Down stage left huddled in the wing. Submerged in darkness as the house lights reverberate with a resounding clunk! The light melts away. Only the sound of gentle, slightly heightened, breathing and the palpable blend of excitement and fear, laced with a tinge of adrenaline, fills that cocooned space. A cast waits in the wings ready to make their entrance into the performance space. All the work here is now done. Characters developed, lines learnt, staging blocked, set and costumes designed and made, lighting and sound set. Months of rehearsals in preparation.
At this moment I am redundant. It is now totally theirs as they get ready to step into the space and shine ... and so many have shone so very brightly .
So many plays devised and scripted have begun life from that womb-like corner. From the legendary Cabaret, Romeo & Juliet, Abigail's Party to the magically chaotic and anarchic year 7-9 showcase evenings when improvised pieces were selected from Drama lessons and performed in front of huge audiences. Not for the faint-hearted or those who hoped for an early night!
From that corner I remember hanging onto Leeroy’s (cast Threepenny Opera) pots and pans strapped around him, so they would not jangle. He whispered in my ear, "I’m scared!" I whispered back, "So am I!" Gently sprinkling water on Emily’s (Sally Bowles, Cabaret) face and hair to give her that ravaged streaky mascara look, while simultaneously doing a ten second full costume change. Trapped with the head of Drama, Ginny Lester and a ginormous chair donated from Emma Jeff’s parents' front room in the Life and works of Oscar Wilde, our response to Clause 28. Telling Colin Yardley (the then headteacher), who had agreed to take on the role the prince in Romeo and Juliet in full doublet and hose, to under no circumstances break a leg as we would all be in the quagmire! This was after he had gamely taken part every night in the full cast warm-ups, which included saluting the sun, in said full costume with a dodgy leg.
Many students from Tallis have had interesting and successful careers in the performing Arts - Sam Spruell, Kat Joyce, Dominic Cooper, Ezra Godden, Hannah Chiswick, Marney Godden, Lisa Cowan, Hannah Gittos, Liam Mayasaki-Lane, Will Beer, Ihsan Rustem, Chenai Takundwa, Graham Rinaldi, Kae Tempest, Max Key ,Joe Kerridge, Kemi Nzerem, Nathan Cooper - as actors, directors, designers, writers, musicians, dancers, community arts facilitators, journalists, presenters and artists of the spoken word. These are to mention just a few. Apologies if you are not listed here. You are not forgotten!
Drama should promote confidence, teamwork, empathy, the ability to listen, critique and negotiate, an appreciation of aesthetics, voice projection, discipline and belief. It should be a safe space in which to take risks, make mistakes, play, experience that "Wooohoo" feeling, be challenging whilst also having fun. I think that Drama has impacted on many students outside of the industry and in so many different walks of life.
Tallis has always invested in the arts in its broadest sense. I believe this central focus and its rippling effect is one of the many ingredients that attracted interesting members of staff. It was one of the key reasons I stayed for so long. Arriving on supply, to pay an electricity bill, I hung around for 31 years. Drama is just the best subject to teach and I was honoured and privileged to have taught such talented, intelligent, creative, witty, fine young people .
I have many warm, funny and occasional tough memories of Tallis. Many tales could be told in my role as a tutor, Head of Year and head of the Sixth Form. But the place that I always zoom back to when thinking of Tallis, and the feelings that have never been recaptured and that are still missed, is always being squashed up in that darkened corner downstage left, huddled in the wing.
-- Cath Barton
May 1995 … I was in the last two months of my teacher training, in my second placement at, what was then, Kidbrooke School. I had a verbal offer of a teacher role there but also been for interview at another local school – Thomas Tallis. I received the “You have been successful …” phone call and a couple of days later the official letter, the letter that started it all, arrived.
I began my first teaching year in September 1995, as a Newly Qualified Teacher, joining the maths department led by Trish Dooley. The team, as I remember, consisted of Trish, Dave Ellis, Jenny Ward-Ure, Tony Antonioni, Marilyn Clare, Angela Taylor, Cress Senkus and Allen Skuse. A much smaller department in a smaller school then. It was a great place to work and learn how to be a teacher, with really good people around me. They all made teaching look so easy and I couldn’t not learn from them and they were always ready to support the newbie!
I was also a Year 7 tutor and the first 7SF tutor group was formed. Head of Year was the great Stuart Turpie and I can certainly say some of his ways were unique! Come the Spring, I experienced my first school journey to Inverliever in Scotland with a number of 7SF making the trip. A real highlight of the school year for all involved. Horse riding was one of the activities available and I was encouraged to have a go by some of the students. This would be the first, and last, time I got on a horse and spent what seemed like hours quite un-nerved by the experience. So much so that I did not correct the instructor when she continually called me George. Something the students with me found most amusing!
Back then, when I was first starting out on my teaching journey, did I know that Tallis would be the only school I would ever work in? Probably not, but I like to think a part of me hoped so. And here I am, 27 years later, still loving working at Tallis. Over half my life now spent at Tallis. That in itself tells you what a great place Tallis is and has been over the past 25+ years.
-- Steve Fyfe
I have always believed that school trips should be at the heart of a good education. Education is about memories and friendships and shared experiences. During my 22 years at Thomas Tallis I've had the privilege to organise a large number of trips, probably about 50 odd to UCL and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich during my time teaching A-level chemistry and GCSE Astronomy.
However, my personal favourite was a residential trip that I ran every year for sixth form students to the Margaret Macmillan centre in Wrotham, Kent. Located in the North Kent Downs we always used to take all of Year 13 in Feb/March to consolidate their A-level science subjects. The students worked so hard over 3 days, typically 12 hour shifts, but we had loads of fun too!
There would often be snow on the fields and bluebells in the woods. One year we built igloos and, most years, the students enjoyed the climbing walls as a break from their science education. Every year we had loads of fun in the evenings! The staff who visited Wrotham over the years included Mr Wardell, Mr Lederer, Ms Karim, Ms Stenhouse, Ms Edmond and many many more. In the evenings we would light a campfire and pass the guitar, or have a science quiz or get out the school telescope. Striking the celestial jackpot would mean finding Jupiter and its moons or just about making out the polar icecaps on Mars. Making Year 13 astrophysics real!
Sing-songs would always include the Beatles (sorry kids but you came away to be properly educated)! It was like stepping back in time, built in the 1950's with no wi-fi reception (so no mobile phone time - shock horror!) we all had to go back to basics. The food was old-fashioned crumble with lots of custard and no fried chicken in site. In many ways, it always reminded me of visiting Macca's childhood home in Liverpool: basic, simple, family values. We all had to talk to each other and make up our own entertainment.
One deputy head was very dubious about the educational value of the trip. However, when I was short-staffed I invited him and he was quickly converted. He saw how hard the students worked and he let himself enjoy the magic atmosphere of the trip, even letting his hair down to pick up the guitar. The moment he bumped into a student revising at 5 o'clock in the kitchen convinced him!
One thing about such trips is you learn that the students never sleep. A teenager's clock keeps strange time! I must admit, it used to take me a week to recover. On the way home there would be some very sleepy students on the bus.
It was also a chance to build genuine friendships with staff and see the students thrive outside a formal school atmosphere. I hope that all of the students remember the trips fondly and look back at all the fun we had!
-- Andy Smythe
“At Tallis, everyone dances.”
When Jon Nicholls reached out to me on Facebook to ask if I'd like to contribute to the Tallis Tales, he wrote that he often says this to visitors. This not only brought a smile to my face, but took me very much back to 1993 and the first time I danced at Tallis...
Reading many of these Tales, what truly comes out is the spirit and heart centre of the school, often naming individual teachers who, quite literally, changed lives.
There were many during my time in which I can say truly impacted my life - our year head Tim Joyce, who led with compassion, laughter, music and the best kind of tough love. Our Head Teacher Colin Yardley, who 'quietly' offered a safe space for the LGBTQ+ kids at the school to meet one another under the guidance and supervision of the school counselor (in the 90's, there were still a few dusty and very dangerous Thatcher laws in place, Section 28 being one of them, which 'forbid' the 'promotion of homosexuality' by local authorities). That 'safe space', which we named 'The Library Club', was our saviour. Around 10 of us would meet up once per week, and a bond and support network was created that I'm sure must have saved lives. We remained friends for years (reunion time??).
The teacher which planted the seed for what would end up becoming my career, was Deborah Khan.
‘Boys Dance’, read the flyer for an after-school activity. Ms Khan wanted to remove the stigma surrounding boys who dance. There I found my love of movement and creativity, and I also choreographed my first work here, at the grand old age of 12. In addition to the Boys group, we often had dance for PE (I hope this still continues... it was quite rare back in the day!) and professional companies that were performing locally at Greenwich Dance Agency would be invited to come to Tallis and give workshops. I was so inspired.
Ms Khan was a bit of a rebel pioneer (that's how I remember her!) with her plans for the performing arts at Tallis, and in 1995 she staged a school production of Cabaret. I remember it being so brilliant, with a touch of scandalous excitement! I played a bisexual dancer in the Kit Kat Club. At 13. In the 90's. Brilliant 🙂
I was not the only one that Deb Khan encouraged and saw potential in. That same tiny school production of Cabaret included Dominic Cooper and Sam Spruell, who are both Hollywood stars today.
That same year, she took a few of us to Sadler's Wells Theatre to see the inaugural premiere season of Matthew Bourne's all male Swan Lake. Deb had trained at Laban Centre with Bourne, so she pulled a few strings. This performance changed my life. I never knew you could fly like that. The feelings I had when I left the theatre I shall never forget. I thought to myself, 'That's what I want to do'.
Five years later, in 2000, Matthew Bourne invited me to join the cast of Swan Lake. I was an original cast member his production of The Car Man.
In 2010, I was awarded the Sadler's Wells Global Dance Prize, given to one choreographer per year.
These two moments, and the career I continue to enjoy today, were only possible because of Tallis.
-- Ihsan Rustem
In the December of 1999 I came to Thomas Tallis school for the first time. I was visiting for the day to have an induction, ahead of my PGCE placement due to start in January.
I arrived dressed in a suit and was asked to sit in reception and wait for my mentor, Mr Steve Fyfe. Over the next 5 minutes or so people came in and out at the start of a busy day of school life. One man was wearing jeans and a Ferrari polo shirt and carrying a clipboard. I remember thinking he must be delivering something as he was clearly looking around for someone. It turns out he was looking for me - this was Mr Fyfe! Those informal dress days are distant memory now.
He introduced himself and led me up to the maths department. We got on straight away, discussing my first teaching placement in Hackney, maths, teaching and within no time at all, football.
He gave me my timetable, which I still have. I was very lucky to spend those first few weeks learning from the best. Ward-Ure, Senkus, Dooley, Clare and the late Tony Antonio. Oh, and Steve. As you can see from the photo, my timetable was written on a student report. They have not changed much! You can also see that we had week A and B, an early close on a Wednesday week B and the structure of the day wasn’t too different either.
I learnt so much from them all (including SF). Not least Tony. He was a lovely man and I recall 2 distinct things about him. Firstly, how he would come in EVERY Friday with the TES jobs section. He would slam it down on his desk and announce how many maths teacher jobs there were that week. The second thing was he would announce, on an almost daily basis, how many teaching days there were left until the next holiday or the end of the year. He did this more than ever as he approached his well-deserved retirement. He very sadly passed away within months of his retirement. So many teachers count away their lives, myself included. We must remember to live life and enjoy every day.
As well as the staff mentioned above, I also met others on that first day, including Ms Taylor who is still here and shares an A-level group with me. There were also other staff around the school who I probably passed on that first day and would go on to work with for the next 2 decades.
Over the last 22.5 years, there have been many constants and many variables. Very fitting for a maths teacher.
-- Chris Hordern