My parents had moved
to the north of England partly because they intended me to go to the
northern boarding school at Sedbergh in the Yorkshire dales. I went
there as a boarder in the autumn of 1955 at the age of just under fourteen
and remained for five years. Like my first boarding school at Oxford,
I have always known that the experience at Sedbergh has had another
huge influence in making me who I am.
My public schooldays
coincided with the debacle of Suez, the final retreat from Africa, and
the assertion of American supremacy and the end of the British Empire.
There was also the deepening of the Cold War and new global alliances.
It was a period of huge change in technology: the rapid growth of television,
the spread of car and motorbike ownership, of private phone ownership,
air travel and central heating. All this reflected a rapid rise in wealth
in the Britain and much of the West.
was a cultural revolution, the rise of 'pop' music, the sudden emergence
in 1957 of rock and roll, Elvis Presley, popular jazz and skiffle, guitars,
longer hair and youth fashion. It was the period of 'Teddy Boys' and
coffee bars, of 'angry young men', 'kitchen sink drama', new poetry
and literature. There was a social revolution, with questioning of the
old hierarchies of age, class and gender. In sum, it was a great watershed,
which continued over the next five years from 1960, when the order which
had roughly prevailed from later Victorian England was challenged.
I went to Sedbergh
in September 1955 as an under-sized child of thirteen. I was already
largely formed in character and mentality, but still lived largely in
a world of childhood with my toys, children's books and a world of myth
and adventure. I was largely unquestioning and not yet interested in
religion or adult things. I grew rapidly physically, going through puberty
and becoming heavier and taller. Especially for the last three years
in the sixth form, I moved from class teaching to a more individual
style of supervisions and finding things out for myself.
By the time I left
I was on the verge of adulthood. Yet I still retained something of the
child, even if my mind was now reasonably formed for adult life and
I had learnt the arts of friendship and of becoming responsible for
myself and others. I was able to travel on my own with a friend round
Europe in my last summer at the school.
experience is described in great detail in Sedbergh Schooldays.