Gayton High School for Boys


 by Alex Bateman

In 1979/80, when it came to choosing my new high school, I had only heard the name Gayton High.  I knew no one who went there, nor the history of the School in that, or its former guise.  As both my older brother and sister had attended Hatch End High (formerly Blackwell), I thought that would be my destination, especially as it was at the end of my road.  It was my mum who told me about the CCF at Gayton, and with that in mind (me wanting a career in the Army), and not knowing of another Cadet force in the area, I put my cross next to its name, and relegated Hatch End to second choice.  Months later, when notification came through, I was surprised that I had been accepted, although with the comments of "Ooo, Gay-town" from fellow classmates, I wondered if I had made the right choice.  Still six of us from Pinner Park joined that term.

I don’t recall much about the first few days there, except sitting in the hall completing some sort of exam.  Next to me was the dead spit of 'Tin Tin' the cartoon character, right down to the quiff.  Mark Curtis was his name.  I was placed into form 1E with Mrs Ackroyd as form teacher.  She also became my Art teacher, as did my Year Head, Mr Cavanagh, an okay sort of bloke, but one I seemed to visit too many times for my liking.  The first two years seemed to be an endless round of detention with at least one each week for that period.

Within a week or so, we had had a talk from the Air Scouts and RAF Cadets to see if we wanted to join, but I don't think they got much response.  Still nothing from the Army Cadets, so I ventured down to the parade square one Friday night a week or so later, and joined immediately.  The fact that my mum was waiting for me, didn't seem to enter my head, despite me still being there at almost 6pm. 

When I first joined Gayton, many of the older Masters were still there, 'Colonel' Venn, Harry Mees, John Bunting, Ken Waller, and Norm Tyrwhitt to name a few.  Ken Waller, known to most as 'Batman' due to the fact that he still wore a gown (or cape to the rest of us), used to play the School organ at assembly or Remembrance Day, and could often be heard at other times when few were about.  I was taught Latin by him, but despite gaining 92% in my first exam, he seemed disappointed when I decided to take Classical Studies with Dave Bridges instead.

Harry Mees had two great interests, the Scouts and the Stage.  I joined the stage crew also, being given the title of 'weightsman' in my first production, rising later (after Harry had retired) to Stage Manager.  I recall that he used to run a form of stage apprenticeship, presenting one of his lavish certificates to those who he deemed fit.  The only one I recall before he left, was for Mark Savage, who was leaving as Stage Manager.  One Saturday whilst preparing for that nights performance, Savage and one or two others disappeared.  Reappearing a couple of hours later, he approached me, asking me to collect the abseil equipment I found around the side of the school.  It seems they had gone up the sound tower, out across the roof, and spent the afternoon watching the cricket on TV in the locked Science room, abseiling out the window to get back down!!  After being handed his certificate, I seem to recall Savage being hauled upside down over the grave trapdoor, while various things were thrown over him.  Maybe it is just a distant an inaccurate memory…

At the end of 1982, Harry Hull (who I recall as looking like Alan Coran of 'Call My Bluff' fame) retired, his place being taken temporarily by 'Col.' Venn.  Harry had been the first Head of Gayton, and quite likeable.  I didn't have reason to appear before him at any time, although I do recall him striding towards me in the corridor with his finger outstretched.  I froze, what had I done that warranted the Head seeking me out?  "Do you enjoy school dinners?" he asked.  This left me a bit puzzled, a look matched by Harry when I told him I didn't eat them, leaving him to walk past me to find someone who did.  Harry had tried hard to keep some of the old traditions.  Standing up when he entered the room, sports reports and hymns at assembly, all disappeared however when Donald Ellery arrived to take over in January 1983.  A Welshman, who lived near to me, the new Head was a nice enough bloke also, although I saw less of him than Harry.  I even (almost) learnt the School Song 'Worth not Birth' at that time.  Taught in one music lesson, the chorus (I think about the only thing we were actually taught) had been changed from 'Worth not Birth, be this our battle cry' to 'Worth not Birth, this is the song we sing'.  The fact that I never learnt any more or sang it again was perhaps another indication of change.

Although not a bad pupil, I did receive the cane on several occasions.  The first of these, administered by 'Cavanagh' took the form of three strokes, for throwing a paper dart across the science room, harsh I thought at the time (and still do!!).  Another two followed for play fighting in the corridor, and a single whack by Dave Bridges for something I still haven't discovered.  Various teachers liked the 'throw the chalk' method of gaining your attention, while I recall Mike Morell ( a Deputy Head and German teacher) spending the whole lesson deciding not if he was going to strike my mate, but what with.  Half an hour later brought the decision of a board rubber, and after the deed, complaints from the parents in question.

In 1983, the School staged the 'Dramathon', a 72 hour non-stop drama marathon in aid of several charities.  The idea was for junior drama students to act during the day, senior during the night, while the staff put on a show in the evenings.  Andy Kelso the Drama Teacher was the brain behind it, taking on seven costume changes in the process.  After the first evening performance, Mr K disappeared, and the rumour went around that he had collapsed with exhaustion.  Whatever the reason, he reappeared later and carried out all the changes, one being 'Elvis Dulux and the Decorettes' (the latter being Mrs Watson, and Miss McNamara, the Geography and English teachers).  Other memories of that time, include the quiet Miss Duke looking superb with a bit of make-up and minus glasses.  She gained a fair few fans that night!  Andy Kelso later left the School and the profession, to become a Minister in the midlands.

Some other teachers I recall were:-

·        Miss Slater (Music) who wore so much perfume that you could tell she was close without actually seeing her,

·    Mr McBride (RE), an Irishman who always asked what would happen if we didn't do our homework ("detention Sir"), putting a hand to his ear to indicate that the answer wasn't loud enough,

·    Terry Andrews (Maths) an ardent Watford fan, who would happily spend half an hour talking about the weekend game (if they had won) which we all encouraged, and who had a fashion sense firmly stuck in the 70s, with kipper ties and brown pin-stripe suits.  On the last day, my friend Jason Hutter came in, in brown trousers, wide tie and patterned wing collared shirt.  Adding a 'Mr Andrews' name badge caught Terry's eye.  "Yes, very funny, but I like that tie though" was Terry's response.  Most of the class were taller than him also, something exploited by,

·    Garth Ratcliff, one of the funniest teachers I was never taught by.  He used to come into Terry Andrews lesson, and always find some excuse for getting Terry into a head lock, made funnier by the fact that Garth was about 6ft 2 (or so it seemed).  It was all in fun, but played out to great effect, including a sketch in the aforementioned 'Dramathon', at which Terry came off best for once.

·    Brenda Gilligan (English) who was a breath of fresh air to us boys.  She caused a certain amount of excitement by signing ties 'Love and kisses, Brenda' when we left, refusing to do so for anyone not in her class,

·    Margaret Bowden (Russian and German) stern if ever there was one.  Despite the fact that I lost all interest in German as she wouldn't listen to the fact that I could not keep up, she seemed surprised and angry when I got 4% in my last exam.

·    Miss (Battle) Kruzer and Miss Kleinlehrer (both German).  The former had those eyes that looked at you when talking to someone else.  The latter was just most young boys dream, with the result that both brought giggles, but for very different reasons!

·    John Bunting, he of the tuck shop and 'School store'.  The tuck shop was great, if you could cadge 2p of a friend for a packet of sweets, but the store always seemed to have things thrown out by local businesses.  Most of us would follow him down the corridor making squeaking noises, while pretending to dust his head,

·    George Geear.  George came to the school with a sideline as a gunsmith.  Ideal then that the School had its own armoury where some weird and wonderful weapons would appear.  He taught metalwork, and more than once, my or my fellow Senior Cadets who be given the keys to his MG, and told to go and fetch the box from the front seat.  Containing a gun, or some bit of armament, we would then spend the rest of the lesson filing down the sight, or removing the caps from the shell cases so he could use them again.

 I enjoyed my time there, especially my involvement with stage and the CCF, about the most positive comment appearing on my report being 'Spends too much time on CCF activities and not enough on his studies'.  I was quite chuffed at this.  After having endless detentions for two years, caning a few of times and being placed on 'special report', I ended the last two years trouble and detention free, and even gained a School Prize.  Going up in front of the School to collect it would be my chance to show those doubters, but it was not to be.  The prize giving coincided with my last Cadet camp, so the prize (a £3 book token if I recall) was handed to me at a class registration.

 I look back probably with more fondness now than I had then.  I left in 1984 but took more than 16 years to join the Old Gayts Assn, quickly offering to become archivist for it and the School.  The more I learn of the history of the School, the more I realise that, despite my enjoyment and fondness for the School, the Gayton years, especially the latter few, were probably the lowest in its history.  I see Harrow High from the inside now, and it is certainly facing the 21st century with Harrow County like confidence.

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