A Young Person’s Guide to Price’s, 1963-69

Robin Ward writes about The Light Show.
His other contributions may be found here. He writes about the Black Lion and life at Prices in the late sixties
Robin Ward Page 1,
Robin Ward page 2 and
Robin Ward page 3
The Light Show

Part 2 - Pirate radio, Eric P. appears out of nowhere, a brief encounter with Soho, Mr. Earl’s claim to fame and the Black Lion, 1967-68

Despite all this academic activity, other things were going on at the same time. 1966 was also the year when the pirate radio stations broadcasting off the Essex coast - notably Radio Caroline and Radio London - had come into full bloom. Probably these names won’t mean much to anyone below the age of 40 or so, but if one was a teenager at the time it was quite easy to become addicted to their 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week all-music output. I had become fascinated by the stations in the course of time due to their anti-authority stance and the fact that they played good music, in particular the more progressive kind of stuff which was now developing in England - spearheaded by the Beatles - and was also beginning to filter over from the States. This was generally broadcast in the late evenings and until after midnight, notably by John Peel, and often I’d spend far too long listening to my transistor radio at night and then have a real struggle to get up in the morning and not fall asleep during the first lessons. So my O level work was mixed up with slavish devotion to Caroline and London, and this came to a head in May 1967 when I remember, while doing my homework one day, being blown away by hearing extracts from the Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper album (a truly revolutionary record at the time) being premiered on Radio London. In fact, I couldn’t get the thing out of my head for about half a year after its release. So I found myself living as it were in two worlds; this exciting world of musical creativity on the one hand as purveyed by the pirates - my latest ambition was to be a guitarist in a San Francisco rock band - and the somewhat more mundane school environment.

However, I realised that I ought perhaps to concentrate on my school work as O levels were just around the corner and postpone my ambitions to be a musician for a while. A concentrated burst of activity saw me clean up 9 O levels in the summer. I guessed all my effort had ultimately been worth it.

Of course, after O levels 5R split up and everyone went their different ways. It was a funny feeling knowing that in September things wouldn’t be the same again, I would meet up with boys fresh from 5A and 5B and the classes would in future be much smaller, and most of my former classmates would be doing different subjects.

At the end of term I was just about the last boy to clear up the cubicles outside Room 8 (the 5R form room in the new block). I looked round the back of them for some reason and came across an enormous collection of foreign stamps in three dust-covered plastic bags. Reckoning that, as they’d probably been lying around for months, they didn’t belong to anybody, I simply took them home with me and had something to do to keep me occupied during the holidays, sorting them out by country and sticking them in a large album with the help of the 1966 Stanley Gibbons catalogue. (If the owner is still around he can have them back if he wants!)

One day in August after I’d arranged all the stamps boredom got the better of me and I went up to the school out of curiosity to see whether the construction work on the new block had been completed (it had) and what the place looked like when no-one else was around. Just as I was leaving I ran into Eric Poyner of all people and wondered what on earth he was doing there in the holidays. I’d had next to nothing to do with him in my first four years at Price’s, but he immediately congratulated me on my O level results (which was nice of him I thought - why on earth he didn’t ask me what I was doing on the school premises in the holidays I haven’t a clue). I mumbled something in reply and he noted that I was intending to study English, French and German at A level, in a tone which suggested that he might have been happier and it might have been better for me if I’d decided to do science subjects instead. After a brief exchange of pleasantries he wished me all the best in the sixth form.

A level French, German and English were a rather different proposition from the O level stuff and required a lot more intellectual effort. Whereas I’d previously had little trouble with any of my O level subjects, it was much more difficult grappling with Chaucerian English and the prescribed texts we had to read and translation exercises we had to do for French and German. Yet again this academic activity was compensated by inanity: this time, at the end of 1967, it was a rather violent variation of shove-ha’penny football which a group of us from 6AL indulged in for several weeks in one of the terrapin huts, carving goalposts, centre circles and penalty spots all over the tables. Once we even managed to get collective detention from - I believe - Mr. Daysh for general stupid behaviour on the school field, something of a rarity for sixth formers. On one occasion I also inventively changed the PRICE’S SCHOOL on one of my German exercise books to read PRICE’S SOHO and got it back from "Tibor" Jay with the remark "This does not befit you".

I no longer had the feeling of being in competition with the others, as there were no more class positions as such; in the school reports, percentages were just awarded in each subject after the half-yearly exams based on some obscure criteria unknown to me. I still felt I was hanging in well, though I realised that at the end of the day only my A level results would really count.

Also by early 1968 the last of the pirate radio stations (Caroline) had been scuppered from the airwaves, so I no longer had this to constantly distract me. The idea of becoming a rock musician had also faded somewhat, so in the absence of any other Price’s-related activity to occupy me there seemed to be no alternative to working.

My teachers at the time were Tibor, Flo (Mr. Foster) and Mr. Earl for English literature. I’d never had Flo for French before and had always thought of him, like many others did, as being rather stuffy, diffident and conservative, but at least towards sixth-formers he was a bit different - in his way he seemed quite kindly and was always prepared to help with problems concerning the French language. Mr. Earl had been drafted in from another school for a brief stint at Price‘s. Unfortunately he was quite different from Mr. George, his predecessor - he was very shy and locked up (some cynics might say: lost) in his dreamy academic world. I remember that one day he turned up with cuts and bandages all over his face: I found out that he’d been punched in the face the evening before by a youth from one of the lower forms, who had been immediately expelled. I felt rather sorry in a way for Mr. Earl and his situation, although he never seemed to make much effort to really teach us or explain English literature to us (or perhaps we were just too dumb): whenever he wasn’t waffling from somewhere in another world he gave us essays, and whatever one wrote, one was bound to get the thing back covered in derogatory comments in red ink. He never seemed happy at the place and left in the autumn, his place being taken by Mr. Lord, another of the more progressive type of English teacher. I often wondered why Price’s took on so many Cambridge graduates .....

Then in mid-1968 I got to know Chris Bard from the year below me. Chris and Mr. Johnson, the head English teacher, were in the process of setting up the Black Lion magazine, which was intended to be an alternative literary publication to the Lion and would provide an outlet for writing deemed too conservative for publication therein and for boys to let off steam about various aspects of school life or life in general. There had been several "alternative" magazines at Price’s before, but they were just one-off affairs, were of only limited distribution, or only made it as far as two or three issues. Chris was a rebellious, anti-authority fellow (much worse than me, I thought) whose aim was to shake Price’s out of its conservative thinking. The way he talked about his project made it seem as though it was going to be a much more long-term affair than its predecessors. He asked me if I’d like to be associated with it and I immediately volunteered to help him on the Editorial Board. The whole saga of the Black Lion is elsewhere on the website so there’s no need to repeat it here.

As a result of this Black Lion activity I now found myself hanging around with a crowd who were more on the periphery of the Price’s mainstream - a group who were more interested in rock music, art, esoteric literature, alternative religions and styles of living, etc. We had all to differing degrees been influenced by a widely-read book from the library called "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger, which, despite having been written some 15 years or so earlier, was a kind of blueprint for disoriented, maladjusted and aimless youth in the late 60s.

Even so, my dedication to the long-term task at hand - getting decent A level results - didn’t waver.

Also at this time I stopped going to CCF, which I hated in the meantime. I couldn’t for the life of me see why it was necessary to keep up this charade in the sixth form; it had been bad enough in 3A and 5R. I hoped that Steve Chappell - the sergeant-major or lance-corporal or whatever he was - wouldn’t notice, and indeed he saw me several times on Monday afternoons (CCF day) in the library not wearing my uniform, but not once did he or my form master (whose name I can no longer remember) make any comment. Still bearing at the back of my mind Willie T’s comments from my 2A days about my "incessant chattering", I had started developing a decidedly low profile, which often stood me in good stead in potentially difficult situations.

(to be continued ...)