Soham Grammarians : Mike Hallam SG51 - 1950s Memories

from the 1956 School Photo
Bill Kitchen was my history teacher at SGS. Used to thrash me unmercifully at table tennis. We are back in touch by phone and letter. He’s the only one now.  He is of the opinion that SGS boys nicknamed him Bill because of Bill Kitchen the British international speedway rider who was at his best in the 1930’s. He asked if I knew that RAT nicknamed me Patacake, my father being a bakery owner in the village next to where the Taylor family lived. Never knew that before !

I began to remember on paper the other day the ground plan for all the rooms in the school and which form was assigned to a particular room – where the library was and where the staff room was, but what use is that to anybody now? The 1950s was still the era of corporal punishment and we all accepted it was OK. I was sent to Uncle Ted for six of the best for talking persistently in English and I wore extra pairs of underpants on days when Geography was taught by Taffy Thomas. RAT would drive his old Ford Popular to the halfway mark of the cross country course and encourage you to speed up with an old plimsoll across your backside if he could catch you.

I think I had better not hold forth for the moment about life as a boarder. Many a time I had to write the Boarders’ Notes for the Soham Grammarian and have them vetted. My most gruesome memory was being made to eat porridge. I hated the stuff.

There was a  total absence of girls except in 1958 or 59 ballroom dancing classes were tried for the Sixth Form in the dining hall. The class was taught by a lady we had never met before. She would require that, one at a time,we held her hand and carefully placed the other hand round her waist. I guess some of us had sisters and girlfriends but those were early days for me. Can you imagine the embarrassment?  We topped it off with an end of year 'BALL'  in the Assembly Hall. Staff came with wives and most of us managed to waltz about with a local maiden of our choice.

Real girls were imported from Ely High School for an ambitious production of Hamlet in 1956. Ophelia scenes with Hamlet and bedroom scenes with the king and queen of Denmark were deeply disturbing within the confines of this all-male school, but we never thought it was in any way odd that we had to audition for the chorus of HMS Pinafore [1954] and dress up as girls.

From SGS I went to the University of Leeds and graduated in The School of English. I started my career in a pub in Leeds when someone overheard me describing my unemployed graduate status to a friend. He suggested I show up at his Head of Dept. of Printing and Photography’s office door on Monday morning and give them his name as a reference. Within 48 hours I was standing in front of 20 apprentices from a newsprint factory, aged about 17. The previous “lecturer” in general studies had died suddenly and left them not only with an unexpected vacancy but with very little idea of what he had been doing with about 15 groups of industrial apprentices on day release from work at Leeds College of Technology. Thus began the seat of your pants teaching career of Soham Grammar School’s equivalent of “Wilt”. The newsprint industry’s horrific tales of how a new apprentice is initiated by having his private parts varnished were just repeated to test my nerve.

A year proving I was made of sterner stuff than  many had foreseen had me on a flight out of Heathrow bound for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to become the kingdom’s only lecturer in Liberal Studies. Decades later, hearing me relating this to his son, an elderly Jewish gentleman showed some doubt about my claim to have taught Saudi students LIBERAL studies. “You didn’t do very well did you ?” he said.

By 1979 Mrs. Thatcher arrived at number 10 as I arrived at Abingdon College of Further Education, near Oxford. This was my sixth FE College in 15 years. I had progressed steadily up the ladder of seniority (Lecturer; Lecturer 2; Senior Lecturer; Principal Lecturer; Head of Dept).   In a college that had a Department of Business Studies and a Department of Engineering and Science, mine contained everything else - 13 different disciplines. This proved to be the secret of its success through the 1980s and 1990s when the arrival of computers and the decline of engineering sorely challenged my rivals. The College’s student intake doubled, mainly in those areas under my management. I took early retirement at age 55 in 1995. By then I was in charge of promoting the college to its potential clientele and my title Assistant Principal (Marketing) was my swansong.

In my retirement I became an antique dealer for 9 years and my creative energies are now devoted to painting and producing facsimiles of rare texts in Anglo Saxon English.

Mike has also added more names to the 1955 entry list as well as contributing significantly to the memories of Mr Peter Askem - see the Talk on Mr Peter Askem .

page created 8 Apr 19