Clifton Preparatory School in the 1950s.

Dr Ian Roberston, a past pupil of Clifton Preparatory School, has written up a comprehensive memoire of the years he spent at the school during the 1950s.

He has also supplied some school photographs as well as a photo of the original school building being a house at 102 Lambert Road.   

CLICK on pictures to enlarge.


Clifton Preparatory School in the 1950s.

I attended Clifton Preparatory School from 1952 to 1957.  When I arrived Clifton was a small but respected institution with about 150 white boys in eight grades, starting with classes 1 & 2 and  proceeding through standards 1 through 6.  The full-time teaching staff consisted of five female and three male teachers and the headmaster, Anthony “Tim” Sutcliffe.  He was a determined and visionary leader who shaped the character and development of the school from his appointment in 1945, when he was only 27 years of age, until he retired 35 years later.  It was evident to all of us even then that our school was essentially Sutcliffe’s creation.

Clifton at the time consisted of two adjacent properties that sloped uphill from leafy Lambert Road: the original house and grounds at number 102, where Harry Stubbs founded the school in 1924, and the house and grounds to the west at number 104, which the school had acquired in the 1930s.  The total land area was 0.4 hectares.

The original school building 102 Lambert Road

The entrance to the school was at 102 Lambert Road.  Most pupils arrived by foot or bicycle, but some were dropped off by parents or chauffeurs.  In those more innocent days there was no gate or guard at the entrance, so it was always open, day or night, throughout the year. Beyond the entry was a small lawn, and after that a high, steep embankment covered with the crown-of-thorns plant Euphorbia Milii, whose flowers provided a perennial spectacle of flaming red, and whose spikes discouraged pupils from scrambling about the slope.  In a large level area at the top of the embankment lay the swimming pool, surrounded by space for spectators.

The swimming pool was a central part of our lives.  The school had no assembly hall for gatherings, so the pool area was the scene of the most important event of the school year, the Clifton Gala.  In those days there was very little contact between parents and teachers, and this was the only day of the year when parents were welcomed to the school.  The event consisted of an address by the headmaster and an invited dignitary, a presentation of book prizes to the best scholars, and a swimming contest among the three “houses” that every student belonged to —  Barbarians, Crusaders, and Trojans.  Sutcliffe, his male teachers, and the guest speaker took their places at the west end of the pool area; the pupils were arrayed around the south and east sides; and the parents sat in rows on the north, between the pool and the Stubbs house behind them.  The parents in attendance were mostly mothers, and they made a splendid, kaleidoscopic sight with their long pastel dresses, vividly patterned frocks, and startlingly original, extravagantly oversized hats.

Boys used the pool for recreation after school, often under the gaze of the swimming coach Bull Risley, who we thought resembled a giant bullfrog.  He sat immobile in a wicker chair, cloaked in a raincoat to protect himself from our splashes, and croaked out his commands in rasping tones.  Later in the decade he was replaced with a new coach, Maureen Cleaver, who proved to be an excellent swim teacher and team trainer.  Pupils were also allowed to use the pool during the school holidays, and on most sunny days a stream of boys would show up to cavort in and out of the water for hours on end, unsupervised by any adult.  Boys were considered more resilient in the 1950s than they are today, and were given much more independence and freedom in their ample spare time.

Pool maintenance is not normally part of a headmaster’s job description, but Sutcliffe did the task himself with the assistance of a Standard 6 pupil.  Once a week they would sample the waters, perform various calculations, and then pour the requisite amount of chemicals into the pool to adjust the chlorine level and pH balance. Every term they drained the water by crawling into a cavity beneath the pool and turning wheels and cranking handles, whereupon a pipe concealed among the red blossoms emitted a torrent that gushed overland to the school entrance, and then out to the gutters and drains in Lambert Road.

Beyond the pool on slightly higher ground was the majestic presence of the Stubbs house.  In the centre section was a two-storey headmaster’s residence, where Tim Sutcliffe lived with his wife, Yolande D’Hotman who, unusually for that era, had kept her maiden name after marriage.  D’Hotman was very much a part of Durban’s cultural avant garde and had an independent professional career as an actress, script writer, and producer.  Sometimes she cast both herself and Sutcliffe for roles in the radio dramas that were popular at the time.  To the east of the headmaster’s residence was a ground-floor flat for bachelor schoolmasters, consisting of three small bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom.  On the other side of the headmaster’s residence, to the west, was the office of the school secretary and bookkeeper, Mrs Shearsby; and then, in the western corner which projected out from the building, was Sutcliffe’s office. This room had an exterior door, where pupils who had been summoned to the headmaster waited.  On the ground floor to the north of the headmaster’s office was a parlour with a piano, which was used for music classes.  The upper story of Stubbs house contained the classrooms of Classes I and 2, and a dining area for the minority of boys whose parents paid for school lunches.  As the internal staircase of the building was part of the headmaster’s residence, a bridge was constructed from the high ground behind the house to the upper storey.  Behind Stubbs house was an open area with large avocado trees, some utility structures, and the north boundary.

The adjacent property at number 104 had a tennis court fronting the street.  However, this court was never used for tennis; instead, it contained cricket nets and was used relentlessly for batting and bowling practice.  Our cricketing legend-to-be, Barry Richards, was often seen practicing his art here in the afternoons.  The lack of other on-site sporting facilities meant that pupils had to be transported once or twice weekly to the Kingsmead municipal sport fields for their rugby, cricket, and athletics.  The school hired a bus for this purpose, and sometimes Sutcliffe also transported as many as six boys crammed into his own car, a cavernous 1952 Studebaker Commander.

Next up the hill from the tennis court was a large area with a tarmac surface.  This was by far the biggest open space at Clifton and was the main gathering place and playground for the pupils.  Our amusements were quite simple; the most popular were playing marbles and racing miniature Dinky cars down the slope. Once in a while a fight or “scrap” would break out between two boys, and this was considered great entertainment.  An eager cry would arise, “Free scrap! Bring your lunches!”, and this call would be repeated over and over to summon witnesses from the furthest recesses of the school. An excited circle would form around the combatants who invariably ended up wrestling on the ground until one of them surrendered, or a teacher arrived to stop the tussle.

Our morning assemblies were held in the open air in this area unless it was raining, in which case there was no assembly — sometimes for days on end, if the weather was bad.  The boys assembled in rows by grade along white lines painted on the tarmac, with the younger boys at the front and the older at the back.  The assemblies started with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, followed by announcements from the headmaster.  Most of the announcements were about items lost or found — a  pair of socks, a schoolboy cap — along with exhortations to maintain hard work and exemplary behaviour.

The annual official photographs of the entire school and its sports teams were taken in this area.  The headmaster and the three male teachers appear in all the group photographs, but the female teachers are nowhere to be seen.  A feminine presence was considered inappropriate for a boys’ school photo, so the lady teachers were always excluded, and the details of their features were lost to posterity.   Our summer uniform of brown sandals and khaki shorts and safari jacket was considered too informal for the school photograph, so for that occasion we usually wore the winter uniform of black shoes, black socks with two white horizontal stripes, navy shorts, white shirt with horizontally striped black and white tie, and navy blazer.

At the northeast corner of this open space was a tall Norfolk pine tree, surrounded by a series of benches on which we often sat to consume (or swap) the lunches that our mothers or servants had prepared for us that morning.  On the ground beneath the tree lay a heavy, open-ended metal pipe about a metre long and 225 mm wide, with a flange and heat fins welded to its surface.  This was the school bell — reputedly, part of an old aircraft engine.  The striker for the bell was a short tube of solid metal, which lay loose within the pipe. To ring the bell, the bell boy would grab this implement and strike the inside walls of the pipe back and forth as vigorously as possible for about ten seconds.  The result was a shattering, clanging sound that easily penetrated the entire school, always followed by a more subdued ker-klink as the bell boy tossed the striker back into the pipe until next time.   Both the pipe and the striker must have been made of some specialized industrial alloy, as they were very weighty and never rusted despite Durban’s humid air and salty breezes.

Next up the slope of the 104 property, and sunk partly into its rising terrain, was a World War II bomb shelter.  Improbable as it seems now, there was a real fear in Durban that Japanese forces might arrive by air or sea to bomb the harbour, and possibly the entire city.  To counter this threat, the school built an enclosed structure with massively thick walls and roof, and two subterranean exits at the rear.  The shelter proved to be useless for its original purpose, but was very handy as a changing room for the nearby swimming room once an entrance and windows had been cut into its face. In 1957 a new classroom for Standard 6 was constructed on top of the bomb shelter.  It was the biggest classroom in the school.

Beyond the bomb shelter was the original house of 104 Lambert Rd.  It was smaller than the Stubbs house but included most of our classrooms.  On the upper floor were the classrooms for Standard 1 and Standard 2, and a staff room for the teachers.   On the ground floor were classrooms for Standard 4 and Standard 5, and a small library with a rather limited assortment of books that had been donated over the years.  The librarians were two volunteer pupils, but as they had other schoolboy interests as well, the library was open only twice a week during lunch hours.  Behind this old house, right up against the northern boundary, was a small separate building that housed Standard 3.

Each classroom had a fixed blackboard and a large wall map of either the world or Africa. The maps were quite old and showed vast areas of pink, the colour of the great British Empire on which the sun never set.  Being of mostly British stock ourselves, we naturally took great pride in this global dominion.  Pupils sat in rows of single or double desks constructed of very solid oak.  At the top right surface of each student’s place was a hole containing an enamel inkwell, which a designated pupil refilled once a week from a large container.  Bic ballpoint pens were becoming quite widespread at the time, but we were absolutely forbidden to use them because they were considered bad for our handwriting.  It certainly took some skill to drive an inky nib over paper without leaking or splotching,  and every week our teachers would issue us with a sheet of green blotting paper, a highly absorbent product that mopped up surplus ink when applied to our pages.

All the boys studied the same curriculum:  English, Afrikaans, Latin, history, geography, and mathematics, and, once a week, music.  (However,  Latin was considered especially challenging and was not compulsory in the final year.)  A staff member was assigned to each classroom and pupils stayed in the same room all day, usually with their presiding teacher but sometimes with a subject specialist.  Only the Afrikaans teacher had no classroom and instead went from one class to another for lessons.

Mrs. Forth was the school’s Afrikaans teacher.  She demanded to be addressed as “Juffrou” and was always known by this title.  Juffrou was a tall, angular, elderly woman with silver hair, which she tinged with shades of blue and purple.  She was very energetic but apparently highly strung:  she sometimes seemed to teeter at the edge of hysteria as she shrieked instructions or stabbed with her long fingers at a mistake in a boy’s written work.  But she was a good teacher, dedicated, attentive, and aware.  One of her foibles was to practically extort small gifts for her birthdays.  Three weeks before the great day she would start wondering aloud whether any nice boys would be giving her perfume, handkerchiefs, chocolates, scarves, or lipstick.  A week before she would declare that some nice boys would surely be bringing gifts very soon.  And indeed the trinkets did start arriving, as boy after boy succumbed and successfully badgered his parents for a present for Juffrou.  Now she carried a wooden box from class to class to contain the largesse.  Each new gift was received with exclamations of joy, along with a sad lament that there were still ten or nine or six boys in the classroom who had given nothing.  By the day of her birthday her box had been replenished several times over, and only a few boys still held out, braving her withering stare.  It would be easy to dismiss Juffrou as some kind of maniac, but I knew better.  She lived on Rapson Rd, quite near my home, and I often encountered her in the neighbourhood.  There I found a quite normal and friendly person, with twinkling eyes.  I suspected that her classroom antics were just a way for an older lady to rivet the attention and control the behaviour of distractible young boys.  When I entered Durban High School after my Clifton years, the Afrikaans teacher there was pleased to see so many Clifton boys in his new intake: “At least some of this class have been taught Afrikaans properly”.

The rest of the teaching staff were an interesting assortment of characters — all of them competent teachers and some of them quite eccentric.

The entire school in 1958.

The teachers are, from the left, Mr Norman Fox, Headmaster Tim Sutcliffe, Mr St Hill, and Mr Alan Pass.

Classes 1 and 2 were taught by contrasting personalities: Mrs Wood, the senior teacher, was a matronly, chain-smoking woman with a fierce demeanour.  Miss Rooke, the junior teacher, was a pretty young lady with a demure and timid manner.  She was also the school music teacher, which for most of us meant a once-weekly visit to the piano parlour where we would sing such old favourites as “John Brown’s Body” to her piano accompaniment.

On 6th February 1952,  Sutcliffe suddenly strode into our music class from his office next door,  and interrupted our chorus with grave news just flashed around the world by BBC radio:  The King was dead!   We were aghast.  White, English-speaking Durban was perhaps the most royalist outpost in all the Empire and Commonwealth in those days.  (For example, if any member of the royal family appeared in the newsreels that were screened at the “bioscope”, or cinema, the audience would always erupt with prolonged applause, and at the end of every film the audience stood reverently to attention while the royal anthem was played.)  Sutcliffe now directed us to stand and sing God Save the King to show respect for our departed monarch.  This seemed like a good idea until we got to the lines:

Long live our noble King…

Long to reign over us

God save our King.

Alert to the incongruity of a request to the Almighty to extend a dead man’s life,  Sutcliffe quickly rescued the situation.   He cut short our rendition at the end of the first verse and directed us to sing a revised anthem instead: God Save the Queen.  Actually Elizabeth was not really the queen until her coronation more than a year later, but we sang the song anyway.  Only a few minutes had elapsed since the news was officially announced, so Clifton schoolboys were certainly among the first in the entire world to sing this refrain for a living royal since the demise of Queen Victoria half a century earlier — and, just possibly, the very first!

Standard 1 was presided over by Mrs Townsend, a robust, fair-haired young woman who was the daughter of our swimming coach Bull Risley.  She introduced us to all the subjects in the curriculum except Latin, which was considered so difficult it had to wait until Standard 3.  There was special emphasis on writing and reading, but sometimes we were issued with crayons and paper to explore our creative talents.

Standard 2 was the domain of Mrs Walker, who was also the school’s arithmetic and maths teacher.  She was a short, chubby, dark-haired lady, with gentle eyes but a strict, no-nonsense approach. If a boy misbehaved she would whack him once or twice on the calf with a ruler, but her classes usually passed uneventfully.  Her teaching was systematic and thorough.

Standard 3,  set in its own small building away from all the others, was the fiefdom of Mr St Hill.  He was universally known as “Pops” and was easily the most popular teacher in the school.  He was probably in his mid-forties at the time, but he suffered greatly from arthritis and his physical movements were strained.  He carried a walking stick with a metal handle designed to split and open out, like butterfly wings, to provide a seat wherever he could find a suitable spot to implant the sharp tip; this enabled him to avoid standing whenever possible.  Pops was good humoured, witty, and easy-going, but was a conscientious teacher who introduced us to the mysteries of Latin declensions and conjugations, and to many intricacies of English grammar, syntax, figures of speech, and other usage.  He sometimes threatened unruly pupils with his collection of canes, prominently displayed on one wall of his classroom.  Each implement had its own name, although he proclaimed the cane entitled “Major Bloodknock” to be the most fearsome.  But these threats held no terror for us;  on the rare occasion that one was used, he administered little more than a light tap.  Pops died suddenly in 1960 from an asthma attack, and the route of his funeral procession was lined with his pupils from Clifton and former pupils who were now at Durban secondary schools, all bowing their heads in respect of this much loved teacher.

Standard 4 was ruled by another man in his mid-forties, Mr Fox, who was also the school geography teacher.  He always wore jackets with leather patches on the elbows to protect the fabric when he rested his elbows on the desk. He was a keen cricket player, and was reputed to have played for the Irish national team in his youth.  All the male teachers were expected to supervise or coach sports, but in practice Fox took most responsibility for cricket while Sutcliffe coached rugby.  Fox was a good teacher but a stern disciplinarian, maintaining order with an occasional application of the “bacon slice”, the thin edge of a long ruler applied to a boy’s backside in a sharp downward strike.  Fox served as Sutcliffe’s unofficial deputy, and presided at assemblies and other occasions if the headmaster was absent.

Standard 5 had a procession of young teachers during my time.  First was Mr Norman, a muscular amateur wrestler.   Second was Mr Jurgens, a tall man with a stern and reserved manner.  Third was Anton Jenson, who was a dutiful teacher but whose main interests may have lain outside the school, in ballet.  With his athletic build and handsome features, he looked very much the part of a lead dancer.  Like the others he was not long at Clifton. But toward the end of my time there a new teacher for Standard 5 appeared, a slight young man 23 years of age, with tousled fair hair, a moustache, and an amiable, eager manner.  At first he seemed a little unsure of himself in the classroom, and we suspected this might be his first teaching job.  Anyway, he threw himself into the life of the school with energy and enthusiasm.  This young man was Alan Pass, who was to remain at Clifton for another 35 years, becoming a veritable institution there by the time he retired in 1992.

Standard 6 was the domain of Tim Sutcliffe, who taught English and Latin.  The whole Clifton community — pupils, teachers, and parents — was in awe of our headmaster, and in this classroom we were exposed to the full force of his personality.  Sutcliffe was a commanding presence:  a tall, imposing figure who exuded dignity, confidence, and authority.  He had an astute intelligence, a bluff manner, a sardonic humour, and a keen interest in each pupil as an individual.

Sutcliffe’s great love was for English literature.  He set high expectations for our understanding and appreciation of classic works.  Today, Shakespeare and Dickens are considered “too difficult” for senior pupils in many British and American secondary schools, but we studied Macbeth and Oliver Twist in primary school with much enjoyment.  Sutcliffe directed us to act scenes from Macbeth and we gleefully became witches, prancing in a circle as we chanted: “Double double, toil and trouble, Fire burn, and cauldron bubble!”   Sutcliffe himself thrilled us with some of his performances:  “Is this a dagger that I see before me?” he cried out, as we watched mesmerized. “The handle toward my hand?  Come, let me clutch thee!”.  And he grabbed in frenzy at the empty air, before gasping in horror: “I have thee not, but I see thee still!”

Besides these two official textbooks, Sutcliffe taught us a lot of English poetry.  Not just any poetry, but the very best poetry, and that meant Shakespeare, Shakespeare, and more Shakespeare.  We learned to recite along with him a wealth of lines from the Bard, such as the opening soliloquy from Richard III (“Now is the winter of our discontent…”);  the “Seven ages” poem from  As You Like it  (“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”);  and Mark Antony’s speech after the assassination in Julius Caesar  (“Friends, Romans, and countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him…“).  Sometimes our headmaster would storm about the room or clamber upon desks for dramatic effect, bellowing some lines, whispering others.

Sutcliffe also gave a scripture class to Standard 6 once a week.  We had no biblical studies in our earlier years at Clifton, so perhaps he was just checking off some religion requirement imposed by the Natal Province authorities, or the school governors.  In any case, Sutcliffe showed no interest in theological matters, and the classes consisted entirely of his resonant readings of dramatic events in the King James version of the Old Testament — Noah’s flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,  the plagues on Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea,  David’s slaying of Goliath, the collapse of the walls of Jericho to the sound of trumpets, Daniel in the lion’s den, or the dreaded writing on the wall, neme neme tekel upharsin, that warned King Nebuchadnezzar of his fate, chewing grass in a field of oxen.  Sutcliffe also had us learn some passages by heart, such as the lovely 23rd Psalm (“The Lord is my shepherd…”), or Proverbs 6:6-8  (“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; Consider her ways and be wise..” )  Sutcliffe’s scripture classes, in short, were not that different from his English literature classes.  Only years later, when I studied English in depth myself, did I grasp how profoundly two seminal influences, the works of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, had shaped the usages and phrases and words of English right down to our time.  Sutcliffe was immersing us in the richest, most majestic sentences, vocabulary, and rhythms of our language, in the hope that at least some of it would stick.

The headmaster’s lessons were often discursive.  He might veer off into some topic of historical importance, like the Holocaust, or of current interest, like the recent revolution in Hungary, or even of town planning, like a proposed beachfront development.  He never mentioned party politics, but we knew where his sympathies lay because he would sometimes deplore a government action that he thought was particularly cruel or senseless.  Once, he told us of his student days at Oxford University.  He painted an enchanting picture of the glorious architecture of ancient, ivy-covered buildings set in beautiful gardens, the lively tutorials with eminent scholars, and the carefree student life of carousing in the town, boating on the river, and debating great issues far into the night.  “If any of you ever get a chance to attend Oxford or Cambridge” he said, “you must seize it, because the years you spend there will be the privilege of your life”.  Then, to my astonishment, he paused and stared directly at me for several seconds.  I didn’t know what to make of being singled out in this way.  My parents had limited education and means, and university had yet to be mentioned in our household; and I was a very average student with no prospect of ever being accepted at either institution.  But I was really intrigued now.  I started to read about these distant, dreamlike places, and a yearning ambition grew within me.  In the end, I attended both Oxford and Cambridge, and the experiences were every bit as wonderful as Sutcliffe had promised.

At that time corporal punishment was the norm in practically every boys’ school in the British tradition.  Parents, teachers, and pupils all assumed that schools would descend into riot and anarchy if boys were not physically disciplined.  Clifton was no exception, and a caning from Sutcliffe was no joke: administered as two or four “cuts”, it left marks that were still evident two weeks later. (Six “cuts” were sometimes threatened, but never delivered as that would be too severe.)  The offences that might provoke a caning were legion, for example:  being late for class;  running anywhere in the school, but especially on stairs; leaving the school’s boundaries during class hours; failing to turn in homework; whispering to mates or passing them notes during class; cheating on tests; or being untruthful.  One of the most common disciplinary events arose when pupils were asked to pass messages from the school to their parents. To save on postage, the school gave mimeographed announcements, or “circulars” to pupils to take home.  Each circular had a receipt below a dotted line, which the parent was asked to sign and return to the school via their son.  Sutcliffe allowed us three days to bring back the signed receipts.  Most were returned on the first day, and stern reminders were issued about the remainder. On the second day many more arrived, and this time dire warnings were issued. On the third day some more receipts arrived — but pupils can be forgetful, and a few failed to produce the document.  Invariably, a dozen or so boys would receive the grim summons to line up outside Sutcliffe’s office.  Parents and pupils just shrugged off such events as a normal part of school life.

One day Sutcliffe told our Standard 6 class that he had just read a book about Summerhill, an experimental preparatory school in England.  Summerhill was a democracy, where decisions and rules were made by a common vote of teachers and pupils, and pupils could decide for themselves what classes, if any, they wanted to attend.  Sutcliffe asked us what we thought of such a permissive school.  We were quite perplexed by this question, but some pupils volunteered amid much laughter that they would be sure to abolish the cane, and homework, and Latin, and maths, and exams, and school lunches.  Sutcliffe concluded that a school of that type would be unworkable, and speculated that the Summerhill book was not telling the whole story.

If one can summarize the character of Clifton in the 1950s in a single word, it would be:  excellence.  Sutcliffe demanded excellence from the boys in their academics and in their conduct.  He must have been aware, of course, that his teaching staff included some eccentrics, and I am sure this would not have  bothered him in the least — if anything, he probably appreciated them for the extra vitality they brought to the school.  What mattered was that they were all very good teachers.  In our academic life we were encouraged to be competitive, and there was no concern for any hurt feelings among those who did not do well.  On a few occasions Mrs Townsend actually fashioned a conical dunce’s hat for failing boys in her Standard 1 class, and made them sit facing the corner of the classroom.  Every month our class teacher read aloud the latest “monthly order”, which listed the boys from first to last according to their recent academic results. If you didn’t like being at the bottom of the class, the solution was to work harder, and overtake some boys ahead of you.  Our school reports at the end of term listed our score out of 100 for every subject, along with the average score of our classmates, so we and our parents could see not just how we were doing, but how we were doing relative to others.  We wrote essays every week and then had to write out (usually several times over) corrections to any errors the teacher found.  We never saw a multiple-choice question:  except for maths or geography, which would involve numbers or maps, every test or exam required impeccable written answers.  When we left Clifton for our secondary schools, we found that we were literate far beyond our years.

Sutcliffe insisted on good manners. There was even a space in our school reports reserved for his comments about our “conduct”.  We were to be polite, courteous and considerate at all times, and especially when wearing the Clifton uniform. If we encountered waiting parents at the school entrance, we were to doff our caps and greet them with a “Good afternoon”.  On a city bus we were to give up our seats for ladies or the elderly.  Within the school there was no tolerance for impertinence to staff or bullying of other boys.  Every year a small group of Indians would arrive with ladders, hooked poles, and baskets to harvest the avocados from the trees at the rear of Stubbs house, ensuring that none of the fruits fell on pupil’s heads.  These were the days of apartheid, when South African whites all too often looked down on other races, and one group of boys started mischievously pelting the Indians with avocados, while another group shouted at them to stop.  Sutcliffe suddenly appeared, glowering with anger.  He directed the offending pupils to apologize individually to the Indians, and to pick up all the fallen avocados and put them in the baskets — a real humiliation for white boys, to perform the work of non-white servants!  The next day he told the assembled school that Clifton boys were expected to show respect and courtesy to everybody, no matter who they were, and that any boy who failed to do this “will march right out of the school entrance and never come back”.  It was an important lesson in that country at that time.

Of course, Clifton in the 1950s was an oasis of privilege in a doomed social system.  In 1956 Sudan became the first of Britain’s African colonies to achieve independence, signalling the irrevocable end of the European colonial era in Africa; and in the same year there were rumblings of discontent in South Africa when Nelson Mandela and 155 others were arrested and charged with treason.  But we were just children, mostly oblivious to the world outside home and school.  When I and my fellow old Cliftonians from that era look back, we see what seemed a golden age in our school.  It was a warm, supportive, intimate community that demanded and brought out the best in us.  We were happy at Clifton, loved our school, and felt great pride in belonging there.

This is Tim Sutcliffe in the Std 6 classroom, probably late 1950s.  Pupils names unknown.

Alan Pass in the Std 6 classroom probably 1960s.

School Rugby XV

Back row:  Robert D’Aubrey,  Ian Robertson, Douglas  Stuart,  Michael Perry, Denzil Davidson.

Middle row:  John Bush, Keith Seymour,  John Field, Peter Whyte, Headmaster Tim Sutcliffe, Brian Anderson, Barry Richards, David Bizzell, Thomas Davis

Front row: John Allwright, John Kay, Richard Holmes, Roger Farren.


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9 Responses

  1. Barry Richards
    | Reply

    Great days great summary Neil Fox Irishman teaching cricket… and we survived Maureen Cleaver eternally grateful learnt to swim a must for an open pool thrown in many times and used to skim tennis balls off the top of the water for catching practice….

  2. Michael Frank Philip
    | Reply

    A little late in responding. An amazing article! It brought back so many memories, the things that I had forgotten and facts that I did not know.
    So many thanks, Ian!
    Michael Philip

  3. Michael Frank Philip
    | Reply

    I think the photo (late 50’s?) was taken in 1956. It is a little indistinct but I believe I am in it. I remember the following incident from that year.
    Part of the curriculum was attending the music class once a week as indicated. One week, for whatever reason, our class was misbehaving and the music teacher sadly ending up in tears. To our surprise, after being duly chastised by Headmaster Sutcliffe, he informed us that there would no longer be a music class. Instead, we would do Shakespeare. Perhaps that was the beginning of Shakespeare being taught at Clifton.

    | Reply

    A very comprehensive summary of those days at Clifton. I have many memories of the teachers, the environment, the races in the pool, playing cricket on the concrete, picking up avocados, rushing off to Kingsmead, Walking off the cricket field on the day King George VI died on my birthday in 1952. The intense competition with Nottingham Road in rugby, cricket and swimming. Tim and Neil certainly disciplined us well and prepared us for high school, so much so that Maths and Latin were a breeze at DHS.
    Competition in class and on the field was encouraged and I still love to compete in the pool in the Senior Games at 82. My Mom donated a cup for long jump after I won one year.
    Many thanks, Ian
    David Balfour

  5. mark C van Ryneveld
    | Reply

    Brilliant summary and endearing memories to cherish for ever. Will always remember Alan Pass encouraging us boys to read more challenging books. He made Lord of the Flies so horribly realistic and he made us read out the final lines of the book in class in order for us to fully comprehend the enormity of it all. Wonderful school.

  6. Raymond Strodl
    | Reply

    I enjoyed this wonderful story of your time at Clifton,I discovered when looking for information about Mr Sutcliffe, the headmaster. I never attended the school, but my family was friendly with “Tim” Sutcliffe and his wife, Yolande d’Hotman, and I had dinners with them during an overseas trip my family went on during my late teens. Mr Sutcliffe and I discussed literature, history, culture and ethics after these dinners, and this time with this incredible man helped to become the man I grew into.

    I still think of these dinners where he helped to develop my love of words and education. He encouraged me to study further rather than waste my mind. I followed this advice, and this changed my life I am today working in adult education and training, writing and developing material and textbooks for the financial services industry. He also helped me develop a love for poetry, which I read regularly and use to help me write song lyrics for original songs that I am recording with my band Black Wind Howling.

  7. Mark van Ryneveld
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    Loved my time at Clifton Prepatory. Don’t think any of my teachers shared my sentiment- TS was a firm believer in discipline , who used the cane frequently, but we all, hugely respected him. I remember attending his funeral service at the Catholic Church, opposite to St.Thomas’s Church, with my Mother, and we both remarked how few , old boys had actually turned up…but he was instrumental in turning Clifton into fine institution as it to day no doubt.

  8. L.A. Baker
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    My brother and I , Peter Baker, attended the school in the 50’s. I think I was from 1949 to 1955, my brother ahead of me.I spent 7 happy years there including 2 in standard 6 as Sutcliffe considered me too immature to advance to high school.I certainly remember the name Ian Robertson but not the person.
    I was referred to as “Baker minor” and my elder brother simply as Baker.
    We used to travel to school by bus from the Bluff, having to get up early in the morning, two bus rides, a lot of waiting and a lot of walking.
    I can well remember Sutcliffe as being stickler for vocabulary. On one occasion when I had not completed my homework he asked me “Why?”, to which I timidly replied ” I am sorry Sir, I bust the nib of my pen “.
    He was furious and marched me into his office to relieve “cuts” . There was a chair in the office that one was required to bend over. Once I had adopted the position he said to me , “Baker minor, you are not getting punished for not doing your homework but for using the word BUST. a bust is what a woman has, the word is Broke” he roared as he flayed me.
    I can well recall the Macbeth dagger scenes, he would get a knife from the kitchen and smear it with red ink for visual effect. What days they were, certainly shaped my life.
    I also recall racing dinky toys down the driveway gutter with my life long friend Denzil Davidson
    Lewis Baker

  9. Michael Philip
    | Reply

    Racing dinky toys down the gutter. Oh yes, such fun!

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