it was "Webley - A". And I joined the other 29 kids standing in the A section.
As it turned out Mr Laidlaw-Brown was our form tutor in the first year. He could be a bit of a tyrant and had very high standards; so I was a frequent disappontment to him. However, I do owe him a huge debt of gratitude that I never did convey to him. One day I produced an essay that was full of the most ignorant racist rubbish that you could imagine. No idea what the essay was supposed to be about but I had repeated many of the facts about the coloureds that I had learnt from my father. How they would live 10 to a broom-cupboard. How they would rent a room and as one got up to go to work another would be coming back from work and get into the recently vacated bed. What's more they would buy a pair of shoes and, like the bed, the shoes would be shared. Thus the shoes would wear out very quickly and they would take them back and get another pair for free. And all this from a man who was not averse to buying things that "fell off the back of a lorry" and once advised me to get my name on the housing list so that I would get a council flat before the scroungers did. Completely oblivious that I could afford to rent privately and that if I got a flat (I was to lie to the council saying that Sarah and I were living with my parents) I would potentially be depriving a person with real need. Anyway, when Mr Laidlaw-Brown read my essay he took me to one side and asked me to question a lot of what I had written. Which I did and I'm sure that his intervention, without preaching, saved me from being a small-minded bigot.
Because Mr L-B never said anything I became even more brazen in the second year. Unfortunately I overdid it and my end of term report was full of teachers referring to my absences. The result was a talking to by the headmaster. So I was a good boy in the third year. In the fourth year a golden opportunity presented itself. My parents went through what was euphemistically referred to as "a bad patch". So one day I was taken out of class and out of school by my form tutor as my mother had "left" my father. I think she returned that same day but thereafter if I needed a day off to mooch around London (sometimes I'd hang around amusement arcades and others museums and art galleries) all I had to do the next day was to say there had been trouble at home and my form tutor would be embarrassed and say "OK". Fantastic!
Oops, I disgressed a little. The school was fairly small with about 450 - 500 kids. There were 90 in each year group split into 3 forms or streams. These were imaginatively called A, B & C. The most able (surprisingly including me) were the A stream and the least able were the C stream. And all based on the results of the 11-plus! In the 2nd year, in an attempt to be more politically correct, they renamed the B & C streams Latin & Non-latin. The non-latin stream doing woodwork instead. Needless to say this only lasted for one year. Best bit of Tenison's was that it was opposite The Oval (see pic) so we got to see a little cricket from the art room, so guess who took art for O-level despite having no talent whatsoever, as confirmed by appalling fail of O-level. Another good bit was that our playing fields were at Motspur Park. So, once a week we were shepherded up to Vauxhall station for a train ride. The changing rooms were quite neat, they had those huge baths with showers overhead. Almost like going in a swimming pool. Except we were likely to be covered in mud! When I joined my current company back in 2001 one of our clients had their offices right by Motspur Park railway station. So I had a quick look at the school grounds. The sign there has worn only slightly better than me, as you can see from this pic. Back in the 60s the school still had pretensions, so we had to doff our caps to teachers (some of whom still wore gowns when teaching) if we met them in the street and being seen without a cap going to/from school was a punishable offense. They were also strong on school uniform. In fact I was once sent home to change my shirt and socks!
I could actually reel off the entire 1A class plus a few others, but that would be incredibly boring. Instead here are just a few names where I can add some info, no matter how little.
Back to the Arbiter - each pickup had its own individual rocker switch which gave a surprisingly good range of sound. I suspect that one of the pickups might have been wired out of phase as it significantly changed the sound when switched on. My brother lent the guitar to a friend of his back in the 70s and that's the last I saw of it.(Thanks George! - Oh yeah, thanks also for breaking my 12 string acoustic and not returning my Vox AC30 or effects pedals. Bitter? Me??? I won't mention my really nice semi-acoustic (see pic) which George also lost/broke as he did finally replace it with a Les Paul copy - not as good but at least it was a replacement)
Oops! Went off the topic of Charlie, but I think I had more or less finished. Oh no, must recount the time when Charlie was sitting at the front of the German class and was told by "Pappy" the teacher (memory suggests that he bore a passing resemblance to "Chalkie" in the Giles' cartoons) to sit at the back. As he stomped to the rear of the room he was loudly using a certain Anglo-Saxon expletive (so was keeping to the spirit of the subject). "Pappy" being either deaf or not wanting to cause a scene lifted his head and enquired "Did someone say something?" I mean I'm sure most of the school heard Charlie, possibly most of Kennington!
And another "And finally ..."
Charlie and I were in the same O-level music class. And it was during a music lesson that Charlie did something that lasted to this day. He gave me a tattoo! OK not a real one but he did jab my arm with a pencil and the lead broke the skin. The pencil left a mark that is still there. I did accuse Charlie in one of my emails but he claimed not to remember. But then,he would say that wouldn't he.
Other places you can visit, assuming you can stand the excitement: