Old Uffingtonians Association (1994)

   Willesden County Grammar School                         Ex-Pupils 1924-1967                    


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Memories of the School 1954-61

Remembering School, 1954 to 1961 (Jim Kemeny)

I always felt a bit on the margins, being shy and a bit of a loner and struggling to pass exams. But I remember the school with affection, and this remarkable website has wakened many memories for me.  I was a below-average pupil, without the saving grace of being good at sport.  The forms were streamed in those days.  I can't remember now which lower school classes I was in by letter, but it was the bottom one (F?).

The person who made the biggest impact on me was Dr. Roberts with his quiet dignity and authority whom we saw daily in assembly.  His firm belief in not using corporal punishment was advanced for the times and he spoke of the poor of the world with compassion.

My class was always very unruly but our French class was particularly bad, so Mr Konigsberg took it over (he got his doctorate later).  I remember clearly his first entrance into the class.  He stormed in, slamming the door after him, scowling and looking quite ferocious. The whole class was cowed and terrified of him from the very start and his demand for "the silence of the grave" was thereafter always obeyed totally.  He achieved an instant and remarkable transformation.  The punishment he dealt out regularly to any who broke this rule was to write out a hundred 10-letter words.  I was so convinced that I would one day be given this punishment that I prepared a hundred 10-letter words in advance!  This "prep" work turned out not to have been wasted...

Several teachers proved an enduring source of inspiration to me.  In the lower school Mr Eddon gave me an interest in history which I retain to this day, while from Mr Mansfield I gained a fascination with human geography.  History and geography came together for me in an interest in local history.  In the sixth form Miss Halliday's inspired teaching of Shakespeare - both the way she spoke it and the way she explained it - gave me a love for the bard's plays, while Mr Crow did much to help me appreciate more modern poetry.

School dances terrified me as in those days dancing alone was unheard of and boys had to ask a girl to dance.  I had my share of teenage crushes but will pass over this in silence except to say that I recognised one or two of the girls in the various photographs on this website.  Apart from one sex lesson for which the boys and girls were separated (although as far as I can remember it was really little more than a biology lesson), the only regular classes that were not co-ed were boys doing woodwork and girls doing domestic science.  It may not say much for segregated classes that I am a hopeless handyman (despite Mr. Crampton's best attempts) but a passable cook.

The ATC Hut, unheated and with its distinctive bodily smells, where we changed for gym and sports evokes a shudder, and running across the playground in freezing rain wearing nothing but shorts and plimsolls to attend the gym class with Mr Rees was an experience to forget.  The cross-country race (in reality round-the-streets race) was an annual horror that I dreaded.  It left me hobbling with cramped leg muscles for a week afterwards.  But I often won the 100 yards sprint and I was good enough in the 6th form to represent the school in the shot (though I was hopelessly outclassed at the next level in the county competition).

I barely scraped through my Ordinary Level GCEs, which meant I could do my Advanced Levels.  I think I may have been the only boy from my fifth form class going on to the 6th form.  By this time I was also in the school orchestra under Mr Taylor as second fiddle alongside Marion Hine.  The sixth form was also a time for school trips, and I particularly remember one to Box Hill and another to Stanmore to study pond life.

In the sixth form, from autumn 1959 to summer 1961, I had lost my best friend who left.  I was also one of the few pupils who lived in Harlesden rather than other parts of Willesden - Kilburn, Cricklewood, Golders Green. It meant I had the luxury of walking home from school through Roundwood Park rather than taking the bus up Robson Avenue like most of my classmates.  But on the downside it meant I never joined any of the after-school coffee-bar socialising at a time when coffee bars were beginning to be popular.  So this was a time when I was feeling rather alone.

It did leave time for swotting, though, so it meant I got just good enough A.L.s to squeak into a place at Leicester University to do social sciences, one of the few universities in those days that allowed entry without Latin.  Again it was Mr. Eddon who came to my rescue with his excellent guidance as to which universities to apply to.

Breaking up for the summer at the end of year assembly and singing the concluding hymn that was sung just once a year, that last collective act of the school year, always brought a lump to my throat, and this was especially so that final summer of 1961 which marked the ending of my school years.  Even today when I hear the hymn or even sing it to myself, I feel strangely moved.

My parents moved away from Harlesden shortly after I went to university so I have never returned, except for one brief visit in the mid-90s to show my elder son where I was brought up.  We also visited the school and had a quick look inside.  It was still recognisable but how it had changed!  I remember my years in WCGS with fondness, though I sadly lost contact with everyone.  This website brings it all back vividly.

Jim Kemeny