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Saturday, 9 April 2011

Sponsored Mobility: Bromley Grammar School for Boys

This is autobiography

Sociologists distinguish between Contest and Sponsored social mobility. Contests are things like Civil Service Examinations - if you pass you move to the next stage; if you don't, you don't - even if your father is a very important person. Sponsorship is usually equated with nepotism, but it also includes talent spotting of various kinds. Some people only become upwardly mobile because they are picked out, encouraged, flattered or coerced.

From 1958 to 1964 I attended Bromley Grammar School for Boys in Kent. I had passed the 11+ and this is the Grammar School my parents picked for me. Neither of my parents, none of my aunts and uncles and (I think) none of my cousins had attended such a school and they were all early school leavers, though some later acquired qualifications. My mother left school at 13 or 14 and went to work in a paper mill; my father did likewise and became a delivery boy for Messrs Potts of Dartford.

I was in the top stream, though between 1958 and 1961 my class position deteriorated as things got worse at home. After my parents separated in 1960 and my mother and I went to live with her brother and sister in law, it began to improve. Top stream boys sat four 'O' levels (English, Latin, French, Maths) in the fourth form and, if they passed all of them, could skip the fifth year (and Science 'O' levels!) and go straight into the Sixth Form as I did in Autumn of 1962, just after my 15th birthday.

By this time, I was a member of the Awkward Squad of difficult pupils, argumentative and out of line - school uniform and such like. I wanted to take 'A' levels in Economics, French and Maths. "Sticky" Richardson who had taught me Maths declined to have me in his sixth form group, so did Mr May, the French teacher. The Economics master, the charismatic Alan Charnley, had not encountered me so I got into his group. "Jack" Addison took me for History and I was also accepted for Geography by another master who hadn't previously taught me (Mr Moffatt, who was very good).

You had to sign up for General Studies (Mr Atkins), and a further 'O' level - I chose Italian. In my own time, I did a voluntary 'O' level in Art - Awkward Squad members found the atmosphere in the Art room therapeutic.

Early on in my sixth form studies, the Deputy Head took me aside and told me that I would not be made a Prefect. Too rebellious. Curiously, the same man ("Polly" Parrott) also got me to deputise for him when he could not teach our Italian class - I had a good accent and could give Dictation.

More importantly, I was also told I had been selected for the Oxbridge Scholarship group. At Bromley GS, you did not put yourself forward for Oxbridge; they selected you for the group which would stay on for an extra term after taking 'A' levels and prepare for the Scholarship exams. Not only that, they told you which University, which college and which degree. In my case, Oxford, St Peter's and PPE - exactly the same combination as for my friend John Edward King who was accelerated even faster and went to Oxford at 16 or 17 and had an Oxford extra-mural lectureship at 20.

In the meantime, you would also be pushed in various ways.

In the mornings, as we entered school, the Headmaster "Henry" Anderson would stand outside his study and observe us. Boys were called over for various reasons.

On one occasion, he spotted my Chelsea boots and dressed me down. On another, he called me in to tell me that my Father (who I had refused to see any more when I reached the age of 16) had been to the school and had left some papers for me to sign: my Father had bought National Savings Bonds in my name and now required me to sign them over to him.

On several occasions, the Head called me over to say he had something on his desk that he thought I should read. They were actually Government reports. As a sixth former I read the Beeching report on the future of the railways and the Robbins report on the future of higher education. And I read them cover to cover.

This is how you were informally prepared for the Oxbridge scholarship examinations.

My Economics teacher, Alan Charnley, also took an interest in me and wanted the school to put me up for Christ Church or some such - but he was over-ruled. The school's strategy was to maximise the number of names on the Oxbridge Scholarship board by targetting second-rate colleges like St Peter's. When I got my A level results, Charnley also suggested that I write and ask to be interviewed at St Peter's before the Scholarship exam, which I did. They gave me a place but told me to sit the exam anyway - and, indeed, out of it I got an Open Scholarship which in those days was worth £60 on top of whatever grant you were going to get (in my case a full grant of £370).

Without my school's sponsorship, I would not have applied to Oxford. There were a couple of boys whose middle-class parents intervened when they were not put into the Oxbridge group but mine would never have done so. And despite being a member of the Awkard Squad, I don't think I would have pushed myself forward. I did want to go to University and I had fall-back choices - the new universities - if I did not get into Oxford.

Of course, this little story of Sponsored Mobility also reveals one of its weaknesses. If my teachers had been just a little bit spiteful, they could have punished me for all the trouble I caused them by keeping my name off that Oxbridge list. Fortunately, for me, they were above such meanness.


  1. Hi Trevor, I was at BGS from 1967 and recall very much the names you have brought up. For some reason (my hair length I think) I was also on the non-prefects list although I was never selected for any university. I think I made the mistake to tell my 6th form tutor, a certain Mr. Piercy, that I was not interested to go to uni. and well..that was the last he ever spoke to me or even mark my essays. As for Polly, well, what can you say. By the time I got there he was alchoholic and despotic and I had many head to heads with to long, hair to short, wrong colour of white shirt etc. Maybe he never forgave me for hitting him with a cricket ball. When I left BGS..then Ravensbourne I had the misfortunate to meet him and a certain Mr. Osborne one lunchtime in the George pub. Apart from being ordered to see him in his office (he thought I was still a pupil) he started a drunken rant at me which had all in stitches of laughter. Happy days, well one or two were. I have to agree, Mr. Moffatt was a damn good geography teacher.

    1. laurence allen3 May 2016 at 13:42

      Mr Moffatt was my form teacher and I was at BGS from (I think !!) the same yearsish....are there any old football team photos around ?

  2. Interesting to read. I was at the school 1971-79, after it changed its name to Ravensbourne School for Boys. When I started, Messrs. Anderson, Parrot, Moffat, and I think May, were still there. The staff fought a rearguard action, which was not wholly abandoned until after I left, to maintain support for Oxbridge entrance, and the higher academic standards and breadth of curriculum which turned out not to be a good fit with the needs of comprehensivisation, for the alpha, A1 and A2 classes, whilst the 'secondary modern' curriculum was offered to the beta / B stream. My perception is that the visible decline had a more or less devastating personal effect on some of the staff who did not cope well with what they may have seen as the destruction of the values they had worked for. However, you say Mr. Parrot's condition (which we were told was attributable to malaria acquired in the colonies or somehwere) had already set in before the change.

  3. A fine walk down memory lane. I was a pupil at BGS from 1962 until 1967. I remember all the masters mentioned here (actually, Polly's name was Parrat, not Parrot and Mr Richardson was known as "Stick" not "Sticky".) I also remember Mr Osborne who taught woodwork and metalwork. He was a strict so-and-so and gave me the slipper for retrieving a ball from the tennis courts at lunchbreak. Remember Mr Mainwaring, Mr Fox-Smith, "Jack" Frost, "Flad" Taylor, Pete Barson and Ted Harper? All names that bring back memories.

  4. I too was at BGS, 1962-1968, and wonder who Anonymous is. I remember all the teachers mentioned, some more fondly than others. I am particularly grateful to MRH Piercy, who succeeded Addison as head of history, and got me into Oxford (where I did not thrive). I recall Trevor very well. He was one of the stars and not perceived, at least by me, as one of the Awkward Squad.

  5. I remember Trevor Pateman and Mark Frankel and all the masters mentioned. I was there from 1962 to 1969. I never got to uni my grades were not good enough and I failed A level history as I had no interest in the Tudors and Stuarts. When I went back to the school to collect my certificates I was encountered by Polly who asked what uni I had got into I said none and he turned his back on me and walked away before I could explain I had got onto a three year management training course sponsored by my Local Council with a professional qualification at the end. He didn't want to know. I have never been back except to visit an antiques fair some time in the 1990's On the whole my memories were not happy but for some reason tonight at a loose end I was curious to see what was on the internet.

  6. Peter Prickett (70 years old last month)9 August 2017 at 11:39

    Hi Trevor! I do not subscribe to any of the 'social media' websites and only came across your superb autobiographical article when, for some reason, I searched the internet for any information about BGS. We were in the same form in 1958, 'RQ'- the R stood for 'Remove', a reference to the fact that you were a new pupil, removed from a primary school. My memories of the school are vivid but mixed. In my first term at the school it was compulsory to run in the junior house cross-country competition (trainers didn't exit so we ran in football boots). 1st, 2nd & 3rd year pupils all ran, a total of some 420 boys. I came 14th, first remove home, but despite congratulations from 'Sticky' Richardson in class the next morning, very little was said. 'Sticky' was our Form Master and his nickname was sometimes, quite affectionately, condensed to 'Stick', but the origin of the nickname was that during his enthusiastically-taught maths lessons he would warn that if you jumped to unfounded conclusions in mathematics you would be 'batting on a sticky wicket'. Next year the inter-house cross-country competitions were divided into junior, intermediate and senior and a remove boy (in Callenders house, I was in Beaters) came 17th out of 240 runners and was immediately awarded 'house colours' - a school-wide acknowledgement of an outstanding sporting achievement. This was the start of my disenchantment with some of the systems and organisation in the school as regards sports, even though much emphasis was put on participating. I played in a highly successful 1st XI football team during my final year at the school in 1964/65 but still never received 'school' or 'house' colours in recognition. Perhaps my lack of academic achievement didn't help as I was told by headmaster Anderson that I was one of only two boys in my year with the 'dubious distinction' of failing all of the 'A'-levels that I sat. I also remember the nicknames of the masters, they all had one in those days. In addition to the ones mentioned there was 'Taffy' Duncan, 'Bunny' Brewer, 'Yogi' Beadle and 'Nemo' Marcon. Oh yes, and Charnley was known as 'Spike' and Atkins as 'Popeye'. For some obscure brain-numbing reason I not only also remember the names of about 80 or more pupils who were in my year at BGS but also what house they were in! No, not really a case of school days being the best days of your life, so why do I remember so many of them?

  7. Thanks to all the above. This Blog post which has now been visited 690 times has been incorporated into a longer chapter of my book "The Best I Can Do" under the title "Social Mobility", taking the story from home through school to university. Copies are available online at Amazon for pennies

  8. Hi Trevor
    I am interested to read your recollections of BGS. I was there from 58 to 65. I seem to remember we travelled on the same bus for several years. I can't say my memories of the school were that good. They are summed up by a physics teacher who stated "if I had got a better degree I wouldn't be teaching you horrible lot". Fortunately maths was better taught which helped at university where teaching was much better. Thanks for stirring up old memories.

  9. Sorry to hear that Pete Barson died last June. He was my maths teacher and football coach back in the late 70's. He was a tough but fair guy as well as a good teacher. One of the best!

    1. Sorry I meant late 60's. Whatever, Peter was a great guy and has remained well in my memory.

    2. My memory of Mr Barson was not so good. I remember him as a strict so-and-so who wielded his large plimsoll shoe readily. Sad to hear of his passing though. Does anyone know what became of Ian Cuthbert? He was two years above me, but became a good friend, as did Ian Nielsen. Ian joined the MOD. Do you remember John "Spot" Slater? He retired as a Chief Superintendent in the Met. Other names are Martin "Daisy" Weatherall, Graham Coates, Robin "Speedy" Gonzalez, Donald "Arf" Kerr, Richard Walton, John "Tolly" Thompson, Bob Bremner, Steve Chapple, Chris Masterson, Dave Taylor, Mick Currie, to name a few. I heard Robin Gonzalez died in 1985 in a freak gas boiler accident. My favourite master was "Jack" Frost who was my form teacher I think in 2A.
      By the way, I'm "anonymous" above at 7 April 2016.

  10. Just also discovered that Ted Harper died in 2010.

  11. Yes, Ted was a real nice guy. He Helped me get a trial at West Ham with my father but by this time my knee was kaput completely from a summer training injury. Pity..I could be on a Sanchez salary now. Ted used to drive his Lotus at about 80 mph into the school quad to park..still it made for entertainment.

  12. Interesting comments and observations here.
    I attended BCGS from 1947-52, having been the only member of my primary school class to pass the 11+.
    I was assigned to Callenders house and form RQ. It slowly dawned on me that my academic ability was limited and I was useless at sport, and I think that I was unsuited to the grammar school environment - my late brother failed the 11+ and went to a secondary modern, did well and absolutely loved it. I felt like a square peg in a round hole.
    I left school without taking any exams and found a job with a large engineering company. They paid for me to attend technical college and I attained an HNC in electrical engineering and telecoms.
    I paid a visit to BCGS in the mid-late 50s and met members of staff who remembered me. When it was learned that I had not attended uni. but technical college the atmosphere turned distinctly frosty. I never went back again.
    I had an interesting and rewarding career, not hitting any high spots but left feeling fulfilled.
    Now 81 I have been looking back over my life and happened to find this site and wanted to leave an account of my experiences
    I am reluctant to say more here because there is a danger of appearing bitter which would be wrong. I do not criticise the school, I think that they did the best they could with what they had to work with in my case.
    Thank you.