Nader Fekri, visiting lecturer in politics at Buenos Aires University, tells of his experiences joining Prices School as an Iranian in the early seventies.
Here is his correspondence with David Goldring:
Of course, you’re right in assuming that one of my 10 O’ Levels was in Persian, and to my shame. I only got a "B", for which I was mercilessly teased by both my peers and staff. "A" grades in other subjects in no way made up for my "shameful" performance in my mother tongue. :)
As for my name, it’s Iranian. Is your name Scottish? I had a lecturer at Uni called Goldring who was from Fife. Or the Kingdom of Fife as he forever reminded us.
So to answer some of your questions.
I was born in western Iran and as a family we moved to the UK because of my dad’s work. We’d been living in Fareham for about 18 months when it was decided that I should start Big School. As we lived in the town centre (Crescent Road to be precise) Price’s seemed the natural choice, it was after all the closest.
So one fair September morn (very Laurie Lee), my father and I turned up (without an appointment!) at the school and met with Mr Hilton (then Deputy Head) who listened patiently and rather than telling us to sling our hook with no further ado, rather charmingly, had a semi-formal interview with me. More of a chat really. Then he sat me down and a gave me a maths test, and called Tony Johnson over who talked further about my reading habits. Thankfully, I was (and still am) a voracious reader and blathered on. I must’ve done okay, because I was invited to join the school and the rest, as they say, is history.
I had a fantastic seven years at Price’s, first at “The School” and then staying on at what had (in 1974) become “The College” to do my A’ Levels before heading up North to university and life as an adult.
As I said earlier, overall, I was very happy, I made some good friends (a handful of whom I’m still in touch with, some half-a-century later), I was inspired by some amazing teachers. Teachers like Alan Glynn-Howell (with his erudition, penchant for puns, and deadly aim with a piece of chalk), the aforementioned Tony Johnson (whose productions ranged from The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew to RC Sheriff’s The Journey’s End), “Chas” Tuck (with his Yorkshire bluff, bluster, and bravado and his vicious sidekick “Sebastian” the slipper), Roy “Jock” Daysh (Maths), “Doc” Elliott (Geography), “Freda” Payne (PE), JD “Sooty” Cole, HN “Buzz” Ellis (RE), M “Taffy” Howard-Jones, HS “Paddy” O’Neil (who had very red palms, reminiscent of the “O'Neills”, “Monsieur” AP Openshaw (French), and many many others. As you can see, we were NOT very inventive with our nicknames. :)
You may notice, the shameful dearth of women in that list. In fact, in all my time at Price’s there were only a handful of women I was in contact with... Mrs Buckley (Music 2nd yr); Mrs Head (French, 3rd yr); Ms Olding (Maths, VIth form); Mrs Agar (who really ran the school despite what Mr Poyner thought); and the wonderful Mrs Bowles, dinnerlady. :)
The lack of women and girls (until VIth form) was one of the downsides of life at Price’s, the other being the lack of diversity.
I was conscious of being the only person of colour throughout my time at the School (pace Mr Glynn-Howell, and a lad called Alan Loo who was Anglo-Chinese and in the Upper VIth in my first year, I think a lad of Pakistani heritage joined in the mid-70s but he left shortly thereafter). Although, much of the time, this was limited to good-natured ribbing (borne out of ignorance) there were times when racism raised its ugly head, particularly with the arrival of the poor benighted Ugandan Asians and the era of “Paki-bashing” (sic), and more sinisterly the rise of the despicable National Front in the early- mid-1970s. I was unfortunate enough to have a rather vile classmate who was a vocal supporter (no names, no pack drill).
I had always been interested in politics and again Price’s had a small role to play in that. In my first term, I was put in detention for some minor infraction or other (running in the corridor, or not having my shirt tucked in, or having my tie too loose) and had to write an “essay” on why our then MP (Reggie Bennet) was a “useless pranny”. Sure enough, this piqued my interest so that after detention, I actually went down to the town library, (which was then situated at the Flying Angel, one of my favourite haunts until the New Library opened in the summer of 1973) firstly to look up “pranny” and secondly to find out who our MP actually was and why he deserved to be called such. Having had a General Election earlier in the year (1970), I became fascinated to such an extent that I volunteered for delivering leaflets in both the February and October Elections of 1974 for the Liberals. In the latter election, with the backing of several teachers, I wanted to carry out a poll at the school, but this was firmly quashed by Mr Poyner.
Over time, the numerous rules and regulations did grate, and I found myself often at odds with “the authorities”. I remember on one occasion being sent out of class to deliver a note to the office. As I knocked, the door itself seemed to be wrenched off its hinges and who should be standing there but good old Mr Poyner, who asked whether I thought I was knocking to gain ingress into a French bordello. When I asked what a French bordello was (and why Mr Poyner would know what their special knock was) I was told to come back at lunch-time and take six of the best for “insolence”. Ah, corporal punishment.
What Price’s did encourage was to experiment, to try your hand at something and anything, and that sooner or later you’d find your own niche and metier, and if not something to excel at then certainly something to be comfortable in. It taught me the value of trying almost everything, of throwing yourself in at the deep end, (sometimes literally as in the case of the swimming pool which was often freezing), but this in turn gave me the confidence to try things at least once (except folk-dancing and incest), and so I became a good-ish all-rounder. Hence the 10 O’ Levels.
So I played football, wasn’t good enough to make the teams, but never mind. (Hockey was just too brutal). I played cricket (badly), enjoyed keeping wicket, because you could just throw yourself around and be theatrical without causing too much damage. I took part in the athletics (the javelin) again not particularly great. I was involved in the chess club, the stamp club, later the debate club, and many others.
The reason we started the basketball team, was that one drear autumn lunch-time when we couldn’t play out on the fields, myself and some of the other lads wanted to use the gym but were told that only teams could use it. So we went away and decided we wanted a basketball team, and lo and behold the following week we had trials and from then on we had a team, something that stayed with me all my time at Price’s, and which we used to raise money for good causes (The Red Cross) on several occasions by doing marathon matches.
Sixth Form was liberating in so many ways, the old hierarchies were being replaced (or so it seemed, I had once been given detention for writing an essay arguing for “comprehensivisation”!), a more co-operative collaborative attitude to learning was being embraced. Questioning was actively encouraged rather than frowned upon. There were girls/young women around, which was far more healthy in correcting a rather warped attitude to the female sex that a boys’ school can shape.
By 1977, I knew that I had had enough of dear old Fareham and wanted to get away as far as I could. Being a huge fan of Coronation Street, the Co-Operative Movement, the Suffragettes, and of course the Guardian, I decided to head up to Cottonopolis and go to uni in Salford, staying on to study further at both the Poly and Uni in Manchester. In total, I spent a quarter of a century there in the Red Rose County.
I ended up teaching at both the Poly and the Uni, and later at Liverpool Poly and Uni.
In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall I worked in Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic as an academic for the British Council.
Upon my return to the UK in the 2000s, my family and I settled in Hebden Bridge in the White Rose County (or God’s Own Country, as Charles Tuck Esq. and five million Yorkshire-men and women would have it) and taught at Huddersfield and Bradford Universities.
I was approached to stand for the Lib Dems for the town council, being told that there was no chance of actually being elected as they just wanted to have enough names on the ballot papers. Also our house was right in the town centre, it was a good poster site. Sod’s Law being what it is, I was elected (by the skin of my teeth). The following year I was comfortably elected onto the local council (Calderdale), and the year after I was selected to stand for parliament for the neighbouring constituency of Keighley. Over my time in Hebden Bridge, I was elected Mayor of Hebden Royd, Deputy Mayor of Calderdale, and finally Mayor of Calderdale. The first-ever Iranian-born civic head of any authority in the UK, an achievement of which I was (and am) incredibly proud.
One thing that I do carry with me from my time at Price’s (corny though it may sound) is a notion of civic responsibility, to that end I have served as a magistrate (kudos to Mr Poyner) on the Calderdale Bench, a school governor, and on the boards of several educational charities.
I am a passionate believer in education and access to good quality comprehensive education for all irrespective of the ability to pay and so access to higher education. I shall forever be grateful to the good people of Hampshire for giving me a grant to study at university. A grant mind you, not a loan. No strings attached, nothing asked for in return. Mine was the first generation to be eligible for a four-figure sum of £1,010, of which (my family not being terribly well-off) I got the whole sum. And three second-class return train tickets from Fareham to Manchester a year. That kind of investment builds a compact between your community/the state and the individual. It says, “We believe in you, here’s a leg up, off you go. What you do with it is your affair”. That meant (means) a lot, so in return you put something back in your community or society at large, not because it is expected, or you’re paying off a financial debt, but because it is the right thing, the decent thing to do.
Anyway, enough of the twaddle, just to finish off, after a decade in Hebden, we got itchy feet again, and my wife was posted to Istanbul, and then to Mumbai, and now Buenos Aires, where she is Director for the whole of the Americas (North and South, pole to pole) for the British Council. I have been lucky to find employment as a Visiting Professor in Politics in those three cities.
I bet this is much more than you were expecting and I hope that you don’t regret asking, should you wish for anything more please do not hesitate to get in touch again.
I hope to come back to Fareham for the tercentenary celebrations next year, and hope to meet up then?
Dr. Nader FEKRI
Visiting Professor of Politics