HistorySch_02

Below are some accounts and stories from former pupils of the school. School was certainly different then! 

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On Tuesday 21 February 2012 six former pupils of the school arranged to visit the school to re kindle memories. The six were all pupils in the late 1950s, Allan Gray, Allan Jezzard, Bernard Gardner (head boy), Jeffrey Hazelton, Alan Sturges, Vivien Hunter. Below is an account of their visit written by Bernard Gardner.

prefects1959a

We entered the front gate and recognised the iron work as original and the view of the building and gardens unchanged from our days. Entering the very elegant front door was a new experience, as I never remember pupils being allowed to enter this way. Boys entered via the left gate and girls to the right.  Prefects would take the names of latecomers for detention

We enjoyed a very warm welcome in the office with a debate as to whether this had been the Head's office. The original plans we saw confirmed his office was on the right.  I was wrong.  51 years is a long time ago. I do remember the prefects' job was to press the buttons in the head's room to ring the bells throughout the school at break times. You were not popular if you forgot to look at your watch and extended the school day by 5 minutes.

The original buildings were of great interest.  The main hall doors and layout were very familiar.  The quad to the left was just grass in our day. The rooms to the left used to be science, then woodwork and metalwork at the far end - just as the original plans show. The big change was the main corridor that ran the entire length of the school and is now divided to form separate rooms. The playground and terrace were very recognisable but all the classrooms had large concertina windows so the whole side could be opened wide in summer. All the buildings round the playground were new to us.  The school must be twice the floor area I would guess, most impressive.

Our playground area was larger, followed by a grass area of roughly the same size.  Down a steep bank was a large field that was ploughed up just as we arrived in 1955 and was re-established as a sports field by the time we left in 1960.  We had to make do with the playground and grass area.

The new buildings were most impressive, as were the smart uniformed children in the playground.  Everybody seemed very friendly and happy. One lad even asked Allan if he was the new head master.  The children could not believe that we were pupils from 50 years ago. The technology rooms were of great interest with the equipment giving them such character. We are sure one of the lathes was in use in our days and the woodwork benches could possibly be as old? Three of us visiting ended up in engineering and the teachers were a significant inspiration I am sure. The old gym and changing rooms were remembered with many tales and teachers recalled.

We visited the uniform shop, which did not exist in our day and the flat up the stairs where the girls would practise domestic skills (very sexist then).

The highlight has to be the incredible and unexpected display of school memorabilia that Mrs Hills and Mrs Cunnew had laid out for us in the meeting room.

There in front was the imposing picture of the Head teacher Mr Paul, the original plans of the school buildings, the log books from 1955 to 1960, amazing pictures of pupils, teachers and events of our time.  It was a real treat for all of us and not long enough. It would take hours if not days to do such a precious collection justice.  I think we spent almost 3 hours in the school. 

Our thanks go to Mrs Hills and Mrs Cunnew for giving us their valuable time.


Alan Sturges, a former pupil in the 1950s, recently visited the school and sent these memories.

1.  Mr. Revell (metalwork teacher) left us unsupervised for a short time one afternoon.We discovered that sword-fighting with metalwork files made a satisfying amount of sparks, the door opened and Mr. Revell  appeared and in tow were the school governors on a visit. Eeek ! He wasn’t impressed, he went next door to Mr. King (woodwork teacher) and selected a nice whippy piece of wood. Us culprits were then bent over a lathe and thrashed with said piece of wood, hmm couldn’t sit down for a long time after that !

2. The extended course I believe started in 58/59 for pupils taking GCE’s. The remainder who were to leave at 15 without qualifications were allocated certain duties on a rota system. I ‘volunteered’ for milk delivery. This involved loading up a hand trolley with  1/3 pint glass bottles of milk for delivery to each classroom, so we have a trolley loaded with potentially  200-300 bottles. Now in the school at the time a straight corridor ran the entire length of the building and we had a deadline ! So you can see how things are shaping up, we found that scooting and jumping on the trolley saved precious seconds but to access the temporary annexe we had to take a sharp bend at the end of the corridor and down a ramp. Unfortunately that day we attained a velocity record down the corridor but due to high centre of gravity we didn’t make the bend and ramp. Trolley obeyed Newton’s laws of motion and turned over smashing good percentage of bottles, what a mess ! glass fragments and gallons of milk running everywhere. The school stank of warm milk for days, can’t remember  punishment details but to our dismay we were taken off the milk rota.

3. I suppose this one should be filed under ‘mental cruelty to teachers’ : Following on from the above milk saga we had a music teacher, a Mr. Wells a lovely man but unfortunately he was blind. Our occasional highlight  was to tiptoe into his class and if he hadn’t heard us (he had the hearing of a bat) we dropped the crate from an impressive height. Boy, did it make him jump, swift exit from class before he had recovered and names taken.


Len Aarons, former pupil of Sidney Burnell in the late 1950's writes about some memories of school.

I had the pleasure of going to "Uncle Sid's Academy for Backward Children" as we used to call it, from 1950 to 1953 in the infants class, then again from 1957(ish) to 1960 when I finally left school to go out into the big wide world at the grand old age of 15.   The in between years, we moved to Leyton where I attended Oxford and Elson House School (hated it!) then on to Ruckholt Manor School after failing my 11 plus miserably.  We moved back into Highams Park around 1957/58.

Needless to say, I was happiest at Sydney Burnell.   I had lots of friends that remembered me from infants school, but some of them, unfortunately, grew up to be quite anti-Semitic and bullied me because I was Jewish.  You have to remember, we were all born in 1945 and lots of dads came home from the war either wounded or mentally damaged and blamed Jewish people for their injuries.  This was passed down to their sons and I took the brunt of it.  It took me until I was 14 before I fought back and wasn't picked on again.

My sister who is 10 years older than me also went to SB and she tells stories of German fighters strafing the school during the war because they thought it was a factory and the children were adults. Eventually, my sister and mother were evacuated to Buckingham for the duration.  I don't know if they're still there, but the old red bricks used in building the school still held the pock-marks from the bullets even up until I left school in 1960.   The bricks were a very soft material and we used to carve our initials in the bricks.  I wonder if they are still there in the original walls?

The teachers I remember are Mr Weech, Mr Finis (still have shivers when mentioning that name), Mr Revel (metal work), Mr King (wood work and tech drawing), Mr Allen, Mr Benson (PT) and a Mrs Reichwald.  HG Paul was the headmaster.

I remember a couple of events vividly:  We came in from the playground and within two - three minutes, big mouth here was standing in front of the class because I said or did something to upset the young female teacher.   The next thing was one of the boys whistled quite loudly in class.  The teacher asked who did that.  We all knew exactly who it was but we didn't rat him out.  She asked again who whistled, no answer.  The teacher then said that if the whistler didn't own up, all the boys would go see Mr Benson to get the slipper.  We all protested, no one more than me because I was already standing in the corner.  In the end, one of the "hard boys" in the class, stood up and said "Miss, I know who it was and it wasn't me, but I will take the blame that way the whole class doesn't have to get the slipper."   She said that was very honourable of him but it won't work.   So, off we went to see Mr Benson to get the slipper.  The culprit stood well away from us.  We waited in line outside the gym and me being smart, thought that if I were last, he'd be tired out at the end.  No such luck.  He said that he always saves the last person as his finale thwack and wouldn't you know it, he was right. I couldn't sit down all night.  His plimsoll was red hot from my bum.   Funny, the next day, the whistler came in to school with a bruise on his left cheek..I wonder how he got it?  The "hard boy" was being stared at all day by the culprit.

The other event, I got into some serious trouble:   It was the school's Christmas play.  Us senior boys didn't act in the play but we were scenery movers/curtain raisers etc.  We had to go to rehearsals one day and at that time we were learning about the eye in science.  Rehearsals were just before science class, so during lunch, we had to go to Winchester road to the butchers and get either cows or pigs eyes to dissect.  A few of us had eyes wrapped up in butchers paper in our pockets.   So, rehearsals - the stage had a black curtain around it and a space behind so we could walk around without being seen by the audience.   One of the elderly teachers, she must have been old because she had grey hair (I'm now 15, remember), had the piano situated at an angle where it was just into the curtain.  The first formers (11 years old) in their nice new clean school blazers, were kneeling down at the edge of the stage singing carols along with the piano.   The piano keyboard was denting the curtain if you get my meaning.  Myself and a couple of nameless class-mates took it upon ourselves to hold the curtain still while I got some scissors and made a slit about an inch above the keys.   With that done, I took my pig or cow eye out of my pocket, shouted out as loud as I could " OW, MY EYE!!" and threw the eye through the slit onto the piano keyboard where it bounced plink, plink, plink on the keys.   The teacher screamed and fell backwards off the stool but her shins caught the underside of the keyboard and she was stuck in mid faint - she wore thigh length bloomers.   All the first formers ran around like chickens with their heads cut off and were in sheer panic.    For us then it was really funny, but now as an adult, it was a very stupid thing to do.  She really could have got hurt.

Needless to say, we got into trouble, but there was nothing they could really do because the next week, we were leaving school for good, December 21st 1960.    I did, however write a sincere apology to the teacher and my parents made me send her flowers, from my own money. 

I live in Los Angeles and have done so for over 40 years.    I'm now 65 and am seriously considering retiring soon.  I just don't know when.  At this age, I have been going over in my mind all what has happened to me in my great life and it amazes me what I have accomplished, where I have been and whom I have met over the years (many celebs and almost all of the Royal Family).  Not bad for a kid that didn't get any GCE's or even went to grammar school.   So it's thanks to Sydney Burnell, you taught me well!! 


Len Aarons, former pupil of Sidney Burnell in the late 1950's writes about his lfe since leaving school in 1960.

The day I finally left school, December 21st 1960 (age 15), was at that time, the happiest day of my life.  Let's just say school and I didn't mix well, I was average "C" student.  I still have my report card from those days and my son roared with laughter when he read it.

My first job was as a junior/office boy/runner at a stockbroker's office in the City of London earning a whopping £4.00 per week.  I remember one time, the office manager asked me and another young lad to stay after work and move some desks.   When we came in the next day he told us that he was going to put an extra ten shillings in our wage pack..We couldn't believe it, a whole 10 shillings, a half pound..WOW, we hit the big time.   I was so proud of myself.

After about a year, I was promoted into the office with my own desk and filing cabinet.  Don't ask me what I was doing because I didn't know then and don't know now.  It was filing cards in order, I think.  One day I asked a white haired colleague, Fred,  how long he'd been with the firm - he stopped, thought about it for a second and said "38 years."   I stopped, thought about it for a second and said to myself "sod this, this isn't going to be me."  So I gave notice.     Fred was the type of old school man that you could set your clock by his actions.  At 10.10 every morning he left his desk, went to the toilet and came back at 10.30 in perfect time for the tea trolley.  At 12.00 he went to the same pub every day for lunch and then at 15.45, off to the toilet again in time for the 16.00 cup of tea. 

There was no way I was going to end up like him, so I quit and went to work in a menswear shop in Dagenham Essex for a fairly large chain of men's shops.   I stayed there for about a year and was promoted to the Romford store where it was much busier.  In Dagenham, myself, the manager and the other salesman would play darts all day because we had no customers.  In darts I found that I was useless, haven't played it since.

So now I'm about 18 or so and enjoying working in Romford, made some local friends, but having to bus it there from Highams Park every day was a bit of a pain.   So I requested a change of venue and to my surprise, instead of sending me to the closer Ilford store, they sent me to their prime location in the West End.    I was at the peak of my profession, or at least I thought I was at the ripe old age of 18/19.   Within this company if you were a "West End salesman" you were considered hot stuff.      But then like all hot stuff teenagers, another company sprang up and was offering more money, so a few of us left and went there and eventually I became a stock control assistant in the head office in Edmonton. Oh yes, I'm now driving and have a beat up old car.

Now it's around 1964/65 and Carnaby Street with its fashionable boutiques came to life and well, I just had to work there because the money was good and after all, I'm now a fashion guru - yeah right!    Carnaby Street was my first time mixing with celebrities and we served many of the rock bands and TV personalities.  It was a great time down the street - every day either one or more members of The Who would come in, Mick Jagger, Sir Paul, Ringo, The Animals, Eric Clapton and many more of the same type of person.   I was making really good money and going to great clubs in the West End seeing many of today's world famous musicians play in small venues.  But with all the clubs and mixing with all these famous people, neither myself nor any of my close friends did any drugs whatsoever.  We thought it was funny watching all these stupid Mods swallowing handfuls of pills and getting stoned and then puking...! Very stupid.

In 1966, I went to a party in Baron's Court with about 4 friends.  The party was given by a bunch of dancers from the Royal School of Ballet.  Wayne Sleep was there wearing a long college scarf, bowler hat, army boots and dancing Swan Lake in the living room, very funny.  Of course, he too was very young at the time.   Anyway, at this party was a young married couple from Los Angeles who were in the UK because she was on an exchange with Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital as an X-Ray technician for a year.  He came with her to be an office worker there so they wouldn't be apart.  When I met them, they'd only been in London for a week and we became close friends. 

They were about a year or so older than me, but for some reason, we really hit it off and I loved showing them around London.  I'd bring dates with me and they would give me the thumbs up or down about the girl.  I respected their opinions.   But, all good things have to come to an end and their year was up and came home to Los Angeles.  I was very upset, but life carried on  and I now had a good job working in a retail store in Saville Row.    I began to see one specific lady and after a while we became engaged.   We were planning to get married but no date was set.   I realised that working in a shop wasn't going to bring me riches for a wife and hopefully children, so I quit my long-term career in the menswear field and went on The Knowledge to become a London cab driver for a more secure way of life.  

Naturally, while on The Knowledge, things began to go sour between me and my fiancé and we split, but in the meantime, my Los Angeles friends would periodically write letters (no email or faxes in 1969) with photos included stating "here we are at the beach, here we are skiing, here we are at the barbeque, here we are in Las Vegas" etc etc and there I was being rained on every day in London.  In their letters they always said for me to visit them in LA, I just thought they were being nice.  But one day in early 1970, I was on my 50cc Honda motor scooter doing The Knowledge when I saw this huge building with a giant eagle on the front - The American Embassy.    Aha, thought I, I'm going to do it, I went in and asked for information about visas.  I went home, called my friends (not too easy back then) and confirmed that they really wanted me to come.  He even went so far as to say that they would sponsor me if I wanted to get a job and stay.  

In September 1970 at the age of 24 I said goodbye to my parents and for the first time in my life, left home and got on my first ever airplane taking me to Los Angeles California, USA.    As soon as I deplaned, I was handed my green card as a US resident.  I'm now in the New World all alone except for my friends.  I was in shock, mainly because I couldn't believe what a huge step I had taken. 

My friends put me up and he arranged for me to interview with a large men's wear distributor as an assistant stock controller which I got.  I stayed with them for about two months, saved up enough money to buy an older car and moved into my own small apartment.    I was Jack-the-Lad.

Again, things went sour as the company I'm working for decided after 6 months to move operations to New York.  I wasn't about to move to New York, it's just like London only more crowded.  So, I went back into my regular field of retail men's stores, only this time I began working for a posh store in Beverly Hills.  Now, I must tell you, in Los Angeles around 1970/1971, Englishmen were a rarity.  The only known Brits here then were Michael Caine, Roger Moore and Sean Connery and an occasional other person.  I was not used to being a novelty, people would come up to me and say "go on, say something."  They loved the London accent and as a good salesman, I put on the charm and because I was on commission on my sales, was making a lot of dosh.

One day in 1974 I was reading Time or Newsweek magazine and came across an article and a picture of a goofy looking guy leaning against a sleek black limousine with the caption "Chauffeur to the Stars."  I read the article and thought to myself "hmmm, I'm a good driver, know my way around LA somewhat, can put on the charm, wonder if this could be good for me?"   So, I contacted and interviewed with him.  He turned out to be an egotistical maniac and I knew immediately there would be personality clashes.  So I went to another limousine service and the owner went bonkers.  He never thought about hiring an Englishman before and told me if I put on the charm and BS, I could make a lot of money, not only by my hourly wage but by tips too.    Oh, by the way, my American friends, the married couple, have now split up and divorced, damn shame.  He moved up to Oregon somewhere and she stayed in LA, unfortunately I have lost contact with them.

So off I went, bought a cheap black suit, some white shirts and dark ties and became a fully-fledged chauffeur for the first time in my life.  Within two weeks of working for this company, I knew I had found my niche in life.  I loved it.  I got to drive brand new Cadillac limousines, met world famous celebrities (rock stars, TV personalities and movie stars) and began making more money than I ever had before.  Some of these celebs were Ringo, John Lennon, Keith Moon (reminded them of Carnaby Street), Alice Cooper, Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Led Zeppelin, The Stones, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and countless others.  I also drove CEO's of large corporations as well as individuals who wanted a night out on the town.  By the time I'd been working there six months, the boss made me lead driver.

I met and married my first wife through my boss's wife and in 1977 we decided to open up our own limousine service.  So, in March, British-American Limousine Service was formed and although off to a slow start, things began to pick up and within a few months we were making ends meet.   I started to market my company and word got around about this nice crazy Englishman and I got some very good clients such as Disney Studios (big-time movie stars) and many others.   Things were going well.

Then in 1984, somehow or other, the British Consulate called me and asked me to do some driving for them during the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles.  Little did I know that the person I was supposed to drive was Princess Anne.   Then in 1985, they called me again to drive the Duke and Duchess of Kent and it began to snowball from there.  Although the consulate had a full-time driver, he was not as "switched on" as me, besides he was an American and really didn't know who these people were.   So I became the official limousine service to the British Government in Southern California.     This consulate business was ready to be plucked as no one else was doing other country's consulates, so after about three months of meetings I ended up with the Canadian, German, Swiss, Thai, Philippine, Australian and South African consulates as clients and of course the British.   Things were going VERY well!

But personally, things weren't going too well with my wife and me, so in 1985 we separated (no kids) but kept the limo business going together, I had an apartment and she had the house where we kept the cars.  She kept doing the billing and bookwork and I kept marketing and driving and keeping my drivers on task.  I now had four limousines.   In 1989, the British Consulate's driver suddenly quit and they asked me to come on board full-time.  That meant giving up my business, so I politely declined their offer.     I was now living the life of a bachelor after making our separation legal, but not divorced.  We stayed this way for eight years and things were status quo. 

Then in 1992 I met my now current wife and having got the divorce final, married again in 1993.  Also in late 1993, my son was born (he is my life!).  My new wife and I ran the business together, but by now, competition was getting very bad, limo companies were springing up everywhere, prices were being cut and clients were being stolen away by the lure of lesser rates.   I began to struggle, people were not paying on time but I had bills to pay and it was getting hard having to chase my money.  We floated along until July of 1997 when the British Consulate called me again to work for them full time.  This time I took them up on their offer.  I sold the limo business and began working as the official driver for Her Majesty's Government in Los Angeles after owning my own company for twenty years.

When I first started in 1997, I asked the management officer about security training.  "Huh?" was her response, apparently no other prior drivers had asked about taking any security courses for driving diplomats.  So off I went in 1998 to the California Highway Patrol's week long course on dignitary protection.  Came away passing the course and am now a certified dignitary protection specialist.  I loved working here, had the word "chauffeur" dropped from my title, thought it was too archaic and became the Transportation Officer.    My daily job is to drive the Consul-General from our official residence and take him to and from various meetings throughout the day.  I also drive visiting British Government ministers, Ambassadors, Secretaries of State or members of the Royal Family.

In 2003 I went on a defensive driving course given by the US Government in San Antonio, Texas.  This was great, we learned ramming and other scary techniques, felt good to actually ram a car out of the way.   Also we were taught counter-surveillance techniques - how to spot someone following you, how to spot someone watching the car, office or house... Very James Bond-ish!    We were also given tests to see how we handled emergency situations and that was by having smoke grenades and flash-bang grenades going off as we drove through mock towns.  As we drove, we were under attack and we had to get out of harm's way quickly.  I had a grenade blast about three feet from my car and the heat that it generated was intense, even though it was a dummy, just a loud noise.  It was a thrilling experience and the instructors helped me when I cried like a baby - I'm kidding, but my heart was going like the clappers.

Then in 2006 I was sent to a British Army training camp in Hampshire to be trained by the Royal Military Police in their diplomatic/defensive driving course...Now this was scary!   We did a lot of driving in country roads in real life situations.  An excellent course where the instructors pushed us to our driving limits and, well I thought I was a good driver, but they taught me a lot.

Now it's 2011 and my title is Security Driver.  I help with a lot of planning with our visiting VIP's and run security within the office and official residence.  I love my job.    When I look back in the past 30 plus years of driving professionally, the finest people to drive are from within the Consulate.  You can keep all your celebrities, they're nothing to me anymore.  I have driven Princess Anne, Prince Philip, Princess Margaret, Prince Edward, Prince Andrew (at least a dozen times), Princess Alexandria, Prince Michael of Kent, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice and their mother, Sarah Duchess of York and have been in motorcades with Prince Charles having met him three times.   I also have driven Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, John Major and Edward Heath (to Richard Nixon's funeral) as well as William Hague and David Cameron before he was PM.    I have been lucky enough to have met three U.S. Presidents - Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton.  Waiting to get a chance to meet Mr Obama.

So basically there you have my life.  From a shy skinny kid in Highams Park to a stockbroker's office, to men's shops, then moving to Los Angeles, working in Beverly Hills, owning a limo company, meeting hundreds of celebrities and now not only driving members of the Royal Family, actually sitting down and having cups of tea (on the ex-Royal Yacht Britannia) and dinner with them (yes, been invited to sit at their table).     Not bad for a boy that left school at the age of 15 without any higher academic skills.  But, I encourage all of you that read this at Highams Park School to knuckle down and study hard, because although I love what I'm doing, I wish at times that I was the person sitting in the back of the limo instead of the one driving it - I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, you're smart.

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