Hasmo Legends XI: “Big Al(an)” Walters

A simple exercise: Google “alan walters teacher”.

If you were at Hasmonean Boys’ in the early to mid eighties, you will be, at once, amused and disconcerted by the contents of the very first Result:

“Alan Walters was an inspiring teacher . . . He was especially interested in applying theoretical ideas to practical problems.”

“I first met Alan at LSE . . . I was delighted by his clear, amusing and succinct exposition . . . straight to the jugular of the argument, no pomposity, absolute clarity . . . His style of bureaucracy was an education; memos of crystal clarity and brevity.”

Amused, because the history/politics teacher Alan Walters known to us Hasmo boys was rarely “clear”, never “succinct” – his painful dictation methods representing the very antithesis of “brevity” – and “inspir[ed]” only hilarity. Moreover, the word “education” was never one associated with him.

Disconcerted, because Walters’ idea of solving “practical problems” was to punch out a glass window with his bare fist, to yank the wires out of a plug and reconnect them directly to the mains, and to lower a sash window onto a first former, leaving the hapless wretch trapped helplessly underneath.

Moreover, had Walters – perish the thought – been allowed to “apply” his “theoretical ideas” to Hasmonean, the school would have been run on strict Marxist principles, with DJ and Jerry Gerber having to take their turns at picking Israeli Bazooka Joes out of the urinals (every cloud has a silver lining).

Alan Walters was, however, unfailingly “amusing”.

Sir Alan WaltersWhen the second of the excerpts, above, continued that “It was no wonder Margaret Thatcher relied so greatly on him for economic issues”, it dawned on us that we had the wrong Alan Walters – Sir Alan (right), Chief Economic Adviser to the Iron Lady . . . as opposed to “Big Al”, whose sympathies lay rather closer to the Iron Curtain, and who would have had considerably more time for Mrs. B than Mrs. T.

The reign of ‘our’ Alan Walters, Hasmonean’s clown prince, was, alas, a short one. He joined the institution around 1982, probably still in his twenties, and hung around (we use the expression advisedly) until about 1987.

Big Al was an unabashed Marxist (not to say communist), sporting the Red Star on his jacket lapel. And one reader of melchett mike relates how, on the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, in 1982, he got his entire class (of thirty boys) to stand and observe two minutes’ silence. 

Communism with a human face: 'standing' for a rather different two minutes' silence

Communism with a human face: Leonid Brezhnev (centre) 'standing' and observing

Nonetheless, in spite of his political leanings, it would be utterly misleading to label Walters’ spell at Hasmonean a Five-Year Plan. Quite the contrary . . . there was no plan.

Indeed, alongside the erraticism of Big Al, the behaviour of Hasmo’s other great eccentrics – even of Cyril – often appeared utterly predictable. The only genuine competition it faced was from the madcap capers of the legendary Stamford Hill maverick, “King Joe” Paley.

Another commenter to melchett mike, who had the misfortune to miss out on being taught by Walters, relates his only experience of the Legend, when he was covering a “free period” (in another teacher’s absence). Big Al immediately walked to the front of the classroom, and drew his silhouette around himself on the whiteboard. He then grabbed a ruler, and walked from desk to desk, flipping each and every pupil’s books onto the floor. The pièce de résistance came with his head-butting of the lockers at the rear of the classroom, before he finally returned to his seat and buried himself in a book – reputedly My Fear of the Ice Pick, by Leon Trotsky – until the end of the period.

Jarvis CockerWild eyes, staring out from beneath a forest of black hair – which looked like it hadn’t been trimmed since his bar mitzvah, when “Granny” Walters had a go at it with her garden shears – Big Al had much of the dishevelled, angular awkwardness (if rather less of the talent) of Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker (left).

In the rare weeks that he shaved – “Walters’ Weekly” – one imagines him having used a rusty razor, salvaged from some wartime dacha of Joseph Stalin, and picked up at a Brent Council bazaar raising funds for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Then there was the voice. Eighties Hasmo boys will undoubtedly recall the opening wail of Holly Johnson in Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Two Tribes: “Ow Oww Owww . . .” Take it half an octave higher, and you are only just approaching the distressed, feline-mating pitch at which Big Al commenced his ‘lessons’. And the outlandish tone progressed only upwards from there.

Other characteristics of this Legend were over-salivation on talking, curious curved-arm gesturing (towards the board, for a boy to exit the classroom, etc), heroic attempts at authentic Russian pronunciation (greeted by inevitable hoots of derision), and orders to be quiet which came out as “Shullup!” And perched atop this unsteady, towering clown of a man was the tiniest of bright blue woven kippot, paying the most perfunctory homage to the Roberg regime.

This combination of lankiness and lunacy earned Walters perhaps the most apt nickname of all: Basil Fawlty.

One can only begin to imagine Rabbi Roberg’s inevitably regular damage limitation exercises, defending – in the face of irate parents – Big Al’s continuing presence on Hasmonean’s staff (it will be blatantly obvious to even the most casual reader of melchett mike that the school never sacked anyone). The rather sheepish (except with a slipper in hand) Rabbi will no doubt have employed terms such as “unconventional”, “a trifle impetuous”, and “artistic temperament”, to avoid doing what headmasters at most normal schools sometimes have to.

The wrath of these parents was incurred by startling lapses of judgment – if Big Al had any to begin with – such as, on one occasion, locking the best part of the third year in the gym changing rooms for half an hour. Unventilated and foul-smelling at the best of times, on a sweltering summer’s day it almost induced a riot. Rather unsurprisingly, King Joe was also assisting Chich at the time, forming perhaps the most irresponsible alliance since Adolf said to Benito and the Emperor: “Now, let’s see what we can do with a map of the world.”

Another reader of melchett mike has opined, perceptively in our view, that “Walters was the kind of teacher who, if you didn’t muck him up, would muck himself up.” He cites as evidence the history class which Big Al commenced with the announcement that he was setting a test, and would be distributing sheets of paper on which pupils should write their answers. He proceeded to tear a single sheet of A4 from his pad, rip it into thirty scraps, and place each one, no larger than a conservatively-sized postage stamp, on a desk.

As he began dictating detailed, essay-style questions, Walters was interrupted by shrill voices of protest. All such dissent was immediately silenced, Soviet-style, by swift ejection from the classroom. And, to Big Al’s warped way of thinking, these boys had disrupted his lesson.

For a man of his relatively tender years, Walters’ dictating methods were mind-numbingly “old school”. And their cruelty was exacerbated by his punishing any interruption, however small, by returning all the way to the beginning.

Big Al’s end of term reports could be startlingly forthright:

“Mr. & Mrs. Offenbach, your son Jacob requires psychiatric help. Please arrange.”

His remarks – “Intelligent, conscientious and competent” – in Dan Gins’ Form 3F report (dated July 1984) had been written over correction fluid. Never having believed, in the intervening quarter of a century, that this was Big Al’s true opinion, your co-author, for the purposes of this post, undertook a painstaking, Cyril-like “scraper” job. This revealed the somewhat conflicting: “Intelligent, but immature and irresponsible”. Walters’ whim, like that of his dictatorial role models, could well have had unbeknown life-changing consequences for so many.

More than one Hasmo Legend was defined, in some way or another, by his automobile:

  • Cyril’s pale blue Ford Fiesta, with its TLC (“Tea, Elsssie?”) number plate;
  • Dr Flop’s cavernous Peugeot estate, replete with HUR (“Hurrgggh!!”) plate;
  • Chich’s Morris Marina, its purple hues dovetailing exquisitely with the Cypriot’s tasteful nylon Speech Day suit; and
  • DJ’s rust heap of a Morris Minor, its dome-like roof nicely matching the scalp of its driver (Dan’s peirush)/the tit seated inside (melchett mike’s).

Citroën 2CVBig Al seemed to get through myriad old bangers during his time at Hasmonean, but one in particular, a bright red Citroën 2CV, will be forever etched in our memories. How expectantly we gazed, as the “deux chevaux” bounded and creaked over the potholes of the front playground, just waiting for all four wheels to drop off simultaneously, for a jet of water to shoot up from the bonnet, flowers to sprout through the roof, and for Big Al to be ejected by his seat springs, accompanied by a rude raspberry sound.

If one excludes (as one must) the stopgap efforts of Jonny Bokor and Mitch Taylor, the only other history/politics teacher at Hasmonean at the time was the thoroughly decent but (equally thoroughly) soporific Clive Johnson (seated furthest right in the staff photograph in Hasmo Legends I). So, for us boys, Alan Walters was also a breath of fresh (if somewhat intoxicating) air.

Another commenter to melchett mike has expressed the view that Walters was amongst the teachers at Hasmo who was not “either/both incompetent or nuts when [he] joined the school. As far as I recall he was a Cambridge graduate, and a PhD too I think, and at first took his job and disciplining seriously.”

Heeere's Johnny!This is a fascinating line of speculation: did Alan Walters perchance join Hasmonean’s teaching staff an earnest and talented young historian, keen to make his mark on academia, but – like Jack Torrance (left)  in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining – become inebriated by the sheer madness of the place?

Or is the explanation rather less sinister: that this boy trapped inside a man’s body joined Hasmo with the best of intentions, but – on realising that he couldn’t beat us – decided to join us instead? (Answers, please, on a postcard . . . or should that be postage stamp?!)

"Bring me Big Al!"

"Bring me Big Al!"

We can only speculate as to how this once promising young Oxbridge graduate went from punting on the Cam to clowning in Holders Hill Road, and, indeed, as to his whereabouts today.

Following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, in the late eighties, could ‘our’ Alan Walters have followed the Red Star out to China? Or even perhaps to North Korea?!

Yes, that’s it! It is Big Al’s unsteadying influence in the corridors of power in Pyongyang that explains the current provocations of Kim Jong-il (above) . . .


A Dan Gins/melchett mike production.

[For any ex-Hasmos wishing to contribute a post to melchett mike – on Legends, themes or eras as yet uncovered – please comment here (I will be sent your email address off-blog). Minimum requirement: B grade in English Language O Level!]

Next on Hasmo Legends, Part XII: Flops, Greater and Lesser


49 responses to “Hasmo Legends XI: “Big Al(an)” Walters

  1. Yitzchak Landau

    Nice work boys! With regard to your speculation – “did Alan Walters perchance join Hasmonean’s teaching staff an earnest and talented young historian” etc – and also the mystery as to his subsequent whereabouts, I think I can answer the former point and account for the latter, upto about 10 years ago.

    I had the interesting experience of being seated next to the “red one” at a sheva brochos some 10 years ago now and we inevitably ended up speaking about his tenure at Hasmonean – fortunately he did not really remember me despite my being in his class for 2 years (incidentally, one of my reports contained the phrase “his insolent demeanour cannot but offend” which I had great difficulty explaining and then justifying to my parents!)

    He told me that the Hasmo job was in fact his first teaching role, at which point I felt somewhat sorry for him because our O Level history class contained every single nutter in the year (the other pool had Mr Johnson and was relatively sane – could they have just been asleep?) I did not have the guts to ask him about his political leanings but I really do believe that he was just trying to liven things up by means of the burning political topic of the time. Of course being Hasmo this was a very very bad idea for oh so many reasons!

    He told me what he had been doing since leaving our hallowed institution, although I can no longer recall much of this information – had I realised he would have been the subject of a blog post all these years later, I would have paid more attention! I seem to recall something about a stint in Brussels but at the time of these Sheva Brochos he was teaching at Immanuel College.

    I actually came away from that evening with the revised impression of a young naive teacher who made the fatal error (in Hasmo at least) of trying to inject a bit of zany (yes, perhaps a little Basil Fawlty like as you have mentioned) comedy into his lessons and was ripped to shreds as a result. The inevitable result was a descent into madness and farce as so eloquently described in the post.

  2. Solly Ezekiel

    I remember the first two history lessons of the new school year with Walters. He started by calling out the class registers and thought it would be a good idea to instill discipline by starting again from the beginning every time someone in the class spoke or made a noise. Of course the lads were up for the task ahead!

    The whole of the first lesson and some part of the second lesson (he came back for more!) was spent on this exercise and the first few boys on the register must have replied ‘yes sir’ to their names hundreds of times until this fiasco had run its course.

    To this day I can still remember the first three names on the register having heard them read out so many times – “Ackerman, Ballon, Berg…”

  3. Allan Engel

    My report, 6th Form, July ’83.

    “He has not so far demonstrated a willingness to accept the exigencies of this extremely demanding subject. History is not merely a passport to higher education, but a veritable jewel, to be nurtured and polished until its inner light penetrates the hazy mists of intellect. APW”

  4. danny hass

    A few points please correct me if you know otheriwse, Mr W did not leave Hasmo he was booted out after making comments in an O level Govt and politics lesson circ 1986 about the schools leadership. Secondly in reference to the window smashing incident I do recall being in that class at the time. At the time, the practice of baiting walters was common. I also carry to this day a scar on my right shin where Alan kicked me for making some wisecrack, I cant remeber what I said but i do remember it common for O level politics to start with a “alans got a small one” sing song. I dont recall anything being unacceptable in his class you just had to learn to duck.

  5. Come off it Danny Hass, when did 1980s Hasmo EVER sack ANY teacher, irrespective of what they said, or did, and to whom?!

  6. “A veritable jewel, to be nurtured and polished . . . penetrat[ing] the hazy mists”?

    I presume he was talking about the new ball, Allan!

  7. good point Dan

  8. Early Fridays in the winter, when a London shabbat could begin as early as 3.35pm, were always a great pressure point in Hasmo, for teachers and pupils alike. In a classically frenetic session on one such day, Al Walters threatened to keep the whole class in detention. (We were taping the lesson from under a desk at the time, and how I would love to know where that TDK C60 ended up. If a certain Gilad Jacoby reads this post, please get in touch).

    The entire class, the less orthodox adopting the greatest fervour of all, began to protest at the top of their voices: “Oy, Sir, Gevalt, no, Oy Vei, Sir, please! Shabbes, Sha-a-a-a-bbes Koydesh!!”

    To which Alan’s rejoinder, so typical of the man, was “Oi, SHULLUP”.

    “No, sir…..piped up a young Benjamin Steinbock, “not shullup……SHABBAT!”

  9. Lawrence Hajioff

    I spent many years in the Alan Walters Marxist training classroom. I really enjoyed his classes, and think I actually learned a thing or two…like how to spell Egypt (egg – whipped).

    Will never forget the time a boy (will remain nameless) who had been mouthing off, and had sworn or something. Walters ordered him out of the class to “wash his mouth out with soap”….which he did and came back with soap in his mouth…poor lad.

    He also had an affinity for a certain pupil called Paul Frankel (Paul you out there?) who he never punished and always admiringly called “Framkel!! Lovely booooyyyyy, lovely boooyyyy”

    Was this in every class?

    Oh and he once slammed the window hard enough to have it fall from the second floor onto the playground.

    And let’s not forget his throwing schoolbags out the window….for no reason…but out the window they went…

  10. Richard Sack

    I also had the (pleasurable?) experience of Big Al’s teaching methods. I remember my first ever lesson, he flung open the door, came in with a pile of textbooks, looked around and threw the books on the floor, saying “Lee, what did you do that for, now come and pick them up, BOY” (referring to a guy called Stuart Lee who looked very much like his older brother who Walters clearly didn’t like!)

    I also recall he had a fascination with a historical figure called Ignatius Loyola – funnily not on the syllabus as he was the founder of the society of Jesus – (the man who so prided himself on his appearance was left with a permanent limp) when dictating to us Walters would limp around the room. I never forget when he dictated to us about the comma, for a whole lesson, due to the homework he received which were absent from the pages, punctuated (no pun intended) only by the sound of him kicking or punching the lockers at the back of the classroom.

    What a loon!

  11. Yitzchak Landau

    We had most of our lessons with him in that excuse for a classroom, the art room annexe. As you will doubtless recall, this was generally accessed via an external stone staircase and AW’s favourite non-physical punishment was to send boys out of the classroom to “the cooler” – the top step outside. Not sure whether he was trying to mimic the film “The Great Escape” but the opportunity to think of ourselves as latter day Steve Mcqueens was probably too great an opportunity to be resisted. I remember Michael Bibelman once getting sent to the cooler 4 times in one double period.

    On another occasion, Avi Greenman climbed in through one of the outside windows during the middle of a lesson only to be met by the rather frightening and disconcerting glare emanating from a goggle eyed AW who it was crystal clear was going to beat the living daylights out of him had he managed to catch him. There ensued a chase around the classroom and I had the honour of moving my chair into AW’s path to block his way enabling Avi to jump out of the other window onto the external staircase. I actually had a lucky escape because Walters shoved my chair out of the way and the only reason I didn’t go flying backwards is that there was a wall behind me which stopped me. I’m not sure he ever forgave me for that.

    Interestingly and just to even things up a bit, the flip version of his personality became apparent when some boys lifted up and moved his 2cv and, in so doing, caused so much damage to the car that I think it had to be written off. I heard him talking to another teacher about it and he was remarkably calm and generous about the incident, saying that “in fairness” to the cluprits, they probably had no idea of the damage they would cause through their prank.

    Funnily enough, despite the madness, in keeping with one or two of the other comments here, I did actually come away from his lessons with a fairly good set of notes which is more than can be said for certain other lessons and teachers.

  12. Josh Haruni

    I never had Walters as a teacher until 4th year Politics. I have to admit that in my first lesson, despite hearing the stories, I wasn’t quite sure whether the utter bedlam that dominated the class was cleverly manufactured by the teacher to make some profound socio-political point, or whether –as was so obviously the case – Walters had lost all control and hadn’t a clue as to what he was supposed to be doing. Noticing my confusion, a classmate who knew the form from Alan ‘s history class, told me not to be intimidated by the collective chaos and that I should feel free to participate and if I ever got hit by Walters then I shouldn’t hold back in retaliating. No sooner had these words of wisdom registered, than the class was presented with the remarkable spectacle of Alan Walters brawling with Wolf Rabstein (Hello mate!) whose shirt collar Walters tore off during their ruck. I believe that Mr. Walters was asked to account for his actions in front of Mr. & Mrs. Rabstein & Rabbi Roberg. A meeting that I am sure young Wolf can describe capably on this blog.

    My other abiding memory of Walters, other than his strange facial expressions and his dribbling, is when Greville Janner came to visit the school and in front of whom we were duly rounded up to hear give a speech. Obviously I don’t remember a word that was said, but I do remember Greville unwittingly pointing to his right saying: “I could be standing next to a Communist for all I know…” The assembly immediately burst into fits of laughter because sure enough, to the right of Greville Janner stood Alan Walters himself (the only teacher on the stage without a seat!) trying bravely to suppress a laugh. You couldn’t have planned it.

  13. Charles Alexander

    Good to see some of my old classmates commenting on our classes with Al.

    The cooler is the first thing that comes to mind.

    Possibly the best is when he decided to walk on the desks around our classroom (the small geography room) in order to make his point, similar in style to John Cleese and the Ministry of Funny Walks, for no particular reason except to make sure we could all see and hear him.

    I seem to remember a pupil in my brother’s year (the same class as the author of this blog) who had a personal vendetta with him and took this out on the brakes of Al’s 2CV.

    Personally, I did not like him and vice versa. I had the pleasure of sitting at the side of his desk in our Art Room Annexe lessons so he could keep an eye on me. I repaid the attention by picking the biggest bogey I could and wiping it on his register at the beginning of each lesson (not my proudest moment). This stopped when he finally caught me and I was banished to the cooler for the rest of the term.

    It is hard to say who was more disadvantaged, Al in his first teaching position in a school where the slightest weakness in a teacher would be expolited mercilessly or, us as pupils who were never going to benefit from a teacher who we had no respect for and, who I and my classmates that I still see regularly, felt was bordering potty at best.

  14. Great comments, all!

    I am also reminded, by a former classmate, of a lesson in the Large Geography Room when Big Al saw fit to lock the door from the inside, and – following a bit of pushing and shoving between him and Elbaz/Abie Cohen – found himself in the bin . . . leading to the obvious pay-off line: consigned to the dustbin of history!

  15. danny hass

    i seem to remember Al getting bundled by half the 5th year in the back playground

  16. Then there was the time that the great Platt (Jeremy not Adrian) had the whole class buzzing loudly in unison

    – then jumped up on his desk, and ran across the upper surface of every desk in the room, ending up on Al’s desk an inch from his nose

    – clapped his hands, and yelled “got the little f***er!”……. and the buzzing immediately ended.

    (Not to be outdone, Al responded with “Shullup, Platt!”)

  17. Moshe Abelesz

    Thanks again, Mike – loads of fun.

    I became reacquainted with Alan when he joined me on the teaching staff of Immanuel College. When I reintroduced myself to him, he told me that he had learned a lot from Hasmo and that he wasn’t the same person.

    And it was true. Alan turned out to be a great teacher, well respected by colleagues, parents and most importantly, students.

    Therefore, I can only surmise that Hasmo did to Alan what it did to us – turned fine young people into rascals and decent adults (well, some were!!) into sadists. Something happened to all of us each morning when we enetered the school gates – we did and said things we would never even come close to doing outside of the school premises. The magic of Hasmo…

  18. Daniel Lange

    Big Mo (Abelesz)…good thing you never landed up at Hasmo.

    Most of the abiding memories have been accurately recounted, including his dress-sense or lack of it. I remember his famous purple shirt with the flarey rounded collars (fashion item circa 1973) – it received much praise for its unique aeronautical qualities.

  19. I have been asked to post the following . . .

    I feel uncomfortable putting this story in – but it’s too good not to be told – perhaps you could put it in…

    When DJ had his ninth child, Walters told us at the beginning of our A Level History lesson that “For the record you should know that Durex have sent Dr. Jacobson a written apology.”

    Must have been something about “too big a prick” . . .

  20. Re: the “forest of black hair – which looked like it hadn’t been trimmed since his bar mitzvah, when “Granny” Walters had a go at it with her garden shears” (see above) . . .

    It’s rumoured that some time in the mid-1980s, Big Al denounced Old Granny Walters to Ken Livingstone, for possible bourgeouis tendencies; and that as consequence, her OAP’s Red Bus Rover pass was summarily revoked.

    Does anyone know more about this?

  21. Steve Graniewitz

    I’m a bit confused by the nicknames “Big Al” and “Basil Fawlty”. I always remember that we all called him Alan “Psycho” Walters.

    My memory of him was that he was having a go at me in private after the lesson about something or other and my excuse seemed to check out so, in his frustration, he said “What are those?” pointing at my shoes. I said “Its OK, they’re black”. “No they’re not, they’re suede”. I said “Suede isn’t a colour”…so he hit me round the head.

    Unfortunately I wasn’t aware at the time that retaliation with Walters was mandatory.

  22. Daniel Lange

    I recall going on several Politics and History conferences and trips; he was always a good sport when it came to popping into a pub afterwards for a few jars. I’ll never forget when he took us to the roughest watering hole imaginable in deepest, darkest Elephant and Castle after a trip to the Imperial War Museum, but the draught Carlsberg was top drawer.

  23. Shimon Soester

    2 Walters stories:

    He had very bad luck but good humour: One lesson the class were messing about, he stood in front of us and removed a toy pistol from his jacket pocket. He pointed it to his head and at that exact moment, D.J. (who had heard the noise) walked in to the room to see what was going on to find his new history teacher with a gun (all be it made of plastic from Woolies) to his head.

    He was, taking in to account the ethos of the school, quite daring. When teaching the history of the hassidic movement, he gave us a sociological explanation of the need to follow mysticism – which in Hasmo standards was complete heresy and could have cost him his job.

  24. Jonathan Rutland Myers ("Gnu")

    There are few people I have met in my entire life that I detest quite as much as I do this man. I find myself getting angry just thinking about him. It seemed that put in a position of trust over us impressionable teenagers he saw fit to vent his frustration in life at every opportunity.

    On one occasion in class, on walking past me, for no apparent reason decided to slap me round the back of the head. Being about the fouth year and prehaps a little taller than average I stood up and hit him back. More stunned than anything and aware the class was jeering he went out and came back with R.Roberg. I think I was given a detention as punishment which frankly I considered very unjust, given the circumstances I wanted to go after him for assault.

    A few years later I found myself in an interview for my first job. There had been many applicants and I was among the shortlisted.

    I later found out that my interviewer happened to be a friend of Marks (Madog) and had called him to ask about me. Now I’m not really sure whether Marks was trying to help or hinder me but he recounted the AW story which apparently has been a keen topic of conversation in the staff room. On hearing this my interviewer decided that I was the ideal candidate and immediately gave me the job.

    All the studying/exams aside, what gave me my big career break was hitting the teacher. Go figure. Mr Marks if you are reading this thank you.

  25. Shimon, I found myself fantasising during that gun story . . . that the gun wasn’t plastic, and that DJ was the intended victim. Ignoring insanity and diminished responsibility, I think Big Al would have had a couple of good potential defences: i) provocation (he would have had thousands of witnesses), or ii) that he thought the nippled forehead was a target.

  26. Shimon Soester

    On the subject of guns, could someone give details of the Roberg shooting (with an air gun from across the road) in the early 90s?

  27. Steve Graniewitz

    The Roberg shooting wasn’t in the early 90s it was in 1987.

    The window to Rabbi Roberg’s office was open and his secretary was next to his desk when she felt a sharp pain in her hand. She thought that a bee had stung her but it turned out to be an air gun pellet.

    The story was reported in the JC as an anti-semitic attack but the next week, Giora Nassim (who used to take particular offence to us singing the Kia-Ora advert to him) owned up that he had been the shooter from the book depository (or his bedroom) that happened to be directly opposite Roberg’s office.

    I remember asking him why he did it and he said that he was bored… so that was alright then.

  28. Claude Wolf

    The story I heard was that when he arrived on his first day, one of the kids told him to line up against the wall and then proceeded to gun him down fist clenched, St Valentine’s Day Massacre style.

    I remember the sheer pain I felt in my arm after being forced to copy blackboards and blackboards worth of history notes, not one of which I can remember.

    I associate the man with hand cramp, which is probably not the best memory one should have of a teacher.

  29. Anthony Mammon

    I enjoy reading your Hasmo blogs, and am patiently waiting for a write up about Woody Harrison. I left Hasmo in 1977 and he was still there, so I’m hoping your paths had crossed and that you had some interesting anecdotes. Also “Cheerful Charlie” Chadwick.

  30. Trawling the blog the other day in search of hidden treasure, I came across this outstandingly hilarious Legend about a man, Alan Walters, whose peace and tranquility I never had the good fortune to disturb, even slightly. It occurred to me that there are many Hasmo teachers out there whose idiosyncrasies have not yet been sufficiently celebrated on these virtual pages and who are equally deserving of their fifteen minutes of fame.

    In an effort to redress this imbalance, and with Mike’s acquiescence, here is a starter pack of teacher catchphrases which, I believe, have not previously appeared in print and will, hopefully, jumpstart other memories:

    George Parnell – “You’re as daft as Dicky Dotty” – just to prove in the period after lunch that, even though he was totally inebriated, he could still manage a tongue twister. Unfortunately, he could not manage the Maths he was supposed to be teaching and he retired at the end of my first year to a house in the North that, it was reported, had no roads separating it and the local pub.

    Bruce McLoughlin – “Upstand everybody” – there is, of course, no such verb in the English language. Bruce was one of the most popular teachers during my sojourn at the school. And yes, his subject was English.

    Mitch Taylor – “Take off your glasses” – uttered when he was about to hit somebody around the head. At least, there was due warning and it was done in cold blood.

    Murray Schwalbe – “Take your hands away from your head, I am NOT going to hit you” – no prizes for guessing what happened next.

    G Jurke – “Sonny (more precisely, Thunny) , I will hit you with my magic wand” – the prelude to being led into the gym cubbyhole, that passed as an office, for a thrashing.

    Gerald “Noddy” Lever – “It will be the stick for you, m’lad” – Actually a much liked, fair teacher who got his kicks out of playing to the gallery with his rhetoric.

    Sam “Sid” Bailin – “You silly chump” – for some unknown reason the term still conjures up in my mind thoughts of obesity. Strange really.

    Woodthorpe Jude Harrison – “Where are all you budding Rothschilds? – They all left at the end of the 5th form (definitely true in our year)

    And Acharon, Acharon Chaviv:

    Morry Ellman – “………..Thwack!!!” – No catchphrase – just a perfectly timed dreaded silence accompanied by a pencil-thin smile, culminating in a vicious left-hook straight to the jaw.

    Of course, Cyril’s one-liners are legendary but most have already been covered on the blog .

    Already covered too (I think by Ambassador Issacharoff) is my all-time favorite catchphrase from my all-time favorite Hasmo personality (I wouldn’t want to stretch a point too far and call him a teacher) – “It’s better than a slap on the belly with a wet fish.”

    Ah! Memories…

  31. Thank you, John. And I couldn’t resist (limiting myself to the first words that came to mind for each one) . . .

    Rabbi Abrahams: “I don’t like it.”

    AH Bloomberg: “Wayderminit . . .”

    Chichios: “You sick in the head!”

    Rabbi Cooper: “The poor parents.”

    DJ: “Very in-ter-es-ting.” (And to me, personally: “Why don’t you go back to City of London?”)

    Clive Fierstone: “Errr, you-boy . . .”

    Lionel Finkelstein: “Miiii-chhhhhhhael!!” (referring not to me, but his poor gimp of a lab assistant).

    Liam Joughin: “Leave it a-lone.”

    Simon Lesser: “Hmmmmm???”

    Ivan Marks: “It’s always the frum ones.”

    Jack Ordman: “Right you are, boys.”

    Alan Walters: “Shullup!!”

  32. Talking to an ex-Hasmo (about Hasmo, of course!) at dinner, last night, he told me how Walters had once stood in for Mr. Tarrant for a German class.

    When the boys saw “Big Al” walk in, they, naturally, went wild.

    Walters grinned, and asked the entire class to stand on their chairs. He then got them repeating the words he had written on the board . . .

    “Arbeit macht frei”

    You couldn’t make it up!

  33. The comments about Alan Walters are most unfair. He was a great man. He even helped me with private lessons in politics.

    After he left Hasmonean he became head of History at Immanuel College. My Hebrew teacher Nurit Cohen taught with Alan. Apparently he married out to an air hostess and is now living in France. I tried to make contact with him, a year ago, but Immanuel did not have his forwarding on details.

    Alan Walters had an influence on me as I have become a lifelong Labour Party supporter.

    He once got into trouble for saying the JS teachers never strike, but when they receive a pay rise they rub their hands with glee. Someone grassed him up to Roberg, and each student was called in by Roberg to find out what he said. Every student defended the great man and we told Roberg that he said nothing of the kind. Walters was exonerated and was allowed to continue his teaching career at that mad institution Hasmo.

    All in all Big Al was a great man!

  34. Ze'ev Portner

    Pursuant to my earlier comments. I spoke to my mother tonight and she remembers Alan Walters. She remembers him as a very nice man who was driven to despair by the students.

    In fact that nice man Mr Walters gave me private lessons in politics at my home for free, in order to help me pass my politics O Level which I duly did. Thank you Alan Walters.

    By the way Walter’s reign was from 1982-1985. He left in 1985 to go and work in Belgium.

  35. Only 3 years Ze’ev, only 3 years……….is there anyone else who ever passed through Hasmo and became a total legend, in just THREE years??

    Hope you’re keeping well. I remember you as a tall lad with a massive shock of curly black hair – any of it still in situ 25 or more years on?



  36. Ze'ev Portner

    Dan – I wholeheartedly concur with you.
    “Big Al’ will be a legend for generations to come!

  37. Yes but have you still got all (or any) of your “big 80s” hair, Ze’ev?

    Do I also recall that you were quite pally with the late Joe Paley, of blessed memory, the mere recollection of whom cannot fail to ignite a smile ?

  38. Ze'ev Portner

    I have still got some of my black hair, though as the year goes by, it is less and less and I am still a Watford Football Club supporter.

    Yes the late Joe Paley was a good bloke. I used to enjoy chatting to him. He was a very unconventional teacher.

  39. Your omission, Dan, of Ze’ev’s dog-eared Watford scarf (I don’t think I ever saw him without it) and PVC holdall – and of his constant mutterings about Luther Blissett and Ross Jenkins – cause me to think that you may have the wrong ex-Hasmo.

  40. Well come on Mike, ANYONE who came to Hasmo from the big wide world outside GG and Hendon, had a PVC holdall !!

    It was a sort of code for “Yeshiva Stream Teachers: Hit Me If You Think You’re Hard Enough.”

  41. I woke up this morning to the terrible news of the passing of our Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-il, Baruch Dayan Emes.

    And rumours already emanating from the corridors of power in Pyongyang are that “Big Al” – known in North Korea as Big Dong-al – is already preparing himself for an (ungainly) swoop for power.

    There is also talk that his intended deputy is none other than his former Holders Hill Road colleague, Osher Bad-il . . . though he is considered by many in the Democratic People’s Republic to be too hardline.

  42. It has been busy few days for the dying – Vaclav Havel, Kim Jong-il and Christopher Hitchens.

    Perhaps Hollywood could come up with a blockbuster movie:

    “The Good, The Bad And The Logical Fallacy in The Argument That The Universe’s Lack of Intrinsic Meaning Implies That Beauty And Its Opposite Cannot Be Appreciated By Atheists.”

  43. North Korea update: Latest reports coming out of Pyongyang, this lunchtime, suggest that also in the running for the position of deputy to Big Dong-al could be Comrade Li Am Joug-in.

  44. My hot tip for next N Korean leader?

    The ghost of Mitch Taylor, in manic choirmaster mode


  45. Jonathan Feigenbaum

    Yo..can anyone please give me Ze`evs email address – thanks
    J K Feigenbaum

  46. Hi, Jonny. How you doing? Have you turned into a “brother” since our Olympus days?! You can find your nigga here, I believe: zeevportner@hotmail.co.uk . . . but don’t mention the Premier League.

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