You are here: Home

Need Acrobat Reader for PDF documents?

Early years

9 January 2008    I have decided to develop this page into more of a memoir than just a concise record of the facts, inspired by the fact that I will soon become about as retired as I will ever get this side of the grave and also by reading Untold Tales, by Alan Bennett. Bennett’s recall of trivial events in his early life (and he’s seven years older than I am) is extraordinary, and I want to find out how much of my own early life I can dredge up. I apologise for any indiscretions - I just hope anyone I mention by name is either too old to care or long gone. Obviously there will be more detail in the early parts of the page to begin with, but if you find it interesting please try to keep coming back. In return, I’ll try to keep developing it. Obviously, as an electronic document, it will get edited and re-edited as more memories come flooding back, so please don’t assume that what you’ve already read will remain the same - at least scan through the whole thing.

29 August 2008 I was recently contacted by my best mate for some years from about 1960-1, with whom I lost touch around 1975. For reasons of arthritis and privacy, he uses the name Voltarol (a pill for arthritics who, unlike me, aren’t man enough for unadulterated Diclofenac). He has a fascinating and rapidly-growing blog at - lots about folk, jazz and Bazilian music, and bits about me!

17 September 2012 I recently received a comment from Teresa Stokes correcting my geography regarding the flat where my parents lived before I was born and the hospital where I was born in 1943, but I think I?ll leave my hazy recollections as they are!

Birth to school

I was born at about 6am on the 18 January 1943 in Queen Charlotte’s Hospital (still a maternity hospital, I find from a Google search) in Du Cane Road, right next door to Wormwood Scrubs prison. As this was 2½ years before the end of World War II, it will come as no surprise that my birth was not a planned one. What is surprising is that I was told this when quite young by my mother, who went on to explain that I was the result of a failed birth-control device - something called a pessary, and specifically a Volpar Gel. She was like that, my Mum - extraordinarily indiscreet and seemingly quite unaware of the inappropriateness of some of the things she discussed with me at various times in my young life.

Apparently I was ’too lazy to start breathing’ and spent my first few hours in an oxygen tent. Despite this, I was a healthy baby and child, having less illness than many of my contemporaries, and I’ve been blessed with pretty good health right up to the age of 65.

My parents, Cyril (born on the 10 September 1911 and known as ’Bill’) and Ivy (née Lawrence, born on the 30 May 1910 and known as ’Pete’) Marsden both grew up in the Dewsbury/Beeston area of Leeds. This is now a predominantly Muslim area, as Patricia and I discovered when we paid it a visit a few years ago. It’s also the area from which most of the 7/7 bombers originated - some of them having played football in (or ’on’, as the locals say, as in ’Gramma, can I go on t’ park?’, as I recall a young neighbour of my own Granny shouting) Cross Flatts Park, where my parents had played as children. Eerie...

My Dad was the only child of Percy Marsden, who was among other things a ’Man from the Pru’ (a door-to-door insurance agent for the Prudential, for younger readers, one of many who did their rounds on push-bikes, collecting a few pence or shillings a week from their customers on the doorstep, with their trousers held in cycle-clips) and a tobacco rep, which explains his amazing collection of cigarette cards, from which I derived so much pleasure as a small boy. As I write, I don’t know the name of Dad’s mother, who died of multiple sclerosis when I was quite young, but I do know that she was a successful professional singer in the working-men’s clubs of the area.

Dad’s parents, who lived in Doncaster (amazingly, only a few miles from where I now live, having arrived here from London via Cornwall and Derby), separated when my Dad was very young, though I don’t know how young, and he was brought up in Beeston by his grandparents - presumably the maternal ones as I believe their surname was Barstow rather than Marsden. My great-grandfather was a master builder and decorator, and I know he raised and fattened a pig in the yard of his house every year, as many city-dwellers did in those days: I remember my Dad telling me how his grandfather strove to produce a ’flitch’ of bacon that was pure white fat; I suppose it wasn’t difficult to raise an animal with the minimum of muscle on kitchen scaps in the confined yard of a back-to-back terraced house, where it was probably kept almost permanently in its sty.

I knew my Grandpa well as a young child, because he and Florrie (my ’Nana’, to whom he wasn’t married until later) moved to London, living in Palmers Green for most of my early childhood. The picture below is the only one I can find of him at the moment. It shows (left-to-right) Florrie, Grandpa, my Mum’s mother (my ’Granny’), my Dad and my Mum, obviously on holiday somewhere which might or might not be Butlins at Skegness. By a process of elimination, I guess I must have been behind the camera, but I have no recollection of a holiday with the whole family.

Nanny, Grandpa,Granny, Dad and Mum on holiday

My Mum was the youngest of three children. Her older brother was Harry and her older sister was Evelyn (pronouced ’Evv-lyn’, not ’Eev-Lyn’. Uncle Harry and his wife Lily ran a pub, which I can remember visitng as a small boy. By then, he had died, and Auntie Lily was killed not too long afterwards in a motorcycle accident. Mum’s father died when she was quite a young woman, long before I was born, an experience which she found deeply traumatic because she was very close to him. This is reflected in the only picture I have of him, with my Mum.

My mother and her father at home in Leeds

I knew my Granny quite well, as she used to come and stay with us in London and I visited her with my Mum for a least a couple of stays - the last, I think, just before I started grammar school in 1954. She died when I was at least 16: I can remember taking the call my other Uncle Harry, Evelyn’s husband, breaking the news. You can see her in the holiday group photograph above, and here’s another showing her on a visit to London (possibly at Piccadilly Circus?) in all her almost Edwardian glory with my Mum, me, my cousin Geoff (son of Mum’s brother Harry) and Geoff’s first wife Pauline. My natty Harris tweed suit, with two pairs of shorts, was made by Auntie Evelyn’s Harry, who was a highly respected tailor’s cutter in Leeds, the capital of the Yorkshire wool industry).

Mum, me, my cousin Geoff, his first wife Pauline and Granny in London

Granny, too, lived in a back-to-back - this one at 21 Brompton Terrace, off Trentham Street in Leeds 11. It is extraordinary to think of a family of five living in one of these tiny houses. I’m sure Granny’s had just a parlour (with a black-leaded iron range on which food was cooked) and a scullery (where food was prepared and washing-up was done) downstairs, a cellar below where coal was stored and laundry was done using a ’copper’, heated presumably by gas, and a huge cast-iron mangle (my Mum’s more compact version was known in our flat as a wringer for some reason), one (or possibly two) bedrooms on the first floor and an attic. There was no bathroom - the bath in the scullery, with its lid down, provided a kitchen work surface and I don’t think it had a hot-water supply: this had to come from the range in a kettle. The only lavatory (as I had been taught to call it, ’toilet’ being considered very ’common’ and ’loo not, I think, having yet entered the language) was under the pavement at the end of the front yard, and was shared wth the next-door neighbours. I remember being amazed that I was expected to wipe my bottom on one of the torn sheets of newspaper that hung from a nail on the back of the door. How far we can come in a lifetime, from that to the unlimited hot water from a combi-boiler, two loos, two mains-pressure showers and bidet which Patricia and I enjoy today.

Mum and Dad at Auntie Evekyn’s wedding (I think)

I just had to include this wonderful picture from the 1930s of my Mum and Dad. I’m fairly sure it was taken at Auntie Evelyn’s wedding, with Mum as a bridesmaid. I’m absolutely sure Dad’s suit was another of Uncle Harry’s superb efforts. I’m not too crazy about my Dad’s ’en brosse’ hairstyle; the only thing you can say for it is that this was before the Nazis came to power! Mum’s dress is stunning - in fact, Mum is stunning.

My parents had come to London as newlyweds in the 1930s so that Dad could find a decent job. Despite a rocky start in life, he had ’made something of himself’. He had won a scholarship to Cockburn High School, the top grammar school in Leeds (remember: this was a very long time before the 1944 Education Acter created a real state education system). He had managed to stay on in the sixth form, rather than being sent out to work, by taking on the job of chemistry lab assistant at the school. He then won another scholarship, this time to Leeds University, where he earned money both as a lab technician and as a jazz pianist, entertaining the students in the union bar. With an honours BSc in Chemistry, he decided to try his luck in the capital. First, though, he bought a typewriter and wrote countless letters to prospective employers, eventually landing a job with the chemicals division of British Drug Houses Ltd (not the sort of name you’d give a firm these days!). From there he moved on to Hopkin and Williams Ltd, and finally to British Industrial Solvents Ltd (BISOL). BISOL was taken over by The Distillers Company Ltd (producers of many popular brands of gin and whisky), and became the Distillers Chemical Division. Much later this was taken over by BP, the company from which he retired early, at the age of 60, in 1971.

As a national expert in the field of industrial solvents, he was encouraged to edit what became the standard work on the subject: Solvents and allied Substances Manual, which was first published in 1954 by the Cleaver-HUme Press Ltd in London and Elsevier Press Inc in Houston, Texas, and New York. Later editions became the Solvents Guide. A quick Google has just found a secondhand copy of the 1964 edition, published by Macmillan (who must have swallowed Cleaver-Hume), on Amazon for £60 - and another on a site called Antiqbook for £56! It’s even quoted as a reference in a patent application made for a weedkiller by Du Pont in 1998, which suggests that it’s still the standard reference work on the subject. Wow!

When they first came to London, the Marsdens lived in lodgings in a house in Queen’s Gate, Bayswater, owned by an older gay gentleman known as ’Wilkie’, who seems to have kept a ’stable’ of younger men on the premises - a real eye-opener for both of them, I’m sure! Later they moved to 27E Elgin Crescent in Notting Hill, the basement flat where we lived until I was about three years, when we moved upstairs to 27A, the top flat.

Elgin Crescent is a street of once-elegant five-storey Edwardian terraced houses which, during my childhood, were pretty tatty. Just across the road was a gap in the terrace where a German bomb had completely demolished one house, removing it with the precision of a dental extraction and leaving the neighbouring houses to be propped up with huge baulks of timber. I can remember seeing baths, lavatories and washbasins hanging from walls on lengths of lead pipe, though this could have been at any of dozens of local ’bomb-sites’. I can also remember being terrified by a huge bang which was caused, my Dad later told me, by one of Werner von Braun’s V2 rockets striking about half a mile away, where it took out half a street. This must be my earliest clear memory.

27 Elgin Crescent

We moved upstairs after our second flood, which I can still remember. (This was was shortly after the end of the War: obviously even flood-prone shelter in the basement was preferable to exposure to the Blitz in a top-floor flat.) The water came over the tops of my wellingtons, and I recall seeing the lavatory erupting like a volcano - all this in spite of flood protection which had been installed after the first time: there was an iron gate with rubber seals outside the front door and a board that dropped into slides between the hall and bathroom and the rest of the flat. Obviously there was no separation between the flood-water and foul-water drains in those days.

The top-floor flat didn’t just give us immunity to the floods. We had a staircase inside the flat, with some storage space at the bottom, and access to the roof and a huge loft. It also gave us great views: I used to watch soldiers doing pracice parachute jumps on Wormwood Scrubs from a left-over barrage balloon, seeing it all clearly across the roofs from my bedroom window.

In May 2005, at the age of 62, I took Patricia to London for her birthday. As well as seeing Les Miserables and having dinner at the River Café, we visited the area where I grew most of the way up. This was only my second visit to the neighbourhood since we had moved to suburban Hillingdon in 1959, the first a quick detour after a business meeting at Notting Hill Gate. This time I took lots of pictures. Nostalgia, it seems, is a disease of the old.

The fanlight above the front door of 27 Elgin Crescent

This is the sight that greeted me every time I returned home - the glass with its gold lettering over the front door was still unchanged in 2005, though the house itself (above) had had at least one considerable facelift since we’d left some 46 years before. I remember the outside walls being a very grubby and peeling cream colour: the pink is a great improvement.The railings protect the ’area’ outside the basement flat (or protect pedestrians from falling into it). The left-hand window on the top floor of the pink façade was my bedroom until the age of 16. We lived in that flat on a controlled tenancy for 35 shillings (£1.75) a week, but I remember seeing a similar one for sale in the Sunday paper for £95,000 back in the eighties. While updating this page in January 2008 I found a smaller top-floor flat in the Crescent (it lacks the small bedroom that was mine, the windowless middle room with a skylight that was my Dad’s precious workshop and a separate loo) to let at £1712 per calendar month - £20,544 a year or £395 a week for one bedroom, one living room, a bathroom and a fitted kitchen!

Behind the terrace is a huge communal garden shared with the next street up, Arundel Gardens. I played (and got bullied) there for many years. These gardens are now kept very secure, but I managed to catch a glimpse (below) through the locked gate on Kensington Park Road. It looks a lot better-kept than in my day, as you’d expect when it’s used by people paying nearly four hundred quid a week rent. Then it was a complete wilderness until a committee was formed to manage it - my Dad got himself elected to this and erected a greenhouse, ostensibly to raise bedding plants for the garden but mainly to raise cacti, a hobby that enabled him to write several quite successful books in a series called Cacticulture, also published by Cleaver Hume Press.

A glimpse of the communal garden

I remember the endless stairs from the front door to the door of our flat (which I trod many times bearing buckets of coal from our coalhouse under the pavement, accessed via the basement ’area’) as being covered in linoleum so ancient that it had lost any trace of shine. It was a grimy matt grey-brown, curling with age and showing its hessian backing where the greatest traffic had worn right through what must have been the cork-and-linseed-oil mixture of which real lino was made. In every corner were stains caused by decades of cat-pee and the entire stairwell reeked of this, both fresh and ancient. It was mopped down periodically to little effect by someone known simply as ’Reid’, a tall thin man in a boiler suit and beret who also cleaned our windows and did ’odd jobs’. He seemed to originate from a shop called Traies (or it might have been ’Traes’ - I’m digging pretty deep into long-term memory here), who I think were builders and decorators and were responsible for the upkeep of the properties owned by the landlord, Mr Mather. I remember him in ginger, almost-orange, tweeds, his plus-two trousers tucked into high leather gaiters, strutting around collecting the rent like the squire of some country estate. It must have been hardly worth the climb for our thirty-five bob (he probably left the job to Traies/Traes most weeks)..

On the first floor at the back there was a huge sash window with a low sill, from which an iron staircase descended to a path leading to ’the garden’. About five feet up from the bottom was a platform, and I can remember rolling under the railings from this and falling flat on my back on the concrete below - I seem to recall that I was playing with a little neighbour, Isobel Mackie, at the time. I literally ’knocked the wind out of myself’ (some sort of spasm that paralysed my lungs), and my Mum carried me several hundred yards to the flat of my Dad’s eccentric friend, EJ Reid (known simply as ’Eejay’). He was thought to have some sort of quasi-medical expertise from his time in the Navy, and he massaged me until my breathing returned to normal. He had all sorts of other strange skills, too. He was a licensed radio ’ham’ (amateur) with his own transmitter (as my Dad had been before the War), built all sorts of radio equipment, and even had an engineer’s lathe in his workshop-cum-radio-shack. Amazingly, I can still remember his callsign, G5QB, just as I can recall my Mum’s Co-op number, 70881, and our phone numbers in Notting Hill, Park 4060, and Hillingdon (Uxbridge 6120, later 36120) - extraordinary the things that stick forever in the human memory. I wish I could remember what the missing item was on the lost shopping list two days ago.

Living in post-War Elgin Crescent was a real education for a young lad. There were tenants of every nationality, many of them refugees from Nazism or Stalinism. My Jewish friend Ruth Frankel and her mother in the first-floor flat at number 25. Anglo-German Gerd Mackie, somewhat older than I was, his sister isobel (above) and his British mother in the first-floor flat below us. Mrs Oglivie (’Oagy’ to me), an Anglo-Indian lady who seemed to me very ancient with her brown lined face and snow-white hair, and her oddly-named daughter Esqui. In our old basement flat lived Miss Vera Guiver with her fox terrier Billy; she had swapped with us for the dog’s benefit (the basement flat had its own garden) and who babysat me when I was very young. I later learned that she was in a relationship with Miss ’Pete’ Fairall, who had a flat a couple of doors away and always seemed to wear a camel overcoat, brown trousers - known then as ’slacks’ and rarely seen on a woman - with heavy lace-up shoes and a beret. In another first-floor flat lived Jack and Jock, a ’queer’ (they hadn’t adopted ’gay’ in those days) couple, who more-or-less adopted my friend Tony, son of a tiny, worn-down war-widow who went out at the crack of dawn every day to earn a crust cleaning; without their intervention, he would have lived on vinegar-and-sugar sandwiches. Later, the ground-floor flat - which had been occupied by my friend Claire, her mother Sybil and Sybil’s ’lover’ (they hadn’t adopted ’partner’ then, either) Drake, became a brothel. That was after Mr Mather presumably died and we had a number of changes of landlord - I remember our flat being inspected by two priests representing the Church Commissioners, and then by two even less savoury characters from whom, eventually, my parents accepted a cash payment in return for giving up what was still a controlled tenancy; they turned out to work for the notorious Peter Rachman, which explained the brothel. We were lucky to be bought out, to judge from the accounts of other tenants - you can read an interesting article on the subject here, or just Google his name.The first occupants of the brothel were white: they used to row violently and profanely with the windows open in the summer and the man (the pimp) was quite scary if I met him in the hall. One night, our doorbell rang and my Dad answered it with the intercom he had installed - he was a former radio ham (amateur) and had designed this himself, cheerfully running a cable down four storeys to the front door. He was asked to open the front door by two detectives from Bow Street police station, who had a search warrant for the brothel, and then to accompany them on their search as a witness. Somehow, at about 16, I was included in this: I can remember one room which seemed to be filled entirely (and unsurprisingly) by a vast unmade bed, and the other which was dominated by the longest ’stereogram’ I had ever seen topped with the longest rack of records I had ever seen. The white prostitute and her pimp did not reappear. Their successors were West Indian - quiet and polite, with clients who lined up in an orderly fashion along the railings outside, placidly reading newspapers until their turns came. Then we left for the detached house my parents had bought - 149 Long Lane (how strange that I should have ended up living in another Long Lane, hundreds of miles away, at the opposite end of my life), Hillingdon, one stop short of the Piccadilly and Metropolitan lines’ terminus at Uxbridge.

I was contacted in October 2010 by Claire’s cousin Amanda, whose parents lived in the ground-floor flat before Claire, and who had found this page by searching the Web for ’Elgin Crescent’. She filled in a few more gaps in my memory of that time. One was Coronation Day in 1953, when most of the neighbourhood gathered in our flat to watch events on the little 12-inch television my Dad had designed and built - quite a party, as I recall, though my parents were absent, watching the parade from the skeleton of Devonshire House in Piccadilly, then being built as showrooms for Rootes Group cars and offices for the Distillers Company, for whom Dad worked. Amanda’s father, an Army Officer, was also absent - marching in the parade; in his 90s, he still recalls hearing my Mum yelling his name excitedly as he passed Devonshire House!

Primary schools

While in Notting Hill, I went to the Fox Infant School and St George’s Junior School on Campden Hill - the desirable primary option for my area, and later to be a main feeder for the famous Holland Park Comprehensive. I didn’t do too well at St George’s (my abiding memory - and almost the only one apart from the announcement of the King’s death in assembly) is of being caned across the hand repeatedly for talking in class by a perpetually angry teacher called Mr Carter), so my Dad moved me to what was then Colville Junior Mixed, now Colville Primary, in Lonsdale Road off the Portobello Road market - the local ’rough school’ where, being the contrary type, I thrived. This resulted in me getting beaten up in the playground quite a bit for being too clever, which in turn seems to have motivated me to excel even more, ending up with embarrassingly high marks in the dreaded 11-plus.

Colville Primary School from Portobello Road

I have some quite vivid memories of my time at Colville. I don’t remember who was headteacher when I arrived there, but I remember the arrival of a new head, Mr Eric Wilmore, and I can clearly recall my top-class teacher, Mrs Druce, and another teacher, Mr Yates, who had a strange accent: from him, ’at home’ became ’itt-owm’ - and a complexion that looked like a cross between a bloodhound’s and a ginger-biscuit. I can remember his mocking me in front of the class for recycling the phrase ’when the storm abated’ in a story I had written and was reading aloud - for some reason, he seemed to disapprove of anyone who actually learned anything from reading books.

Because the group is much smaller than a 1950s junior-school class, I assume that the picture below is of just the kids who got grammar-school places in my year, with Mr Wilmore and Mrs Druce. That’s me lurking at the back, second from the left. Roland King, son of my Mum’s best friend Mary, is in the middle at the back, with the badges. Eileen Smith, whom I ’loved’, is at the right-hand end of the middle row. And I think John Woodman, who got to hold her hand in Hansel and Gretel (below) is second from the right at the back. I wonder if any of the others will recognise themselves - if so, please click the Contact me button and send me a message...

11-plus group at Colville JM

I remember being in fierce competition for the affections of Eileen Smith with a boy called John Woodman, with whom I was otherwise good friends. I was really annoyed because he was cast as Hansel to her Gretel in a school play, while I had to settle for being Dad - the one consolation was that I got to wear a big false moustache. Here’s us all taking a bow, with John holding my true love’s hand! That’s me with the whiskers and the dodgy knickerbockers, glaring at the happy couple and not holding hands with whoever played Mum...

Curtain call for Hansel and Gretel at Colville JM

Amazingly, I had my first two contacts to this bit (postings to the Contact me box) on two successive days in November 2009 - first from John Woodman and second from the daughter of headmaster Eric Wilmore.

I remember two sisters from a dreadfully poor home, coming to school in baggy, torn dresses with lank, dull hair, and the elder going out at lunchtime into Portobello Road market and eating raw potatoes that had falled off - or been discarded from - stalls. I also recall putting on my first pair of jeans after lunch at home and going back to school in them - and the severe telling-off I received as a result.

It was difficult to get a decent long shot of my old ’alma mater’, thanks to the strategically placed public lavatory (above), but Patricia got a good one of me outside the school. The Victorian exterior looks much the same as I remember it, but I’m sure the interior is a lot different. I’d have loved to pop in and visit, as an old pupil and as an ex-teacher, but unfortunately the school was closed.

Back at Colville after 52 years

Secondary school

I had done so well in the 11-plus that I was offered a free scholarship at Christ’s Hospital School, but I rejected it - no way was I leaving home to board in deepest Sussex, let alone wear some historical outfit with knickerbockers and yellow stockings. I was also selected to take the exam for a scholarship to St Paul’s, then the poshest direct-grant grammar school in London. I failed this - unsurprisingly, as I can remember writing a highly-embroidered story about a Scout camp deep in the country, not revealing that I had deserted and found my way home after a couple of miserable days but describing an improbable adventure with an ’intruder’ (I don’t think they’d invented paedophiles in 1954); the intruder was real but the rest was pure Enid Blyton!. I did win a scholarship to Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith - but only just, because I ended up in the bottom entry stream at (the first year/second form was officially unstreamed, but our maths master, Major Stewart (a terrifying war veteran whose face I remember as having more grafted than natural skin) took a real delight in telling us that Form 2S was ’the dregs’. Latymer is now an independent school but in my day it was another direct-grant grammar school (an email from anyone who was teaching or learning there between 1954 and 1961 would be great - please click the Contact me button).

An optimistic start in my new Latymer uniform and first long trousers

My memories of Latymer are not happy ones (despite an optimistic start - that’s me on the roof of 27 Elgin Crescent in my brand-new uniform and my first pair of long trousers). My impression was that, if one were not seen as a promising candidate for a State Scholarship to Oxford or Cambridge, one did not merit much attention.

I lacked social skills for some reason, and was bullied unmercifully in the early years. I was also given ’six of the best’ a number of times for various misdemeanours - including being caught drawing a cruel caricature of an irritating Latin master called Mr Jenkins (but known as ’Jenkinth’ because he had a lisp - cruel creatures, adolescent boys), showing him with an immense erection that was about to be severed by a circular saw. As at St George’s Juniors, despite the pain (and they really did know how to hurt you at Latymer!) caning seemed to have little effect on my behaviour, though it may have taught me to be a little more discreet in my misdemeanours (for which, read ’sneaky’).

Later I was something of an outsider, avoiding sports by getting myself appointed as a library monitor, which allowed me to spend my time putting Dewey decimal codes on the spines of books with an electric stylus (because I was ’good at Art) when I should have been on the school’s extensive sports field outside Wormwood Scrubs prison. I did acquire an excellent French accent, though, thanks to JA (’Jasper’) Stanley, my form-master in 2S, who drilled us mercilessly with exercises such as ’un bon vin blanc’ (for nasal consonants). This stood me in good stead once I started travelling to France, as did my ability to dig up bits of French vocabulary and grammar that had lain hidden somewhere in my head for around 30 years. I remember my Dad telling me after the third-form parents’ evening that my new French master, Mr Gregory, had told him I was ’a born linguist’, an assetion which, at the time, I thought crazy (and hadn’t changed my mind when I got a second O-level pass at A-level five years later), but which, given my later real-life success with French, may actually have been the result of keen observation - unless, like our French friends, he was simply taken in by my excellent pronunciation.

I can also still recite the names of the Yorkshire wool towns (Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Dewsbury, Keighley) which were hammered into our heads with a ruler by Geography master and Deputy Headmaster Mr Tuttell. The only other memorable thing about him was his pipe-smoking technique: as a fairly new smoker, I was very impressed that he could run a swimming lesson without ever taking his pipe out of him mouth, exhaling great clouds from both mouth and nostrils.

My form-master in the second year (third form) was Mr Lineham, a short, wide (hence ’Tubby’) ex-Navy man (and therefore Commanding Officer of the Naval section of the Combined Cadet Force). He introduced himself to his new form by slashing a groove in the top of a desk with his cane, yet later in the year I remember a boy called Morris refusing to be caned by him and simply walking out of the form-room. I don’t remember what happened to him: I think he was just quietly moved to another form. Nor do I recall the effect on Mr Lineham’s discipline for the rest of the year.

What is extraordinary is that in Sebastian Faulks’s novel Engleby there is a master at the unlikely hero’s public school (which has strong links with the Navy) called ’Tubby’ Lyneham. A bit of research shows that Faulks is ten years younger than me and went to a far more prestigious public school. I wonder if Mr Lineham ended up there...

I also recall the extraordinary coincidence of a new Headmaster, KE Sutcliffe, being appointed from Cockburn High School in Leeds, which was my Dad’s old school. He replaced the kindly FW (’Fred’) Wilkinson. My only close encouter with Fred was when I was sent to him after the school Chaplain, ’Monty’ Cann, caught me drawing a naked lady in one of his dismal Divinity lessons: I was terrified, but to my amazement - like Monty, he was an ordained Church of England priest, though I don’t recall ever siing him in a dog-collar - Fred engaged me in a gently admonishing conversation, in the course of which he managed to congratulate me on my drawing skills and warn me that, unless I avoided offending masters in future, he might be unable to react quite so understandingly. Known, with no particular affection but simply because all masters needed a shorthand nickname, as ’Ken’, Mr Sutcliffe was noted for his many disciplinary announcements at Assembly, which always seemed to start, ominously, with ’It has come to my notice that certain boys...’, followed by a pause to allow us all to wonder ’Oh shit, is it me?’. It never was me, and I managed to get through the rest of my time at Latymer without ever exchanging more than a ’Good morning’ with Ken.

One thing Latymer was great for was its black market in American cigarettes. Several boys who lived out in Middlesex and were lucky enough to have US servicemen (who could buy unlimited quantities at silly prices in the base ’PX’) as neighbours, could be found every break-time in remote corners of the playground dispensing Chesterfield, Camel, Lucky Strike and Pall Mall - ironically from sports bags - for half-a-crown a pack. When we moved to Hillingdon, we too acquired a USAAF officer as a neighbour, but sadly he was a non-smoker.

A related benefit was the school’s proximity to Hernando’s Hideaway (’Are you going down ’Erns?’), a coffee bar in the basement of which the most compulsive smokers among us spent our lunchtimes dragging out one watery capuccino, along with some of the more degenerate students of the Corona Academy, a stage school that produced quite a few well-known actors. I will never forget gazing longingly at the unattainable Francesca Annis, whom I remember as having waist-length straight corn-blonde hair and the most amazing deep brown eyes, as we whiled away our time playing three-card brag for pennies. Another smokers’ refuge was The Temperance Billiard Hall, where we could smoke in peace while honing other low-class skills. On reflection, ’outsider’ was a bit kind - ’degenerate might be nearer the mark - by the standards of the late 1950s, anyway.

Despite distractions, I managed to get all six of the O-levels I took: English Language, English Literature, Maths, French, Physics-with-Chemistry (because I was in the bottom stream in the Upper Fifth) and Art. I think I did reasonably well in some subjects, but I’m pretty sure I scraped by in Maths and Phy/Chem with 47% and 45% (that was the pass mark, so a close shave there!).

I was 16, between O-levels and sixth form at Latymer, when we moved to Hillingdon. From a 35-bob-a-week flat, my parents bought a detached house for £3250 - quite a bit of cash in 1959 but, as it turned out, an excellent investment. Before that, though, at Easter, I had cycled from London to Cornwall and back, all on my own, taking four days each way and stopping in Youth Hostels at Winchester, Bridport, Tavistock, Boswinger and Bridport. By arrangement, I met up with my desk-mate in Upper Five C, Chris Hill, who had sensibly travelled by train. Astonishingly, he hit the Contact me button on this site on the 19 February 2008, and we’re now in touch by email.

My two years in the sixth form were by far the happiest of my time at Latymer. Forms 6L1 and 6L2 were based in a large old house adjoining the playground, and were overseen by Wilf Sharp, head of English. English lessons in the afternoons were perfumed by the beer fumes he breathed over us and made all the more enjoyable by his mellow mood. He had, until the poet died so tragically in 1953, been a regular drinking companion of Dylan Thomas. This, to anyone studying English literature, gave him serious street-cred. The sixth-form art studio was housed in the attics of Rivercourt House, way down at the bottom of the playground and overlooking the Thames, where the half-dozen of us doing A-level Art could retreat for every private study period and from where we could slip out without needing permission to go sketching (and, of course, smoking) by the river.

The halfway point in The Sixth was marked by my first experience of love, with a French girl called Sylvie who was two years older than me. She was au pair for an amazing woman called Cordelia Locke, wife of the actor Harry Locke, who had an old cottage near Pulborough in Sussex. My mate Roger Spear (son of the painter Ruskin) and his mother Mary took me there for a holiday in her Austin A30. Sylvie and I managed to spend most of many nights in bed together, doing everything except ’going all the way’, and the following year (after dozens of letters) I went down alone to continue the affair. I’m pretty sure we did ’do it’ that time. I saw her once more for a few wonderful days when I was 21 and had my little flat on the edge of Hampstead (and my Jaguar XK120). I lost touch after that, though my parents later visited her in Paris. (Roger was later the electronics genius of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band.)

After receiving the first email contact from an Old Latymerian, Mike Hart, at the beginning of January 2006, I added the picture below - of either 6L1 or 6L2, the first- and second-year sixth forms for boys doing arts and literature and my much happier home from 1959 to 1960. I tried hard to pin names to the faces, but Mike obviously has far better long-term memory than I have (or else he had better social skills and a wider group of friends) and has added a lot more, including first names (which weren’t used much then). The total of our combined efforts appears below the picture.

Wilf Sharpe’s sixth-form group 1959-61

Click here to see a much larger version of the picture

Ed King, Nick Cooling, Mick Walters, Goodwin, Don Shearer, John Grant, me, Mick Haydon, John Morgan

Ian Moody, David Axworthy, Erskine (thanks to John Field for this and Moodie’s first name), ?, John James Jonathan Justin Juan (’J-to-the-Fifth’/’Daisy’) Howard, ?, Michael Krause, David Johnson, Robert Raisin (with whom, in earlier years, I shared enthusiasms for The Goon Show and smoking ridiculous things like sisal string!)

?, John Heppinstall, John Singer-Washington (who shared the distinction with me of having to have his cap specially ordered by the school shop because we both had very large heads), Archie Tate, Wilf Sharpe (form master), Len Watts, Mike Hart (to whom thanks for many of these names), ?, Taff Evans

Apologies to all the ’?’ guys, and to anyone who has been given the wrong first or second name (or both) - but it was forty-odd years ago! If you can fill in any gaps or offer any corrections - especially if you’re in the picture - please click the Contact me button.

Free at last!

I got A-levels in English Literature and Art (maybe even a credit in English), and a useless second O-level in French, which ruled out University in those days (Art not being a ’real’ subject unless you wanted to go to Art School). To my delight, though, I got a distinction in the Oxford and Cambridge Scholarship General Paper, proving at least that I really could write. I wanted to be a journalist, but I got the first job I applied for - in advertising. After a six-week holiday job at the Friendship Holidays Association’s Granville Court guesthouse in Hornsea, East Yorkshire, while I waited for my exam results, I walked into an advertising-agency in the City of London as a trainee, on the princely wage of £6 a week, a quarter of which went on a season ticket for my long commute from Hillingdon. I subsequently worked as a copywriter, then a technical journalist and finally a press officer. Any old denizens of Powell Advertising Ltd, Harwood Press (Advertising) Ltd, Bennett Cameras, Associated Electrical Industries Ltd, The Warren Seymour Company Ltd or the Industrial Diamond Information Bureau out there? Please click the Contact me button.

The best place to go from here is to my page about my time on the Folk scene in the 60s.

Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.

This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.