A Heathen Century

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Heath in the Eighties

The decade commenced in much the same way as the previous decade with the much discussed topic of School Mergers. The potential variations proposed for mergers between local schools varied widely in forthcoming years involving pretty much every connotation possible. The starting point was a proposal to merge Heath with Clare Hall and Sunnyside in a three-site school from 1982 with a sixth form College at the Highlands site. The timing and the combination seemed nonsensical (as was usually the case with anything coming out of the Local Education Authority at the time). The one clear fact coming out of the debates was, however, that the writing was on the wall and Heath Grammar School with its four hundred years of history would not see in the next decade.

Despite the uncertainty, the continuing need for modernisation of the curriculum pressured the school into considering and pursuing the addition of subjects the likes of Biology to the timetable, a subject about as far from the traditions of Greek, Latin and Classical Studies as could be. Whether this modernisation was a futile attempt to show the Authorities that the School as a single entity could be the animal the powers that be were looking for is up for debate. Space, both physical and within the timetable, along with finding the expertise required to teach the subject would be a challenge.

The beginning of the decade saw significant departures in the teaching staff, probably the most notable of which was Mr J.M. Mackie [1957–1980], more commonly referred to as ‘Feesh’ by the less generous pupils. Through his 23 years service he surely must be one of the few teachers in the history of the School to be able to claim that their teaching career at Heath spanned four decades, having joined the Staff in 1957. Why he was nicknamed ‘Feesh’ remains a mystery to at least the eighties generation of pupils. Mr Mackie taught English, History and R.I., in his later years mainly to the Lower School. He was clearly a phenomenally intelligent man with a deep understanding of the subjects he taught. His often grim and forbidding exterior was something of a mask and beneath that exterior lay a wealth of witticism and good natured banter.

Other staff departures included Dr R.E. Dean [1971–1980], who went by the most imaginative nickname of ‘Doc Dean.’ He was educated in his School years at local rivals Bradford Grammar School and, prior to taking up his first teaching post at Heath in 1971, he worked in the chemical industry in roles varying from Lab assistant at Bradford Council to being in charge of the Pyrotechnic and Explosives Laboratories in Woolwich. Between 1952 and 1970 he progressed into research and became a highly respected and much published expert in his field. Doc Dean not only brought to his teaching of Chemistry great knowledge of his subject, but also the ability to communicate that knowledge to his students. He was a firm disciplinarian, but was fair and had a good sense of humour when he felt it appropriate to show it.

Also to depart in 1980 was Mr J.M. Hampshire [1969–1980], another long time servant to the School. Michael (‘Hambone’ to the boys) would be most remembered for his creation of and development of the School Choir. It is hard to fathom the extent of his achievement in creating from a relatively small school a choir of such magnitude with not only national but also international recognition. The mid to late 70s was the peak for the Choir with annual tours involving performing on numerous occasions at Bath Abbey, Hereford Cathedral, Abingdon and Aachen Dome. Whether the demise of the Choir from that peak was part of his decision to depart, only he could say. It must be said the eighties at Heath were worse off for his leaving.

By far the most popular Staff appointment of 1980 was the replacement of Mr G.M. Stansfield (‘Stanny’) during his temporary 12 month re-education at Sheffield University. It was not purely the absence of Mr Stansfield’s sporadically caustic character for a year that made his replacement so popular amongst the student population but that his absence would herald the re-appearance of a former French assistante, Mlle M.O. Leconte.

Still to this day she forms an important part of the ‘unofficial’ history of the School. She must be applauded for her willingness to rejoin the staff despite during her previous employment having had the indignity of having a sensitive part of her anatomy pinched by a hormonal fourth former while walking up the main stairs. As for the offending student (a certain Mr Gartland) little has been heard of him since. However he too, despite today’s politically correct world, remains something of a folk hero amongst former students of the 80s (it must be said purely for that one act however).

In 1982, after 30 years of service to the School, Heath said goodbye to one of the most academically brilliant teachers of the generation in Alan Guy [1952–1982] on his retirement. At the start of his teaching career at Heath his job description was to teach Ancient History, the empire of the Medes and Persians... Ziggurats !

The students of the time may not only have been bemused by the subject matter but as much at why such an apparently normal man was so fascinated by such distant events, people and cultures. The fact was that Alan Guy (‘Froggy’ to the Boys) brought these people and these events to life through his sheer enthusiasm for the subjects. To quote one former pupil, it was as if they had died yesterday, or could be encountered at the bus-stop on the way home.

But there was more to Alan Guy. For example he was one heck of a leg spinner and could often be found in the Cricket nets. Indeed he actively coached the U14 team the year before his retirement. For those few students of the 80s who actually visited the School Library he could be found reading musty books, and he was for some considerable time the ‘keeper of the books’ as he dedicated many an hour to the development of and safe keeping of the Library. Alan was apparently responsible for the first musical production ever to be performed by the Dramatic Society, an adaptation of a play called The Mock Doctor as well as his own translation of Plautus’ Menaechmi entitled The Twins.

A man of many talents.

See the best Heath Rugby Team?

The strong tradition of the Heath School Dramatic Society continued in the Eighties in no small measure down to the dedication and talent of French teacher, Brenda Hewitt, who produced and directed the performances and who was to leave the School in 1982. Her last two productions in 1980 and 1981 (Oklahoma & Paint Your Wagon) were joint affairs with the all-girls school Princess Mary. The popularity of the Dramatic Society at this time and the plentiful volunteers from the boys to audition may, with hindsight, have been partly down to the single sex status of the school and the desire to meet girls.

The departure of Brenda Hewitt left something of a void and probably represented the end of an era for the Dramatic Society. In 1982 the Society returned to a single sex production of Kidnapped at Christmas and there was no production in 1983.

However, 1984 brought professionalism to The Dramatic Society with the introduction of an outsider to produce Romanoff & Juliet. Professional producer Mike Ward of Halifax Playhouse fame was something of a culture shock to those who had previously been involved in the society. The archetypal Producer, slightly camp, emotional and unpredictable. From day one of his introduction there was little doubt that this was going to be taken very seriously. The re-emergence of our friends from Princess Mary brought out the usual sex-starved contingent for auditions but this time people were going to have to be able to act, as well as flirt with girls.

The professionalism was not only going to be enforced on the actors with grinding sessions extending late in to the night with nobody leaving until it was right, the rest of the team who for years had skulked in the shadows were to have a surprise. There were endless sessions for the Stage Crew: scene changing, props practice, lighting sessions, sound sessions. This was not Heath School — this was Broadway.

The most noticeable surprise was for the then Stage Manager, a certain Rob Stollery. The School’s definition of a Stage Manager had evolved over the years into a quiet, retiring boy who combined building the scenery for the production with trying to co-ordinate a bunch of delinquent Roughnecks in an attempt to ensure at least 75% of props and scenery arrived in the right place at the right time during a production.

This was apparently not what a Stage Manager should do. It was made abundantly clear by Mr Ward at the first cast/crew meeting that the Stage Manager was the most important man in the Theatre. He would run the production. He would be answerable to no man (or woman) and would be treated with the utmost respect. In summary, in Mr Ward’s words, If this production fails it will be the sole responsibility of the Stage Manager ... no pressure.

It goes without saying that the more sensitive ‘Stars’ of the show were not going to be dictated to by a skinny Hippie with a hammer and an unspoken agreement seemed to develop that everyone would work as a team. That suited everyone involved (particularly the Stage Manager).

The production was of the highest quality. There may well have been many better Dramatic Society productions at Heath in years gone by but it is difficult to believe that in the history of the School there had been too many more professional ones. Ironically it would unfortunately be the last production.

It’s interesting to look back over the strongly traditional House system at Heath and in particular the House Championship that was still competitively fought over annually between the scholars in the early eighties. Interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly the House system appears in the modern age to have all but disappeared from the majority of schools within the State system. Secondly from memory (and as evidenced by reports within The Heathen) fierce rivalry between the boys was actually promoted by the system, something which more often than not appears to be actively discouraged today for fear of alienating the perceived ‘weaker’ contingent in the School. Most interesting would appear to be the almost monopolistic inclusion of sport as the measure of a House’s performance over the year.

Where the House system exists today it appears to be aimed at a more overall, rounded student with the inclusion of House points based on academic performance and achievement other than sport. Indeed at Heath one has to go back to the House Championship table of the year 1978/79 to find any inclusion of non-sporting events when ‘House Chess’ appears to be the only almost academic contribution to the competition. Even then the points system discriminated against it by classing it as a ‘Minor’ event and awarding points on the basis of 9,6,3 for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place compared to 15,10,5 for Swimming, Basketball, Rugby, Cross Country, Athletics and Cricket.

It is hard to believe that many former pupils of the School have regretted in their future lives the ethos of competition promoted by the School and such events as the House Championship, whether they were ‘sporty’ or not. Regardless of sporting ability the benefit of competition can surely only be beneficial, win or lose. The words of Roosevelt spring to mind in his ‘Man in the Arena’ speech:

The credit belongs to the Man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. He who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, because there is not effort without error and shortcomings.

He who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at worst fails, at least he fails daring greatly.

His place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.

The House system at Heath suggests two main ideals about the School: the obvious importance of sport but probably more importantly the value placed by the School on participation, competition, winning and equally as important living with the taste of defeat.

The decade was one dominated politically by the Conservatives and a certain Mrs Thatcher. On National elections were held, the result of which was probably in little doubt. So much is said today on the subject of voter apathy and the lack of interest in Politics from the younger generation but not in 1983 and not at Heath Grammar School. The School held its own mock election. Whether it was supposed to be a serious exercise to open the eyes of Students to their responsibilities in future life or just something to do, who knows. The resulting election was, however, quite remarkable, both in terms of the interest it raised from the boys and the parallels to the real thing.

Four students from the lower Sixth entered the fray along with their back up support, the party leaders were:

Conservative: David Holland

A well-groomed handsome looking chap from a wealthy background, destined for a place at Oxford University. He was polite, lucid and every mother’s dream boy. He took the responsibility very seriously, played by the rules and ran a quality, well rounded campaign based on sound, important issues.

Labour: Michael Priestley

A lad from a working class background, who, from memory, left school early to get a job and earn some money. He was straight to the point and wore his heart on his sleeve. His policies were aimed at the underdog with an agenda for change.

Alliance: Fazal Ellahi

Exceedingly clever academically, second-generation immigrant with an agenda neither matching that of the Conservative candidate or that of Labour. He wanted to change things but didn’t seem totally sure what he wanted to change.

Unofficial Monster Raving Loony Party: Nick Tobin

An Actor, a Rugby player and someone who flunked his GCE year and had to re-sit the year after.

Following the initial campaigns each candidate had to find a £2.00 deposit which all four managed to do through wealthy/generally anonymous beneficiaries. More difficult was finding the ten nominees required to back the candidate. The Conservatives had support, Labour was reasonably popular and the UMRLP had Tobin’s Rugby connections including some big lads whom the first and second formers were keen to oblige (or in reality face the consequences of not obliging). As for the Alliance Party there was insufficient support. They did the honourable thing in pulling out of the race and pledging their support to the Conservatives who they presumably thought were bound to win and would then look on them in a good light.1

So then there were three. Campaigning continued and in true fashion the Conservatives utilised Daddy’s business’s photocopier to produce election manifestos of some quality. Labour didn’t waste money on such luxuries and spent considerable time standing on boxes shouting to small crowds of bemused kids who really only wanted them to move their box out of the middle of their football pitch. UMRLP had no money but Tobin was an actor with a talent for talking. He persuaded the School Secretary to let them use the School facilities to produce his dossier.

Each different approach had its merits and the polls were close until the day each Candidate was to stand on the School stage and preach to the hoards. Holland stood in front of the curtains and delivered a professional, methodical and reasoned speech that was greeted reasonably well. Priestley tried to arouse the masses with a stirring delivery including words such as ‘fairness,’ ‘equality,’ ‘re-distribution’ etc.

The key ingredient was missing from both speeches, these two Candidates didn’t have the connections that Mr Tobin had. Tobin didn’t appear on stage in front of the curtains; he went behind the curtains. A bunch of burly Rugby players proceeded to close all the curtains in the assembly and switch the lights off and after a dramatic moment’s silence Tobin’s Dramatic Society connections were pressed in to action. The sound system played at full volume Fanfare for the Common Man, the stage curtains opened slowly to flashing, multicoloured lighting effects and the dry ice clouds began to flow. He talked nonsense but the deal was sealed.

Connections, the ability to blag and a bunch of heavies secured Tobin his election victory. UMRLP — 102, Labour — 48, Conservative — 47. On the basis the Upper Sixth were on exam leave at the time an approximate 65% turnout was commendable.

The year before closure of the School saw the departure of Albert Crosby [1971–1984], the 22nd and penultimate Headmaster of the School since inception. Ironically Mr Crosby (‘Bing’ to the boys) had taken over the office of Headmaster at a time when official talk first came to light over the subject of School closures and mergers. Still for over a decade he ran the School through periods of uncertainty and not only continued its success but developed it through his years in charge. He was a mathematician and had a reputation for being a Wizard when it came to putting together the timetable annually.

Head and shoulders of John Bunch
John Bunch

John Bunch (known to the boys as ‘Mr Bunch’ or ‘Sir’) succeeded Mr Crosby. John had the unenviable task of overseeing the transition from Heath Grammar School to The Crossley Heath School and it’s probably fair to say that, if you wanted a man to oversee this specific task, you couldn’t have found one better or more capable. John would go on to be Headmaster of the Crossley Heath School between the years 1991 and 2001 and will always be credited with developing The Crossley Heath School into the revered school it is today, with a reputation recognised not just locally but nationally.

John was one of a number of long serving Heath Schoolmasters who would move on to teach at Crossley Heath. One cannot comment individually on all those members of staff who remained at Heath until the end of the day or moved on to the new school. This piece refers in more detail to a number of members of Staff who retired or moved on to pastures new in the 1980s but unfortunately it’s a fact of life that people generally only say nice things about you when you’ve left somewhere, retired or you’re dead.

The most notable of those Masters who were there to ‘switch the lights off’ included: J.M. Newton (‘Joey’), D.R.A. Morton (‘Moggy’), J.E.M. Blythe (‘Jemb’), P.F. Hand (‘Captain Hand’), A.V. Edwards (‘Stumpy Joe’), G.M. Stansfield (‘Stanny’) I.C. Hogley (‘Chogley’), R.F. Eastwood (‘Clint’) and R.A. Kay (‘Fat Geoff’). Between them they contributed a huge amount to Heath Grammar School, both in terms of years served and in pure dedication to the job.

The decision to close the school was made in . It is probably incorrect to use the word ‘close’ as much was made at the time that Heath were merely merging with The Crossley and Porter School and that this would not be the end of Heath’s long history. Whether this stance was supposed to pacify the traditionalists all but the most blinkered must have considered what was proposed as closure in all but name. Some may argue this was merely progression but many would apply the old adage: If it ain’t broke etc.

By some cruel twist the news was broken (if you can ‘break’ inevitable news) during the run up to the School’s four hundredth Anniversary. The 400th celebration was not geared around the date the first foundation stone was laid on site in 1598, nor the ringing of the first bell signalling commencement of lessons in 1600. The anniversary was to celebrate the signing of documentation by Queen Elizabeth I granting the Royal Charter for a free grammar school in Halifax.

The anniversary was celebrated at a dinner on , exactly 400 years on from the granting of the Charter and was attended by the three remaining living headmasters of the school, Mr W.R. Swale [1946–1971], Mr A. Crosby [1971–1984] and Heath’s last Headmaster Mr J. Bunch. Further events included a commemorative Rugby match, an Elizabethan evening and the production of limited addition plates, beakers etc.

What of the decision to merge Heath with its age old, deadliest rival, The Crossley and Porter School? This raised many an eyebrow at the time and in more recent times may have warranted some discussion over the necessity to provide a significant Police presence at the new school on the first day of term. If nothing else the decision would seem to negate the perceived view that the local education authority members, who were fundamental in making the decisions to close/merge the School, did not have a sense of humour!

Heath Grammar School [1585–1985], the establishment, undoubtedly has its place in History. The ethos and values of the School are still and always will be present under the guise of The Crossley Heath School. In addition Heath and all it stood for will live on through its Old Boys and after that through future generations that follow.

Rob Stollery [Heath 1977–1984]

1 Fazal Ellahi has responded in a letter to this account of the elections.