By Alex Bateman
Prevalent at the School from the earliest days was the existence of Dramatics. Although no plays were produced in the first year or so, a Dramatics Society was formed as early as 1914 with their first production that of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Almost immediately, war interrupted its activities, but after peace came once again, plays were put on almost every year, 1960 seeing the 35th.
The subject of a performance was usually up for discussion, with suggestions coming from members of the Society as well as those outside. In 1931, it was decided to stage a 'Variety Show', very much a break from the normal Shakespeare, Shaw and Anderson style of play. This did not go down well, and the reviewer of the 'Harrow Observer' noted that he hoped to see a "…swing back to Shakespeare and Art for Arts sake". Productions were also staged to raise money for the Pavilion Fund and later the Swimming Pool fund, both with considerable success.
Before the war, casts were limited to boys not taking external examinations, however, when it was reformed in 1948, the Society was restricted to members of the Fifth and Sixth forms only. In 1954, it was opened to members of the whole School.
Up until the war, the female parts were always played by boys of the School. This was not always popular, but those taking part invariably acted to a very high standard, as did all of the cast, whatever role or production they were involved in. This situation eased slightly in 1950, when new ground was broken by the introduction of ladies from the 'Old Gaytonians Dramatic Society', itself set up in 1914, and technically the oldest of all the OGA sub-sections. Boys still played many of the minor female roles however, although in 1956, girls from Headstone Secondary School (now Nower Hill High School) appeared as fairies in some dance sequences.
Apart from an annual play, the Society also produced a number of Christmas plays. Bearing in mind that Christmas Entertainment's were staged by house, and others such as the Scouts would produce plays, Drama played a very large part in the life of Harrow County.
Throughout the 1960s, the standard of School productions rose continually to the point when one reviewer wrote, "…they invited critique rather than sycophancy". In 1965 new ground was broken when the School play was directed not by a member of staff but by a sixth Former, Martin Walker. Subject of the production was 'The Scottish Play', and it received much local and national interest, being somewhat more controversial than most school plays.
Another innovation arrived in 1968 in the form of 'Convergence', so called as it was a dramatic group formed of students of both the Boys and Girls County Schools. Approximately two productions a year were staged, and as in all aspects of the School, those involved often went on to bigger and better things in that sphere. The TV personality Clive Anderson, Geoff Perkins (actor and currently head of BBC Comedy) and Francis Mathews (now known as Matthew Francis a West End theatre director) were three former Harrow County Boys, while Michael Portillo and Diane Abbot (of Harrow County Girls School) of political fame were two more.
Of the members of staff who helped produce the plays, few were of the Drama Department. Perhaps most came from the English Department, Jim Golland an ever present force, while Harry Mees of History and Scouts was to be found back stage. A mock stage 'apprenticeship' was run by Harry, carrying some weight for those wishing to pursue the profession. Successful completion was crowned with a lavish hand written certificate.
A new Drama Master to the School in the early 1970s was Andy Kelso. Full of energy, he had a great passion for his subject, so much so that he took on the renovation of the derelict 'terrapin' porta-cabin which stood next to the swimming pool to turn it into a drama workshop. The finished result contained a classroom, costume store and studio.
Plays continued throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s under Mr Kelso, with an annual Christmas show being the highlight. It seems that, with the demise of Harrow County, the school Dramatic Society ceased to be also.
In 1983, Mr Kelso came up with the idea of a 'Dramathon', a 72 hour non-stop drama marathon, to raise money for local charity. The idea came after two Fourth year Drama students performed in Covent Garden, hoping to raise some money to help with further improvements to the Drama Block. Having little success, other ventures were looked at, and the idea was born. It was decided that a show/concert would be staged in the hall over three evenings, mostly by staff, while senior drama students would perform throughout the night. Junior students, who had not yet opted to take drama as a subject performed throughout the day.
Most staff took part in the evening performance, although Mr Kelso, subjecting himself to seven costume changes collapsed with exhaustion part way through one day. 'The Show Must go On' was never more in existence when he reappeared that even and went on as normal.
Several guests visited over those three days, including Roy Castle, as it was said that an entry in the 'Guinness Book of records' was another thing aimed at. Andy Kelso later left the School and profession, instead joining the church.
In the late 1980s, the swimming pool and drama block were the unfortunate target of an arson attack, and so the School were once more without a separate drama studio. However, plays continued, at a high standard as ever. Changes to Gayton High School in the form of proposed new buildings meant that things looked to have a brighter future on the drama front.
In 1998 a new 'expressive arts' building was begun, housing purpose built studios and stores, classrooms, dance studios, and music rooms. A gymnasium was also added, and this imposing but impressive structure was ready for use, albeit somewhat later than planned, in 2000. It was be officially opened in April 2001, and highlights again the importance that music and the arts play in the life of the School.