School life

An unusual mixture
Barry Jelfs was an accredited teacher of both PE and English, an unusual mixture. For indoor PE and non-competitive outdoor activities we had to wear all whites including white plimsolls, and the latter had to be coated with proprietary whitener till they were immaculate. Any boy turning up with soiled plimsolls would be “slippered”, ie. politely asked to remove one of his plimsolls with which Mr Jelfs would deliver two hefty whacks across his backside. It couldn’t happen today. However, Mr Jelfs also had a caring side; as an English teacher he quite reasonably objected to my spidery and illegible handwriting, and improved it forcibly by making me stay behind after school and copy out passages from “David Copperfield” every week until my writing was nearly copperplate. It worked within about six weeks or so. (It’s reverted to the original state nowadays, or worse, but it doesn’t matter: I’ve got a computer.)

Unique methods
Mr PR James (“Dim Jim”) had a unique way of ensuring his maths pupils learned the proofs of geometrical theorems. Each week we were charged with learning the proof of a new theorem, which we then had to write out in the next lesson from memory. Failure to produce the correct solution led to a Thursday afternoon detention which meant missing house games. I failed to memorise Pythagoras (the long geometric proof, not the brief trigonometric one) and duly paid the price. However, Mr James took my maths from being my weakest subject to producing my best O-Level grade, thence to an A-level and an Engineering degree, so I owe him a debt of gratitude.

Playground pursuits
The universal pursuit at morning break and lunchtime was playground football, played on the lower playground with a tennis ball. These would invariably end up lodged in the roof guttering of the school’s three-storey west wing. Once a year a contractor with a very long ladder was engaged to climb up and chuck dozens of soggy, decomposing tennis balls down on to the playground. The younger boys would eagerly collect below to recover the best ones, ignoring the spray of slime that came off them as they fell.

Sixth form common room
Shortly before I graduated to the Sixth Form the school gained a Sixth Form Common Room, and therein we partook of endless rubbers of that most civilised card game, contract bridge, whilst drinking coffee and listening to the latest Beatles LP played on an old Dansette. This was considered quite acceptable and proper by the authorities. By contrast, the three CCF sections shared a prefab concrete hut in a corner of the school playing field, and although this was kept locked whenever not in official use it had a faulty window which wouldn’t lock. Members of the RAF Section (including yours truly) discovered this and used it to set up an illicit solo whist school in the hut, occasionally played for monetary gain and sometimes accompanied by the smoking of cigarettes. This went on for most of two terms, until the powers-that-were became aware of the transgression and mounted a “raid”. Fortunately I was not present at that particular session, but those who were received the full due sanction of the law. The hut is still there today, although now derelict and well graffitised.

A few nicknames: “Hoss” Ryder (Maths), “Toby” Turl (French, named for the contemporary strip cartoon character Toby Twirl), “Pug” Wilkins (CCF adjutant – he looked like, and might have been, an ex-boxer) and “Deadeye Doris” Carpenter, head cook, who ruled the school kitchen with a will of iron and was actually even more scary than “Killer” Reeves. She had one wall-eye but could turn a boy to stone at ten paces with a basilisk stare from the other if he incurred her displeasure in the canteen by, for example, not separating used cutlery into the correct boxes.

BHASVIC has a comprehensive website at which includes some stuff about the “Grammar” and its history, and also details of the Past And Present Association which is open to ex-pupils of both BHASVIC and the “Grammar” itself.

Comments about this page

  • Many of us have waxed lyrical over the virtues of Jack Smithies, but not all the masters shared his ability to elicit almost universal affection from his pupils. During my second year (1961/62) I was taught Maths by a master whose blushes, in case he still survives and may read this, I shall spare by referring to him only as Mr E. Mr E was young and recently qualified and apparently keen to make his mark, and one of his techniques – which would definitely be frowned upon today – was to read out aloud to the assembled class his assessed report grades for all his pupils. The discomfort this caused those with poorer grades can be imagined.

    In those days, as my contemporaries will remember, we were reported on in all subjects at the end of each half-term and each full term, with a grade which assessed attainment numerically from 1 to 3 with minus and plus intermediate grades, and effort alphabetically from A to C with AB and BC intermediates. For some reason Mr E had taken an early and powerful exception to me, in a way that no other master ever remotely did; to this day I can think of no valid reason. Anyway, Mr E awarded me, three times running, a grade of 2-C, ie. achievement just below the norm with a total lack of effort. I knew the latter to be absolutely untrue.

    Mr E always compounded the indignity by asking every class member, in front of the class, if he was not satisfied with the grade awarded him. Needless to say, the uptake in those days of absolute master supremacy and respect was invariably nil. Indeed, I was so shy and deferential a twelve-year-old that to me such a gesture would have been tantamount to treason. However, on the third successive occurrence of being awarded the only C grade in the class I could take the injustice no longer and, in an act of rebellion comparable to Oliver Twist’s asking the Beadle for “more”, I raised my hand.

    Mr E then ordered me to the front of the assembled class and asked my reason for disagreeing. In a barely audible voice I replied that I thought my effort had not justified the minimum mark. I was then ordered to resume my seat, and did so with tears streaming, accompanied by whispered congratulations on my action from several classmates.

    To be fair to Mr E, he raised my effort mark to BC, and there it remained for the rest of the year. On entry to the third year, when we began to be setted in subjects by ability, I was placed in the second set (of four) for Maths. My true ability in the subject became clear when, under the greatly superior teaching of Mr P R James, I topped the set and was elevated to the first set the following year, subsequently taking the O-Level a year early (at the end of the fourth year) and getting the best of all my O-Level grades in that subject.

    In these greatly more difficult days for pedagogy, we often tend to look back on our own teachers as superior, even infallible. This story reminds us that even in those remote days of the 1960s teachers sometimes had feet of clay.

    By Len Liechti (01/06/2008)
  • Our mate Tony Gibbins had a heart attack and died while attending the Glastonbury Festival. His funeral, held in Eastbourne, was a celebration of his life by his large and very loving family. Tony was at the school from 1948 until 1953. Not a classical scholar, he started as an apprentice plumber until his conscription into the Royal Artillery. After a couple of years, he decided that plumbing was not for him, so he joined the Sussex Police Force where he was sponsored through university and went on to a senior rank. A rebel at school, Tony was delighted to be able to return and speak on “Road Safety” or “Juvenile Crime” in the Hall and under the watchful eye of Harry Brogden. Tony was a big man in every way. He had a great voice, supported The Albion, swam a mile every week and appreciated a wide range of classical music, but most of all he enjoyed being with his family. He will be missed by many.

    By Peter Courtney (31/07/2010)
  • Peter, Sorry to hear about the funeral of Tony Gibbons, I remember him well. He once stopped me in Brighton to have a chat when he was in the police force. I didn’t recognize him at first. Regards, John

    By John Charlie Manton (10/01/2011)
  • Try as I might I can’t forget the sight of a huge dollop of Brylcreem sliding slowly down the back of the head of “Spud” Murphy whilst he was writing Latin declensions on the blackboard. Or Mr Patterson, the chemistry teacher, wondering why we laughed when he said “Every time I open my mouth, some fool speaks”. Or lining up outside the art room knowing that “Killer” Reeves was going to inspect your nails, and, if you’d bitten them…whack! I stopped biting my nails in a week.

    By Lawrence Pattison (10/03/2011)
  • I was at B.H.S.G.S. from 1950 to 1952. Can anyone tell me the name of the young C.S.M., a member of the Airforce section of the C.C.F, please? He was killed in 1950, when the Slingsby Cadette glider stalled after being released from the tow line. I would also like to get in touch with Robin Fayne, who was a good friend. I saw his name on a board as a former Head Boy, when I visited, several years ago. Can anyone help please?
    Here is a coincidence that might be of interest. I returned to England from America in 1970, after 7 years in aerospace. I took a position as a design/development engineer with Vickers Medical in Basingstoke. The name and face of one of the service engineers was familiar. It was Ray Halliday, who was in my form at B.H.S.G.S.! We were also living two doors from each other. Our wives’ names were Pat. We each had four children, one of whom was a son named Kim!

    By Mike Olive (07/04/2012)
  • Mike Olive wants to get in touch with ‘Robin Fayne’. There was a ‘Chris’ (CRK) Fane (1949-56), who I believe was a Head Boy in the early fifties. Could that be who you are looking for, Mike? Chris is a member of the Past & Present Association and I see that you are not. If you would like to send me your contact details (see my details on the Past & Present page), I could give them to Chris and ask him to contact you.

    By Bruce Rawlings (24/04/2012)
  • Hi Len, I well remember ‘Mr. E’! He had a new Lambretta scooter, which he parked in the Armoury and which classmate Rod Heath would start up during the lunch hour! Two other maths masters that I remember were Peter Symes and Peter Warner, both recently graduated and a bit out of their depth in the classroom. Rod would turn up late for Symes’ class, saunter in and say “Hi Pete!”, an unheard-of piece of impudence for those days. Rod alas was killed in the Falklands twenty years later in HMS Coventry – he was the ship’s Electronic Warfare Officer.

    By Nick Rosewarne (18/09/2013)
  • I have only only just accessed this website, thanks Bruce. Brian Jelfs (PE Loughbro’) was at school from 56 to 61 approx. I followed him to St Pauls, Cheltenham where he lectured in PE. In 64 he moved to Christ Church College, Canterbury, as Head of PE Dept. I saw him at a couple of College reunions. Not sure if he is still alive. He inspired a number of us to enter the teaching profession.

    By Iain StJohn (25/08/2019)

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