Cyril Maidment interview: School years

Where did you go to school?

I went to Singlegate School in Colliers Wood. People in Colliers Wood like to pretend they are not part of Mitcham. They have their own parish church and right next door to the parish church is Singlegate School. But I had to wait until I was 70 years of age before I found out why it was called Singlegate School. Colliers Wood was important because it had a single gate on the toll road while the double gates were at Wimbledon. In those days there were three schools. The secondary school was as today for 11 year olds but there were also two branches, a middle school and an infants school. So it would have been called the infants school. I think it was five to eight and then eight to 11 – that kind of grouping.

My middle school was Fortescue Road School. The building is still there. It is used as the local hall – very well used. It is next to a recreation ground. We always called that ‘the rec’ and it was a marvellous place. For climbing trees it was very good. My third school – we had the scholarship, later the 11 Plus. I was unlucky because my first attempt at the scholarship was a dismal failure. I spent most of my schooling in air raid shelters so I wasn’t particularly brilliant. But I was fortunate that my age was such that I got a second go at it and in the second go I passed the scholarship. I could have gone to King’s but my mother said she wanted me to go to Rutlish because she had some nice boyfriends at Rutlish School. So I went there.

It was an excellent school in those days – a grammar school. I was very happy there. I never came from a wealthy family so like John Major finding the school uniform was a bit of a struggle for us. John Major also went there but he was long after me so I never met him there. But I did have one famous school friend called Raymond Briggs. He became a famous children’s author and more than a children’s author. He has written a lovely book about his parents called Edith and Ernest which, because he lived in Ashen Grove, is a marvellous local history book.

What do you recall most about that school?

Before I went to the grammar school the teachers were very human and friendly but at the grammar school the school was controlled by the prefects and the sub-prefects. The teachers were able to cane people occasionally or pour a bottle of milk over them – or whatever punishment they chose. But most of the discipline was run by the prefects and sub-prefects who could slap your face and pull your hair out and do whatever they thought was necessary.  That was Rutlish School – a very good school. I loved it. I wasn’t really a naughty boy.