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That School Walk in Summer 1962

The Pupils Vanish !

Dick Clark (1958-1965)

IMAGINE the summer of 1962 at LCGS. “A” levels had been and gone and the sixth form was at a loose end. More recently the era of Mr Bradshaw had ended and the new face of J. L. Fanner was now in charge. Change was in the air in the country at large, "Beyond The Fringe" had made a big impact in the West End and satire was certainly in vogue with the youth of the day.

A combination of these factors had made relations somewhat strained between the headmaster and his team of prefects. JLF’s manner and attitude had not always been appreciated by his senior boys, and certainly did not gel with the developing fashion of disrespect for authority and convention. In these dog days of the end of year mischief was afoot.

A full staff meeting had been called and the prefects were despatched to look after the boys who were all in their form rooms doing whatever. I had been detailed by the Scout Leader (one "Beanhead" Ives) to go through the camping equipment in preparation for the summer trip to the Austrian Alps, so imagine my amazement when I emerged from the store to find the school completely deserted. Not a soul to be seen anywhere !

A quick recce around the rooms revealed nothing except for the sound of a voice somewhere on the first floor. On top of the biology laboratory was a member of the CCF with a two-way radio chatting intermittently -- but to whom? I learnt that the prefects, led by Tim Drake, had decided to evacuate the whole school so that when the staff room broke up, JLF would emerge to find he had "lost" his pupils. A fine coup indeed for someone who had always provoked and annoyed the headmaster.

The whole school (about 600 boys) had been silently summoned from their form rooms and walked via the back gate past the Dripping Pan, down Mountfield Road, into Southover and onto the Kingston Road. The radio man on the bio lab roof kept them informed of developments back at the school.

Reportedly the huge crocodile went past Plonk’s house and he was seen to be smiling and waving at the boys, quite delighted to see "his boys" once more.

In due course the boys returned and, as can be imagined, JLF’s humour was not of the best. Such a clear affront to his authority and position was very unwelcome. Rumour has it that Tim Drake, who was readily identified as one of the ring leaders, was hauled over the coals. He was to take up his place at Cambridge the next year and (more rumour) JLF was making serious suggestions about blocking that move.

Perhaps other OLs can comment on aspects of this affair and its repercussions ?

Chris Williams (1960-1965)

I remember the route march on that famous morning as a junior pupil at the school. We younger ones were still in awe of the prefects (up to a point) and certainly wouldn't have questioned this sort of instruction from our "olders and ?betters". We were led out of school very quietly and led off into the countryside until the crocodile turned round and we returned to school. Unfortunately I have absolutely no recollection of what happened next - the small fry weren't in on the politics.

In these litigation-conscious, league-table sensitive years of the new century, sadly this sort of prank/expression of discontent would be a non-starter.

Philip Whitfield (1955-1963)

Tim Drake and I were prefects in 1962 and helped organise the famed evacuation of the school in the summer of '62. Charman was School Captain at the time. I do not remember the historical context - stirrings of youth culture, friction with Mr Fanner, etc - merely a vague rebellious idea hatched in the prefects' room under the stairs that rapidly solidified into a plan.

Dick Clark's account of the event seems remarkably accurate (though Mr Bradshaw waving to us from his house in Kingston Road as we passed might possibly be an embellishment). Indeed, having told the story to my disbelieving children at intervals over the past 25 years, I was gratified to find that almost every nuance of the tale I had been telling was verified in Dick's report. My children now look at me with awed respect!

I do not clearly recall the repercussions of the affair, apart from a severe "dressing down" of a group of us in Fanner's study. It must have blown over fairly soon for, in spite of this outrageous prank, Tim, John Grinsted and I did go up to Cambridge together in the following year 1963.

Tim Drake (1955-1963) comments . . .

As the supposed ringleader of the walkout (more like primus inter pares) I must say the description of the event is remarkably accurate. It was a team effort, right from the walky talky on the roof, down to the complete commitment of every class to maintain total silence so we could evacuate the buildings successfully.

We had lots of playback from staff afterwards (mostly highly amused by the prank). Apparently, Fanner left the staff meeting first, found an empty school, and returned furious to the staff room. There he pounded the table, crying "There's not a boy in the School!"

In fact we had hidden the whole school in a recreation ground which was secluded from the road. Bill Euston (spitting more prolifically than usual with delight) told me later that this was the cause of the real trouble. Apparently the staff had jumped into their cars to tour the town to find the pupils, but without success. The police were then alerted, again with no success. By this time poor Mr Fanner was understandably someone concerned.

Finally, in our own good time, we walked the boys back to school, and the police could call off the challenging task of finding 600 boys in a small town the size of Lewes.

Most of the prefects involved left a few days later for an end of exam holiday in Cadaques, on the north-east coast of Spain. What I most remember about the holiday (apart from some extremely dodgy plumbing, and wine at 4 old pence for 2 litres) was the discussions we had on the beach as to what to do next. Eventually it was agreed that I should apologise for all of us, and I sent a postcard to this effect to Mr Fanner (on looking back a letter might have been more suitable). On our return to school the next term we made our peace with him, but he certainly wasn't too amused by the incident, even then.

Ian Morris (1961-1967) comments . . .

With reference to the story about the school walk out in the early 60s I can remember the day well particularly the sight of panic striken teachers racing around in their old bangers in search of some 600 boys who had gone missing.

As far as I can recall the original plan had been to swop with the girls school so that when the respective teachers came out of their end of term staff meetings they were faced with classrooms filled with the opposite sex but following the cancellation of the staff meeting at the girls school we were left with little option but to go for a walk through Southover and down towards the Stanley Turner home of Lewes Rugby Club.

This may not have been the case of course but maybe other OLs, particularly the Prefects who organised it all, will be able to enlarge on the story. Whatever the reason behind the exodus everyone had to be congratulated for the way in which they organised and carried out an exodus on such a grand scale without any of the staff being aware.

I hadn't realised Tim Drake had been the ring leader but he must have been forgiven because I seem to remember going to Twickenham to watch him play in the Varsity match some years later.