The Language We Spoke   -   Chris Snuggs (Berners/Halls 58-65)
We had excellent English lessons at WHS. I myself had Derek Thornbery for 5 years and then Patrick Hutton in the Lower VIth, and you can't ask for better than that. Derek was strong on spelling, syntax/grammar, vocabulary development and stories. We did a lot of clause analysis, for which I have always been grateful. Now and again he would simply read us a story, usually in one of those lazy afternoon classes just before tea - as I think we used to call it rather than dinner. I remember in particular "Prester John", "The 39 Steps" and a shorter story called "The Ruhn". In 5A we did "The Mayor of Casterbridge", my first real introduction to the Human Tragedy and Fate at which Hardy excelled.

Patrick did Chaucer with us - and modern poetry, which surprisingly was much less interesting. I have never read anything by Ted Hughes or Thom Gunn since 1965, but I can still quote the first paragraph of Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Tale"! Patrick also introduced us to philosophy when he set us an essay question: "Why is a rose beautiful?" - a question I had never previously asked myself.

BUT, I do not remember EVER being taught public speaking. I don't seem to recall doing presentations to the class: learning how to modify one's speech according to audience and content; learning how to look around an audience, to look people in the eye, to give particular emphasis to particular words. My memory may be faulty, but public-speaking as such was not on the curriculum.

NOR do I remember anyone EVER being criticized because of the way he spoke, whether about accent, diction, volume or whatever. As for accent, I never thought about it at the time but it seems to me that the way one spoke was a kind of individual human right; one had the right to speak the way one was brought up and/or liked. That was of course well in line with WHS's belief in individuality: boys were encouraged to be different, to pursue their own interests - whatever they were - and mostly in their own way.

But nor do I remember any particularly distinctive accent - or criticism of any such. I don't remember anyone being teased about their accent. And what accent WAS that? Well, many of us came from London families - and most just ordinary and rarely posh ones - AND of course from families with parents in the armed forces stationed in Germany, Hong-Kong, Aden and elsewhere.

My memory may be faulty - and things may have been different in other WHS generations than mine. However, given the importance of public-speaking I actually think it was a bit of a blind spot in our curriculum - but there is never time on any curriculum to do everything one would like to.

Philip Beck (now Beck) - Hansons 65 - 72: “RAFbrat here - my family didn't like the London accent I picked up in the junior years; had to work hard to lose it again .....”

Chris Snuggs - Berners/Halls 58-65: “Roger that .... Jolly good show, Old Chap. Funny you should mention it. I never noticed anyone's accent sticking out while I was there from 58 to 65. The vast majority of us spoke Southern British English as I recall - and I don't remember any Cockneys! I suppose the ILEA mandate didn't allow them to advertise for boys from Cornwall, Gloucester, Yorkshire or Newcastle!

Bill Bourne - Corners 57-69: “My mum said I stopped speaking 'nicely' after being at Woolverstone.”