I’ve just finished the biography, part 1, of the Rolling Stone’s second manager, Andrew Loog Oldham and remembered for the first time in fifty years that, amazingly we briefly, but concurrently. both went to the same school, I say amazing because of the over the top horror of the place. But also because it shows how two experiences of the same place could be so different.
What a story. In the two terms I was there I experienced a nineteen-fifties’ version of Dickens’ Dotheby’s Hall up close. Cold meals in the cellar. A thrashing in the ornate common room for one unfortunate who was spreadeagled on the table and flogged for a night-time tryst with the cook’s daughter. A set of strange teachers who’d been laid off at other, more respectable seats of teaching, including Mr. Cowie who was rumored to be too interested in the younger lads, and Mr. Solomon the inventor of a recyclable heat retention system of flasks to hold soup on train journeys.
The building is now renovated to its Grade 1 category sumptuousness, where a Mr. Gladstone (Queen Victoria’s prime-minister’s great-grandson) now lives, but then it was a peeling damp near ruin. An architectural triumph of 18th-century classical pomp, designed anonymously by the woman who taught Sir Christopher Wren to build. It had fallen on poor times when we were there. Grass in the gutters, trash in the carriage inspection wells, the rose garden with its arch of baleen whale jaw-bones, overgrown.
I was there, with my nine-year-old brother Peter, when I was twelve, leaving the frigid place in December when I hit thirteen. Haw-frost in the top of the sixty -foot elms as we lined up for church at 8-am dressed in short pants and chilblains. Andrew left the school in “the spring” when he was eleven. Unlike me, Andrew recalls it as a glamorous place instilling in him his version of the private-school background that he used with such panache to flog the ‘Stones. But ‘Cokethorpe’ (always mispronounced as ‘Coke-thorpe’) was more correctly called ‘Wooton Underwood School’ (Andrew got the name of the village it was closest to wrong) and was the cheapest boarding school available outside the reform school Borstal. Borstal and Cokethorpe had a similar breed of pupil too. The ‘Cokethorpe’ name was not correct either, that name was appropriated by the crook who ran the show from another school of that name (properly pronounced ‘Cook-thorpe’), still extant, a well regarded, and real old-school school.
No, this was the real deal school-from-hell story, stuck out in a marsh 5-miles it seems from the nearest village, with a secret experimental rocket base not far away. Ghosts in the night. The frequency of low-class garbage-disposal business men’s children in the class rooms was apparent. It is quite possible that relatives of Ted Moulton (the mentor-cum-fuck-up of famed fellow graphic designer, Colin Fulcher/Barney Bubbles’ ) also went to the school. I think the thug Charley Cray’s younger relatives were there too. So it was a bit short on glamour I suppose if you knew better, but to the lads of the thug class it was filled with it was a sort of flashy secondary-modern of private schools if you looked at it with your eyes shut and dressed warm.
Shortly after we both left, the school’s creditors tried to catch up with the ‘owner’, who was a scam-artist from the East End. Heck it could of been Ted Moulton hisself for all I know. In something out of a funny/weird British movie like ‘If’, the pupils were put in buses and chased all over the country by their headmaster’s creditors. Front pages of the News of the World, Express, and Mail.
When Barney and I started up in ‘business’ together in late 1962 he told me that the Stones’ manager had gone to the same school as I did, that I should contact him, but I didn’t see the point, unlike Barney, I had not the slightest wish to get involved in that crass biz. I thought he’d ruined the Stones with those stupid geeky suits and their velvet collars they donned for a few moments of rock history. I didn’t know it at the time, but it were him what got rid of their cool but dorky-looking stride pianist, Ian Stuart. But that’s what Barney really was interested in. Way to go.
Andrew’s book I found to be really well done, good show Andrew. Though it could be better edited. Some hella writing there when he goes off. Andrew is now, or was, living in the center of the cocaine business in Bogota, Columbia.
A the time I hated the school where I thought I’d learned little, but reading Andrew’s book gives me the idea that I really may have learned some worthwhile street-wise ways there. I recall Barney saying he could see how we’d both been to the same school, “You’re the same sort of show off .” he said.
Anyway, back in 1953 Andrew and I got together in the common room with the fifteen-foot ceilings and the same cornices as in Buckingham Palace (it was built as the the Duke of Buckingham’s country estate), sitting around the antique stove, with its orange mica windows that I poked out in flakes, to discuss the benefits of having me draw space-ships for him to sell, and split the profit. At that time we all listened to Journey Into Space with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop which set the scene, Some weeks one of the kids in my dorm was chosen to listen to the spooky show – hidden under the floorboards in the crawlspace. Also the Eagle comic’s exploded views of technology by Frank Bellamy(?) were an inspiration.
I left the school before Andrew and I never got to realize the full potential of Space-Ship Arts Ltd. – though I did sell one drawing of a bulbous transport inter-planet transporter (plus a free nude) for half-a-crown (known as half-a-dollar or ‘arfer nicker) and a Mars bar. One and sixpence, about 65% of the cash, went to Andrew and I got the Mars bar, petty fair deal considering his later career. The half-a-crown (50-cents or so) was worth more than face value in that cut-off from civilization economy, where a loaf of bread was legal tender.