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1953 - 57: memories of Michael from schoolfriend, H.

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Jan. 1st, 1970 | 03:05 am

I was lucky enough to be contacted by a friend of Michael’s from his teenage years, H. He very kindly provided me the valuable new information and photos below.


‘I came across your website yesterday after seeing a rerun of 'For Your Eyes Only' and was very touched that you planted a tree in his memory.

Michael and I went to the same school, Haverstock Comprehensive in Chalk Farm in North West London, and were in the same class probably from 1953/4 till 1957.

I usually called him Mike or Mick. Michael was a close friend of mine, and was a frequent visitor to our home. My parents always treated him as a member of our family.’

Home

‘He lived with his mother in Gloucester Avenue just off Primrose Hill and I went to his place on a number of occasions.

Both Michael and his mother were very well spoken and she appeared to be well educated.

I always understood that Michael's father died at Dunkirk. Michael was born in June 1939, the Second World War started in September 1939 and the Battle of and Evacuation of Dunkirk took place in May/June 1940.’

When told that Michael’s mother was actually divorced, H. expressed the opinion that:

‘At that time, divorce tended to be frowned upon. It is possible this may have been a white lie told by his mother to explain that his father was not present.

As far as I am aware, I never met Jack Walker [Michael's 'Uncle Jack', who was on the electoral roll for the address, 1952 - 8] and I cannot remember either Michael or his mother ever mentioning him to me.’1

Character

‘Michael always chose his words carefully but he did not appear to be at all shy and was very self assured.

He was always outgoing, and as far as I was concerned I never saw him in a depressed state of mind.’

School

‘I think Haverstock was one of the first Comprehensive Schools in the country, so we were quite lucky in the education we received. All the teachers appeared to be doing their best to give us a good education. I remember our Geography teacher who became our 6th form teacher had to upgrade his qualifications to continue to teach us. He eventually became the Headmaster of another school.

The teachers were very broad minded from a political point of view – so if and when we talked politics it covered the whole gamut.

From memory the uniforms were dark blue with grey trousers and the tie was yellow red stripes.

The school had a house system. I think our house name was Camden.

Michael was a good student and always did well in exams. His good looks always attracted the girls. As far as I was aware, he did not have any particular girlfriends but he was always very popular with the girls, very self assured and confident. He may have had girl friends, but never mentioned them.

He got on well with all his teachers, his peers and other pupils.

During the time I knew him, he did not have any problems with authority.

Michael did not smoke whilst at school. I can't remember ever seeing him smoking cigarettes or anything else. He was too keen on sports and his fitness and health. There were other students who smoked cigarettes round the back of the school toilets.

Michael was an excellent athlete: good in most sports but he excelled in the 100, 200 and 400 yards races.

Sports Day - Parliament Hill Fields

Michael and senior girl at sports day on Parliament Hill Fields at the bottom of Hampstead Heath probably 1954/55.

In our last two years at school in Sixth Form, we both studied Advanced History and Geography. Because the 6th form subject classes were so small each student was virtually given personal tuition.

We were both prefects; I believe the prefects were selected by a committee of teachers together with the Headmaster.

Prefects

Michael and the prefects appointed in 1955/56.

Michael was the Head Boy in his final year at school.

During our 6th and 7th years, Michael and I, together with others, went on three geographical/geological trips together – to Dale Fort in Pembrokeshire, to the Yorkshire Dales to study the limestone areas and to Scotland on a trip from Inverness to the Isle of Skye.

Michael never mentioned his Welsh grandparents, which is strange because, as I mentioned above, we travelled by train to Dale Fort in Pembrokeshire and St David’s together. Maybe he was able to compartmentalise these things.

Dale Fort

Michael with other students at Dale Fort.

Near Aviemore Youth Hostel

Michael near Dale Fort.

Dale Fort 2

Michael and other students from the group who went to Dale Fort.

Near Aviemore Youth Hostel 2

Near the Aviemore Youth Hostel in Scotland, 1956: Michael and another student who was also in our class, and would have been 17 or 18 at the time.


I'm not certain whether Michael did his A-levels or not – probably we should assume he did take his A levels but left shortly thereafter. I do know that he did not stay to the end of the school year.

I'm not certain why he did not go on to do further education.’

Music

‘I had always been interested in music and, in particular, Jazz and took up the drums in my early teens. Michael also started to play the clarinet. Soon we had a group rehearsing at our place just off Primrose Hill.

We often listened to jazz records, traditional, mainstream and modern. On my eighteenth birthday I remember Michael giving me an LP 'Tribute to Benny Goodman' with Jess Stacy and the Famous Sidemen – I still have the LP.

Benny Goodman

I remember one time, Michael, I and another friend went to see Ken Colyer (a leading traditional jazz trumpeter in the 1950s and 60s) and his band somewhere I believe in Camden Town. I believe the gig was either at a Trade Union Club or a Communist Club.’

Dancing

‘Both my parents and Michael's mother were very keen on us learning ballroom dancing and I remember Michael, myself and another friend enrolling to learn to dance at a studio in Baker Street. We managed to learn how to get round a dance floor without any major problems, but I only ever saw him dancing either at school dances or at parties.

As far as I can remember, the only jazz club we went to together was the Ken Colyer gig and we certainly didn't dance there.’

Leaving home/school

‘I was not aware that Michael had left his home after leaving school. One reason for him travelling to Europe may have been that Conscription to the Army was still in place for all males aged 18 years and over and was so until 1960.’2

I asked: ‘Was Michael already forming leftist political opinions at this age?’

H. replied: ‘At the time we really did not get into politics. I suppose one should remember that we were in the middle of the Cold War and the Suez Crisis had just taken place in 1956 and so the population, and young people in particular, were worried about what was happening around them so travelling might not have been so bad an idea.

Prior to 1956 no American Jazz musicians were allowed to play in the U.K. In addition there were quite a few American jazz musicians living in France and other parts of Europe in order to get away from the racial intolerance in the USA and these reasons together with the urge to travel and see a bit of the world may have contributed to his going overseas.

The school actively encouraged students in linguistic studies, and this also may have influenced him in his decision to travel to France. A couple of years prior, [to leaving school] we went on a school trip to Europe.

After leaving school, I became an articled clerk to a firm of Chartered Accountants in the City and continued studying for the next five years. I lost touch with Michael and other members of our group during that time.

In some ways it didn't surprise me that Michael became an actor - when I found out I was really quite proud that I had once known and been a close friend of his.

I heard of Michael's untimely death a number of years ago which came as a huge shock.

Punting on the River Cam

Michael with two other students (also in our class) punting on the River Cam. I can't remember what we doing in Cambridge - obviously a class excursion.’

1 Baz, another schoolfriend of Michael's, who knew him from a few years earlier than H, remembers knowing that Michael's parents were separated, and that Jack Walker was a part of Michael's life.

2 Baz believes Michael failed the medical on the grounds of his poor eyesight.

The creators of this Archive are very grateful to H. for sharing these memories and photographs.

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