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 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

Anonymous said...

I went to this school and it was originally in Hampstead...House was a forced sale for land development so we moved to large house as seen on video which was at Boreham Wood....I shared a room here with now Actress Petra Markham and at the time her elder sister Kika was studying drama at The Central School in Hampstead.... Our Hose mother was Peggy Byrnes and her sister Helen was Cook plu plus,,,Helens so Michael Byrne was also studying at Central...All three all now great Actors....Kika was married to Corin Redgrave,,,Hope some of answers ?? Our English teacher was Peter Vansittart !!

Jonathan Calder said...

Thanks for the recent comments - they really are the best part of blogging.

Anonymous said...

I went to Burgess Hill School in Oak Hill Park, Hampstead from about 1946 to 1950, when my mother (a trained emigre Montessori teacher) died and my father took fright and sent me to Public School to add a more conventional education to the wonderful, creative foundation Burgess Hill had given me. I knew Sonia and Kika Markham and Mike Byrne (then, unbelievably, the school bully, Michael Burns!). Nicholas Tucker, the educational, was the star of many a school play. Peter Vansittart was an inspiring History and English teacher, and became a lifelong friend and "Significant Other". I did an English Hons BA, was an editor, designer and later the Design Director of our family business (Thames & Hudson). In my '40s I trained as a psychodrama therapist and practised for about 10 years after I retired from publishing. Without Burgess Hill and it's amazing teachers (under the headmastership of Jimmy East's predecessor, Geoffrey Thorp), I think I would never have been able to lead such a wonderful, creative, fulfilling life.

Anonymous said...

Directed to this page by an incredulous friend. I was sent to Burgess Hill twice, first time at five-ish, so very little memory, ‘though I do remember a fatherly Tony Gibson and his son Peter, a mate of Michael Burns (Byrne ?) and a tunnel being dug through a mound in the garden. Left at age seven, illiterate, and sent to schools of very different ethos. Sent back at sixteen, with Jimmy East ( as in ‘James Cunningham East M.A. and his dog ‘Vladimir’). The Gibsons were no longer there ( nor Geoffrey Thorpe, who had told my father, years before, that when a child was tired of playing, it’d begin to learn....still waiting!!!). The Markhams, Kika and Petra were there. So too was Mike Burns, ‘though by this time he took very little part in the school, spent most of his time with Sally Windett ( then, latterly, Annabelle Pidgeon). His place had been taken by Nick Blacksted, whose acolytes were Jimmy Richards, an American, and a really nice fellow, ‘though spent most of his time trying to show otherwise, and ‘Bushy’, a Pakistani. Again, a nice bloke. Ken ( can’t remember his surname) taught art,Jimmy East had multiple roles (including a failed attempt to teach me maths...my fault, not his) and, of course, Peter Vansittart, whom, despite the general lack of discipline, no one would dare gainsay. Nonetheless, a tremendous English teacher, whom I remember with great respect, rather than affection (read his ‘Daily Telegraph’ obituary). I did attempt one of his books ‘In Memory of England’. Because of his feeling for language rather than narrative, I found very difficult. The ‘roll call’ , of those I can remember, includes Michael Curthoys, Adrian Shinsholen (?), the Edmitts, Nicky and his sister Verity ( poor girl), Dicky Coppleman, Trevor Mitchell, whose ambition it was to become the first doctor with cerebral palsy. Then, literate but enormously immature, off to a series of London ‘crammers’.
Now an old man in a (currently) very wet month (with apologies !).

Anonymous said...


My name is Bernard Paige. I attended Burgess Hill School from May, 1954 to July, 1954. I lived on Langland Gardens. which is between Finchley Road and Frognall Lane in Hampstead, from the time that I was born (September, 1945) until August, 1954 when my parents, brother and I moved to Los Angeles, CA, USA and enjoyed the meals at home, when I came there for lunch. I still remember some of the names of the students who went to Burgess Hill School with me: Kieran Proffer, Paul Moxley, Lydia Gold, Paul Gold, Max Dellis, Jean Dent, Peter Lessing and Dishy Ebert. I also remember that there was a girl named Tara, a girl named Una, and a girl named Christine. I wonder whatever happened to them. I also remember that there were Handicrafts and that we went Swimming in the Lido near Gospel Oak Station and on Finchley Road, where I also went to when I was a student at Windrush Primary School two years earlier. I am sorry to hear that Doranne Brown, my teacher, as well as the Headmaster, Jimmy East, passed away.
Best wishes, Bernard

Unknown said...

Hi all,

My name is Jasmin and I work for BBC Newsnight. I'm looking to speak to any former students of Burgess Hill - we're looking at making a film about this fascinating place!

My email is jasmin.dyer@bbc.co.uk - please do reach out, I'd love to hear from you.

Kind regards,
Jasmin Dyer

Biddy said...

I was at Burgess Hill for one term in 1952 when we were in the UK from South Africa. I was very pleased to see Tara’s name mentioned above - she was in my class; her great friend was Ferial (so?). There was also Hugo who probably lived far from the school (south London?) because he was often late. And Nicky Goller was the cleverest. Our teacher was Elsa and she taught us how to make speeches - planned in point form (I was 9) and we made recorders from bamboo and acted poems. The best part was being allowed to do woodwork, even though I was a girl. Vegetarians were catered for - in 1952! No one smoked. Dorann was my brother Paddy’s teacher. I think the teacher of the class above mine was called Glynn.
The most ‘famous’ memory was when headmaster Geoffrey came in and talked briefly to Elsa in sepulchral tones. After he left she told us: “The King is dead.” That was George VI. I don’t think there were many rules, but everything ran smoothly and I’m glad of my brief spell there.
Biddy Greene née Ewer.

Biddy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Biddy said...

Where it says “(so?)” it was meant to say “(sp?)”.
Lunch was in a rather dark basement. But I don’t think anyone minded.

Biddy said...

And I’ve just remembered Bridget/Brigid with dark hair, and maybe a tartan skirt - oh yes, no uniforms like we had to wear in South Africa - and a tall blondish boy called Francis.

Andrew said...

Hello everybody! I was at Burgess hill school in Hampstead from about 1948 to 1952. Actually , I'm french and my name is André , but I think at school I was called Andrew , and I don't remember if it was known that I was french or not. My contemporaries were Mike Burns , with whom , in spite of being good friends , I had epic fights. My teacher was Glynn Richards; in my class was Martin Wright, Kika Markham , Jonathan Kaufman , John Perry , Wendy Goodman Nicky Blackstead Caroline Ullman. Elsa got us playing a recorder consort (home made). Kika was soprano , Jill alto , Martin tenor and myself (the least good player but I loved music and still do )Bass . we played Giles Farnaby , Orlando Gibbons and William Byrd. In 1952 I went to Bedales school as did John Perry and Jonathan Kaufman. I loved woodwork with Peter Gibson's dad; Worst memmory ; when p
Peter Gibson's sister fell off th banisters from a high floor. I could go on for ever . Best wishes to all survivoirs ; Andre(w)