Hasmo Legends X: Mad Dogs and English Teachers

Just as the very presence of Jews in the Middle East is anathema to fundamentalist Islam, so was the teaching of non-Limmudei Kodesh (religious studies), mathematics or science subjects repugnant to the extremist regime at Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys (maths and science were tolerated, due to their immunity from the ‘corrupting’ influences of liberalism and moral relativism).

Indeed, in the seventies and eighties, a PR position at the Zionist Federation in Damascus would have been considerably more alluring than teaching the arts at Hasmonean, and the poor bastards tasked with doing so should be more pitied than mocked.

The most to suffer from Hasmo’s philistinism were its English teachers, consisting – during my period at the school (1978-1985) – of fixtures, Ivan Marks and Jeff Soester, and fittings, Tony Pearce and Timothy Messom. (There was another English teacher, Jonathan Benjamin, who joined Hasmonean a year or so before I left, but other than considering that – as a very dark-skinned Indian Jew – he didn’t really look the part, I recall little else about him.)

Asking these gentlemen to impart their love of the English language, and literature, to Hasmo boys – who felt justified in being even more chutzpadik than they already were by what they knew to be the contemptuous attitude of the school’s Judeofascist regime towards the subjects – was, in cricketing terms, tantamount to asking Derek Pringle to bowl at Vivian Richards with his shoelaces tied together.

The closest competitor to Jonny Bokor (“the Bonnie Joker”) for the title of Hasmo’s Most Cordial Teacher – though, it has to be said, the competition was not all that fierce – must surely have been Tony Pearce, who taught us first year English. He left the school shortly afterwards, to become involved in Christian ministry. (See Hasmo Legends VIII, Parts I and II)

Perhaps the most persuasive argument for the existence of the Jewish Deity, and of the miracles that He will perform for His people, is that – in spite of Hasmonean’s Jewish ‘role models’ – Tony didn’t succeed, in his four years at Holders Hill Road, in converting any of us to “the Big J”.

The irony, of course, is that, as Jewish youngsters, we were continually being warned of the dangers of Christian missionaries . . . none of whom did any of us nearly as much damage as the assorted misfits and misanthropes charged with providing our spiritual education at Hasmonean.

The tall, bearded Timothy Messom, who replaced Tony – and who didn’t last much longer at the school – was a fundamentally decent man, though one prone to absolutely losing it on occasion (once again, usually with Elbaz . . . though he was not alone in that!)

In our first ever lesson with Mr. Messom, in the exotically named Mobile Unit (at the bottom of the playground), our new, imposing, and ever-so English, master – he was more that than “teacher” – spelt out his name:

“M – E – S – S . . . that is double S, of course . . . O – M.”

Naturally, in every subsequent lesson, some bright spark would again ask him how he spelt it . . . and Mr. Messom, in precisely the same fashion, and to our great amusement, would repeat:

“M – E – S – S . . . that is double S, of course . . . O – M.”

Hasmo legend has it that Mr. Messom had been a circus ringmaster, and that his wife had run off with the resident (or should that be “travelling”?) lion tamer. As with so many of the stories that have emanated from Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys over the years, you just couldn’t make it up.

If Messrs Pearce and Messom played nice little cameos in the annals of Hasmonean English teaching, Marks and Soester were clearly the leading men. In fact, these two gentlemen were the closest to a double act that Hasmo has ever had, their names – in tales of the institution – usually running together.

Marks and Soester taught the same discipline (at least in one sense of the word), their tenures at Hasmonean – from the early seventies to mid-nineties – largely overlapped, and they spent much of this time in adjacent classrooms, in the dilapidated former barracks mischievously rebranded the Sixth Form Block (as one commenter to melchett mike has wryly observed, “by the same Roberg-ist propaganda machine that brought us the £3 school kuppel”). 

Sixth Formers in front of the Sixth Form Block, circa 1972

Sixth Formers in front of the Sixth Form Block, circa 1972

This unedifying edifice – situated between the fiefdom of Chich’s gymnasium and the Mobile Unit (see also the photograph in Hasmo Legends V) – had apparently, in the mid-seventies, been condemned as unsafe and insanitary, boarded up, and earmarked for demolition. But, by the time I arrived at Holders Hill Road, in 1978, the boards had been removed, and the Block designated for the exclusive use of Marks and Soester . . . the lucky so-and-sos!

When Mr. Soester became an extra in the late eighties BBC sitcom Brush Strokes – injudiciously, in view of the extra ‘ammunition’ it provided the already well-armed boys (though one can perhaps forgive his longing to escape his daily reality) – pupils would hum its theme tune as he walked into class.

This insolence would then spread to the adjacent classroom of Mr. Marks, who, on one occasion, was complimented (by another commenter to melchett mike) for his wonderful performance the evening before. His wit was rewarded with “a savage attack to [the] head with a hardback book”.

Mr. Soester’s opting to be an extra was rather apt. If DJ was Bond baddie Blofeld and Rabbi Greenberg Batman’s The Penguin (his actual Hasmo nickname), the considerably more likeable, if somewhat unremarkable, Marks and Soester – with their seventies blazers, tank tops, and polyester slacks – were the unfashionable detective extras, in the background at their NYPD desks, on seventies US cop shows like Kojak and Starsky & Hutch.

Rather conveniently, seeing as his son Simon is a regular on melchett mike– and has made all kinds of veiled, though good humoured, threats in relation to what I write about his “old man” – Jeff Soester didn’t teach me much at Hasmonean (emphasis on “me”, Simon, not “much”!) His classroom, however, was clearly rather chaotic, and I recall him being a rather edgy gentleman (as if that is any surprise).

Jeff SoesterI have one particularly vivid recollection of “Jeff” walking up the playground from the Sixth Form Block, while my classmate Abie Cohen – seated in the middle of our Form 2AB photograph in a beige jumper – performed a Mizrachi (North African Jewish)-style dance around him. Abie was whirling the palms and backs of his hands extremely close to Jeff’s eyes and nose, no doubt intending the excitable teacher to spill his precariously piled books. This somewhat odd spectacle has stayed with me to this day, because it somehow inexplicably captured the unique brand of Hasmo chutzpah.

But Jeff, too, apparently had a mischievous side. A commenter to melchett mike has related how, as a young Israeli boy new to Hasmonean, Jeff told him: “Go to the staff room – you can use the middle staircase – knock on the door, and ask for ‘Freddy’.” The door was opened by History teacher, Mr. Lawrence, who handed over a silver tray with a white plimsoll placed neatly on top, which the rather naïve boy promptly delivered to his ‘executioner’.

It was Ivan Marks, however, who was responsible for the major part of my English education at Hasmonean.

Ivan MarksI recall Mr. Marks fondly, not just because his was my favourite subject (it didn’t face much competition), but because he was one of the few teachers at Hasmonean who actually attempted to treat us like adults. This was especially true for those of us who took English Literature A Level, which presented the first opportunity for us, largely repressed, Jewish boys to explore sexual themes through literature . . . an opportunity we rarely missed.

Mr. Marks, unlike so many of his Hasmo colleagues, also had a sense of humour. Often, even post-frenzy, he would barely be able to conceal a smile, which he would further attempt to draw attention away from by characteristically poking his spectacles back up his ski-jump nose.

It was these mock frenzies, perhaps together with his mane of lank jet black hair, which earned Mr. Marks the rather undeserved nickname “Mad Dog”. His bark was far louder than his bite, and I don’t recall him ever administering anything more rabid than a firm prod on the neck with the spine of his textbook.

York NotesMr. Marks was frustrated by the “study aid” mentality of Hasmo boys. Rather than appreciating the rich source texts, we would buy up Dillons’ stock of Pan Study Aids, and York and Brodie’s Notes. For English Literature O Level, my classmate, Grant Morgan, went so far as to purchase Macbeth in comic form. He memorised the text by rote, and would walk up to puzzled boys in the playground – some of whom didn’t even know him – proudly proclaiming “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” He got an E.

Another Hasmo friend, Daniel Kelly, winds me up to this day about my predilection for study aids (ironic, I remind him, for a boy who had a respected Dayan as a grandfather, but who opted – during our time at Manchester University – to study Modern Hebrew, with non-Jewish undergraduates who knew not their zayin from their chet).

Mr. Marks was also continually frustrated by the idiotic machinations of Hasmonean’s religious elite – which would, inter alia, ban literature considered too sexually explicit from the syllabus and school library – and he would say so.

He would often – somewhat tongue-in-cheek, once again – take these frustrations out on the more religious boys. “It’s always the frum ones” was his oft-heard lament. And “Finn,” he would say, on one memorable occasion, “just because your father drives around Golders Green in a Volvo, it doesn’t mean you can do what you want in my class.”

Mr. Soester shared Mr. Marks’s irritation with frummers, handing back work with the line “I don’t want to hear everyone screaming, ‘Yitzi, Shmuli, I got half a mark more than you!’” (a request which, of course, had the opposite effect).

Ironically, two of Mr. Marks’s star English pupils, Simon Harris – who left the school a number of years before us, but with whom he kept in touch – and Jonathan Levene, from our year, both became significant frummers (the former becoming Chief Rabbi of Ireland). Mr. Marks must have been most disappointed.

I heard, some years ago, that Mr. Marks had not been well. I sincerely hope that he has made a full recovery and that, if he has dipped into melchett mike (as I understand Mr. Soester has), he has found at least something which he considers worthy of his considerable efforts . . . in an institution which didn’t deserve him.

Next on Hasmo Legends, Part XI: “Big Al(an)” Walters


68 responses to “Hasmo Legends X: Mad Dogs and English Teachers

  1. Grant Morgan

    ‘Fear it not Duncan for it is knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell’

    Pissing myself as usual – Mike, you have outdone yourself yet again!

  2. Benjamin Newman

    Hey Mike,

    I am from a slighter later generation of Hasmo alumni, ’91-’96, but I had the experience of being in Mr Marks English class.

    I’m not sure when the last time you saw Mad Dog in person was, but during my day he had developed an unfortunate green colouring in his fingernails, earning him the nickname of my generation – Greenfingers.

    Anyways, love what you are doing. I know many of my peers are reading your blog, so well done and please continue.

    Maybe our paths will cross one day in Tel Aviv, although in four years I havent met you yet so who knows.

    All the best,


  3. Jeremy Cardash

    I thought the steely (both in eye colour and temperament) English teacher with SS in his name was the lion tamer. I love these urban legends, the best being Hasmo was a school.

  4. danny hass

    I seem to remember that “mad dog ” was a fan of tears for fears. I also remember the dog barking that would accompany his entrance into the room. Have to say had both Marks and Soester, both highly enjoyable and decent blokes. Was it a grey sports jacket for Marks and a brown tweed for Jeff??

  5. Jeff Tibber

    Another great post, Mike.

    Jeremy, Messom was definately a ring master and not a lion tamer.

    Regarding Ivan and Jeff – they were caught in the middle between the so called ‘frum’ elite and the non Jewish teachers who were more respected and certainly had more ability as teachers – Lawrence, Johnson, Joughin etc, but Ivan and Jeff were never allowed to do their job. They must have suffered day in day out. I used to see Mr Marks occasionally in a park in Kenton with his wife and young child but he must have been a very frustrated man while he was at Hasmo, at least beween the years 1976-83.

  6. I remember Jonathan Benjamin well, he taught me English A-level for 2 years. I’ve also seen him around Hendon a few times since school, although with the passage of over 21 years now, don’t think he recognises me any more.

    Here are some recollections.

    He was generally a kindly teacher, who, like so many other staff members who came and went, seemed never fully to gel with the Hasmonean culture, both of extreme chutzpah and academic disdain, at pupil level, and of religious narrow-mindedness on the part of senior staff.

    He was brought in as head of department in about 1984/5, above Marks, Soester and Messom, who all naturally resented it. My class used to exploit this, and wind Maddog up ceaselessly.

    There was once some strike on under Thatcher, and Maddog commented that the employers were bringing in blackleg workers from another city. So one pupil remarked, “well, if Hasmo can bring in a Head of English from India………..”

    Maddog struggled valiantly not to join the class in its mirth, and after a pause to regain control, responded “Actually, he’s from Chingford!”

    He wasn’t averse to the odd swear word, or three, when he felt like it. One example was often quoted, from the non-Yeshiva stream shacharis minyan held in the North Hendon Adath building, which he was given the task of running for a time: “Will you shut your damn mouth over there Boy, this a shul, not a bloody doss-house!”

    He was determined to fight the Ayatollah-like aspects of the Robergist-Jacobsonite regime single-handedly (and his career was therefore ultimately doomed to failure). He was once invigilating an exam next door to a Gerry Gerber shiur, which had somehow evolved that day, into a religious singing and dancing session. As we circled the tables in a state of spiritual elation, Jonathan B burst in with a cry of “Save it for the TISCH!! I’m trying to invigilate a bloody exam next door !”

    He had quite a posh accent, and liked it to be known that he “was Oxbridge”.
    I once bet some friends in A-level English class, that I could keep Benjamin off the intended subject matter for at least half the lesson. So I asked him, “Sir, I’m just starting to fill in my UCCA form. As someone who has been through Cambridge, can you offer any tips on maximising the chances of getting some good offers?” The result – not half the lesson, but the entire remainder of the lesson spent on that topic.

    He also taught in the girls’ school, and used to promise us that if we earned the privelege, he’d organise a theatre trip for the upper sixth English A-level students of BOTH schools, at the same time. It never actually happened by design as far as we know, although more likely by chance, we once bumped into some lower sixth Hasmo girls at a play that he sent us, the upper 6th boys, along to see. Hence I was caught red-handed grouting Silk Cut with the lads, in the interval, by some of those most elegant daughters of the good families of Golders Green, for whose eyes such sights were never intended.

    I think Mr Benjamin left the school in around ’89, a year or so after I finished the upper sixth. He is reported to have decried the religious biases of the powers-that-be, in his leaving speech in assembly, saying: “The next time you see a pupil from Hasmo with a bare head, don’t assume that pupil is less religious than you – it might be a girl!”

  7. Tim Messom wasn’t a new teacher in late 70s/early 80s – it was his second spell at Hasmo, the masochist!

    He LEFT in the early 70s to become a ringmaster, then returned after that didn’t work out (and after his wife allegedly ran off with the lion tamer).

    He also taught history, and was famous for having one lesson, and one homework per week consisting of “40 minutes’ private reading” – yes, each pupil actually had to sit in class and read his own book in silence!

  8. Tim Messom was a particularly decent teacher who found his booming voice and imposing physical presence drowned in an ocean of Jews, strange laws, alien culture and the usual pubescent hystrionics.
    Used to really enjoy his English lessons.
    Beat Danny Ratner in the serial essay competition and won a rubber spider on a string.
    Messom DID become a ringmaster, cos our whole class went to see him at the circus!
    Can’t confirm the predilection of Mrs Messom for putting her head in the lion or, probably, the other way round.


    Very nostalgic & entertaining stuff, Mike. Messom did actually tell us of his early experiences as a circus ringmaster one day in class, the bit about his missus running off with the lion tamer may have been a boy’s add on!

    I fear that it was my class’s responsibility for Jeff Soester finally leaving the teaching profession. We were the final straw that broke his psychological back.

    I must say that “Mad Dog” did give me a love for Shakespeare and I do recall in the fortified bunkers of the Beaufort Castle whilst doing my National Service in 1988 reading King Henry V pt 1 (“how now, how now mad wag” well you can just imagine that day’s lesson!) and recounting those deliciously chaotic periods and escaping back to that crumbling 6th form block and seeing just how much we could all get away with.

  10. Neil Greenbaum

    I have fond memories of Jeff Soester. I believe that he was the only teacher at Hasmonean for whom participation in lessons was entirely optional. If you wanted to join in then you could sit near the front and listen and if not, you would sit at the back doing what ever you wanted – just as long as you didn’t disturb.
    At times even his own participation in lessons seamed to be optional. I am reminded of one GCSE lesson where clearly Mr. Soester had lost all interest in topic at hand and stood at the back of the classroom (not disturbing anyone) enthralled by Emanuel Abrahami’s new Sega Game Gear.
    A really lovely guy.

  11. John Fisher


    Glad you were kind to my hero, the long suffering Marks, who introduced generations of innocent sons of Volvo drivers to the joys of cynicism. Long before Woodward and Bernstein chanced upon Deep Throat, we knew that Nixon was “evil” and, had it not been Hasmonean, it might have been assumed that his “Mad Dog” epithet had more to do with Diogenes than his hairstyle.

    As opposed to many of the his colleagues, his integrity was obvious and, I believe he was widely respected for that. In keeping with the standard language of your blog and comments, I should sign off by saying that he was “decent”. Unfortunately, the only idea this conjures in my mind is of a middle-aged, bare-legged male in an unfastened, dirty raincoat desperately holding the two flaps together while an assortment of beautiful women walk past him in the street. I could imagine several Hasmo teachers in this pose but not Marks.

    I think it was Polonius who taught his son, “To thine own self be true”. Ivan Marks taught us that by example.

    Mike – keep up the great work and let’s do lunch again soon.


  12. Charles Alexander

    One of my best Mad Dog memories was spending an entire lesson discussing The Young Ones. I believe it reminded him of his own student days.

    He was a closet Spurs fan, so on the day after Spurs won the a European Trophy we all wore spurs scarves, hats, flags etc. Instead of the expected rant he beamed enthusiastically and just got on with the lesson.

    I had Messom as a form teacher in the 3rd year and he was also my English teacher that year as well. My only memory of that experience was of trying to make as many holes in the floor of the mobile unit as possible.

    Jolly Benjamin as we called him had the misfortune to teach my A level class. This experience was enriched by one of the books being Jewel in the Crown (the setting is pre and post war India). This provided us with endless ammunition which was always enhanced when he wore his trademark safari suits. Unfortunatly for him, we all disliked him for being made Head of English and I always liked to point out how Mad Dog would have been a better choice and how Mad Dog was a better teacher.

    I remember seeing Mad Dog in an Indian restaurant a few years after leaving. I recognised him instantly and we had a brief chat during which I made a reference to Jolly Benjamin that made him grin, something about waiters probably, and then left him to his meal.

  13. Joey Garfinkel

    I recall Mr Marks (I know NOONE called him that) informing us about “the Classes”. We were all quite taken as he explained that there were Upper, Middle and Working Classes. This was news to most of us. After doing a quick survey of pupils’ parents’ professions he declared something to the tune of “and you boys are for the most part Middle Class, or more Upper Middle Class I should say”.
    I dont think we fully grasped the point but as 12 year-olds we took it quite well the titles of “Upper” and “Class”. The reference to “Middle” was a bit of a dampener but one lame word was clearly outnumbered by two good sounding words. Only thing is I’m pretty sure that Mr M was grimacing as he said “Upper Middle Class” meaning this more as a derogatory term.
    In contrast I recall him referring to “The Working Class” as if it was some delightful delicacy – only to be asked by someone “Do you mean the Lower Class when you say that, Sir?”

  14. Allan Engel

    I was never in Mr Marks’ class, but Mr Soester taught me English for my first three years, doubtless to his chagrin.

    I can’t remember one single thing that happened in his lessons (or, truth be told, in anyone else’s lessons either) except for the fact that each one would start in exactly the same way.

    He would enter the classroom, cast a weary eye over the tumult, fidget with his watch-strap, slam the watch on the desk and proclaim – “Now sit down and shut up the lot of you”.

  15. David Prager

    I remember Ivan Marks very well, and was in his class for Eng. Lit. in the 6th form 1972-4. There was apparently a huge argument before the A level course started about the contents of the curriculum, as he wanted Lady Chatterley’s Lover in, and the JS teachers G-d Squad (rivals of the then-current Church Police of Monty Python fame) most certainly didn’t, objecting violently to anything written by D H Lawrence. Ivan must have won, at least he got a compromise, because we studied Sons & Lovers (and very good it was too) but I have a vague memory of Gerry Gerber rushing into the classroom one day and tearing out certain pages from one (or more) boy’s book(s). We were fascinated at the time how he knew exactly which were the pages to be censored, and of course these immediately became our favourites! I also have a hazy memory of Ivan standing there totally bemused by the Grand Inquisitor’s blitzkrieg, then carring on the lesson as if nothing had happened.
    By the way, does anyone remember his predecessor Philip Skelker? Lovely man, fantastic teacher and chevraman, who the JS staff had great problems with as he was both liberal and frum.
    I think he went on to greater things at Carmel College afterwards.

  16. Shimon Soester-Soreq

    After a long arbitration with Mike, who as a lawyer is like a Rottweiler on a bad day, I have agreed to write at his request “a nice long post” – the overuse of the word “nice” against all I learnt in English lessons at Hasmo (by Messrs Marks and Messom, never my father).

    I am in a bit of a precarious situation, being the “son of”, and anything I say will be taken in evidence against him as well as me. The blog so far has been reasonably ok – with the NYPD detective comparison actually quite funny, but then again, seventies jackets were a legitimate fashion statement in the 70s – and at least the English teachers didn’t own a two pound fifty purple Romanian suit like a certain Lubavitcher geography teacher of blessed memory. It’s nice to know that people liked my dad, though I look forward to the next installment about another teacher as soon as possible!

    Don’t expect any official comment by my Dad on the blog. It would be disloyal to the other teachers, especially those who got a slightly unfair bad press. I can report that he, IM and TM are well, still good friends and are enjoying retirement from Hasmo (who wouldn’t). The blog is like a silent reading lesson – the teacher is there but not taking part. The blog has been received in good humour so far, but with a raised eyebrow about how people in their 40s can be so obsessed with their schooldays. It is amazing how after so long when 2 Hasmos meet the conversation turns very quickly in to Cyril and Flop stories, nothing that happened since can match the weird stories that came out the school.

    Going to Hasmo as a teacher’s son had its up points and its downs – having a lift in every day instead of the bundle on the 240 was good. But having my (facial) cheeks pinched by either Rabbi Kahan or Greenberg at the age of 9 was traumatic! Mainly I had to get used to walking around NW London or even Netanya with my parents and hearing “Ey, its Jeff” all the time, as well as the occasional silly phone call. Of course I was privy to good staff room stories, that can’t and won’t be told on the blog, but on the other hand picking up the phone, and having Cyril on the other end of the line was not something most Hasmos had to deal with.

    One story about my father, that was divulged to me by “a source that prefers to stay anonymous”, tells of a time when a boy would cause all those around him to choke and hold their noses, he was then summoned to the table at the front of the class and asked: “Remember what Shakespeare said?” The desk draw was then opened, exposing a white card, which read: “Laugh and the world laughs with you; fart and you stand alone.” (The window was then opened.)

    What about that reunion, Mike? I think the time has come.


  17. Wolf Rabstein: When I arrived at Beaufort Castle (South Lebanon) in 1990, it was quite clear to me that I wasn’t the first ex-Hasmonean to pass through there. The end of the tunnel in which we slept was blocked by a wall, which (among other graffiti) boasted a nice big Hasmonean emblem atop a message in English from you: “To Adam Topol and any other ex-Hasmoneans who arrive here…”
    By the time the IDF withdrew from Lebanon, there were probably quite a few more names on the list you started 😉

  18. Daniel Marks

    Timothy Messom.

    He was most definitely a ringmaster and not a lion tamer. Incidentally, I think that being a lion tamer takes a certain amount of experience if one doesn’t want to be eaten and the idea that an English teacher could leave Hasmonean and begin taming lions is a little silly. The only teacher who I think could have scared a lion at the time was Bert Myers, but he would undoubtedly have confounded the poor felines by explaining to them that they were, in fact, Jewish pigs.

    Back to Messom, David Miller and the venerable Nick Kopaloff (already by then Nick and never Nicky) went one day after school to check up on the progress of our former English instructor.

    We found the esteemed ex-pedagogue introducing acts at a rather modest, mostly empty big top – and a far cry from the romantic bohemian establishments that had been described in the 19th century short stories that we had read together months before in Hendon enchanting our youthful imaginations.

    Messom’s rich vocabulary and dramatic word usage had not forsaken him as he described a small 50p teddy bear that was being offered as a prize as “princely”.

    Our master seemed pleased (though not overly so) to see us and we began to chat until a colleague inquired, “Got a fag Tim?” and we saw this as our cue to go.

    I have fond memories of Mr. Messom and his ratty longish hair and cheap suits. He was a man who took the road less traveled, and that has made all the difference.

  19. Simon (not “Shimon” . . . “Yitzi” or “Shmuli”!),

    While I respect your father’s decision to keep his distance from melchett mike, I find it rather perplexing. Who is he worried about being “disloyal” to? DJ and friends?! Anyway, he could choose to write whatever he likes.

    Far from receiving an “unfair bad press”, I think many of our ex ‘teachers’ have got off rather lightly. In the interests of good taste (and the law on defamation), I have had to remove references to some as, inter alia, “concentration camp guards”.

    Perhaps we can interpret your father’s reluctance as hinting at the existence of a clandestine group of ex-Hasmo ‘elite’, monitoring the retirement activities of former colleagues. I can just see DJ now, stroking his pussy in Russell Gardens (like Blofeld I mean!), while ordering Jerry and Osher to track down dissident ex-teachers and post exploding mini-siddurim through their letter boxes!

    And, Mr. Marks, if you are reading, I invite you to pen your own post on melchett mike (a la Tony Pearce). You have quite a band of admirers, who I am sure would love to hear from you.

    To quote Life of Brian, just “Give us a sign!”

  20. Simon Aaron

    I still remember 1JB’s (’86) first class with Mad Dog as if it was yesterday. We were all in the classroom before him making quite a racket and he came storming in and started shouting his head off. We straight away understood why he was given the name Mad Dog but the truth is the following lesson he apologized telling us he had just been in a bad mood.

    We discovered his political leanings just before the ’87 general election when one boy (was it Antony David?) gave a talk on why we should vote Labour. Of course being good Jewish boys we were all Tories so the rest of the lesson was spent by Mad Dog telling us how evil Maggie is.

    I had Mr Benjamin as well. He was by far the best English teacher. He actually knew how to control a class which was quite rare in Hasmo. He apparently quit after the Macbeth play which was supposed to come to school was canceled by the schools Rabanim. (Did the parents ever get refunded?)

    In later years there was another English teacher called Mr Stefanecki. Anyone remember him? I’m not sure how much he liked “Us”.

    (I apologise for any spelling or grammar mistakes but I did go to Hasmo you know 😉 )

  21. If Mr Ivan Marks is reading this, fondest regards from all the Ginsburys.

    My elder brother was, I believe, one of his better English students in the early-mid 70s, and the relationship was cemented when my father turned up at parents’ evening, and began sharing his devotion to, and encyclopaedic knowledge of the writings of George Orwell, with Mr M.

    I seem to have got by riding on the back of all of that, some ten years later!

    Still have some great memories of one of the few teachers who evidently entered the profession to impart his enthusiasm for his subject, rather than being one of the many who couldn’t, and therefore taught.


  22. Danny Hass

    Have to agree with my former classmate Mr. D. Ginsbury. I have to say that Mr. M was a teacher I both respected and whose class you actually enjoyed going to. By the way I think Danny you were the only person I ever remember getting an 18 out of 20 from Marks for an essay. Impressive!!!

  23. I believe the 18 out of 20 indicates that, in spite of his anti-frummer cynicism (or perhaps because of it), Mr. M wanted some ‘proper’ Rabbis (both existing and to be) on his side!

  24. Danny H – hi, good to catch up!

    You’ve brought back a thought-provoking memory to me, namely, that however much we tried to display the usual classic Hasmo bravado, and to pretend that we couldn’t care less what teachers like Mr Marks thought of us, in reality his opinion of us mattered to each of us deeply. We would compete strenuously to achieve either success, or notoriety (or both) in his classroom.

    Doesn’t that speak volumes about his intelligence, and didactic ability, even in the face of the religious forces adverse to his efforts at Holders Hill Road?


  25. Simon Dryer

    I have fond memories (’84-‘91) of being taught by Messrs. Marks, Soester, Benjamin & Messom in the outcast block at the end of the playground.

    I recall one dark stormy day in Mr. Soester’s lesson that a boy, who was the son of a prominent Golders Green family and also normally very well behaved, stood up following a bright flash of lightning and bellowed out the appropriate bracha. The response of the class was to raucously shout out “Amen”. A dismayed Mr. Soester immediately threw the boy out of the class, who protested: “All I did was make a bracha!” much to the delight and laughter of the class.

    On Mr. Benjamin’s departure from Hasmo he gave a farewell speech laced with wit, humour and even sarcasm that demonstrated his obvious command of the English language. The applause and laughter from the audience were met with Rabbi Roberg and DJ frantically walking up and down the hall commanding us “You musn’t laugh, we are in the Nine Days”.

    On reflection you have to laugh!!

  26. Richard Simmonds

    I always loved Mad Dog. Any teacher who allowed us to re-enact Monty Python sketches in front of the whole class during English lessons was a man ahead of his time.

    And furthermore, any ex-Hasmo Legend who has the ability to reinvent themselves as a post-Britpop solo artist is a damn fine man in my eyes. You may have seen him in The Times last Saturday – separated at birth?


  27. Claude Wolf

    I have nothing but the utmost respect for Jeff Soester. He is the only teacher I ever had who managed to take me from a “U” in English Lit. O Level to an “A” within the space of less than a year.

    I never quite got Messom. Whether this is due to a lack of interest on my part in much of what he taught, I can’t rightly say. I do still hear the “ohhhhhhhhh” when he spelled out his name, so I suppose his lessons weren’t a total waste of time.

    As for Mad Dog, I used to look at him and wonder what it was that could make the poor man so angry.

    No-one has yet mentioned their favourite book, so I’ll start the ball rolling with “Wuthering Heights”. I can’t, for the life of me explain why, but it knocked my proverbial socks off. I also got into Shakespeare for a while, after reading Henry IV Part One, but the effect soon wore off (although I still count Hamlet as being one of my favourite plays – maybe it was the Olivier film that got me hooked).

    Incidentally, I live around the corner from Jeff and it has been wonderful talking about the old days whilst at the same time comparing teaching notes and sharing observations. He is without a doubt, one of the unsung gems of the school.

  28. Jeremy Cardash

    Have we started suffering from Stockholm Syndrome or is it just guilt, but the truth is what started as a rampaging torrent of abuse against the teachers has turned into a competition of ‘the most respected’.
    In retrospect Hasmo screwed us up educationally. There may have been the odd teacher who could teach but I firmly believe if we have achieved anything it’s through our own merits, hard work or photographic memories and not because of the school (between 79-86 anyway).
    In answer to Claude’s question (somewhere else), Lord of the Flies, which we tried at every possible moment to reenact on the weak and the first years.

  29. Mark Prager

    I seem to recall having Mr Soester in my early years – 1BK I think – I never quite understood what was happening in class and what we were supposed to do. I also had great difficulty studying for English exams – how do you study for an English exam …. anyway – getting off the subject. Due to the noise in the lesson – I always seemed to feel sorry for him – he seemed to be so harrassed by us!

  30. Mr Marks was the most inspiring teacher we had at Hasmo. If I met him now, he’s one of the few teachers who I would actually want to thank for teaching us. Hope he’s still around and reads the blog!

  31. Mr Marks is fast emerging as an inspirational cult figure……and rightly, if belatedly so!

    Something like the English teacher in the 1989 classic, Dead Poets Society?


  32. sorry, that’s


    Mike, perhaps you can tidy up next time you edit…

  33. Allan Engel

    Sloppy work, Ginsbury.


  34. Go to bed, Allan. Dream of the good old X-reg orange Capri.

  35. Driver of Orange Capri

  36. Okay, we may have been “very naughty boys” . . . but when oh when will the Markssiah reveal himself?!

  37. Julian Schamroth

    The sixth formers shown in the photo above are left to right:-
    Jeremy Issacharoff; Julian Schamroth; Martin Malin; Walter Read; Eddie Last and Andy Segal.
    Does anyone recognise the guy sitting on the ground with his back to the camera?
    Who took the picture?
    The year was probably 1972, a little before the time line and characters mentioned in this blog.

  38. Jeremy Issacharoff

    i sent the picture in and i think that the guy on the floor is david aminoff. notice his hair is all done up in the back like ammo used to do.

  39. Leo Grunwald

    Julian and Jeremy, I am inclined to agree with Jeremy it certainly does look like Ammo. Leo

  40. A sad admission . . . in a dream, a few nights ago, I bumped into Mr. Marks in the street (perhaps this Hasmo Legends thing is getting to me!)

    On waking up, I couldn’t recall exactly what he had said, but his reaction to my post (above) was not altogether bad.

    Mr. M, after all that written work you demanded from us over the years, is it too much for us to expect a simple comment – a sign of life – in return?!

  41. Daniel Lange

    Goodness me Mike – couldnt you have arranged it with a former female economics teacher instead? Try thinking of Hasmo Legs instead of Legends after your goodnight cocoa.

  42. No, I couldn’t, Daniel . . . primarily because I am friendly with her son in TA!

  43. Josh Haruni

    I had the pleasure of both Marks and Messom for English lessons. My abiding memory of Messom was how he would sometimes pace in between the rows of desks causing the mobile unit to tilt slightly to whichever side he was walking. This pacing was done usually at the beginning of the lesson and was accompanied by a weighty slap – made even weightier by the heavy ring he wore – to the back of the head of anyone whom he thought might need it.

    I liked Mr. Marks and I respected him more than most other teachers. He was a good teacher & he was knowledgeable & passionate about English. Our classes however, were often characterized by certain disruptions that would lead him to declare before the class that “It’s always the frum one’s isn’t it!” My sense is that a certain tension existed between Marks and the ‘management’ of the school with the latter believing that the pursuit of Jewish studies was mutually exclusive to the pursuit of almost anything else. This outlook must have been anathema to a man as classically educated as Mr. Marks. Naturally this tension found its way into the classroom where Marks would be baited by boys whom he probably considered way too young to be self righteous and who were part of a movement that considered English literature a subject that could not possibly be taken seriously.

    To this day I am still clueless as to how Mr. Marks earned his ‘Mad Dog’ nickname but it provided us with the excuse of making his life somewhat less comfortable. On one occasion during biology, Steve Posen explained to us that the sensitivity to sound in dogs is so heightened that even if you stand at a distance behind them and click your fingers they will raise their ears. Obviously the immediate question was if this was also true for mad dogs…. No sooner were we the wiser to this great biological fact than you could see Mad Dog walking to the 6th form block being followed by 30-odd of his pupils clicking their fingers.

    Where is he now..?

  44. Avromi Hirsch

    I had Mad Dog for my first 3 years in Hasmo 85-88. I remember him as a good teacher who had some trouble controlling the class.

    A classic line to our class was “you are worse than Grange Hill you are!!”

    With regards Mr Benjamin he never taught me, but I do remember his final assembly where he stated that toilets was an anagram of T.S. Eliot

    Now the best English teacher I remember taught us in the 5th year for a very short while. His name was David Prashker, but he wasn’t in Hasmo for long. I just looked him up on the web and found this story about him.

    Now if he is not frum enough for reform/liberal no wonder he did not last long at Hasmo!!

  45. David Levenson

    Having escaped in ’76 I missed out on Tony Pearce who would have restored my humour and humanity, if his blogs are anything to go by.

    Good to hear from you, John F. Who can forget Ivan Marks’ classic review of kosher wines? “Personally I like a good Chateau Schonfeld VSOP” When asked to clarify, he replied “Very Senile Old P****”

  46. Messom taught me English for at least 1 year, a year where I brought the same book to the “quiet read your own book” lesson. I kept it in my locker. Some of my disorganised class mates would run to the library or if really pushed the Rabbi Knopl-something library just before the lesson to get any kind of book in English.
    I remember Mr Messom’s rages, where he’d thunder up the LGMU (Little Green Mobile Unit, about as mobile as a caravan on a West Bank hill top) and slam the door. I have a very clear memory of him throwing Justin Temper out of the LGMU and slamming the door behind him.

    Mad Dog taught me GCSE English, although I still do not understand what we were meant to learn.
    We had a talented English writer in our class, Alan Rosenberg, Roso. He would write the most hilarious essays. I remember one where he wrote about a Harrods carrier bag. Mad Dog gave him an A and he read it to the whole class, we were in fits of laughter. I guess it shows that Mad Dog did have a healthy sense of humour.
    That same Roso was once demonstrating his karate kicks before Mad Dog arrived, he got his foot caught on top of the lockers, and was standing there doing mid air splits. Mad Dog walked in, said ‘will someone sort him out’. The whole class jumps on him to beat him up and he ends up in the dustbin.

  47. thread hijack thread hijack thread hijack

    Maddog to student: Have you got any work for me?
    Student: Yeah, go outside and sweep up the playground.

    Those laying claim to that classic riposte, form an orderly queue, no seriously, who was that?

    Anyone? Bueller?

  48. “. . . one of the best pieces of chutzpah from a pupil at Hasmo, came from my wife’s cousin, Immanuel Bernstein (now a very highly regarded and respected Rabbi in Israel). Apparently, he wasn’t too particular about ever doing his English homework for Mad Dog. Eventually, in utter exasperation, Mad Dog turned to Immanuel and said “Bernstein, have you got any work for me?” Quick as a flash, Immanuel responded, “Yes, sir – go and clean up the playground.””

    (Mikey Lehrer, comment to Hasmo Legends II, 28/1/09)

  49. Shimon Soester

    I have tried, at Mike’s request, to obtain a comment on the blog from Mr.Marks, in Osher or Sue style,an evangelic Pearce peace, or a quick comment a-la Fierstone. I am afraid he has no wish to appear here (despite hints to the fact that Mike no longer “works for the boss” – a point that should have been in his favour). He “detests and boycotts blogs”, and has no wish to read it.

    I am sure Jonny Boker would be more than happy to add a few words and if we try hard enough we could find Mrs Kadoo (or was it Kazoo)?

  50. Shimon,

    As probably the best-placed reader to obtain a further scoop for melchett mike, you have been a major disappointment! Joe Bloomberg at least has the excuse of his father’s advancing years.

    Having said that, I can just imagine the misanthropic Mr. M muttering how he “detests and boycotts blogs”. It does seem typical of the man, though I don’t think it was unduly optimistic to hope that he would have enough fond memories of Hasmo – and of us – to want to share some of them.

    Anyway, thank you for trying . . . now go and pick some oranges!


    PS “Mike no longer “works for the boss”” . . . what are you on about?!

  51. Shimon Soester

    Adi Ran – the well known (obviously not in Rothchild TA) Breslov chassidic punk rocker, in his classic אבא נהייתי דוס.
    סבתא נהייתי דוס – עכשיו אני עובד אצל הבוס in a rough translation for foreign readers “Grandma – I have become frum – now I work for The Boss”

  52. just on mad dog i wanted to bring a new angle. as i pupil whose mum worked at hasmo, and lived in wembley i was 1 of the very few pupils who was honoured with a lift home from mad dog. whilst i tended to sit in the back in vitual silence, i can confirm that based on his conversations with my mum, he came across as a pretty decent chap. nuff said

  53. Hey Clive … fancy bumping into you here on Mikes blog….Cheers mate!!

  54. hey robert

    you must read the blog about the cypriot p.e teacher mr chichios. great stories

    speak soon


  55. Mr Marks taught me for three years, including in the supportive studies unit (I had mild dyslexia, which he – and others – helped me overcome). He was not a popular teacher, mainly because of his mannerisms and scruffy appearance, and did not do himself any favours by continually growling at boys. However he was one of the few teachers who actually cared about his students’ welfare (Dr Finkelstein being another). I regret being so cheeky and disrespectful to him. Mr Marks, if you’re reading this, please know that at least one student owes his academic achievements and vocational success to your support. If you ever want to get in touch, I’d love to meet you.

  56. Thanks, Anonymous. I have forwarded your comment, together with your email address, to Jeff Soester (via his son). I believe that he and IM are in touch.

    Using the same conduit, I tried to obtain IM’s feedback to the blog. I understand, however, that he is rather publicity shy . . . so don’t hold your breath.

    For what it is worth, in spite of his less than flattering nicknames, I disagree with your conclusion that IM “was not a popular teacher” – I think many boys related to him for his principled, and often very amusing, criticism of Hasmo’s religious ‘elite’ (the reason that I thought he might comment to the blog).

    I hope that maybe he will surprise you by getting in touch.


  57. My most traumatic English memory is having my chair flipped backwards onto the floor by Mr. Messom for asking my neighbour the place. He then stood over me as I stared up at the ceiling and asked me sonorously, “Call yourself an upper former, Chalk?” (This referring to the fact that I was in the 5th form at the time.) To tell you the truth, I hadn’t called myself anything at all.

    After this I was more wont to believe that he was an ex-lion tamer although, as noted above, this was somewhat innacurate.

  58. Pinchos!! I almost fell out of bed when I saw your name on the blog, last night! My initial reaction was that it was a wind-up by one of our old classmates. I called Naomi Munk (as was), this morning, to tell her to check the blog. We often reminisce about Menorah days, even floating the idea of a reunion.

    I gather from the title of your blog that you are living in Australia (I always was quick on the uptake). Melbourne? What are you up to, these days?

    Anyway, thank you for your visit and comment, proof that melchett mike is not only read by degenerates, heretics, perverts and tax partners . . . still, I have never been against diversity. 😉


    Mike (or Michael, as you’ll more likely remember me)

    PS Guess there isn’t much chance of melchett mike getting on the Torah Down Under Blog List?!

  59. A true blast from the past. Pinchos Chalk how are you? BTW there was a similar chair story that happened to Julian Freudmann in Menorah… oops but this is a Hasmo blog.

  60. i joined hasmo in the 4th form which was also the first year of jon Benjamin.
    I was put in his class with the idea being that i would be evaluated and then put in one of the 3 other english classes.After a couple days i saw this wasn’t happening so I just joined Jeff’s class and stayed there for 2 years.Nothing was ever said.real choas.I often felt if you didn’t turn up for the first lesson of the year you could easily bunk that lesson the rest of the year.

  61. With powers of composition like that, DR – Pardes House, perhaps? – it is a wonder that the Hasmo powers that were considered that you needed to bother with English . . .

  62. go on. admit it dr. you are an english lit professor testing if any of us knew that yesterday was e e cummings 50th yahrzeit. you are a genius.

  63. it took me 3 attempts to get the English O Level and I got an E in lit.

  64. If it is any consolation. So did I.

    BTW. In case anybody was thinking of celebrating th
    anniversary of that great American poet of the 20th century, here is one of his offerings:

    “a kike is the most dangerous

    machine as yet invented

    by even yankee ingenu

    ity (out of a jew a few

    dead dollars and some twisted laws)

    it comes both prigged and canted”

    Somebody should have done us all a favour and given him an E in English Lit before he started his career.

  65. Yitzchak Landau

    John – maybe they did and that is why he is called “E E” Cummings!!

  66. I ll never forget in circa ’86. Mad dog was doing some marking at lunchtime in the classroom. The school bully at the time I think his name was David platt got all the kids in the playground to gather outside the classroom and about 400 of us started singing ‘how much is that doggy in the window’ fucking hilarious

  67. Jason

    I would wager that Mr Marks, looking up from the semi-literate offerings on his desk and staring out at the semi-literate offerings beyond the window, did not share the expletive hilarity encouraged by that 1950s Chart Topper. His thoughts may have turned to the Bard and:

    “Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
    That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
    With carrion men, groaning for burial.”

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