Graham Pearcey

Graham Pearcey

Memories of School

Queen Elizabeth's (Grammar) School 1965-1972

We started at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in 1965. One was supposed to pass an "11 Plus" exam to qualify. I must have been borderline because I qualified after an interview. So our junior school class was split down the middle: half ("Grammar Bugs") went to QEGS and half ("Secondary Snobs") to Ferndown Secondary Modern. The taunts were harmless enough; the two groups soon grew apart.

I can picture us lining up to enter the main block of the Annexe (off East Borough) on my very first morning at QEGS. The Annexe was home to "first and second forms" (years 7 and 8 in today's terminology) and comprised one large block with a number of classrooms and a laboratory; a music hut; one other hut; and a tumbledown house that was strictly out of bounds.

Of course I remember the layout at King Street even better. Classrooms 1 through 8 were in the "new" block with two labs (physics and chemistry), a library and an art room. The short-cut path behind the bushes in front of this block was for staff and (I think) prefects only. Room 9 was in the Technical Drawing and Woodwork block where Mr Woolley taught. (He was also a sidesman at the Methodist Church, so included Divinity - later R.I., R.K. or R.E. - among his subjects.) Rooms 10 and 11 were in the black hut from which you could often see peacocks strutting around the grounds of the old Methodist Church (which preceded the current J. Arthur Rank building). Rooms 12 through 16 were all upstairs in the "old" block which housed Big School (the main hall - now an open courtyard). Behind Big School were a biology lab and a former section of corridor that had been converted into its prep room. The Governors' Room doubled as the music classroom. Next to it was the sixth form common room until that moved to a new hut in the yard, alongside the general science lab and the low wall over which all new boys had to be pushed by older boys as an initiation ritual!

In years 7 and 8 we had to go to the main school in King Street for certain lessons, but the timetable was so arranged that the walk to or from the Annexe always took place during a break. I don't know whether the school had a photocopier or not, but one of our first tasks was to copy by hand our weekly timetables. These included "preparation" (i.e. homework) which in year 7 was three subjects, twenty minutes each, per night.

I've been asked to write something about how well girls and boys mixed. Of course, we'd been mixed at school since infancy so there was no novelty about the presence of girls, but as far as I remember in the early days I mainly hung out with other boys. The boys and girls sat on opposite sides of the classroom, and the register (read out each morning) consisted of all boys in alphabetic order of surname, followed by all girls. I think the teachers addressed boys by their surnames and girls by their Christian names, at least in the younger classes.

An early memory of girls is of them frequently rushing off to the loo to rub soap onto their stockings (and, of course, I mean stockings) to prevent ladders from elongating. In the late sixties when the general fashion was towards short skirts, many of the girls rolled up their waistbands to make the skirts shorter than regulation length, resulting in an unseemly bulge below the stomach! The girls wore striped dresses and straw hats in the summer, and "chocolate" blazers, jumpers and skirts in the winter - just like our blazers and jumpers. The uniform also included "chocolate and cerise" striped ties, and berets (girls) or caps (boys) bearing the colour of your "house" - Glyn, Richmond, Derby or School. Few boys had progressed to long trousers or girls to stockings by the time they arrived at the Grammar School at age 10 or 11.

The headwear was the one aspect of our uniform which I recall being universally unpopular. On the bus home we all took off our caps once we'd passed under the (long since demolished) Leigh Road railway bridge, under the (mistaken) impression that we were now outside the school's jurisdiction.

At a later stage (year 10 or 11 I think) one got to wear a school regulation sports jacket, and in the sixth form a black blazer. When we went comprehensive (about which more later) chocolate and cerise were replaced by blue and grey so then most of the uniform could be bought at M&S! The new school tie had the QES motif in silver or - for sixth formers - gold.

I remember many teachers, and most of them had nicknames in the earlier days. The reason Mrs Thorpe (the rotund art mistress) was known as "Mabel" didn't become apparent to me until years after leaving school when I spotted a direction sign to Mablethorpe in Lincolnshire.

The reason for "Inky" Stephens wasn't obvious to us at the time either, because the inkwells in the desks had long since dried up. Inky made use of reel-to-reel tapes, which began with the words "Now we're going to do a little verb revisionů ". At his final assembly he said he'd bequeath the tapes to the school. A favourite saying of his was "trifles make perfection, and perfection is not a trifle". He also used to be fastidious about the desks and chairs being lined up neatly and said his job in heaven would be to arrange the furniture. He's probably doing it now.

We wondered how "Frosty" Hoare would react when a child brought in a letter from a parent, addressed to "Dear Mr Frost". But he just laughed; as he did on the occasion he caught a boy squinting through the keyhole into the girls' changing rooms. At our first ever rugby period (boys played one term each of rugby, soccer and cricket) he told any boys wearing vests or pants to go back to the changing room and take them off because real men didn't wear such things under rugby kit.

"Gunner" Holman taught History and was presumably named for his quaint habit of pacing up and down with a long wooden stick slung over his shoulder like a gun.

Mrs Gray was based in the prefabricated hut (room 17) next to the gym and fives courts in King Street. She would complain vociferously if anyone called her "Miss" (following the pattern of Sir or Miss depending on sex).

Some of our teachers are - of course - still known in Wimborne to this day. John Worth was nicknamed "Harry" for a popular TV comedian of the time, who starred in Bournemouth for many a summer season. Grant Bocking flipped a coin to decide who would be the Monday/Wednesday/Friday principals and who the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday ones in The Mikado. Bob Briggs ("Briggs" = "Bridge" = "Pontus", he told us) didn't use a single word of English in our first Latin lesson. Keith Newman helped us to remember that matrices are described in terms of rows times columns (not vice versa) by pointing out that the initials spelled RC "which is what I am".

When the school leaving age was raised (15 to 16) every school was entitled to a ROSLA block. Ours was block K at Pamphill, which became the maths block. Mr Newman was convinced it was named for him! Blocks A and B were built a year or so earlier to enable the King Street site to be vacated.

Although we had known many of the "Secondary Snobs" up to the age of ten we had grown apart from them. So by the time of comprehensivisation (yes, there was such a word!) they could have been creatures from outer space for all we knew. Our worst fears seemed to have been confirmed the very first time we went to Pamphill to look around; we saw a boy crossing the yard (behind what is now G block) and urinating as he walked!

Being sixth formers by then, we weren't greatly impacted by the merger because the old Pamphill school didn't have a sixth form. Our new common room was in A block and we tried to insist that staff knocked on the door before entering. We shared a dining room with staff, just beyond our common room. Most of the staff were willing to queue with us, but one or two insisted on jumping the line.

Generally, though, the teachers were more left wing than we were. When the old Head Boy and Head Girl roles (effectively head prefects selected by the staff) were to be replaced by Chairman and Vice-chairman of the Sixth Form Council, the staff urged us to exercise our democratic votes. But most of us weren't bothered. By a strange quirk, Vice-chairman was defined as the student with the highest number of votes who was the opposite sex to the Chairman. To this day I don't see the logic of that.

The school didn't have a single computer when we left in '72. (PCs hadn't even been invented.) On Monday nights Mr Newman would take some of us by minibus to Winfrith Atomic Energy Establishment. Whilst there we would raid the vending machines (which were strictly speaking out of bounds!), or ride the lift in the library which was a continuous one without doors. There were signs saying not under any circumstances to stay in this lift beyond the top or bottom floor; so of course we did! But what we really went to Winfrith for, was to input Fortran programs and data into a KDF9 mainframe by the only available method: punched cards. On our return to Wimborne - I guess we can't get in trouble for owning up now - we would have a pint of beer in the Stable Bar at the Dormers. Meanwhile, the computer churned out the answers and invariably the (A3) printouts were sent to Weymouth Grammar School because they just had the initials "WGS" on them. As Weymouth's night was a Wednesday this just goes to show how slow computers were in those days!

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