Thursday, 20 September 2018

Britain is a country where old men, once lads, remember a summer's afternoon in 1965, in a school called Eltham Green and "We will yell with all of our might"

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This Frank today and retired, but back in the summer of 1965, alongside Stan, George and Bill, he was an 18 year old school leaver. All of them were post-Second World War baby boomers and pupils in a huge South East London comprehensive school called Eltham Green. George died in a motor accident when he was in his twenties in the 1970s and Stan, who was a well respected family doctor in Whitehaven, died last year. Of Bill, I know not.

Eltham Green was demolished in 2015, but in 1965 it was only 9 years old and was one of London County Council's newly-built, showpiece schools dedicated to the principle of an egalitarian education for its 2,500 pupils. Despite it being so young, a 'tradition' had started that, the Sixth Form school leavers would do something to disrupt the Head Master's 'Sixth Form Leavers' Service' in the school hall which had an audience of a thousand pupils and staff.

Up to that point, the sixth form jape had been fairly mediocre stuff : the year before planting alarm clocks in cupboards in the hall, timed to go off when the Old Man, Mr Davies, was into his speech and the year before that. chaining the exit doors, so no one could get out.

This year, 1965, would be in a different league and memorable. The more so since a number of dignitaries would be present in the front row including Dick Crossman, was then Minister of Housing and
Local Government in Harold Wilson's Labour Government and had spoken the year before at the school's sixth form conference on the subject of 'Science and Society'. They were there to mark the passing out of the first cohort of pupils to graduate having spent their full seven years, from the age of 11 to 18, in the school.

The night before this Leavers' Service, the four lads met for 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, Here, armed with a master key, which Frank had 'borrowed' from the Head of Science, Mr Bousfield, they entered the hall through a side door.

Once inside the darkened hall, the tick of the clock startled them, but they put their plan into effect. They found and placed three tables, on on top of the other and surmounted by a chair under the wooden sounding board above the stage and closest to the wall and fearless Bill, climbed to the summit carrying a boxed radio speaker, which had previously been located in a music room behind the stage. He then placed the speaker out of sight, at the bottom of the wooden sounding board closest to the wall.

Fed into the back of the speaker and running from it was a single shellac-insulated wire, which the lads ran discreetly down to the floor by way of the corner between the wall and wooden cladding at the back of the hall and thence under the door and into the corridor behind the stage which led in turn to a succession of small music rooms.

They fed the wire, now at ground level, into one of these rooms and into the back of a reel-to reel tape recorder. George then placed the spooled tape he had brought with him on the deck and fed the tape onto the blank spool. The lads then made their exit from the school in the early hours of the morning, locking the hall door behind them.

After lunch the next day, the hall began to fill up. First the younger kids downstairs and then the Sixth Form in the balcony. The service was due to start at 2 o'clock and at 1.50, Frank, made his way to the music room and switched on the tape recorder.

It would play the music which they had compiled after after listening to hours of hours of broadcasts from a pirate radio station which they had recorded by means of a microphone placed in front of a transistor radio. It was George, the group's technician, who spliced the tape once they had found the music they wanted to play. It was also George who had master-minded the single shellac wire. Before he left the music room, Frank placed a tray of glasses on top of the recorder and then made his exit and joined the rest of the Sixth Form with their tutors on the balcony of the hall.

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 :

Now is the time to say Goodbye
Now is the time to yield a sigh (yield it, yield it)
Now is the time to wend our waaaayeeeeee
Until we meet again
Some sunny day.

We're leaving now,
We wish you all goodbye
Fartatata, fartatata..

The Headmaster, Mr Davies sat down. The pupils erupted in laughter and teachers in the hall ran around like blue-arsed flies, trying to find from where the blast of music was coming. They were  unsuccessful. After playing for two and a half minutes, 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, but before he did so, with good grace thanked the perpetrators and said :"Better than the alarm clocks, I must admit and let's move on."

Unbeknown to him or anyone in hall or school, except the lads on the balcony and one or two other  sixth formers, including Phil, from this point the tape played blank for about another ten minutes. In fact, Mr Davies had finished his speech and sat down and the service was about to end when Phil, realising that the finale would be lost, sprang to his feet and to force a delay, yelled out : "Three Cheers for the Headmaster."

The cheers came and were then enveloped by the music.

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.

The laughter was deafening. Kids started dancing in the aisles. The service was at an end.

At this point the Upper Sixth, Form Tutor, Mr Callum, seated with the sixth form on the balcony, said to Frank : "Nine out of Ten Hickman."

He was wrong. It was, indisputably, "10 out of 10".

The story of the lads' ruse spread to all South London school kids and doubtless their teachers. Somehow the lads did what youth and the Dave Clark Five did in the 1965 when they sang :
"We will yell with all of our might."

After the event, all the lads left school for the remainder of that term with the exception of Frank. Unfortunately, the Headmaster had decided to take things seriously after the local press picked up the story and because there was a suspicion the lads had broken into the school. Apparnetly, another sixth former 'grassed' on Frank who was summoned to the Headmaster's Office and expelled. As a postscript, he went on the gain a degree in physics and a doctorate based on relativity and then after teaching for a few years, built his own company, a successful consultancy in IT management within the financial services sector. 

Eltham Green : demolished in 2015

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