Boarding school in the 1960s usually conjures up images of cane-wielding disciplinarians, Latin lessons and smart uniform. But not if you had the fortune to go to the avant garde social experiment that was Burgess Hill – where lessons were voluntary.
Fancy a cigarette during class? No problem. Plough through the school grounds on a motorbike? Ditto. And, as this remarkable Pathe News video clip from 1961 shows, pupils at the progressive school in leafy Hampstead, north-west London, pretty much got away with anything.
In wonderfully clipped tones befitting a newsreel of that time, the narrator introduces us to the school: ‘England has long been famous for its educational establishments, the freedom of choice of schools and for their political and social toleration. ’But here’s a boarding school where youth is not merely allowed but encouraged to have its fling.’
And the ethos of the school, according to its headmaster, James ‘Jimmy’ East (apparently a Cambridge MA) is simple: Every child should first find himself – education can come later.’