Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Britain in 1965 : a South London School called 'Eltham Green Comprehensive' and the confidence of youth

The events I am about to unfold took place in the summer of 1965 at a huge secondary school, built to house 2,500 post Second World War, South London, baby boomers, called Eltham Green Comprehensive School.

My reporting is reliable, because the story was told to me by Frank, one of the participants.

A kind of tradition had started to grow up that, the Sixth Form school leavers would do something to disrupt the Head Master's speech in the school hall, the occasion being : 'Farewell to the Sixth Formers' in front of the  thousand pupils in attendance and relayed by the tanoi broadcasting system to the rest of the school, seated in their form rooms.
It had all been fairly mediocre stuff in the past, like planting alarm clocks in cupboards in the hall, timed to go off when the Old Man was into his speech or chaining the exit doors, so no one could get out.

This year would be in a different league and memorable.

The night before this Leavers' Service, 5 of the lads in the sixth form : Jim, Frank, Bill, George and Mick had a drink in the local Yorkshire Grey pub and, after closing time, and dressed in dark clothing, climbed over the school gates and made their way to the hall, where, by chance, they found a door open.

Once inside the darkened hall the tick of the clock startled them. They put their plan into effect. Bill stood on tables and chairs and placed an old fashioned loud speaker, out of sight, on the wooden sounding board, way up above the stage. A single wire was then run from the speaker, down the wall, through the door opening and along the corner of the floor of the corridor behind the hall and into one of the small music rooms. The wire was fed into an old fashioned reel-to reel tape recorder. A spooled tape was placed on the deck and connected to a blank spool. The lads then made their exit from the school.

After lunch the next day, the hall began to fill up. First the younger kids downstairs and then the Sixth Form in the balcony. It was at this point that Frank had been delegated to make his way to the music room to switch on the tape, which George had spent hours searching to record from a pirate radio station on the radio, was timed to play blank for 20 minutes. He noticed that the indicator light was on and so placed the leather bag of one music teachers against it and a tray of glasses on top for good measure. He then made his exit and went to the balcony.

The Old Man was well into his speech with the usual stuff about 'torch bearers' when the first blast of music came out of the hidden speaker :

The Headmaster sat down angry and perplexed. Teachers ran around like blue-arsed flies, trying to find from where the blast of music was coming and were unsuccessful. The kids were collapsed in laughter.
Two and a half minutes later Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's "Goodbye" finished. It was then that the Old Man made his big mistake. He got to his feet and resumed his speech saying that the perpetrators would be found out.

Unbeknown to him or anyone in hall or school, except the lads on the balcony, the tape played blank for another few minutes and then :

Here they come again, mmmm-mm-mm,
Catch us if you can, mmmm-mm-mm,
Time to get a move on, mmmm-mm-mm,
We will yell with all of our might.

Catch us if you can ......

Now we gotta run, mmmm-mm-mm,
No more time for fun, mmmm-mm-mm,
When we're gettin' angry, mmmm-mm-mm,
We will yell with all of our might.

Catch us if you can .....

Here they come again, mmmm-mm-mm,
Catch us if you can, mmmm-mm-mm,
Time to get a move on, mmmm-mm-mm,
We will yell with all of our might.

Catch us if you can.

With no guarantee of protection from unending interruptions, the Headmaster left the stage. He got the police in, but they could find nothing, since the lads had not forced an entry and caused no damage to school property.

The story of the lads' ruse spread to all South London school kids year and doubtless teachers, that year. Somehow they were doing what youth and the Dave Clark Five did in the 1960s when they shouted :

                           "We will yell with all of our might."
Our Sixth Form tutor seated with the sixth form on the balcony, Mr Callum, had said to Jim : "Nine out of ten 'Wilson'".

He was wrong, it was "10 out of 10".

The Headmaster got the police in, but they could find nothing, since the lads had not forced an entry.

Sadly, George, the mastermind behind the single wire and tape died in a motor accident just a few years after he played his role in this brilliant exploit.


  1. Found this site by accident! I remember this as if it were yesterday - where I put my specs today is more of a problem. Am in touch with a few ex -students from this time and we are trying to contact more so we can do big reunion before we get too old/grumpy!
    Madeleine ( nee Lainchbury) Bardell

    1. Any dates let me know ..Alan Waddell (Wadsy)

  2. I remember Madeleine Lainchbury, you and I were in the same year. I've lost contact with all, except Frank Hickman. Let me know about any reunion. You might remember me as Joe Cooper.

  3. I was the only black pupil in the school when it opened in 1956. I survived and is just writing up my experiences in my family history. Would like to hear from anyone who remembered Shirley Baker.

  4. I was also there and I was known as "Aggy"