Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Beat School (1961)

We should all be grateful to Sam Holler for tweeting this video. As he says: "Everything about this 1960s alternative school is delightful and hilarious. Best clip ever."

One mystery is where the school was. The commentary on the video says Burgess Hill in Hertfordshire, but I can find no such settlement.

There is a Burgess Hill in West Sussex, of course, and also an area of Hampstead with that name. Maybe it was in one of those? - someone may recognise the building.

As Dangerous Minds says:
Like the best of the British Pathe clips, this short clip on Burgess Hill Beat School leaves you wanting to know more. What happened to the school? Did the experiment of a Beat School work? What did these children grow up to do? Where are they now? It would make for an interesting documentary on BBC 4, and one hopes a dozen researchers are penning such a proposal right now.
We may be surprised at the outcome. The painter Augustus John's children were raised among bohemian squalor, but one of his sons insisted on being sent to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and ended up as Admiral of the Fleet Sir Caspar John.


David Walsh said...

It was in Hampstead. A Daily Mail shock horror story can be found on


Frank H Little said...

That figures. The reg. mark on the van is for North London.

Flick Rea said...

Not possible burgess hill N W2 they're driving up a country road to get there , Burgess Hill (in my ward) is a short road full of substantial houses but definitely NOT mansions! I'd go for Herts.

PhilW said...

I was curious so did a bit of digging around yesterday. I found that there was a private primary school that got started in Burgess Hill in Flick's part of West Hampstead before WWII. That led to this reference buried deep in a page of British History Online, extracted from the 'Hampstead: Education' section of a 1989 tome on Middlesex history:

Burgess Hill school, for day boys and girls aged 5 to 14, was started in Hampstead in 1936 as a modern co-educational primary school. Within two years it had 120 pupils. Weekly meetings involved pupils in many decisions regarding the school. It moved to Cranleigh (Surr.) as a boarding and day school in 1939 and returned to nos. 11, 12, and 13 Oak Hill Park c. 1948, (fn. 14) where it remained until c. 1960

Oak Hill Park is in a very leafy part of Hampstead, although not as rural as the place in the film looks. However it would explain why the Daily Mail (writing in 2012) thought the school was in Hampstead, especially as they apparently tracked down some names of the teaching staff during the 1950s.

By 1961 it seems the school had relocated again. But to me the whole clip looks very staged and I wonder whether it wasn't just dreamt up by pupils and staff either as a PR stunt or simply as a swan song.

Anyhow, enough of this, I should get back to work ...

Jonathan Calder said...

Many thanks for this, Phil.

I had disovered the same thing (via Google Books) in a biography of William Empson, who briefly sent two of his sons to the school.

Anonymous said...

I went to this school and am in the film. It was in oak hill park then moved to high canons house near elstree. Bits of it were obviously partly set up to show different examples of pupils and teachers but it is truthful.the boy coming down the tree upside down was piers and i always wo dered why his hat did not fall off. Denise

Jonathan Calder said...

Many thanks for the comment, Denise.

Anonymous said...

I also went to Burgess Hill School from 1950-1954 and can confirm it was in Oak Hill Park, Hampstead. The buildings were large and a bit shabby but we didn't mind. In the winter we had a coke fire in every class room, supplemented by a paraffin Aladdin stove.
In my time the school was unconventional in that the staff were called by their first names but other than that it was 'normal' in that we had classes with blackboards, the register was called and all the usual stuff. We certainly weren't allowed to smoke in class (though I don't think any of us wanted to).
We also had a rope swing from a tall oak tree in the grounds which certainly would't be allowed these days. We had some good teachers and I enjoyed my time there.

Anonymous said...


My name is Bernard Paige. I attended Burgess Hill School from May, 1954 to July, 1954 before moving to the States in August, 1954. The Headmaster was Jimmy East and my teacher was Dorann Brown. The school was located in the Oak Hill Park section of Hampstead, which was in walking distance from where I lived, which was in Langland Gardens, N.W.3.

Stephen Hoar said...

Hi - I attended Burgess Hill in the period of this film, when the school was at High Canons House, Borehamwood. Film represents the place, then, pretty well - certainly the incessant smoking. Is that really Piers, upside-down? I briefly remet him perhaps seven years later, at a sixth form college in Essex. I vaguely recall his father, an archaeologist, then being interned in Maoist China. Stephen