Highgate School

In Sir Martin’s diary written in 1955, he reflects on his years at Highgate :

I had been at Highgate School for ten years: five in the junior, and five in the senior school. They are years teeming with memories, some pleasant, some painful, some vivid, and some mere glimmerings on a distant horizon.

I shall never forget the first years, years of terror and timidity, of rationing, and powdered egg and dried potato, the bitter, lean years, following the war. Yet holding also promise and expectation. They gave me confidence, and they instilled in me a love of learning, a keenness, and an enthusiasm which I hope I shall never lose.

In the senior year I was a boarder and then a day boy. I was afraid, at first, of the new and terrifying hierarchy which towered above me: a seemingly insurmountable pyramid of power. I polished prefectorial shoes; cleaned out chaotically crowded studies; ran errands to the village, for lemonade, light bulbs, and more lemonade. I could not conceive that either the swiftness or the hardships of this, the ‘new boys’ world, could ever end. Nor indeed, did it, in the usual manner, for, when I had all but completed my year as a fag, my family moved nearer to Highgate, and I became a day boy.

Home became the background to school: it fitted awkwardly into the teeming tempo of life at Highgate. Every morning had an unsettled feeling: a feeling unknown to the years when I had been a boarder. Then, on waking, I had been an integral part of the corporate whole, whose life-blood was my life-blood and to whose existence I was fully bound.

Being a day boy had its advantages however. It taught independence and also responsibility. Doing homework, running during the lunch-hour, even general reading, changed from being almost compulsory, and became a matter of inclination. Whereas, when a boarder, the rigid timetable had ruled, now the conscience could speak, and in speaking, became aware of the important part it had to play.

Each year brought new, vital changes. In the third form uniformity and conformity were the rule, and each day bore the stamp of a stern monotony, very full, very staccato, very swift, yet rigid, and seemingly endless. In the fourth form a laziness was born, partly because there was no urgency to work, and partly because there were no masters of sufficient dynamism to make work enjoyable. Thus, from the daily drudgery, a cynicism emerged, callous and critical, a playfullness, and a love of leisure. Then, in the fifth form, there were external exams to take, and work began in earnest. At first it was difficult to adapt myself to the urgency of note-taking and homework, but as the year drew on, I was able, more easily to take it into my stride. In the sixth form the necessity of work became, instead, a passion, and I enjoyed greatly the book-work and the essay-writing. This love of learning bred scholarship, and after scholarship came responsibility.

I had reached, almost unconsciously, the upper slopes of the school edifice. I became one of the twenty school monitors, above whom, in the hierarchy of boys, there are but eight prefects. I became a third year sixth-former. I became one of four university scholars. I had no sporting achievements to my name, yet I was the secretary of one school society, on the committee of another, a major contributor to the school literary magazine, and led a varied and vigorous existence. Life was an exciting experience: no moment, however short, could be dull, and every day, though similar in outline, was essentially different. From such a rich life, few could fail to benefit.