Jeremy Edwards (1979-2000)

Being asked to reminisce about my twenty happy years at Emanuel is a bit of a treat, but where to start? I remember being hugely intimidated on my very first morning, way back in September 1979, by my brief exchange with one of the senior members of staff.

This was my first teaching job and I arrived at my first assembly in the Hampden Hall feeling very self-conscious. Not many teachers appeared to be present, but I had been told to attend by Headmaster, Peter Hendry, so duly walked to the front and sat myself down next to Dr Ullyat. The stern-faced Head of Science looked down his half-glasses at me and said, “New here? What tie is that you are wearing?”

“It’s my old school tie, actually. I went to Monmouth School.”

“Monmouth?” he repeated, incredulously. Then he turned away from me, clearly unimpressed.

I am happy to report that things looked up after that awkward first exchange and I was welcomed into the English department by those kind, urbane gentlemen, Charles Cuddon and John Basing. I learned so much from both men and Charles, as Head of Department, was always very supportive. John was able to guide me on Common Room etiquette and urged me to move seats when I sat down in a corner chair in Common Room that had been unofficially reserved for another long-serving member of the English department, Dr Upadhyay. No-one ever sat in the good Doctor’s chair. Crisis averted!

I worked with many brilliant English teachers during my time at Emanuel – Trudi Brunskill, Bill Smith, Anne Sloper, Frank Danes, to name just a few – and Emanuel pupils were always great fun to teach. I remember with particular affection the A Level sets I taught and the theatre trips we enjoyed together. It was a real pleasure to meet up with some of my former pupils a few years ago at the Emanuel 1980s reunion and discover that they still remembered our English lessons!

The theatre has always been a love of mine and, in my early years at Emanuel, I directed the school plays. I managed to direct six productions between 1981 and 1988, starting with Kes and including The Caretaker, The Importance of Being Earnest, Twelfth Night, Arsenic and Old Lace and Death of a Salesman. Twelfth Night was memorable for the astonishing performance of Naveen Andrews as Feste and it came as no surprise to me to see him forge a successful career as a screen actor in The Buddha of Suburbia and The English Patient. It was equally pleasing to see Rupert Degas, one of Emanuel’s most talented actors in the mid-1980s, go on to take a lead role in the West End production of Stones in His Pockets.

Rowing was another passion and it was not a coincidence that I applied to teach at Emanuel at a time when it was one of the UK’s leading rowing schools. I was a member of the British lightweight squad in the late 1970s and I know that Graeme Mulcahy, a fellow GB international and Emanuel’s 1st VIII coach, put in a good word for me when I applied. It was wonderful to work with Richard Marriott, Master i/c Rowing, and Graeme in those early days. The Boat Club was flourishing and, when Richard headed off to Zimbabwe, the recruiting of Mike Partridge, Jon Whybrow and John Layng ensured that Emanuel was rarely out of the top four in the Schools’ Head of the River for most of the 1980s.

I had the pleasure of coaching many crews during my twenty years at Emanuel, but I remember fondly the 1st VIII of 1986 with Anton Obholzer in the middle of the boat and Rob Morris in the stroke seat. We enjoyed many successes that season and both Anton and Rob won their GB vests, with four other members of the crew representing England in the Home Countries match. It was also a great source of pride for Emanuel to see Anton win a place in the GB VIII that finished 4th in the Seoul Olympics in 1988 – the youngest member of the British rowing team.

Boat Club tours to Vancouver (1985) and Switzerland (1987) were great fun and there were plenty of other opportunities to take overseas trips. I led the annual ski trips for many years, with Dave Bratt an ever-present companion, and somehow managed to squeeze in a visit to Russia at the time of Gorbachev’s perestroika, with Andy Brown.

Being appointed Head of English in 1988 was an exciting new phase in my career and then Peter Thomson, Headmaster, appointed me Head of Lower School in 1992, with an office in what Gary Dibden used to call the Wendy House (above the Hill Form). Tristram Jones-Parry arrived as Headmaster in 1994 and promoted me to Second Master a year later.

I left Emanuel in 2000 to become Headmaster of Westminster Under School, the junior part of Westminster School, and spent more than ten years there. In 2010 I was offered the headship of Eaton House the Manor, a prep school by Clapham Common (near my home), and I loved being able to walk to work rather than being crushed on the tube. After more than sixteen years of headship, I stepped down in 2016 to work part-time as an educational consultant and I have enjoyed the flexibility of the role over the last two years, advising schools, headteachers and families.

In my last year at Emanuel my own children were still very young, but all three are now in their twenties and doing exciting things. My wife, Alexa, and I still live in Clapham and continue to enjoy all the wonderful theatre and music that London offers. I have always enjoyed singing and could occasionally be persuaded to give a rendition of The Green Green Grass of Home, but have now joined the Battersea Choral Society and have relished the challenge of performing some classic choral works this year.

I love bumping into OEs and hearing news of their exploits. It has also been great to have regular updates from Tony Jones about Emanuel’s current pupils and the changing face of the school – some of the new facilities look splendid! It is clear the school is in very good health.

Memories of former staff: John Naylor (1980-2004)

John Naylor was a Physics teacher and Head of Science from 1980-2004 alongside some of the big names of yesteryear such as Derek Pennell, Nathan Veerasamy, Keith Foot and Mike Hand. He is the author of Out of the Blue: A 24-Hour Skywatcher’s Guide, which addresses all aspects of natural phenomena seen in the sky and now gives talks and teaches course on atmospheric optics.

John was kind enough to answer a few of our questions recently.

What can you remember about your first day at Emanuel? 

I don’t have any memories about my first day but I do remember my interview with the then head of physics, Dr Kenneth Ulyatt. I was ushered into to physics P2 where he was supervising the A level practical exam. He was wearing a gown and asked me what my father did (his standard question to all applicants and pupils, I was informed). There were no questions about my teaching experience. My answer must have satisfied him because I was taken on.

What was Emanuel like when you joined in 1980? Had you worked in other schools to compare it with?

I had been working in Mayfield School which was a huge, girls only comprehensive on West Hill. I was not enjoying the experience, so when I saw that Emanuel was looking for a physics teacher I jumped at the chance.

Emanuel was somewhat run down. It had only recently become independent and money was short. The school cadet corps paraded on Wednesday afternoons between the Hampden Hall and the main building and they had an assault course where the gym is now. I can only remember two women on the staff and by and large teachers were left to their own devices.

Can you relate any funny stories from teaching?

On the last day of one particular year, my 5th form class came into my lab (P1) armed with water balloons. They were itching to let me have it but, being a particularly studious and well-behaved lot, they wanted my blessing. Realising that the only way to calm them down was to accept the challenge, I suggested that we have a one-on-one duel. They nominated one of their number and he and I stood at opposite ends of the lab. His missed me but mine hit him! With the situation defused, we spent the rest of the lesson reminiscing.

What do you remember of the massive hot air balloon being inflated in the Hampden Hall Yard in the 1990s?

Nathan Veersamy was something of a law unto himself and over several weeks he and some of his pupils made a huge balloon out of black plastic bin bags stuck together with sellotape. Without informing anyone, one afternoon he took the balloon into the yard between the Hampden Hall and the main building and proceeded to inflate it by pouring lighter fuel onto scraps of cardboard in a large old drum. By this time, pupils were leaning out of every window overlooking the yard. As the balloon inflated, it was held down by several boys. Nathan attached a rope cradle to the open end and promptly jumped into it. The boys let go and, against all odds, up it went without coming apart at the sellotaped seams! By this time, I had made my way to the yard and I like to think I saved his life by grabbing the cradle and, with the help of some of the boys, pulled it back to the ground just as it was getting airborne. There was no tether line, so had the uncontrolled balloon risen a few metres into the air Nathan may well have ended up in hospital, or worse. Peter Thomson, the headmaster, came out to have a look and took it all in his stride; if I remember correctly, he quite enjoyed the whole episode. At any rate, Nathan kept his job.

You were involved in the early days of computing at Emanuel. What do you remember of it?

I introduced Macs to the school and was nominally in charge of the computer room, which was then in what later became the physics department office. But I really did not have the knowledge or time necessary to set up a functioning network and Bernard Howard took things over. The first thing he did was to replace Macs with PCs.

Are you aware of any nicknames you had at school? You had a very distinct accent; did you ever get confused with Sean Connery?

Apparently, I have the same husky voice as Sean Connery so it wasn’t so much a nickname as frequent requests to say “shaken but not stirred”. The best nickname conferred on me was “Mr Neutron” by a pupil at another school.

How have you been spending your time since you left Emanuel?

I give talks on atmospheric optics and sound to adults and teach courses on these subjects at summer schools. Last summer, between lockdowns, I took groups of people on ‘sound walks’, which are walks with a focus on listening to the environment. Sound walks are quite the thing these days.

Your book Out of the Blue: A 24-Hour Skywatcher’s Guide was published in 2002. Are you working on a follow up?

Yes, I’ve been working on a book about sound along similar lines to Out of the Blue. I began it as a physicist (sound as vibrations etc.), made a biological detour (evolution and the function of hearing systems) and ended up as an aesthete (delighting in the acoustic qualities of sound in the spirit of John Cage). It’s in the hands of a publisher and should be out towards the end of this year.

You’ve attended several reunions where it has looked like some OEs have treated you like a veteran rock star. Have you enjoyed these occasions?

I’m not sure about rock star bit. I always enjoy catching up with former pupils; it’s reassuring to discover that one is (in the main) fondly remembered.

Bill Purkis (1975-2009)

Bill Purkis was a teacher at Emanuel for 34 years and Head of Geography and Clyde House for over twenty years. Bill was known for his ‘laconic sarcasm and wit’ as noted in his Portcullis Valete in 2009. We think the photo below was taken by OE David Bowles who referred to it as ‘Bill’s 1970s hippy phase’.

Bill’s great love was football and he was the staff team’s most reliable full-back for many years. He is also a lifelong Manchester City fan and supported them through the thick and thin of the lower reaches of the English Football League in those days.

After an Emanuel Alumni Facebook post attracted lots of comments, we caught up with Bill during lockdown to ask him a few questions:

What can you remember about your first day at Emanuel? 

Nothing but I do remember my interview with Don Brittain, the head of geography at the time. Having finished the interview, we spent about an hour trying to find the headmaster. Eventually we found him (Mr Kuper) on the rugby field. It was the only time I saw him.

What was Emanuel like when you joined in 1975?

Very old fashioned.

What are your memories of room 11? Were you aware that it was referred to as the ‘Man Cave’?

I was in room 13 first which became part of Music. Room 11 had an old drinking fountain which became a dumping ground for unwanted food. This attracted pigeons who wandered into room 11 and then, unable to find a way out, flew around the room defecating on the pupils below. We developed a technique of closing all curtains and leaving the door as the only exit.

A few pupils have mentioned Geology. Was that taught as a separate subject?

Geology was my main subject. It had its own lab with a collection far better than most. Numbers fluctuated but at one point I taught more periods than were available on the timetable. The set was divided into shifts as they could not all get in at the same time.

Can you relate any funny stories from teaching?

The lab had a dodgy light which failed to come on at first. I told the boys to raise their hands until it came on. “Ah, many hands make light work.”

Are you aware of any nicknames you had at school?

I dread to think.

Were you aware that you had a reputation for being ‘scary’?

No, I was a softie.

Did pupils enjoy ribbing you about the lack of success of Manchester City over the period you taught here? 

It has all changed now! I do remember giving a RE lesson putting forth the idea that MCFC was a valid religion.

How have you been spending your time since you left Emanuel?

I had a stroke and three grandsons. My wife and I are Special Guardians of one of our grandsons who lives with us. Our dream of travelling outside school holidays and getting cheaper prices at last vanished. Still, we have not done so badly – some of the places we have visited are Mauritius, South Africa, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Australia and New Zealand. One thing I have learnt is do not try to push a buggy on Bondi beach.

At the time of writing, we are in lockdown with our two grandsons.

Michael Stewart (1968-1983)

Michael Stewart had a very long association with Emanuel School, having been a pupil from 1955-1963 and a member of the Modern Foreign Languages department from 1968-1983. He went on to become Deputy Head at Oakwood Park Grammar School and later Headmaster of Spalding Grammar School in Lincolnshire. Michael shared his memories of being a pupil and teacher with us recently.

“In 1955, when my secondary school life began, Emanuel seemed a harsh and oppressive place.  It didn’t change that much during my eight years but one of the many delights of my time there was finding subtle (and not so subtle) ways of playing the system – a valuable life-lesson. This was done in the company of truly great friends, Kevin Tinker and Alec Parley especially, many of whom I still see.  All those friendships undoubtedly come top of the list of my happiest memories of Emanuel.  1st XI cricket and 2nd XV rugby also feature strongly.

1969, U12 XI cricket team

The teaching was pretty good too. Paul Craddock was a major influence not only in my choice of German and Russian at university but in many of the teaching methods I employed throughout my subsequent 36 years at the blackboard.  Equally influential was Dennis Witcombe who taught me History, actually always my favourite subject, from 1st Form to A Level.

I spent five years at Durham University, switched from German to Russian honours, and after graduating needed a reason to stay on so I could run the weekly university dances and end-of-term balls. I opted for a PGCE. The Who, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and Chuck Berry were just a few of the big names we secured.  From the outset I absolutely loved the practical side of teaching (much less so the theory, yawn, yawn) and even turned down the offer of a job in the music agent business, at twice a teacher’s salary, in order to accept an invitation to return to Emanuel.  Let’s just say that the interview was delightfully informal.  And the love I initially felt for teaching never left me.

By 1968 Emanuel had become a different place, no longer a cross between a 19th century public school and a sub-division of HM Forces, but now in the liberal and tolerant hands of Charles Kuper. Staff I had known treated me generously and as an equal, notably Paul Craddock and the ever convivial and engaging Charles Cuddon. I made new and lasting friends: Clive Smith and Stuart Thomson from the languages department, and Barry Duesbury, Tony Phillips, Mervyn Davies (briefly), Connor McDermott and later Dick Woodall from among my fellow rugby and cricket “coaches”.  Even my worst schoolboy transgressions paled into insignificance beside the many post-match antics spent in their company.

Former staff with Michael Stewart, far right

I took rugby and cricket teams throughout my 15 years: junior rugby and eventually 1st XI cricket from 1976 to 1983. The sporting success of nearly all these teams was a source of enormous satisfaction: Ian Payne’s 1st XI of 1976 for example, but perhaps none more so than the star-studded rugby side (Francis Emeruwa et al) who won the U13 Sevens at Rosslyn Park and had 60 consecutive unbeaten matches from U13s to Colts, 1973-76.  Results in the classroom were equally satisfying and rewarding. I still see a number of former pupils from time to time, regularly so in the case of a Russian group who left in the early 1980s…and I don’t seem able to shake off Gary Dibden.

From Emanuel I went as a Deputy Head to Maidstone in 1983 and four years later to the Headship of Spalding Grammar School in Lincolnshire – a great deal less sport now but classroom teaching continued to the end. In these senior roles I never forgot my own schooldays: how easy it could be for more or less any pupil to “transgress” and how essential it was to take an inclusive rather than an authoritarian approach. Only government interference and increasing bureaucratic demands detracted from the absolute pleasure I derived in so many ways from continuing to work in a school environment right up to my retirement in 2004.

In retirement, I returned to Kent and my wife, Brenda, and I took the opportunity to travel extensively all over the world.  I also became involved in a large number of community and charity activities in the vibrant village where we live.  I’m very gradually withdrawing from these nowadays.

It’s a joy to see Emanuel make so many changes for the better in recent years and to see it thrive. Long may it continue to do so and long may I rejoice in all the memories and valuable experiences I had there.”

Michael visiting the Emanuel School Archive, 2018

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