The following interview with Richard Cox and George Taylor was recorded in 2018. Thanks to both them for sharing their memories of the early days of Thomas Tallis School. You can listen to the recording or read the transcript below.
My name is Richard Cox. I went to Thomas Tallis. My first day was the sixth of September 1971, the day that it opened. So I was one of 120 original boys, no girls then, that went to Thomas Tallis. It was at a time when there was a shortage of secondary source spaces and there was a plan to open up Thomas Tallis, further down the line, in Kidbrooke to cope with the the demand of the new people coming onto the Ferrier Estate. But, in September '71, the school hadn't been built and we had to spend two years at Briset Road. So, that was my introduction to Thomas Tallis.
I've never been a student at Thomas Tallis but my son is a friend of Richard's and he started on the same day in '71. Because my son was coming to the school, I took an interest in what was happening. And I was a parent governor for a number of years. I stayed a parent governor for about three or four years and then my daughter came to the school.
In the early days, there were only four teachers. There was Mr. Turpie who everyone will know and love. We've lost him recently, which is a big shame. But we also had Mr. Richter and Mr. Evans and Mr. Martindale. So they were our four teachers. Mr. Evans specialised in general science, Mr. Richter was English and Mr. Martindale taught maths. Mr. Turpie was geography. And we had a temporary Head for one term, Mr. Davis. And there was a Mr. Edwards who was the deputy head at the time and he taught history. So we didn't have a broad curriculum. In those days, we didn't have any sports facilities like you've got now. Fantastic sports facilities. The students here are very lucky in that respect. But we just had to get on with it. So it was very a big learning curve for everybody. In those early days we had a fantastic basketball team. The first intake got to the last eight of the national competition. And we played against a school from Hampstead down here in the old building. The gallery was packed with teachers and students watching us. It was a really close game. We lost it, but the sporting achievements were fantastic. And of course, in those early days, the school produced Pat Van Den Hauwe, do you remember him? He went on to play for Tottenham and Everton. He was in the year below me. Yeah, that's right. He had a brother called Rudy but I don't think he was that great. But yeah, what Tallis gave me was the friendships, the social interactions, because all of the people that I grew up with are still my friends. I mean, we've been friends for 47 years. So it's a, it's a big deal for me. I left school with virtually no qualifications. But we all make our way in life and some of us went on to great things. I've just retired. I'm not complaining. I've had a good life. Thomas Tallis set me on my way. There was a big reunion about 15 years ago. The teachers were there and it was as if we were really good friends. I mean, we used to call them by their first names. I'm not sure you get that anymore. I went on to form friendships with some of the teachers outside of school with rugby. So a lot of the teachers here came to play for Charlton Park and that's the rugby club that I was taken to by one of the teachers who played there, so that set me up for life. They treated you like adults, and they encouraged you. And they let you get on with things. They let you learn. They let you use blow torches and things like that in the metalwork classes. You didn't have to worry about health and safety. Everything was common sense. And they kept you on the straight and narrow. It was like a family atmosphere.
Well I'm afraid I'm going to pour some cold water on it because I haven't got very many positives. Some of the experiences Richard is telling you about were anathema to a parent of my age. First name terms with teachers and so on and so forth. My son, like Richard, what was it...? O Levels...?
We were so far behind. For the first two years, we did virtually nothing. Because we didn't have the building. We were in Briset Road, a very confined space. We just did the basics so when we came to Kidbrooke Park Road, it was catch up. And they tried to bring people in, they tried to cram but it didn't work. There were only a handful of people that went on to do O Levels. Most people did CSEs. So the academic achievement was non-existent. Of course, you didn't have league tables, you didn't have the pressure of trying to achieve in 1976. You could walk out the front door, and you could get a job. You didn't have to worry about qualifications. You could write to a bank and say, "I'd like to come and work at the bank" and you'd get a response or a nice letter back saying "Come and have an interview". And they'd give you a job and there were jobs aplenty. From a personal perspective, I didn't feel cheated. It's only later in life, that you feel cheated when you realise that you haven't had the education that you deserve, when the promotions are not there at work. So that's interesting.
I can really reiterate a lot of what Richard said in relation to my son who suffered at some stages from word blindness and something else. Turns out, far too late, he was discovered to be dyslexic. But like Richard, this particular group, and the group that he's talking about, all went on to degrees of some kind or other, mainly by their own efforts after they left school. My son struggled for some time. He did get a good job at the local town hall. But he came home one day and said, "Will you sign these papers?" He went to work on a kibbutz for six months, and then it turned out to be a year. And then he walked across the bottom of Africa. "Is he going to settle down?" He did. And would you believe he got a flat with another school friend on the Ferrier Estate. I helped decorate it. But the positives are not very great. I mean, looking at it now, it's marvellous. I do remember when the governors interviewed Mr. Lark. And I was greatly tempted to ask him if he could do a Byrd song at the interview when he had his bag with all his music in it. I wished I'd asked him "What do you intend to do to tie in the school to Thomas Tallis the organist?" Taking up what Richard said about the family atmosphere, having left school with very few qualifications as they did, my son or my daughter, both have had success. My son is now retired, in fact. He was a police inspector when he retired. My daughter had, and we've still got it, a coat that she made here. It was in a glass case in in the foyer of the school. And she now has a beauty business. Very successful. I have nieces, not nephews, actually, who passed through the school and all of whom took degrees at various universities. I have great nieces who came to the school and both of those went on to a degree education. So whatever it was, was planted in those early days. Whilst it might not have benefited the originals, it's benefited a lot of other people since.
Well, I feel I've been cheated in terms of facilities you've got now because we never had those opportunities. In Briset Road we had a very tiny gymnasium. There was also a big sports hall but it had a concrete floor and was very cold. Looking around at the facilities here, the basketball arena, the dojo, the studios, the gymnastics hall. These students are so lucky to have those facilities. And there isn't anything that can stop them from going on to achieve. They can, if they want, be the best. They've got an opportunity to be the best.
Through my own son. I know the affection that he had for the school because he won't have anything set against it. He held the long jump record at the school for a long time. It probably still stands. But that brings up another point. When the Inner London Education Authority went against all competitive sports, and you've got children who are good at competitive sport, but a little bit weak on the academic side, they've got something to wave their banner about. As Richard said about basketball, my son played basketball with Mr. Turpie. But again, we missed out as parents where our children didn't get what we thought they should have got.
I've got no regrets about coming here like Russell (George's son), I wouldn't say anything against it. It was a great, great school.
George kindly donated some photos of the school being built from 1971: