Harrow County School for Boys

Reminiscences of Brian Slater (1956-60)

“An also-ran, but that didn’t stop me” – vignetti

Why the strength of feeling after so long and in so many postings? Unanimous admiration for the “good guy” mentors and revulsion for the “bad guys”. The Guest Book is to be commended for posting all opinions, unplugged (even the illiterate, intemperate ones). The combined output of the school, without the streaming factor, was impressive. A high percentage of leavers went on to pursue successful careers notwithstanding being below stairs.  Whilst we all agree that HCS favoured the top 10%, the excellence filtered downwards.  

How many OGs went on to become educators, I wonder?

We had no real trouble in school , did we? A few Woodbines, homemade ginger beer and much mischief but no drugs; drink; disease; GBH; offensive weapons; tarts; pimps; racketeering; racial problems; gross destruction of property; theft; housebreaking; riotous assembly; gang warfare; security guards and the things that are common fare in an inner London comprehensive today.  Perhaps that was after my time.

Curiously the HCS girls school hasn’t a similar site but then persons of the opposite, eh, gender, mostly don’t have the same obsession with the Internet. Anyone know what life was like for them in the 50’s? 

Memoirs are really only useful to those of the same intake year (the class of 56). Anything more than a year either side doesn’t jibe. So I won't dwell unduly on specific names, more the quality of those years.

Post Priestmead

In the mid 50’s, HCS was vying to be one of the top grammar schools in the country. It only took the best performers from the infamous 11 plus exam. I didn’t know much about this but I remember the pressures of taking that 11 plus and wheeling and dealing of School selection. Way over my head. So I was sent to HCS and I settled into the tedious routine of bussing from Stanmore into school every day.  First form was 1D under the young and newly arrived Mr Kincaid (what a decent fellow).  I was the attendance monitor and knew every pupil’s name by heart. Some of those lists are coming back to me in flashes 45 years later, how strange?

Things I remember:

The Prefect

An older boy to be avoided,  with power to abuse, take 200 lines” I will not splash a Prefect again and give him a wet crotch whilst washing my hands in the Comfort Room on Monday morning”.

The Slipper, canes and inflictions

Lots of beatings and public humiliation in those days. I think it was the public humiliation that could do more damage than the physical pain but you generally deserved the beating. The Guestbook has not evidenced any serious abuse of corporal punishment.  Mr Tyrwhit once beat a whole class for bad homework – such energy and marksmanship. I certainly had my share until I got sharp enough to avoid getting caught, a fortuitous skill much used in later years. Bigham was a sick brutal man. I wonder how much damage he did to more withdrawn souls. Fancy, barrelling through your career oblivious to the hatred of thousands of boys. The good guys hardly ever used the slipper. I excuse the natural venting of wrath, a cuff round the head or a ballistic board rubber. I even got a caning by Square (3 of us actually, Poulton was one), some naughty business about fluorescent socks in assembly, I think. It was a quickie because he was in a hurry. All these corporal punishments didn’t deter the rampant naughtiness in the older boys. The beating made you defiant and want to get even.

Also-ran Masters (from whom you learned nothing)

Unless you reached the precious VIth, you were unlikely to see your Masters in an adult context. So its hard to judge how big some of these men really were. Romney observed here that he met Square in a café opposite Harrods after his retirement and noted how much smaller he seems out of office.

Anyone remember Clarkson? He loved cricket and himself almost equally. He spawned the “laid back” method of teaching in the afternoons, sprawling, his scruffy feet stretched contemptuously in front of us on his desk, gazing out of the window, droning some text on geography - I think.  We, technical types locked him out of his classroom after lunch one time. Where will he sleep now?

George Thorn was useless as far as our music periods were concerned, spent most of the time calling up his favourites to stand beside him in his captains chair while he fondled the back of their legs. I rubbed mine with Vaseline just in case. I see that, a few years later, GT’s organ fell into disuse, became diseased and was amputated. Ergo - use or lose it. I had an innate musical talent, quite overlooked by GT and went on to become a creditable ham pianist.

Smiley Saunders, probably a decent sort but his voice was inaudible and class control was too feeble for young striplings. He tried hard to teach algebra and I learnt BODMAS.

PT and swimming

Swanny was a good old boy, and as his memoir said, straight as a die and a demon with the slipper. That swimming pool, by Christ, those spring mornings were brass monkey brazing jobs. “Jump in boy”, “Get out boy”. I hated games, being too slight to participate in serious Rugby, and too short for Cricket. But I still had to run down to the Sudbury field  and mess around in the freezing mud. Yet, I grew up to enjoy watching rugby and have been a supporting member of several clubs (including the infamous Muscat RFC.  I also became a dedicated Hasher (on-on JH3) and owner of a Jakarta Song book facsimile.

Anyone remember when we had an unexpected fall of snow, late Autumn. The whole school was let off for the morning to play snow fights in the school field. Everyone joined in, except Square and GT.

Remember we 4th formers had to learn ballroom dancing with Swanny in the Gym. What a hoot. My partner, who took the lead, was the size of a whale.

Stand up for truth

That was brow-beaten into new boys by the Prefecture. “A school rule”, they said.  It, also fostered snitching. Some of the pedagoguery would actively encourage the anonymous tip off. Find the “ err - perpetrator”. What did this do for the concept of loyalty versus betrayal?  Generally, we pupils were decent enough to each other and the later fashion for plausible conjecture (BS) was uncommon at that time.  In that respect, our “good guys” were also straight and honest with us.

Truth is about as rare as hen’s teeth in “dee mockery government of the day”.  Keep up the spiel, lest your rival takes the floor. I now have difficulty with any kind of live human dialog. People don’t talk with you anymore, they talk at you. Use any sentence with more than 5 words and you’ve lost them. I rely on the shortairs in my cultural hermitage and shall miss Alastair Cook and his finely crafted “Letter from America”. BTW the Beeb did a shabby thing leaking his retirement to the press without his consent.

Think for yourself

We were exhorted to think and originality was praised. I went through an important association with the Art department under the guidance of Mr Oliver and Mr Anderson. I had no artistic ability (couldn’t do drawing) but my, contemporary (Geoff Weedon) could produce a ravishing bikini blonde on a beach – quite good enough for any travel poster. I could build things, though, and became interested in Stage design and Architecture much to the encouragement of my mentors. However my parents did not see a future career in that line (career, who wants one of those?) I also did my share of scene painting and set building. It left me with a bug for the theatre which was to re-surface later at University.

Cruelty and wickedness

Yes we were pitiless. Any Master with an affliction  (such as kindness) was fair game. Not fair at all. Poor Mr Eagers. The little sods made his life a misery by cat-calling round the corridors after him, “Huuuuuuuh huuuum”. One time, in the cloakroom, he tried to inveigle some us to become spies and “agent provocateurs” to catch the “perps”. Strange man, was he really Swedish?

I remember Butch (Mr Beauchamp – very decent fellow) trying to teach us Chemistry, we would extinguishing the Bunsen burner on his desk experiment  by blowing down one of the bench gas taps (very dangerous as I now know). The Lab tech nearly killed himself experimenting with laughing gas at our instigation.

Spargo Rawnsley  lived on a barge in Rickmansworth. He was an ace pilot in the first world war and would captivate us with stories about Tiger Moths and parachuting into cesspits. Physics was boring. We would tease him far much at times and he went around with a permanent scowl after an L Plate had been pinned to the back of his gown. Some members of the VIth set his barge adrift one night.
Not good, I regret.

We had a temporary Latin master for a brief spell, Mr Godfrey Merkin. Some bright spark remembered something in Shakespear about a hairpiece (those of a mind may look it up in the SOED). The fellow didn’t last long, far too mild mannered. Fancy going around life with a name like that!

The alternative morning assembly service for us Catlicks was held in A1 by Mr Marchant.  I think he must have found this duty deeply uncomfortable.  He would read out passages from the Catlick bible. Some of these tracts were X rated (but over my head at the time). These would induce a deep shade of puce and stuttering in our narrator. He was perfectly normal in Greek classes. I know nothing about the bible.


Mostly pretty well spoken as I recall, no profanities to speak of. Foreign – well yes – under the encouragement of Mr Kincaid, I did well at French and often went to  France.  Anyone ever do the Nice Jazz Festival? I was a mere 10 feet away from Miles Davis and BB King  in the 70’s. I can still order a croissant and be mistaken for a German. I did well at Latin and Greek, too,  under Mr Waller and Mr Marchant.  I can reach those telegraph clues beyond the grasp of the  hobbledehoys. Greek came in useful when I lived in Cyprus. I could read the word ”MPAR” and go for a beer.

As for the English Language, what would I say to Mr Golland now. A whirlwind, a holy terror to illiterate small boys, yet an inspiring and untiring proponent of the beauty of the English Language. He would storm into room C3 and throw open the far window to let out the fug, twiddle knobs on a huge tape recorder whilst strewing last week’s exercise books across the room. Précis and Comprehension, what a grind.  I wish I’d paid more attention and had known about the tricks of the trade. He could reduce you to the size of a nanotube with a biting remark.  I floored him once by asking why George Orwell had chosen a pig out of all the farm animals to become Supremo in Animal Farm.  He was ever more critical of my efforts after that and I failed English O level. Yet, he did plant a seed which grew into a love of reading classic modern authors in later years.

English Literature was largely a confusion for me under Mr Yelland (nice old boy). He loved Shakespeare and restoration comedies, but I didn’t understand the background of the period pieces at all – very difficult. I did not go on to develop a liking for period literature.

BTW, whilst helping out at my local high school here in Thailand, I felt obliged to examine the bona fides of the English teaching racket here. These mountebanks, snakeoil salesmen, carpetbaggers, hornswaggling toadlickers and bumhole backpackers prey upon the hapless locals by virtue of a 1 month TEFL certificate - often forged in KSR.  Skinheads, tattoos, unkempt, jeans, earrings, woodpecker flipflops, neon T shirts and eyetalian rudeboys  no less whose sole aim is a free ride and enough loot for a ticket to the next beach party. Worse than any fermenting Vth form balcony.

School Fodder

Morning break, mountains of milk by the bogs. Warm your bottle on the radiator or leave it to fester and stink for a few days. Serious troughing came at lunchtime, two sittings   My all time favourite was apple pie, custard and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Remember how the ladies would pass out pieces of conflake and syrup tart through the kitchen windows, yummy.  School dinners were OK. Never a hint of Vindaloo, No27 fried rice or doner kebabs.

Hut C

I was motorcycle mad by the 4th form (Driving licence?). I sold one of my bikes to Norman Jenkinson who sat next to me in class. He came from Australia and was kinda  indigenous (you could never use the A word, he would get mad). We took the bike up the hill to his parents’ prestigious mansion and used the rockery as a trials course. They were horrified and ordered the bike removed immediately. We drove it back on flat tyres and ran out of petrol around HCS. It was a Saturday so we pushed the bike in behind hut C. Morrie Venn found out about it but helped us rebuild the old Ariel 500cc Hunter. I learned about lapping your head in – yes really – no gasket.

The Radio Club

We were the forerunners of what were to become the spotty nerds of the PC era.  I learnt how to build a radioset out of WWII junk shop.  That sparked a lifelong interest in technical subjects and I went on to a Technical College in the Vth form.  HCS didn’t handle technology well. If you weren’t Oxbridge scholarship material – forget it.

The Chess Club

It was here that I discovered that there were some really bright people around.
They are not just more clever because they work harder. They are out of sight, on another planet.  I played reasonably well, but no matter how I tried, I never got beyond a certain level. One pal I played, “Tank” Heywood, would always win. I asked if he studied tactics. “No” he said, “I am just better than you” and he was. So don’t worry about it, just do the best you can. That’s what I learnt.

Then and Now

Although I didn’t have much to show for my time at HCS (other than the obligatory O levels),  I left   with a sense of having received a grounding in languages and the Arts which I would otherwise never have experienced. It became a fine complement to my basket of life skills. Of course it made me an odd-ball in the Engineering world, not quite the 2D perspective, one exasperated CEO wrote. I wanted to emulate the great inventors.  I K Brunel was my hero for a while until I read what a BS he was. I  even managed to get a few successful patents granted for my work on crude oil. I wouldn’t commend any young man to follow my vocation. Today, I am a dinosaur like HCS.

Saurian, I maybe, but hexadecimated I am not, so if any OGs of my era stray into my neck of the woods then mail me or phone 006610736251 and take in some of the local culture. Are you up for it?


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