My Time at Bec School 1967 - 1972:

I passed my 11+ and was lucky enough to be selected to attend Bec Grammar School (Beechcroft Road, Upper Tooting). I was a pupil there from September 1967 to December 1972 and I can honestly say I enjoyed every moment.

It was a good school, strict in that rules were meant to be obeyed and any transgression was punished. Having said that, in my time at Bec I can recall only one pupil being expelled and only one pupil (in my year group) being caned. You were more likely to be given detention or 'lines'. For stepping onto school playing field (which was out of bounds) or caught talking in the school library you were given 'lines' - the writing out of "I must not step onto the playing field / talk in the library" fifty or hundred times. It was a school with a long tradition, the school song was in Latin and in the school hall were plaques honouring Bec boys who had been killed in the Second War World.

I was in Form 1B and there was no more than 20-22 in my class and similar numbers in Form 1A and 1C. I think in total there was no more than five hundred boys in the school. In the Second Year we were all assigned 'houses', I was in Alpha House, the other houses were Beta, Gamma and Delta. Our school ties and scarves had colours to match the house you were in; Alpha House was light blue. Our year group differed from previous years in that we stayed together as we progressed through the school. Previously, boys were selected by their academic leanings and put into either Form 2A (Arts), or 2S (Sciences) or 2G (General). Form 2A specialised in languages, 2S in the sciences and I suppose 2G was a mix of both. Once assigned to either the Arts or Sciences or General, you stayed with that for your entire time at the school up to the Fifth Year (5A, 5S and 5G) before going into the Sixth Form (split into two; Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth). I think we were the first year not to follow the Arts / Sciences / General scheme. As a member of Alpha House, I played in the house rugby team and surprisingly in the house choir as well (I was a "growler" said our Music teacher).

In our year we moved through the school together in Form 2B, 3B, 4B and 5B. We took subjects together as a form until we entered the Fourth Year, when we had to choose the subjects we were to take at O Level, I chose Sciences and took Physics, Chemistry and Biology classes. English and Maths were compulsory and for Maths we were divided into 'sets', depending on ability. I was in the top set for Maths and took my O Level a year early, which I failed. I passed it a year later though as well as English, Physics, Chemistry and Biology, failing French (badly) and History, which seems odd now as it is something I enjoy.

The masters were excellent; many had served in the military and I think Mr. Groom had been a Major. He was over six feet tall with thick black hair - we nick-named him "Daddy Doom". Our form teachers were Mr Mulhern, who took us for English - our form room had a mural on the back wall, a scene from Canterbury Tales, painted by past pupils with the faces of masters on some of the characters. Mr Muirhead was our French teacher and form master for one year and I am sorry to say that I was not very good at mastering the French language. Our Maths teacher one year was Bob "Boot" Hiller, an ex-England and Harlequins rugby player and a Bec old boy. Mr Duke took us for Physics and Mr Thurgate was our Maths teacher in another year. Mr Thurgate had a large beard and we nick-named him "Fungus". We had a young Biology teacher, but I can't remember his name.  

Latin was compulsory in the First Year and taught by the very nice Mr Eaglesham, or "Pup" as we called him. The masters commanded respect and you would never, ever talk back to Mr Mulhern or Mr Muirhead ("Mugsy"), it wasn't something you would do.

The school had its own playing fields; athletics in the spring, cricket in the summer and rugby in the winter. There was one playing field as part of the school grounds and the others were a short walk away in Fishponds Road. We would assemble at the Pavilion (this building housed the Tuck Shop) for roll call and then make our way down the road. Also in the school grounds was a new classroom block, which housed a biology lab and I think the Art classroom as well. Outside this block was a small pond and a statue of a man throwing a discus. Adjacent to this classroom block was the partially underground rifle range and by the back gate of the school was what we knew as the "Armoury".

We didn't have a swimming pool, so swimming lessons were at the Latchmere Baths, Battersea and to get there we had to take the number 49 bus from nearby Trinity Road. We used to sit on the top deck of the bus puffing away at "10 Number Six" - about the cheapest cigarettes you could buy (in those days smoking was permitted on the top deck of buses). I remember we later claimed back the sixpenny fare in the school gym.

At lunch-time, as an alternative to school dinners, I would go to the bakers shop in Trinity Road and get half a stale (unsliced) loaf. I would then scoop out the inside (I threw the bread in the gutter for the birds), leaving just a thin white bread lining and the external crust. Then, into the chip shop and get it filled with chips, a delicious meal but probably not very healthy! Lunch-time activities also included playing bridge with classmates Michael Newman and Nitten Patel.

The P.E. teacher was a Mr Scrouston - we called him "Screw". He was a mean man and he saw it as his mission to toughen us up. We used to run 'cross-county', up Beechcroft Road, around Wandsworth Common and back down Trinity Road before cutting back to Beechcroft Road. We ran if it was raining and I am sure on some winter days the temperature was sub-zero! "Screw" did suffer from a bad back and if it was particular painful for our lesson he would have us play basketball instead. In the athletics season, we did the usual long and high jumps, hurdles or various heights - we also did javelin. We would stand on the edge of the school playground facing the playing field, where Screw was walking back and forth. We would then throw the javelins out onto the playing field, where "Screw" was standing - just out of range!

Bec had a wide curriculum, it wasn't only academic subjects being taught, I also did woodwork and metalwork (I have the scar to prove it from a big 'rip' saw) and I do remember there being a Mini that the metalwork class converted into a pickup truck. There was a school play staged every year and I remember one year it was the "Insect Play" and the school magazine reported that it was being produced by "Bug Fly" - a play on his real name of Doug Pye.        

Bec had its own Combined Cadet Force (CCF) of Army and Air Force cadets and on some Friday mornings as we were going into school, the CCF cadets would be coming out dressed in Army fatigues and carrying heavy machine guns! Joining the CCF was open to the Fifth Year and up and I was looking forward to becoming an Army Cadet, but just as I approached the Fifth Year the CCF was disbanded due to a (supposed) lack of masters with military experience. The CCF was replaced by a series of activities, namely First Aid, Golf and Adventure Training - which in practise meant no training and certainly no adventure and consisted of walking around Box Hill smoking Tom Thumb cigars. I passed my First Aid course (I have a certificate somewhere) and played Golf (at Mitcham Golf Course) was fun, but I'm sure not a patch on Army Manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain, or drilling on the school playground on a Friday afternoon.

Sometime in 1972, in the second year of my O Level course, the Labour Government at the time decided to turn Bec into a comprehensive and merge it with the comprehensive school next door, Hillcroft. The combined school was initially called Bec-Hillcroft until being permanently named "Ernest Bevin" after the former Labour Minister. The combined school population was, I think 1500 boys. Prefects were chosen from the 5th and 6th form boys; all were chosen from the Hillcross boys, it was only after protests were made by us Bec lads that some of us were made prefects - I was one myself. However, unlike Bec where the prefect's word was to be obeyed in the comprehensive Bec-Hillcross you were powerless as discipline was non-existent.

This was the end of what had been a great school, many of the masters had left to go into the private sector and suddenly we found ourselves in a totally different environment. In our science laboratories, chemicals were out on display as were expensive measuring instruments (we called them balances) because no one would think of misusing, stealing or vandalising them. In Hillcross, expensive equipment was locked away in wire cages and doors had been kicked in. One Hillcross boy had been found carrying a knife; his punishment was the threat of being dropped from the basketball team if he was caught carrying a knife again.

I had gone back to school after the summer holidays in 1972 to take Physics, Chemistry and Biology at A Level. But, many of my friends had left school and with different masters teaching the subjects at A Level and the changes that had taken place because of the conversion to a comprehensive school, I left Bec School Christmas 1972.

I found out recently that Bec was originally a Public School before coming into the state system. Looking back at my time there I can see that (what I think would be) the standards of the Public School continued on when it became part of the state system. The school ethos was one of discipline and respect, corporal punishment was there but rarely used, there was a strict dress code, even down to the colour of one's socks and consequently everyone was smartly turned out. This isn't looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses, as I have said, I don't recall anyone being beaten up or bullied, but I do remember one boy having his head put down the toilet.

It was a terrible thing the Labour Government did, they destroyed an excellent school for nothing more than political dogma. The Labour Party hated what they saw as the "elitism of selective schools" and set about removing them from the state school system, even though it was working class lads like myself who stood to benefit from the type of education offered by the grammar school. It is interesting that despite the Labour Party's opposition to selective schools, many of them choose to send their own children to fee-paying or selective schools, always finding a way to justify their decision why they didn't send their child to a state school.

In December 2011, I received an email from Peter Tomblin, a pupil of Bec School from 1943 to 1950. Read here his memories of his time at Bec.

Update: August 2016. Prime Minister Teresa May announces the end of the ban on grammar schools. Predictably, the Labour Party is against the return of grammar schools as is the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Fallon.  October 2016. Recently elevated to the House of Lords Shami Chakrabarti (former director of Liberty) is also against the return of selective schools in the state sector. But in a classic example of George Orwell's 1984 Double Think her child attended the selective Newton Preparatory School before moving onto the 18,000 a year prestigious Dulwich College. Baroness Chakrabarti is the latest in a long line of Labour politicians that are opposed to state grammar schools but send their children to expensive and selective private schools. A list that includes such Labour worthies as;- Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Tony Crosland, Polly Toynbee, Diana Abbott (see pane on the right), Harriett Harman and Seumus Milne (list taken from Spectator website). Hypocrites!

Despite being the product of a state grammar school, I am not sure that grammar schools are the answer. I think the success of Bec Grammar was that it had a school roll of 500 boys, good teachers, a strong head and importantly discipline - rules were there to be followed. I am sure that the good comprehensives succeed because they too have good teachers, a strong head teacher, discipline and parents that understand that school rules are there for good reason. 


Famous Bec Old Boys

Art Malik (Actor)
Lionel Bart (Song writer)
David Davies (Tory MP)
Brian Paddick (famous?)
Bob Hiller (England rugby Capt.)
Mike Sarne (60's pop singer)

The War Years

During the Second World War, the school was evacuated to Lewes in Sussex. Returning to their site in Beechcroft Road after the war ended.

Class 1B of 1967

As many as I can remember!

Andrew Butler
Adaboe Edun
Michael Newman
Paul Cruise
Michael Green
David Wright
Nitten Patel

Abbey of Bec

There is a link with the Abbey of Bec (founded 1035). The name of Tooting Beck or Tooting Bec preserves the former association of a part of Tooting with the great Benedictine abbey of Bec in Normandy. A certain part of Upper Tooting (which included the land Bec Grammar stood on), in the parish of Streatham, was given to the abbey of Bec during the reign of William the Conqueror by Richard de Tonebridge, and the abbey placed some monks there in charge of their property establishing a grange or small priory.

Henry V abolished the property rights of the Abbey in 1414 during the One Hundred Years War.
Tony Blair sent his son Euan to the London Oratory, a selective school and was criticised by Diana Abbott, who said that "people voted Labour because they believed in equality". Harriet Harman was another Labour Minister to sent her son to a selective grammar school in Orpington, Kent; Ms Abbott said at the time: "She made the Labour Party look as if we do one thing and say another."
However, in 2003, Diana Abbott chose to send her son James to a fee-paying school. In an interview with the BBC she said, "Private schools prop up the class system in society. It is inconsistent, to put it mildly, for someone who believes in a fairer and more egalitarian society to send their child to a fee-paying school." But, she added: "I had to choose between my reputation as a politician and my son." Diana Abbott had to choose between her political beliefs and the education of her son James and she believed that he would do better at a fee-paying school.
Bec school was pulled down around 2000 and is now a gated (the original school gates) housing estate called Bevin Square.