Calling Michael Galagher

“The researchers are keen to contact Michael Gallagher: we need to ask his permission to quote from a poem he wrote that was published in the Walworth Magazine in 1963, when he was in 4H . (He’d previously been taught English by Mr Clements and was in the class that made the film, ‘Two Bobs Worth of Trouble’.) If anyone can give us a clue how we might locate him, we’d be grateful: please email Pete Medway at peter.medway@mac.com.”all

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End of project – but more needed!

Officially we’ve come to the end of our data-gathering: what remains is writing a book and, we hope, doing some presentations for interested people from our three schools. However, we’re aware there are embarrassing gaps in our coverage. We have little on Harold Rosen’s time at Walworth (admittedly less than three full years). The same could be said of John Dixon (1959-63). So, we’d still welcome more and will add anything useful we receive to the pile we made publicly available in our archive (and also, ideally, via a website — would some millionaire ex-pupil care to fund this?)

However, not every sort of written or spoken memory is equally useful. Compare,

“I remember her as a sympathetic but strict teacher, and her teaching must have been effective because I passed my O and A level English” and “I enjoyed writing poems and [the teacher] often pinned them on the noticeboard”

With

[Writing] was not my thing. Being creative to that extent was not my thing. I mean whenever we… had to write a poem, this became a family effort, and the family would gather around, and what we would do was we would gather together such old Christmas cards and birthday cards that still remained in the family archive, we would get those out and find all the words that rhymed, make a list of all the words that rhymed, and I would somehow try to work them into the requisite poem. [Acknowledgements and thanks to Ken Russell]

That admittedly wasn’t about a remembered lesson, but memories of the experience of doing a particular piece of work are also valuable. We’re interested in not only what the teachers did but in what it was like for the pupils.

Or the following, from two emails — thanks to Janet Midwinter:

He [Simon Clements, 1959-64] sometimes remarked that he’d ‘enjoyed’ reading something which was incredibly flattering and encouraging.  He fostered the idea that there was no right way or wrong way to do it which was liberating. It was all about ideas. The important thing was telling the story, including dialogue and descriptions of characters.  It was as if your exercise was to entertain.  He wanted us to not worry – just write.  In some cases, like the ‘books’ we had a second chance to go back and re-write after discussion.  It was satisfying to be able to improve yourself and immediately see the results.

We were told to describe characters, their feelings and  the streets they walked in.  We were encouraged to visualise our own areas for inspiration. Best of all we didn’t have to use formal language when a character spoke.  We were allowed to use slang and portray them exactly as we wanted them to sound – even if that involved Cockney accents or others more exotic.

I recall that he often allowed noisy cross arguments where yelling would be briefly tolerated.  Then it would be stopped, started again when he pointed to someone who had not initially taken part, involving others who hadn’t spoken, until it built up to another crescendo.  

It gave me the impression we were doing something we shouldn’t have been allowed to do.  That’s why it was exciting.  And he always seemed to enjoy it.  As if the heat of the moment promoted better debate.

Those extracts are admittedly from an exceptional writer, but many people have been surprised at how well they can write when they sit down and give it a try after all these years. After all, Walworth pupils weren’t taught English just anywhere!

SO, the things to remember are:

specific
concrete
detail
[what it was like] being there — your thoughts and reactions as well as what happened.

Peter Medway

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Group interview with Walworth pupils

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Five former Walworth pupils who were in the same class for five years shared their memories with Pat Kingwell and Pete Medway one evening in a classroom at Guy’s Hospital (handy for London Bridge station). They entered Walworth in 1962 … Continue reading

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End-of-project events

We’ve entered the final six months of the Social Change and English, 1945-1965 project now and are busy writing our book Remaking English for the Post-war World which it is good to see advertised on Palgrave Macmillan’s website, despite it being about … Continue reading

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Wanted: Memories of English teachers

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The process of tracking down possible informants is endless. At the moment Pete Medway and Pat Kingwell, the team members working on Walworth (Mina Road) School, are looking for members of the class that started in 1962 as 1CL (Mr Clements) and ended as 5H (Miss Harvey). Pat and Pete would also … Continue reading

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Anne O’Reilly Blue Plaque at Walworth Academy

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On the 31 August 2011, a sizeable crowd gathered outside the new Walworth Academy for the unveiling of a blue plaque in honour of Miss Anne O’Reilly (1891-1963), who was the first head of Walworth/Mina Road interim comprehensive school from 1947 until her retirement … Continue reading

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Were you at Walworth (Mina Road) School 1956-58?

We’ve been lucky to get hold of some documents that contain lists of pupils who were released for things like choir practice, music lessons and athletics events.  Amongst the names are some that belonged to class 2D in 1956-57 and … Continue reading