The following story appears in Percy Ungate's book 'Luck was a Lady', a copy of which he kindly sent to us in 2020.
Percy writes: "I was the Police Officer for the Ferrier Estate and surrounding area including Thomas Tallis. I advised re the building of the school i.e. security. I was the guest of honour at the inaugural prize giving in 1971, and did various talks. I was known as P.C. Percy or 'The Bobby on the bike'.
We are very grateful to Percy for this great Tallis Tale.
It was about 1977-8. As part of the school's programme I did a talk to a disruptive group from the Thomas Tallis Secondary School at Kidbrooke. It was a group of about 25-30 children. I was asked by the Teacher if I could arrange for a police dog to visit the school. This was a regular thing that we did where the handler would describe how they care for and train the dogs. We would usually arrange, apart from the talk, for the dog to find a bloodstained axe hidden somewhere and we usually saw a burglar jumping our of the school window and running away, luckily with his right arm heavily wrapped up!
I agreed and we fixed the date. "Not next Wednesday or the next, but the next." As soon as I returned to the Juvenile Bureau, I put it in my diary. It happened to be 1st April.
My colleague Ricky Brock was licensed by the GLC to control vermin and a part of his kit was a lifelike pigeon, used as a decoy, made of rubber so that when he squeezed the tail, the head moved. And so to Thomas Tallis at 9am on the 1st April. I expected 20-30 children but to my amazement, we were shown into the main hall, which was packed with all the 1st, 2nd and I think 3rd years. About 250 -300 children, and the teachers.
I began by introducing PC Gunn and his dog Brutus, who were attending from the police dog school at Keston. Then I introduced PC Brock who was attending from the Metropolitan Police communications Branch at Scotland Yard, who work closely with the dog school.
We took the dog to the playing field where 'Ben' showed them how the dogs were trained and fed and cared for. He sent Brutus to find the axe, which had been hidden in the field. He found it; it resembled the same axe that he had found at the other school last week and the week before that!! It was then that we spotted a burglar jumping out of the Head Teacher's window. Brutus was sent after him and brought him down. He closely resembled another one of my colleagues.
Then we had the children back in the playground where Ricky had parked his car where he was able to keep them 20 or 30 feet away. He then explained that we use pigeons in situations where we are searching open countryside where there are no telephones and where another police dog is urgently required. The pigeon takes the message back to Keston Dog School, who immediately send another dog to assist in the search. He then produced the pigeon from the boot of his car, held it under his tunic gently squeezing the tail so that the head moved, and made a pigeon like noise. He then returned the pigeon to the boot explaining to the children that unfortunately he could not fly the bird as it had been on night duty that night and of course, needed its proper sleep.
We thought the visit had gone reasonably well and left. About two weeks lacer I was back at the school, arranging a visit and I happened to ask the Head Teacher, Beryl Husein, about our previous visit, how did it go? "Oh Percy, it went so well, the children are working on a project and they were going co ask you back when it was finished. But you might as well have a look now." She led me to a large area where, around the walls, the children had drawn and painted scenes of dogs searching the open countryside and woodlands, where there are no phones and of pigeons flying back to Keston with messages to send more dogs to search. They had gone to a lot of trouble and had obviously listened intently to the talks. I was completely bowled over by the effort they had put in and congratulated them on such a wonderful project. I then asked Beryl if we could have a word in her office. We entered and I closed the door. I said, "Beryl, they've been to all that trouble, the teachers were there too, it was the first of April". I think it was a look of horror that crossed her features. I continued, "We have radio communication these days, we don't use pigeons. I thought the teachers would have realised that it was 1st April. So what do we do now?"
Mrs Husein replied, having seen the joke. "A whole generation of people from Kidbrooke will probably spend the rest of their lives believing that Police use homing pigeons to communicate".
This is a true story and I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to that generation if they feel aggrieved or cheated. My only excuse being chat I realised the teachers were present, but I didn't know that they were as daft as the kids. Sorry.
I'd had a long relationship with Beryl Husein and Thomas Tallis School as it had been on my 'Home Beat' before I joined the Juvenile Bureau. I had addressed the assemblies many times and had been the guest of honour with my wife at their inaugural prize giving. Just an after thought. One of the funniest things I can remember when bringing a dog to a school is to see the handler wrestling it while crying to get its paw on the inkpad then in the visitors' book especially when the paw is as big as the book.
-- Percy Ungate, former police officer
It's ten years now since you died. What a long time a decade seemed when we heard Paul Simon's song Ten Years at your funeral! I'm sharing this letter now because I still think of you often.
You died on 9 July 2009, between your sixtieth birthday and your sixtieth birthday party. You weren't an easy friend. I think I was one of the few that you didn't have a major falling-out with at some point or another. But there were lots of people who loved you. There were going to be lots of people at your party, and there was standing room only at your funeral later that month.
Jane Clossick and I stood there together and listened to this song. An old friend of yours told the story. You were his guest at Christmas one year, and being characteristically convivial at the dinner table. When this came on the stereo your focus changed, you dropped out of the conversation, listened intently; you asked for it to be played again, and again; you listened again, and again, concentrating. It's a scene vividly familiar to anyone who knew you. What was it about the song that caught your attention?
I have so much to thank you for. You introduced me to three of the great loves of my life: music, Scotland, and whisky.
I'm sorry that I never got on with the oboe, the instrument you chose for me. But the steel pans were magnificent. What a joy to be part of making that glorious happy music! It's nearly 25 years since we took our band Panache to Spain, and you charmed the mayor of Cadiz into letting us headline at the Carnival. I remember your magnificent vain delight at being given the remote control for the culminating firework display; at sending the signal so that the rockets burst just as we played the last chord in our favourite song.
Thank you for introducing me to Scotland. I had already visited that corner of Argyll on holiday with my family when we first took a trip to Inverliever in May 1995, but it was on our school music trips to the Lodge between then and 2001 that the Highlands really captured my heart. Now I live in Scotland, teaching and writing here, and spending my spare time exploring the Highlands (by bus and train - you'd approve!). So much of my life has been shaped by that connection. Thank you for sharing that love with me.
In truth it probably wasn't very professional for you to sit drinking Laphroaig with me until the small hours in Inverliever while we waited for the younger students to go to sleep. But we set the world to rights several times over, and I've enjoyed the stuff ever since. For a few years I kept a stock of Port Ellen, your favourite. I think we both liked it because the distillery closed in 1983, so we knew that each glass was part of a dwindling, dying stock. I wonder what you would make of the news that the distillery will be reopening? Excited, but also maybe - like me - just a little bit grumpy about being deprived of that pleasurable melancholy? In any case, I'll test it for you, in about fifteen years' time, when I can get my hands on a bottle.
Here's one of my favourite memories. In the lonely years before I found my feet at school I used to arrive early and sit with you in the Music Suite. We'd drink lapsang souchong tea (another gift to me - I still drink it all the time) and talk about maths, music, politics, and philosophy. The morning I'm thinking of we didn't talk much. When I arrived you were listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams on the stereo. I sat down silently and we listened together for about twenty minutes, watching the early summer sunshine on the trees, hearing the Lark Ascending, enjoying the music and each other's company, and saying nothing.
Anyway. I miss you. I know you were lonely, and ill, and afraid of going blind. I nod along when other people say that it's probably a blessing that you died so suddenly when you did. But I miss you all the same. I wish we could talk over a glass of whisky every now and again.
Hot on the heels of the image uploaded by Ian Heffer, it's motivated me to delve into my old photographs and dig out a picture of the first rugby team at Tallis. As you can see we didn't necessarily have the right kit or footwear but we had spirit and we didn't let the heavy losses to rugby playing schools like St Joseph's and Shooters Hill GS get us down.
Back row L-R:
Front Row L-R:
-- Richard Cox
The following image was kindly submitted by Ian Heffer who features in it. If you are in the photo or have great memories of playing sports at Tallis, please get in touch. You can leave a comment here or submit your own story.
This is the 1st 11 football team for Thomas Tallis in 1971. The picture was taken at the temporary school in Eltham (the old Thomas a Becket school). The names I can recall are as follows:
Back row left to right:
Russell Taylor, Paul Baker, Michael Dennis, (?), (?), (?)
Paul (?), Nicky Laffer, Charlie Piggott, Dale (?) Ian Prosser, Paul Madeley, and myself Ian Heffer.
At the time the school only consisted of one year and no girls were to join for a further two years. My class was 1TU. Teacher: Mr Stuart Turpie.
-- Ian Heffer
My first day at Tallis was in September 2009. As a big-eyed 11-year old nerdy girl with ASD, I was transfixed by what my time at Tallis would bring me. Tallis, unlike other schools at the time, has a relaxed uniform code and we could even wear hoodies.
My time stood right in the middle of the development of the new school facilities. Ever the finicky girl, I was dismayed by the original buildings. They were dark, cold, and dingy. Now I look back feeling comforted by the memory of the old school, now demolished.
My first love was Italian. Though my first choice for language was Spanish, I was satisfied to be put in Italian class with Ms Crook. She could be formidable sometimes; I vividly recall being reprimanded in Italian for remarking "This is very similar to Spanish". That it is, for they are both romance languages. For five years I persevered with Italian and was rewarded with an A* in the language for my GCSEs. Bravissima.
By the end of my first year, I discovered a new interest: playing piano. It was with Mr McCarrick in a freezing hut (anyone else remember those?) that I began my journey as a musician and would become one of the building blocks to later academic interests. I now have a BA in Music from Leeds as of 2019. Though I no longer have lessons with Mr McCarrick, I am still under the tutelage of Alison who I have had the great pleasure of working with for nearly 10 years.
To say that my time at Tallis ran smoothly would be dishonest on my part; I unfortunately suffered from bullying that devastated my self-confidence, and experienced personal tragedies such as the death of my father in 2012. I have mostly healed from those troubles and have done well to work on my self-esteem. For so long I did not know my own strength.
I stayed on at sixth form and made friends for life. We have similar interests (music, niche hobbies like mudlarking, art) and we go to the pub every now and then. I'm eternally grateful for them all: Xavier, Laurel, and Ella, I thank you dearly. I love you.
To the following teachers, Mr Bradshaw, Mr Talbot, Ms McGowan, Ms Crook, Mr McCarrick and many others: thank you all for your support, your enthusiasm, and your faith in my abilities. And to Jay Abrahams and Jane Mack, my learning support assistants who got me through the best and worst of times.
-- Emily James
This happened over 40 years ago, but still I am occasionally woken in the middle of the night by the horror of it.
In the Spring half term holiday of February 1977, I was one of the staff accompanying a Year 7 or 8 party of 40 children to Inverliever, the school's residential centre in Scotland. Our trip coincided with a spell of freezing weather. Clear blue skies, snow and sharp frost every night. The children were making the most of the snow and the staff had the main job of keeping them warm and well fed. They had been warned not to risk going on the ice.
There came the day when we would take the minibuses round to the far side of Loch Awe and climb the area's highest point, Sith Mor. It is not a hard walk, following an ancient drove road. At the bottom of the main climb there is the large Sandy Loch, which skirts the road.
I tried to keep in front of the children, making sure they did not go astray. It was not snowing and there was no wind, but the air almost crackled with the cold. The children were clearly finding the experience invigorating.
I rounded a bend to find that several boys had raced ahead of me and had made a downward stretch into a treacherous slide. They were now crossing a field of snow. But I knew it was not a field, it was the frozen Sandy Loch. They were racing across and could not hear my shouting a blowing on the teacher's friend, the Acme Thunderer whistle.
As my career flashed through my mind, I knew there was only one thing I could do. If the ice gave way and they fell in, so must I. Knowing it could well be the last decision of my life, I followed them onto the ice, having made it clear to the rest of the party that they must walk round the edge of the loch.
Miraculously, we got to the other side and, like mountain goats, the children scampered up to the peak. Our return journey took the long way round.
Just out of interest, I smashed some ice at the edge of the loch. It was up to 8 inches thick, enough to support a car. But that did not ease my palpitations.
-- Colin Yardley, former Headteacher
In July 1996 Nelson Mandela was visiting London and was due to speak to crowds outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square. I had been teaching at Tallis since 1984, and my SRE students knew how much Mandela’s visit meant to all of us, how momentous an occasion this was. They begged to go and hear him - and this was literally the day before!
We would need immediate permission from the Headteacher, Colin Yardley.
If this had been any other school, it would have been a ‘no’ from the Head, due to the logistics of such a last minute arrangement. As we reminisce, I so clearly remember the Tallis way, with Colin at the helm - a ‘can do’ and ‘let’s make it happen’ approach to events. The massive enthusiasm of the students, who helped me to ask Colin, and my assurance that I would obtain all the parental permissions overnight, and bring these to him personally, was all we needed.
We went, and wow!! - it was the highlight of my career and a pinnacle of happiness for the whole group.
On their return to school, all the students rushed to find and thank Colin and regale him with the details of Mandela’s speech and of the euphoric atmosphere in Trafalgar Square.
-- Mandy O'Donnell (Hitchcock)