Had I made a mistake, a terrible mistake ? Working as a management trainee in Birmingham’s giant Lewis’s department store I was successful and heading for mega success. What a foolish thing to have done, I was never going to match success as a schoolteacher. I was going to have to crawl back to the store’s staff manager and beg for my job left.
I was theoretically employed as an unqualified assistant teacher at Chetwynd House Preparatory School for Boys in The Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield. These days we would call what I was doing a gap year. I had a one year contract but I would never last for the year. If I did not resign and beg my way back into Lewis’s Department Store I would most definitely be sacked by the headmaster for incompetence. There was one particular day, some time on October 1969 when I though dismissal had come. I am, of course, inviting you to disco dance through the 1970’s but I do need to explain Chetwynd House Preparatory School For Boys Autumn Term 1969 so come back with me to that day in October 1969.
I was nineteen years of age, the school had boys aged eight to thirteen plus on its roll. Many of the boys had their fees paid by paid by parents to coach them through the 11+ examination in order to attend the local grammar school. Some were being prepared to sit the Common Entrance Examination at thirteen to attend public school. I was, therefore, trying to teach boys who were just a few years younger than I was. I had no training and did not have a clue what I was doing.
On that day in October 1969 my classroom was a riot, it always was. The headmaster walked in and demanded to know what was happening. “They just won’t listen to me,” I stuttered.
“If Mr Ashford,” the headmaster roared at my class, “gives me the name of any boy I will cane that boy without asking any questions.”
You could have cut the silence with a knife. Never again did I have any form of misbehaviour in my class. I never did give any name to the headmaster, nobody ever got caned and I immediately became successful and respected.
I was in charge of PE and games, I taught music and when the music teacher left at the end of that first term I was put in charge of music in the school. Spring Term 1970 and there was no was I would be returning to a career in retail management, I was going to be a schoolteacher. I was a schoolteacher.
1st January 1970 the number one hit was Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris.
Two little boys had two little toys - Each had a wooden
horse - Gaily they played each summer's day - Warriors both of course - One
little chap then had a mishap
Broke off his horse's head - Wept for his toy then cried with joy - As his young playmate said
Did you think I would leave you crying - When there's
room on my horse for two -
Climb up here Jack and don't be crying - I can go just as fast with two - When we grow up we'll both be soldiers - And our horses will not be toys - And I wonder if we'll remember - When we were two little boys
Long years had passed, war came so fast - Bravely
they marched away Cannon roared loud, and in the mad crowd - Wounded and dying
lay - Up goes a shout, a horse dashes out - Out from the ranks so blue - Gallops
away to where Joe lay
Then came a voice he knew
Did you think I would leave you dying - When
there's room on my horse for two
Climb up here Joe, we'll soon be flying - I can go just as fast with two - Did you say Joe I'm all a-tremble - Perhaps it's the battle's noise - But I think it's that I remember
When we were two little boys
Do you think I would leave you dying - There's room on my horse for two - Climb up here Joe, we'll soon by flying - Back to the ranks so blue - Can you feel Joe I'm all a tremble - Perhaps it's the battle's noise - But I think it's that I remember - When we were two little boys
That was a beautiful song and Rolf Harris popular with people of all ages. Rolf Harris was an Australian entertainer whose career encompassed work as a musician, singer-songwriter, composer, comedian, actor, painter and television personality. However, he was convicted in 2014 of the sexual assault of four underage girls, which effectively ended his career. He spent time in prison and now it is not politically correct to talk about him or play his music.
I am sure the boys at Chetwynd House enjoyed the music of Rolf Harris but I did not put it into the curriculum. Yes, aged only nineteen I decided the music and the songs to be taught.
This was a time of protest songs, I used a semi-religious music book Faith Folk And Clarity. Boys played the music on descant recorders and sung them in assemblies. Running assembly was also part of my duty. I do not believe in god and have no time for religion but the headmaster of Chetwynd House School was anti-religion. In assembly he even had to read the words of the Lords Prayer from a piece of paper. He liked the songs from Faith, Folk and Clarity and asked me to buy the LP record that went with the book.
In Swinging Through The Sixties I speak in volume two of this trilogy about how I came to love the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. It was within my music classes at Chetwynd House School that I christened it giggle opera. As well as introducing the boys to the music I taught my pupils the life stories of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. I took boys to watch a performance of The Mikado performed by boys and staff at the local grammar school. Those boys would be sixty today, I wonder if they still listen to Gilbert and Sullivan, I wonder if they still call it giggle opera.
Let’s step aside from me for a moment and talk about you. When you left school and joined the world of work did you change direction and take a new career path ? Was it as significant as my career change ? Are you still at school ? Have you decided your career path and do you think that is the path you will follow all of y our working life ?
I had made the right decision, I was going to be a teacher, Just one thing, I needed to qualify with the teacher certificate: Certificate In Education. I applied to West Midlands College of Education and was rejected. Numerically I had the required subject qualifications and I had the retailing qualifications achieved when I was working in the department store: City and Guilds of London Institute. The problem was some of my qualifications, according to the college, overlapped. General History and Social & Economic History counted as one subject not two. City and Guilds Accounts was the same subject as GCE O Level Mathematics. I needed a plan, I was still going to be a teacher.
I was honest and explained my position to Chetwynd House’s headmaster asking if my contract could be extended for another year. He immediately agreed and gave me a pay rise. Next I researched all colleges training teachers, I looked for a small college where I could become a real person and not just a name on the roll. Milton Keynes College of Education looked to be ideal. Where was Milton Keynes ? I was told that if I could obtain another GCE O Level I could make an application to join the three year course starting in September 1971.
This brings me to share something I constantly say to teenagers in school. If you are a teenager reading these words take them on board. If you are older, even as ancient as I am, did you make the same mistake as I did ?
As a teenager I had natural ability and was clever, clever enough to get good results without needing to work or stretch myself. I knew what qualifications I needed to be accepted onto the management trainee group and worked just hard enough to achieve them, just hard enough and no more. How stupid ! Today I say to teenagers: Imagine your classroom as a market stall, the teacher is a market trader saying: Roll up, roll up everything is free. Do not do as I did and take just what you think you need, grab everything you can possibly hold and then take some more. It ‘s free and you never know when you will need it.
That extra GCE O Level I selected was Sociology. I went to evening classes and passed at the highest grade.
Back to Chetwynd House Preparatory School for Boys, I found myself as a senior member of staff. Senior as I approached my twentieth birthday. Something very special was at number one in the charts: Woodstock by Matthew’s Southern Comfort:
I came upon a child of God - He was walking along the road - When I asked him where are you going - This he told me.
I'm going down to Yasgurs farm - Think I’ll join a rock and roll band - I'll camp out on the land - I'll try and set my soul free.
We are stardust, we are golden - And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden. - Then can I walk beside you - I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel just like a cog in something turning. - Well maybe it’s the time of year - Or maybe it’s the time of man - And I don't know who I am
But life’s for learning.- We are stardust, we are golden - And we've got
to get - ourselves back to the garden. - By the time I got to Woodstock - They
were half a million strong - Everywhere there were songs and celebration -
And I dreamed I saw the bombers - Riding shotgun in the sky
Turning into butterflies - Above our nation. - We are stardust, we are
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.
We are stardust, we are golden - And we've got to get ourselves back to
We are stardust, we are golden - And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.
I am going to write a special chapter on Woodstock at the end of my book but here I have to share how Woodstock came to Chetwynd House Preparatory School for Boys or should that be how Chetwynd House Preparatory School for Boys went to Woodstock.
A school trip was organised to Blenheim Palace near Oxford. Travelling along in the coach we passed a signpost pointing to Woodstock. Excitement exploded as the boys demanded we go there and not to Blenheim. I had to explain this was a different Woodstock, today it is a small parish of three thousand people. Woodstock in New York State attracted half a million people to its iconic concert.
At twenty years of age I had more authority in the school than staff three times my age. There was one member of staff, newly appointed, who clearly was not up to the job. The Headmaster called me into his office. I want you to go into Mr Hooper’s class, watch what he is doing then report back to me. I made some excuse saying I needed to gain experience of how other teachers worked. Did that Mr Hooper really believe me ? Surely not.
Reporting back to the headmaster I explained how Mr Hooper taught nothing in his class and even if the boys took it into their heads to listen Hooper had nothing to teach them. As I left the office Hooper was called in and sacked. He was given a cheque paying him for the short time he had been at the school. Later the headmaster called the bank and stopped the cheque. Mr Hooper was never heard of again.
Christmas 1970 I Hear You Knocking by Dave Edmunds was at number one. There was a boy at Chetwynd House by the name of Steven Clare, his family owned a small chain of newsagents in Birmingham. Young Steven organised a special Christmas present for me from his class. I was given a giant kipper decorated all over in hippie tie dye. It was fabulous. I wonder what happened to it, I don’t often wear ties these days but if I had that kipper tie I would wear it every day. What is a kipper tie ? Wikipedia will explain but do not try to buy one, Amazon does not have a clue.
Top Ten 1st January 1970:
1. Two Little Boys Rolf Harris
2. Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town Kenny Rogers
3. Sugar Sugar Archies
4. Suspicious Minds Elvis Presley
5. Melting Pot Blue Mink
6. Yester-Me-Yester-You Yesterday Stevie Wonder
7. All I Have To Do Is Dream Bobbie Gentry And Glan Campbell
8. Winter World Of Love Engelbert Humperdink
9. Tracy Cufflinks
10. Without Love Tom Jones
On 17th May 1943 Royal Airforce 617 Squadron undertook Operation Chastise, more familiar today it is known as The Dambusters Raid. The father of one boy at Chetwynd House School for Boys was a Dambuster. When speaking today with teenagers in school, when they ask me if I have ever met anyone famous I proudly explain I knew a Dambuster.
Another boy said to me that when he left school he wanted to be an actor as was he his great-uncle. Thinking perhaps his relative had a part in Crossroads or even Coronation Street I asked who this great-uncle was. Laurence Olivier: he explained.
Yeh ! Yeh ! In the staffroom I shared this eleven year old’s fantasy and tried to make a joke of it. The joke was on me, Chetwynd House Preparatory School for Boys in The Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield did indeed have the great nephew of Sir Laurence Olivier on it roll.
The phone rang and was answered by the school secretary. On the other end was the secretary to the Chairman of Aston Villa FC. He boss had instructed her to call the school and ask if his two sons could attend. Chetwynd House was a small school, only 120 on roll, and there was no space for two new pupils. Why, the headmaster said to me, would I want the sons of a football chairman in my school ? I am a rugby man.
Most boys at the school were Aston Villa supporters, they would have loved to have the club chairman’s sons as their friends.
There was another boy in the school who I remember so well. He was a fun, mischievous lad who everyone liked. He was a Jew. At school dinner time he often said to me: “Were those sausages made from pork ?”
“Of course they were,” I explained.
“Damn !” The lad would say. “I’ve messed up again !” He loved sausages.
Over Easter the family went away for a skiing holiday in Italy. In an accident the father lost his life. Sympathy was expressed right across the school but this little lad was strong. He continued to like pork sausages and continued to joke about his messing up.
Those two years at Chetwynd House School were happy but it was time to move on. I needed to formally qualify as a teacher, I needed to become a proper teacher.