A Heathen Century

All Old Heathens reading these accounts are welcome to send comments or memories of their own to the Editor.

Heath in the Sixties

On dank days the smoke from the mill chimneys still hung in the atmosphere and left streaks of grime on your shirt collar and cuffs. The scent of yeast and hops still wafted from Ramsden’s brewery at one end of the town, and Whitaker’s at the other. But these were changing times. The sixties were the decade of the ‘permissive society,’ subsequently hailed by some as the dawning of moral freedom, by others as the beginning of the end of civilised values. Superficially, the impact on Heath was minimal; as the editor of The Heathen put it in 1970, the cocoon is alive and well. After the spurt of building at the end of the fifties that had seen new labs, art and woodwork rooms, gym and canteen, little changed visually apart from the adaptation of the School House for Sixth Form use. The Apple and Pear Window continued to stand guard over a gloomy covered bikeshed. To the right was the unwelcoming row of urinals and a matching one of WCs, which may not have boasted seats, but — unlike those at Rishworth — did at least have doors. To the left was a mysterious passage behind the science labs, favoured by smokers; only the most adventurous crawled out of the window in Room L and lit up on the roof.

The curriculum too saw only minor changes. In 1960 all Heathens took Latin and in 1970 they still did, at least until the fourth form, at which point the graveyard bottom set split the time between Social Studies and Music Appreciation. The third form ‘Sets’ choice of Art, Geography, German or Greek remained unaltered as did the three-way fifth form split between 5S for the scientists, 5L for those with leanings to language and humanities and 5G for the also-rans. The most significant timetable change was that, from September 1965, Saturday morning lessons ceased and along with them the Wednesday half-holiday, which some miscreants routinely spent in detention. Despite fears that standards in Games might slip, staff and pupils alike were generally relieved to see the end of Heath’s peculiar institution.

The school uniform — by modern standards liberally interpreted and negligently worn — was unaltered, except for the disappearance of trimmed knee-length socks, redundant because 11-year olds (like Scouts) no longer wore short trousers, and of caps, long a source of futile conflict, and — as the Head’s circular to parents explaining the decision pointed out — ill-suited to fashionable long hair. Changing fashions were also apparent in the occasional Saturday evening school dances, organised by prefects with minimal staff involvement. In the early sixties these were still decorous affairs at which the Fred Walton Orchestra played velitas, waltzes and palais glides; in the interval Heathens in jackets and ties escorted girls in cardigans and frocks to the canteen for a ‘supper’ of sandwiches, cake, tea and coffee, and the height of abandon was the hokey-cokey. By the middle of the decade local rock and rhythm and blues bands (then always called ‘groups’) had taken over — and the darkened Hall pulsated to the beat of The Skyliners, The Moontrekkers, Mort Dragen (whose real name was Ronnie Atkinson), and — most adventurous booking of all — Me And Them from Barnsley, who were on Top of the Pops in 1964, even if their singles failed to chart. These happenings led to little worse than more cigarette ends and abandoned beer and cider bottles for George Carter to clear up from the purlieus of the building, and the occasional broken seat in the Staffroom toilets, which served as the Ladies. As John Mackie whimsically remarked, some hefty females seemed to come to these dances.

Of course, Heath ended the decade, as it had started it, under the tetchily benevolent despotism of W.R. Swale. He had been widowed in 1959, and now lived alone, but age could not wither the centre parting and clipped military moustache. He reached retirement age in 1967, but was determined to stay on to his silver jubilee as Head (he had taken over in 1946); Halifax Education Committee, whatever its reservations, did not stand in his way. His leadership remained as autocratic and idiosyncratic as ever.

School Assemblies followed a changeless pattern. On every day but Thursday, when there were House Prayers, WRS would sweep in with billowing gown, and the school would rise to sing a hymn from the Public School Hymn Book, during which he scanned the Hall grimly and soundlessly. The prefect appointed on a roster for the week then read a passage of scripture, self-chosen: some were fluent and theatrical, others embarrassingly awful. Once in 1962 a week’s readings from Luke ended on Friday with the parable of the Prodigal Son. On Saturday volunteer masters read the lesson, and it was the Head’s turn. The New English Bible had only just appeared, and he decided it would be a good idea to read the Prodigal Son again, first in the new translation, then in his preferred Authorised Version, then — lest any had missed the point — in the new translation again. On Monday D.J. Brittain, not a regular attender at Assembly, was the lesson reader. He began, A certain man had two sons. As he later protested, how the bloody hell was he supposed to know?

The Head would then read a collect from the Book of Common Prayer (though he went to Heath Congregational). Each day had its unchanging collect. On Mondays it was the ‘Founder’s Prayer,’ so called because it contains the word ‘favour.’ Generations of boys idly wondered what the founder wanted God to prevent us from doing; no-one ever said.

Next came the drama. Catholics and latecomers were herded in from Room C to stand in the gangway next to the Honours Board. Sports results were read dismissively, and on Tuesdays, The following boys are in detention, would precede a litany of old lags. Then WRS would grip the edge of his pulpit and tell us what he thought of us. Some of you people seem to think you can behave like guttersnipes — some of you have minds as filthy as your fingernails… I am sick and tired… if I find any boy — Even the most blameless felt a frisson of unease until the names of those who were to wait outside his study had been pronounced.

In the course of the day, he would periodically emerge to prowl the downstairs corridors, burst into riotous classrooms, impose instant fearful silence and transfix offenders with a baleful glare. Excuse me, Mr _____. You, boy! Stand up! Who do you think you are? My study! Now! Behind the closed door of his cigar-scented study, the violence was usually verbal, but rare indeed was the miscreant who could stand up to being loudly assailed with a vitriolic character assassination while sinking into the pile carpet; many crawled out in tears. His conversation, even when wholly benign, tended to be one-sided: he would engage in heavy-handed schoolmasterly banter with boys of whom he approved, but few managed to respond with more than an incoherent mutter. It cannot be denied that a significant minority of Heathens departed with a burning resentment of slights, real and imagined, inflicted on them by W.R. Swale. But many more regarded him with reverence, awe and affection, and none forgot him.

And rightly so. I don't remember Ron Swale ever expressing any admiration for Winston Churchill, but in his own sphere he had that quality of greatness that outweighs a host of imperfections and inconsistencies. Though appearing brusquely insensitive, he could surprise boys and masters with sympathy and understanding, and was not above downright sentimentality, as when he decided to mark the final assembly before Christmas with an (extended) reading from The Christmas Carol. (God bless us every one, said Tiny Tim. That, said Polly Hallowes, rolling out of the Hall, gave me stomach ache.)

Inhabiting a narrow social sphere and frequently lacking the common touch, he nevertheless always thought of himself as a man of the Left, and sincerely believed that schools like Heath were a means to social progress. No great scholar, he encouraged and respected academic excellence, and wanted Heathens to go to Oxbridge, though he’d not been there himself. Ignorant of and barely interested in any kind of sport, he was nevertheless immensely proud of the school’s achievements. Insistent on recognition for his own military decoration, and apt to brand those who answered back as barrack-room lawyers, he was nevertheless bored by protocol, unfussy about school uniform, and ran, by the standards of many contemporary grammar schools, and of any school now, a remarkably liberal ship. The daily procession at break (which WRS, and no-one else at all, insisted on calling ‘recess’) across the road to queue up at a dingy little shop on Heath Lane for teacake and Oxo, sometimes with the addition of crisps (which WRS, and no-one else at all, insisted on calling ‘chips’) would, for all sorts of reasons which he would have waved away, be inconceivable now.

So too would a Head who handwrote (often illegibly) comments on the reports of every boy, took in everyone’s entire set of exercise books at the end of each year to allocate prizes for neatness, personally compiled the whole school timetable and every Spring produced the school play in conjunction with Eric Taylor, the only member of his staff to whom, following the death of C.O. Mackley, he was really close. Walter and Biddy were remarkably successful at getting the best out of schoolboy actors by a nasty cop, nice cop, technique: the one howled his contempt — No, no, no, no, no! — the other gently reproved — Oh, dear, I think we’d better try that entrance again. I have seen a lot of school plays since, and still marvel at how good Heath’s were.

In 1960 Geoffrey Fogg commanded the stage as Becket in Murder in the Cathedral. The Fourth Tempter was chillingly played by Gordon Gledhill, paving the way for his magnificent Doctor Faustus in 1961 — a play which gave full rein to the backstage crew to deploy firewheels, smoke and the thundersheet. Russell Sunderland, an old boy returning to a temporary post, took on a junior production of Treasure Island, but broke his leg during weekend potholing; so the Swale-Taylor axis took over the show, which was stolen by Tim Fearnley, dancing his way through the part of Ben Gunn, and performing the part of Ariel in the 1962 Tempest with equal vitality. Tim’s natural quality — despite a reluctance to learn his lines — was again evident in his delicate portrayal of the androgynous Joan of Arc in Anouilh’s The Lark in 1963. This, I think, was the best production of them all, partly because of the strength in depth of the cast, partly because of the stunning back cloths produced by John Allan, an exceptionally talented artist.

1964 saw a workmanlike The Rivals, and 1965, the heavy royalties of a current hit notwithstanding, Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons, in which I played Thomas More. I felt my performance was uneven, but appreciated the quality the Heath production had been when I subsequently did the make-up for the same play at Wolverhampton Grammar School. The unfortunate Wulfrunian who played the part of More’s daughter Meg was subsequently hanged (fortunately not fatally) by boorish form-mates — a timely reminder of the heroism of those boys whose fate it was to take female parts, though Heathens were, with a touch of cynicism, generally tolerant. David Rutter did as well as any six-footer with large hands could possibly do as Miranda, Richard Akroyd was an excellent Mrs Malaprop, and Peter Hartley’s winsome appearance saw him in female roles year on year, reaching a pinnacle in 1966, when he was Cleopatra to Richard Firth’s urbane Caesar.

‘Biddy’ Taylor retired that year, and WRS produced no more plays. Alan Hardill not only took over as Head of English, but was also pitchforked into the director’s seat. Easy-going and idiosyncratic, he had little theatrical experience, but his plays went down well. In 1967 Billy Budd, an all-male seafaring drama, had Dave Lister ideally cast in the title role. In 1968 The Long, The Short and The Tall — another play that required no cross-dressing — provided several meaty parts, notably for Stuart Cox as the nasty wide-boy soldier and Jerry Fearnley as a gibberingly incompetent wireless operator. 1969 saw an ambitiously stylised Oedipus Rex; Stuart Hartley was in the title role, with fake blood streaming from the eye-sockets of his mask, and Michael Shaw played Jocasta with effortless femininity. I would not make the same claim for myself and ‘Neddy’ Southcombe, improbably cast as mother and daughter facing the lumbering villainy of David Pritchard in the spoof melodrama Hiss the Villain. This was an all-staff venture, produced by George Littlefair to provide light relief to follow Sophocles. The hissing and belly-laughs were not to the taste of the Courier critic, old boy Barry Collins, who, having praised Alan Hardill’s splendid production, complained that Hiss the Villain should not have been presented to a paying audience.

But with the exception of Alan Guy, in a cameo role as my gallant son, the masters whose efforts were not to Barry’s taste were newcomers since his time. The staff room, pokey and smoke-filled, witnessed a steady year on year turnover of personnel. Every Heathen will have their own mental picture-book of those who taught — or tried to teach — them. They ranged from the brilliant to the incompetent, from the inspirational to the anaesthetically dull, from models of rectitude to men seemingly on the edge of sanity. We all had our likes and dislikes, and would not agree about who would fit which category. All I can do here is present a few random snapshots and snap judgements, with apologies for many omissions.

Among those departing the scene after long service were little Doctor Fleet, chain-smoker with a mane of white hair and a heart of gold, and C.O. Mackley, an immensely venerable figure of remote dignity in his green-tinged gown, invariably addressing senior boys as ‘gentlemen.’ His premature death in harness in 1961 — which WRS took very hard — led to the elevation to the position of Senior Master of Eric Taylor, a kindly and patient man, a lover of English Literature whose air of detachment would occasionally manifest itself in forgetfulness in the fastening of critical buttons. When he departed for a long and happy retirement, Arthur Owen, a figure of Olympian calm whose dry sense of humour was manifested only to those who knew him well, took over. It was he who in 1971, on behalf of Albert Crosby, pinned to the staff room notice board the following diplomatic communiqué: The Headmaster tells me that he feels that some of us might be a little more punctual for the start of our lessons than we sometimes are.

Others to quit the stage included Arthur Holt, a large, clever man of volatile temperament, whose unrelenting use of the direct method in teaching Modern Languages was bewildering but effective; his nickname ‘Tishy’ derived from the flatfooted cartoon horse of the 1930s, and survived long after its origin had been forgotten. Following him into retirement were ‘Kettle’ Hewson, benign Chemistry teacher, and ‘Honky’ Peace, who was fond of saying of himself, I’m a very unusual Art master, an assertion which was never contradicted. Leaving after a briefer sojourn were Keith Hunter, a tirelessly enthusiastic Classicist, and Keith George, a very effective if self-regarding teacher of German; in 1961 he acquired a fashionable Robin Hood hat, and was outraged by the appearance on the staff room notice board of a communiqué from WRS enjoining staff to suppress the practice of senior boys of coming to school wearing silly little hats with feathers in them.

Still there at the end of the 1960s were ‘Nuffer’ Morris and Frank Haigh, who for many years ran a summer trip to Switzerland, without losing anyone. Both had been capable games players in younger days; but whereas Nuffer remained a dedicated teacher of academic Physics, Frank had grown bored, seemingly finding the daily train journey from Leeds more absorbing than Geography; his main interest in school was training the choir to sing (very well) madrigals on Speech Day and anthems for the Founder’s Day service at the Parish Church. Another with a Cambridge degree was Donald ‘Polly’ Hallowes, a lucid and clever mathematician who oscillated unpredictably between red-faced anger and uncontrolled laughter; he did not like WRS — a Labour snob — and designated himself unofficial staff room shop steward.

Also seeing out the decade was Harry Lee, an austere man with an earthy sense of humour; along with Woodwork lessons — which he would punctuate with lectures on social skills — he also taught junior Science and lower set Maths to such good effect that many Heathens swore that he was the only man from whom they learned anything. Legend had it that he remarried during a free period, stepping out to catch the bus to the registry office, and getting back in time for the next lesson. The other Harry on the staff, Harry Birchall, continued to turn out Rugby teams that, in enterprising style, proved more than a match for schools three times the size of Heath — particularly in Sevens. By the mid 1960s, however, the effect of a dreadful injury sustained at Anzio in 1944 was beginning to tell, and he welcomed the support of the larger than life figure of Robin Bellerby in running the Rugby teams. A new appointment, Terry Williamson, took over P.E., and Harry was put in charge of Careers advice, and supervising first forms copying out the Head’s Geography notes.

Others remaining in post included George Littlefair, who unobtrusively took charge of Modern Languages after Tishy’s retirement. George had a small farm in the Shibden Valley, and would sometimes put in an hour’s muckspreading before coming to school. George had a whimsical sense of humour and apparently inexhaustible patience, and, unlike many of his colleagues, never resorted to the stick, the gym shoe or the clout round the head. Also well read and good-humoured, but more volatile, were Alan Guy, who understood his sometimes unruly pupils better than they realised, and John Mackie. John had come from a southern Prep school and it was his fate to have a timetable overloaded with second and third form classes, with a preponderance of English; though he was an Oxford historian, it was not until the mid-1960s that he got the opportunity to teach sixth form History. His kindly, erudite wit was often unappreciated by his uncouth lower school charges and, as the tide of noise rose, he would resort to alarming outbursts of controlled rage. Yet John enjoyed teaching in Halifax, and some of his pupils learned a lot from him.

New faces appeared, some to become fixtures, others to move on after a few years. Among the former was the down-to-earth Malcolm Blythe — known as ‘Jem’ from his three initials. Potentially a butt of schoolboy humour because of his relatively short stature, he soon won enduring respect because of his highly-organised, zealous Chemistry teaching. Malcolm was still there when Heath was absorbed into Crossley’s, as were Peter Hand, a hard working Historian of gentle disposition, and the experienced Denis Morton, who took charge of Art. In conjunction with German teacher Alan Barnett, a league cricket opening bowler, Denis re-invigorated senior school Cricket, always in the shadow of Heath’s Rugby exploits. Heath also acquired a full time Music teacher. Gerald Pilcher, to whom I will always be grateful for the large repertoire of light operatic songs we sang with him, retired from his part-time post in 1965 and Neville Ward took over, a flamboyant figure, inspiring the affection and loyalty of musicians, who felt that they had at last broken the shackles of the philistines. When he left in 1969, the Musical Society report in The Heathen enthused at the astonishing transformation in the musical life of the school. His successor, Michael Hampshire, continued the process in quieter, but no less determined, mode.

Other masters came and/or went in the course of the 1960s. Keith Herring, Gordon Baker and David Lumb were capable and friendly mathematicians. Chris Ball was a popular West Countryman, who taught Geography. Brian Ashworth was a gritty historian with an unforgiving right hand; he would race forward in Games crying, Come on, sonny; tackle me, but no-one would. David Greenwood, a Heathen, returned for a while to teach Science, followed by the plain-speaking Bradfordian, David Pritchard. Gordon Purdy was an Oxford Classicist, who was convinced that it was morally wrong for ‘A’ level students to look up words in Latin and Greek dictionaries; he was followed by the magnificently bearded, and more relaxed, Simon Squires.

And two historians, in very different styles, made an indelible impact on those who met them. John Spaul — known to the school, but not to himself, as ‘Jack’ — was at Heath from late 1960 to the summer of 1963. His cadaverous features made him look older than he was, but he had boundless energy, and would give up holidays to take parties walking on the Pennine Way or Hadrian’s Wall. Above all, he was a man of theories; the orthodox view, whatever ‘the book’ said, was wrong. In lessons he would make provocative assertions calculated to shock the dullest into thought and discussion; but in practice he disliked contradiction and there was usually someone standing outside the door to whose tone he took exception: Why don’t you leave and get a job? he would demand rhetorically. He refereed Rugby matches with enthusiasm but an idiosyncratic interpretation of the rules which on one occasion led the two sets of forwards to shake hands when he blew up for the fiftieth scrum. He played chess with Queen’s Bishop Pawn openings that led to games of turgid complexity ending in draws. He exasperated staff room colleagues by dotting The Times crossword with isolated letters and fragments of words. In 1963 he went off with his wife, stepchildren and baby son to Africa.

The one thing he had in common with Brian Evans, who arrived to take charge of History at the start of 1962, was diligence. Brian was an Oxford historian, brisk and businesslike, for whom an enquiry had ordered sub-headings producing a neatly packaged model. He was an earnest and avowed Christian — If you believe, as I do was a stock opening — politically left of centre, and not afraid to evangelise for two favourite causes, the Student Christian Movement and the United Nations. He was also a stylish public school-coached batsman, and a good hockey player. He moved on to South Wales in 1967 to be a deputy head, returning to West Yorkshire as head of Honley High School a few years later. I doubt if he conducted staff meetings with Heath as a model. The routine was that the staff would sit round the four walls, with W.R. Swale in the middle telling them what he had decided. At the end of the meeting, he would go round the room inviting points from the floor. There were never many; those who did venture a comment could expect to be treated with playful contempt. After 1971 the older hands found Albert Crosby’s polite enquiries — What do people think? — took some getting used to.

But, of course, it’s the men who make the city, not the walls. What of the thousand or so boys who attended Heath in the course of the sixties? Despite the authoritarian persona of their headmaster, Heathens were not closely regimented, and the ethos of the school was — notwithstanding the myriad little unkindnesses and odd acts of violence that any body of teenage boys will produce — broadly tolerant of individual foibles; provided their desires were not egregiously anti-social, most Heathens could be what they wanted to be, though some felt it was an uphill struggle. I am sad to report, began a bitter item in the 1965 Heathen, the shameful lack of interest taken by the School as a whole in the activities of the Musical Society. Certainly an appreciation of the importance of not being earnest was both a strength and weakness of Heath. The sixth form debating society, the Favorites, was resolutely — nay, tiresomely — flippant, insisting on discussing such motions as That the landlord of the Upper George be invited to take over the School gymnasium, and turning with reluctance and dwindling attendances to comprehension versus selection, the death penalty and Vietnam. Mock General Elections, when attempted, were overwhelmed by determined facetiousness.

Yet by modern standards prefects and sub-prefects, distinguished by their ties and blazer trimmings, were invested with considerable responsibility in the day-to-day running of the school. WRS selected his Head Boy, and trusted him to get on with it. He was rarely disappointed, even if no one in the Sixties quite matched the seemingly effortless authority of Grayham Smith in 1958/9, partly because the development of the School House reduced the contact between the sixth form and the rest of the school. Three who come to mind are Chris Garbutt in 1961/2, not an obvious leader, but efficient, imaginative and indefatigable, Philip Highley in 1965/6, a large, talented cricketer and hard worker, whose deep religious convictions were hardly typical, but who commanded much respect; and Phil Grabham five years later, a talented late arrival of such calm that he seemed to have been born middle-aged.

Rugby remained Heath's predominant sport, particularly Harry Birchall’s favourite seven-a-side version, though there was a shock in 1961 when the massively-supported Heath side, having won in the previous two years, went out in the first round. Year after year the Heath XV, particularly when playing on its splendid Kensington ground, was more than a match for teams from far larger schools, such as Bradford Grammar, Leeds Grammar, Huddersfield New College and QEGS, Wakefield. Robert Broughton was perhaps the most talented player of the decade, but Heathens regularly secured county honours; in 1965, for example, Geoff Baggaley, Roger Dixon and David Littlefair all played for Yorkshire. Later in the decade Richard Brearley was a quite exceptional talent in this or any other sport.

Cricket tended to be overshadowed, partly because the school did not have its own pitch — playing, as a rule, either at King Cross or Thrum Hall — and, until the development of Conway’s, no nets. This did not prevent a remarkable under 14 result at Woodhouse Grove in 1960, where the minor public school side was dismissed for 5, of which 4 were extras, and Eddie Halliday took 8 for 0. Indeed, there were plenty of good Heath cricketers, the best of the decade probably being Stuart Bradley, but they tended to have learned the game elsewhere.

The same was partly true of Athletics; the school encouraged, rather than coached, its athletes and, despite fine individual achievements, tended to come second to Crossley’s in the Inter-Grammar School Sports. Cross-Country had mixed fortunes after being established at the beginning of the decade through the efforts of individuals; Brian Marney was an exceptional runner and Chris Kenyon, nearly as good, was an exceptional publicist, who once wrote a Heathen report on Cross-Country that mentioned his own name seven times, and concluded by offering himself grateful thanks. Chess teams flourished quietly under the stewardship of ‘Polly’ Hallowes; the most talented player of the decade was perhaps Roger Nelson, though Stephen Ellis, who played Chess as he played Cricket, rarely made a mistake.

Academically Heath would probably have been in competition with Princess Mary’s for top spot in Halifax league tables had such things then existed. But the teaching style of the times was to lead horses to water rather than make them drink. The school took pride in those who won Oxbridge awards, put their names in gold lettering on the honours boards, and noted with satisfaction such achievements as that of John Feather who, having gone up to Queen’s College, Oxford as an exhibitioner before he was eighteen, went on to win the university’s Shakespeare Prize. But, in common with other grammar schools, Heath did not blame itself overmuch for those who left school with nothing more than one or two ‘O’ levels. The 11+ examination could certainly put square pegs in round holes, particularly when intensive coaching, in which Warley Road Junior School took pride, produced borderline passes. Some never came to terms with the demands of an ‘academic’ curriculum, saw their time through in more or less rebellious mode, and departed without regret. The relationship between the school and a few boys was so mutually unrewarding that they were evicted at the end of the second form. Conversely, there were some successful transfers from Clare Hall into Heath sixth form.

And there were success stories from unpromising beginnings. My contemporary Robert Gate, an unobtrusive, thoughtful working class lad, found himself thirty fifth out of thirty five at the end of his first term in IB; but gradually emerged as a sound linguist, stayed on for ‘A’ levels, and became a distinguished historian and biographer of the game that was his passion, Rugby League. Peter Baigent, who could easily have written himself off as just another noisy semi-literate rugby player, repeated 5G, did his ‘A’ levels, went on to Loughborough, and eventually became Dean at an American university; there is no way of testing his own conviction that he would have never achieved this in a comprehensive school.

And, of course, comprehensive schools seemed to be close at hand. Early in the 1960s the Halifax Schools Campaign was formed by group of teachers, journalists and left-leaning activists to agitate for the end of the 11+ in Halifax. It enjoyed sympathetic coverage from the Halifax Courier whose editor, Michael Ramsden (boarding school educated, to the best of my knowledge) and W.R. Swale disliked each other intensely. The correspondence columns of the paper saw endless skirmishing between the rival protagonists of grammar and — the preferred term of the supporters of non-selection — ‘all-in’ schools, often under the cloak of anonymity. Some of the arguments now seem bizarre. In answer to a letter saying that you needed selection so that those with the ability could do difficult things like Classical Greek, ‘Teacher in Training’ asked, Why not let all children have a crack at Greek?

The elections of 1964 and 1966, putting in power a Labour government whose Secretary of State for Education, Anthony Crosland, told his wife that his mission was to destroy every fucking grammar school in England, appeared to spell the end for Heath. Among staff and students there was certainly a minority who thought this would be no bad thing. I have sometimes wondered whether, had the Halifax Schools Campaign been less strident, or indeed not existed at all, the town might not have gone comprehensive like most others, but this is probably unfair; the explanation lies in the complexity of local politics. By 1970 Halifax had a reorganisation plan apparently with all-party agreement; by 1972 it had another. Albert Crosby, appointed Head the year before, following WRS’s retirement, for the explicit purpose of overseeing Heath’s transition to being a comprehensive school, wrote in The Heathen about the likely effects of the coming reorganisation. Who could then have foreseen that it was the school, not the system, whose days were numbered?

Andrew Connell