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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



I can never forget the new smells and sounds of Knottingley High School in 1971 - the ubiquitous floor polish and endless ringing bells, dividing our days into hours. Nowadays when I take my children to school I am really shocked by how much the education process has changed.

Over thirty of us were rammed into a class called ‘Delacy’ and pushed upon poor unsuspecting teachers. Our Mathematics teacher had the patience of an earthquake. His teaching method consisted of writing many sums etc, on the blackboard and ordering you to write them into your book. I was never quite sure why or what they were about. If you couldn’t keep up it was best to sit in silence; he was very accurate at throwing the blackboard rubber, which exploded on your head in a cloud of chalk. He was probably great with the academic naturals, but he had no time for us "Morons" as he used to put it. From this man I learned one thing - a hatred of Mathematics. To me he was no more than a walking aggressive book, with the personality of a house brick.

For woodwork we had Mr. Summers. At the beginning of the year he would ask us what we wanted to make. Our ideas were the usual sort of thing; Dalek, Gallows, Chieftain Tank and the odd lavatory seat. He would then sigh and say. "What do you want to make, a fruit bowl or a footstool?" I rebelled and went for the great task of; ‘The Rocking chair.’

We would all go about our work and then Mr. Summers would come around and show us the very techniques we needed to complete our project. If we stepped out of line he had a unique form of discipline, he used to grab a small piece of hair on your temple and lift you onto your tiptoes - most effective. I should know I had it on several occasions but, having said that, he did resort to the old smack in the mouth when I punched a bullying kid in the face so hard he flew over a woodwork bench.

When my rocking chair was almost complete Mr. Summers inspected it and looked gravely concerned. "I know it’s meant to be a rocking chair, but I don’t think it’s supposed to rock that much."

"What do you mean sir?" He pushed his glasses closer to his eyes and tried to be subtle.

"Basically what you have here Michael is an expensive bunch of kindling." One of the other kids stepped forward and said in complete sincerity. "Well sir, if he cuts the legs down a foot, takes off the arms and shortens the back he’ll have a nice milking stool."

Mr. Summers walked off and I went looking for the tenon saw. My grand ‘Chippendale’ effort ended up looking like a pub table for ‘Action Man’. Although I wasn’t too clever in Mr. Summers’ class I have to thank him for sowing the seed of my interest in DIY enabling me to renovate many houses, which has helped me immensely on the infamous property ladder.

Mr. Carr was our library teacher. I liked him because he gave me access to books. He must have really liked books; he used them to bash you on the head if you got out of line. He always used a world Atlas on me and sometimes an encyclopaedia as it had very little give.

In PE we had great fun. Mr. England was a serious teacher and looking back, I realise he understood the art of teaching even by today’s standards. He had a passion for sport and endless knowledge to pass on. His greatest gift was encouragement. He knew that 95% of fitness was in your mind. Although I hated sport I always admired his commitment to teaching. Under his guidance I saw many kids who were good become talented.

I can’t remember the name of our history teacher but she had wonderful breasts. I have a lot to thank those breasts for as they got me interested in history which helped me quite a lot in recent years. It wasn’t a good start though as breasts have got me into trouble ever since.

In science we had Mr. Osmond I really felt sorry for this man. The Osmond’s pop group were massive in the 70’s so this poor bloke had to put up with the same crap Osmond’s gags day after day. He must have been so glad when they became unfashionable. This man had a lot to offer but I was not ready for science, my brain being full of breasts and all.

One of my favourites was Mr. Gledhill our music teacher. This man was on a par with Mr. England. He didn’t need to use force because he was a gifted educator. He looked like a Teddy boy with swept-back hair into a DA, but spoke like a professor. Most of us were difficult children but Mr. Gledhill still gave us the same attention the X Alpha kids received. He made a deal with us. "Bring in your favourite records and we’ll play them and talk about them." We did. That was it, he had us. Whether he knew it or not this was a revolution in teaching. He took us from the birth of music to modern day pop. I didn’t realise how much I’d learned from this man until I started climbing through the ranks of TV, film and media. I have called on his guidance many times throughout my career.

I can’t remember who we had for geography on account of it being so boring. Again loads of stuff was written onto the blackboard for us to copy into our books. Occasionally I would look into this book and think; what the hell is all that about? However geography became interesting one day, when by accident we had a teacher called Mr. Hutchinson. This big Welshman was the most charismatic teacher in the school. For a start he looked like Edward Woodward. Exuding a natural authority he hardly ever used force, but when he did it was swift and final, it was also done with a certain style. When giving out the cane it was administered with the end of an old fishing rod (fibreglass I think.) Other teacher’s shouted or screamed which made it obvious that you had them, you had made them lose control; got them to lose their rag. That’s what children do they look for boundaries. This never happened with Mr. Hutchinson, every action seemed fully controlled. That was unnerving; thus he was always one step ahead. He backed all this up with the best poker face I have ever seen. The ultimate teacher for a Northern, working class school. From this man I learned how to behave like a man.

Our English teacher was delicious. She had beautifully proportioned slender legs, a gorgeous straight back, leading onto graceful arms. Elegance on legs! She was not the type of woman for Knottingley High of the 1970s. Most of the other kids were badly behaved taking advantage of her kind nature. She once leant over and put her face about two inches from mine. Her perfume and beauty were intoxicating. "I loved the story you wrote Michael." My name sounded so sweet emanating from her exquisite lips. I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember her name, but I’ll never forget what her bum looked like in those tight black trousers. Even though my English is still bad today, from this woman I learned that I adored women.

With my family claiming ‘Pancrack’ and my home life being one step away from a Victorian workhouse I received free school dinners. Monday mornings I queued up for a weeks worth of tickets. This was a Northern school so there was no stigma attached to this practice; I got to know quite a few gypsy kids in this queue. I also saw lots of kids whose parents were working. They came into the line and picked up tickets so they could spend their dinner money on fags and spice (sweets.)

The Gypsy kids were always interesting. I was totally amazed at how accurate Brad Pitt’s Portrayal of a gypsy in the movie ‘Snatch’ was. He really had done his homework. Their accent was always a cross between Irish and midlands English. Romany’s always enjoy laughing and they have a certain freedom in their spirits, which probably comes through generations of travelling. Whenever chatting to a gypsy I always had the feeling I was talking to living history; a pattern of speech and mannerisms that haven’t changed for hundreds of years. They always had funky names like Jonas, Izzy or Queenie.

Our drama teacher was the spitting image of Leo Sayer the pop singer. He was a nice man but drama at Knottingley High, meant acting like a tree or becoming porridge. We’d always stand around in silence ‘Feeling the atmosphere’ which is the perfect cue for some stupid kid to break wind really loudly. Not exactly a good start for any budding Laurence Olivier.

I feel sorry for teachers today. They can’t even touch kids now let alone give them a clout around the ear. This must make their job even harder. I have to say I hold no bad feelings for the smacks and clouts I received whilst attending Knottingley High. It did us no harm, and I usually deserved it.

My gratitude goes out to all those teachers of the 1970s, (apart from Maths) although I was a dreadful pupil, thank you for trying.

Mike Edwards

[Memories Index]

Also by Mike Edwards

Knottingley Compatriots
Memories of Knottingley - My Knottingley
More Memories of Knottingley - My Knottingley II
Stranger Things Can Happen At Sea
Happy Days
Africans and Communists

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