| Share

A group of Year 7 and 8 pupils met Highgate Old Cholmeleian and former teacher, Howard Darbon as part of their research for the History Explorers co-curricular lunchtime activity. They looked through the school archive together and asked questions about Mr Darbon’s time as a Highgate pupil from 1950-61, and as Director of Physical Education from 1969-74.

Tzi Ying: Who was your favourite teacher when you were a pupil at Highgate?
Mr Cummings, who took over from Mr Fabian as House Master of Grindal, he was very good at teaching French. Mr Mallinson, you’ve probably heard his name because he was a legend of Highgate, he always made lessons very interesting. And the other person I really enjoyed was Mr Coombs, he didn’t actually teach me very often, but he was very nice. I formed a good relationship with him and when I came back here to teach he was also a colleague and we got on well.

Erik: What were your favourite and least favourite subjects or lessons?
My favourite subject was sport and my least favourite was probably German because we didn’t have a very good teacher. I sat at the back of the class with my Beano comic underneath the desk reading that, so I didn’t really learn too much German.

Alex: What were the lunches like when you were here?
They were OK, we used to eat in our Houses, I was a boarder in Grindal and before that in Cholmeley House. There were kitchens and staff there and we used to eat together as a House. There was no choice for the lunches, you just got a metal canister of lumpy rice or something for pudding. That was what we were used to in those days. As a boarder we used to come down after school in the afternoon and have tea in what is now the Dining Room, and we had bread and jam before our main evening meal.

Rafael: What was the uniform like?
Not too different from what you have today. We had grey trousers, blazers, shirt and tie. On Sundays, if we were at school, we had to wear uniform to go to Chapel in the morning and Evensong in the evening.

Alex: As a boarder, what did you do in your free time at Highgate?
In the summer we were always out on the fields playing five-a-side football or against the school House. We had a big day room, which was also the dining room and after we’d had our session of prep we had spare time, somebody had a record player, there was a snooker table and we just lived as a community, it was great.

Erik: What was your best experience at Grindal House?
I think my most satisfying was probably winning the school cross country races three years in a row. It didn’t matter to me too much that I won them, it demonstrated my love of sport and I left school to play all sorts of sport, and that’s partly why I became a PE teacher as well.

I was Captain of athletics and cross country, Secretary of the Football Club, I played for the school in football, cricket, fives, and modern quadrathlon, which is now the pentathlon. We were a pioneer school for the introduction of the modern pentathlon at school level. We had a competition against Charterhouse School and I couldn’t swim very well so I didn’t get many points, but I won the cross country in that race as well. That was the first time there’d been a school pentathlon competition.

Alex: We found a book you’ve written about some of your trips and journeys. What were they like?
Every summer term we had four expeditions which were run by Mr Mallinson and he’d select where we’d go on a Sunday. We’d set off from school when our matches had finished, so it was fairly late in the afternoon, and we had to get to the meeting point by the following morning. One was from Thames Valley to Beachy Head which was quite a long way. You had to use your own initiative to get there, so we might cycle down to the south coast, which we did on some of the expeditions, we might hitchhike, or we might get a train to a nearby point and then walk a few miles to the meeting point. They were really excellent initiatives, as well as great fun. You used to have to write up your experiences, and there was a prize for the best report of the expedition.

Rafael: Did you ever jump out of a plane?
Yes, 11 times. I decided that I wanted to go into the Army when I left school because that’s where I could play sport and get paid for it. During my last year at school, I had to go for what was called a civil service exam. I’d previously been up to North Wales with the school’s CCF (Combined Cadet Force) on what was called arduous training, which was outdoor activities, climbing up Snowdon and things like that. Soon after we had been up there, I had to go for a medical with a doctor, and because I’d been on the training, in those days we wore horrible thick socks and big boots and they had rubbed my ankles and the doctor said I can’t pass you. When I left the following summer term, I decided to become a reservist and joined the 10th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment that was based in Finchley.  We went there for one evening a week and had several weekends away and I got paid for it which was great. We went to Abingdon in Oxfordshire to train for two weeks where I qualified to jump out of an aeroplane.

Alex: What was it like coming back as a teacher to Highgate?
I qualified as a teacher from Carnegie College in Leeds, which was a physical education college primarily. I gained a certificate in teaching because you couldn’t do a degree in those days for teaching. I then taught in Hemel Hempstead for three years and then came to Highgate and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was the first Director of Physical Education and previous to me there was an ex-Army physical training instructor called Sergeant Bremner. When I came here to teach, I introduced a whole load of different things – basketball, volleyball, I changed athletics from the Spring term to the Summer term, and developed a whole range of activities. It was very satisfying. The swimming pool was built when I was here, so I was forever commuting from top school down to the swimming pool. I was pretty fit, running up and down!

Find out more about Highgate’s history and archives here