In the years 1960 to 1972 going to school was a rather simple and uncomplicated process. Every day at junior school I would walk to the Hillmorton County Junior and Infants and after we had larked about in the playground we would line up and go to the classroom for register and that completed would line up again and march off to the school hall for Morning Assembly.
Morning Assembly was a daily part of school life and everyone was obliged to attend. This was easy to enforce, we lived in a village and in theory everyone was Christian so there were no multi-faith issues to concern the teaching staff and no exemptions on moral or religious grounds.
Going to a Christian Assembly was, and still is, the law. The duty on schools to provide a daily act of Christian worship dates back to 1944 but was strengthened as recently as 1988 in the Education Act of that year and today the Department of Education requires that all maintained schools in England must provide a daily act of collective worship which reflects the traditions of this country.
I used to like Assembly. I liked Bible Stories and Sunday School. The Headmaster Mr Hicks used to stand up and tell us a story and then we would sing a hymn and say some prayers and then all file out again back to the classroom. Once a week on a Friday the Reverend Keane from the Hillmorton Chapel would come along and I liked that even more. I thought Reverend Keane was a really nice man.
In 1966 I left the Hillmorton school and went to Dunsmore School for Boys which had exactly the same morning procedure of morning assembly and where the Headmaster Frank Hodgson used to front up the daily gathering.
A couple of years later I fell in with the school mischief pack and we came up with a prank that we thought would be really good fun. This is what happened: every morning the school had the assembly and as we trooped in to the main hall we would collect a hymn book from a cardboard box and on the way out we were supposed to put it back again. By this time I had lost interest in Assembly and apart from the members of the school Christian Society no one really liked going and some of us hatched a plan to close it down.
The plan was brilliant and simple, if the three of us (me, Michael Cowell and Simon Howells) didn’t actually return our hymn books each day then eventually there wouldn’t be any to hand out in the first place and that would put an end to Assembly!
Actually I have now revisited the plot and the thinking behind it and I have to say that it wasn’t that brilliant after all and it was most unlikely to have ever been successful, not least because there must have been something like a thousand hymn books and at the rate of one each per day for the three conspirators this would have taken two complete school years to achieve and during this time someone would have been sure to notice.
Actually they noticed a lot sooner than we gave them credit for and after a week or two, maybe a month, our stash of books was discovered in our desks and we were called to see the headmaster to explain ourselves. Someone, one of the teachers I expect, must have been snooping in our desks and I am certain that would now be seen as an invasion of privacy and an infringement of our human rights but this was 1968 so none of that liberal tosh applied back then.
He really made a terrible fuss about it and I remember thinking at the time that in my opinion he seemed to be unnecessarily over reacting to what was after all only a silly prank. For a while it was touch and go, mum and dad were called in as well and expulsion seemed on the cards but I put up a decent defence and my punishment was commuted to no worse than six of the best from Frank Hodgson’s garden cane and the sentence was carried out the following day, which gave me time to take the appropriate steps to lessen the pain by wearing triple underpants and thick trousers that morning.
It turned out that at the same time as our hymn book heist quite a lot of other school property was going missing as well and turning up in second hand shops all over the town and the headmaster suspected me of being the criminal mastermind behind the thefts. Most of the school orchestra’s musical instruments went missing and eventually the finger of suspicion turned towards the Welsh music teacher, a nasty aggressive bully called Mick Self, and soon after he was caught and charged he spent some time sewing mailbags at her Majesty’s pleasure at Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight.