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”.
When 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.
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.
Wild 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).
Big 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.”
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?!)
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