'Take over, will you?' said Robby Raven Roberts as the ambulance took him away.
He had just collapsed with appendicitis. It was the summer of 1971 and, as Crookham's Headmaster, he had asked me to teach on the summer course he had arranged at Crookham Court School. I was friends with his daughter, Angela, who was a similar age to me and her dad had asked me to help out. There were two groups, one German; one Italian and they loathed each other with a passion. Games were arranged so that one nationality was against the other. It must have seemed logical, but it was a disaster.
I 'took over'. There I was with teachers twice my age, no experience at all, but at least with the common sense to realise that this adversarial situation needed to be changed - at once. It was. No more Germany versus Italy matches. Teams were mixed and divided by age and gender. Games were made less serious and not so competitive.
It was a fun course. The youngsters made friends with each other and even spoke English. Robby decided to move on and set him his own school in the Midlands. I had enjoyed the course so much that I rented the school myself and, with two of the teachers, set up a partnership - 'Educational Holidays' - to run it. We decided to use the goodwill engendered by the 1971 course and my partners' teaching jobs in Spain to recruit students for it. We also used Gabbitas-Thring, an educational agency in London that advised parents. The numbers for 1972 built up and we had a course for 70 or so in the summer of 1972.
As the months before the course went by, I realised that almost all the youngsters were coming as a result of the previous year and my efforts. When the course was in action, it was clear that my partners were having a great time, but were without the professionalism that had to be at the core of any work with young people. On the day the course ended, I arranged with the school's owner to rent the school myself and I dissolved the partnership. My partners were not happy with me and demanded that I stopped any preparation for the following summer. The brochures I had printed sat unused. I could do nothing. In exchange for the name of the business and a record player that we had used for discos (yes, really), they allowed me to break free from the partnership. In January 1973, I changed the name to Vacational Studies by simply transposing the adjective and the noun and tweaking the words used. On the day the 'divorce' came through, I posted the 1973 brochures. I was free!
The summer of 1973 was the first fully Vacational Studies Course and I loved it.
By the summer of 1975, I had so many young people wanting to come that I looked around for another school to rent. It had to be close to Crookham as I was determined to oversee both. I had heard of Cheam School. It was famous in Newbury as being the school that Prince Charles had left a few years before. I contacted the Head, was invited for dinner (it was 'toad in the hole', I recall) and made the arrangement for the summer of 1975. I had to promise to safeguard Cheam's name, of course, - 'If anything happens the headlines won't be 'X at Vacational Studies'. They'll be 'X at Cheam School'' - I was reminded and for the next 35 years, I kept my word. In its nuclear layout, Cheam was ideal for our Course. Numbers still kept increasing and I looked for another school. One of the schools that Cheam played frequently was Elstree, so I approached them and in 1979 we had our first Course at Elstree. My relationship with Elstree was to last 25 years.
To be continued...