Spirit of Birkenhead Institute

Pupils' and Staff Memories of Birkenhead Institute Grammar School


With the recent sad news about the death of Mr L.T. Malcolm, (December, 2010),  I have set up this special page for your memories of this special Birkenhead Institute pupil and teacher. I shall be grateful to add your memories and thoughts about Mr Malcolm in the coming weeks.  Mr Malcolm was a fine teacher, Deputy Headmaster, and pupil of Birkenhead Institute, and his work, his teaching abilities, and his influence shall always be remembered by those who knew him. I am honoured and privileged to have been one his pupils.



The first memories of Mr Malcolm are from my former class friend Bob Johnson and his brother Ben Johnson. These memories concern the rather thick volume of Physics which Len Malcolm used to refer us to in his "A" Level Physics lessons. The book was called "Advanced Level Physics" by "Nelkon and Parker". Here is Bob Johnson's memory, followed by pictures of the "Holy Nelkon". Very many thanks to Bob and Ben for these memories:-

"Having left the school copy of the Holy Nelkon on the bus, or so I thought, I was obliged by the school to buy a replacement copy out of my paper-round money instead of buying the latest album by The Pretty Things. When the school copy turned up, I then owned my copy of THE HOLY NELKON lock stock and barrel. What better way to compensate for the expense than to adorn the inside cover. The drawing was originally intended to be a portrait of our beloved headmaster EG Webb (how he put up with my rebellious rantings I'll never know). I made many unsuccessful attempts at drawing him front on. Not wishing this drawing to go to waste, it became an artist's impression of Nelkon himself. In the end, Charlie McBride cracked the knack of portraying EG Webb, by drawing him sideways on, thus capturing his unique neck-line and moustache.

The Len will be remembered by many as a formative influence in their lives. I got on surprisingly well with him as we shared a common interest in the theatre. Vic Hodgson and I would sometimes encounter the Len at the Liverpool Playhouse, which we attended regularly.

Eventually I caught up with "Get the Picture" by The Pretty Things in a second-hand record shop.

Phil - do feel free to add any of this and the pictures of The Thrice Holy Nelkon to any tributes you plan to set up for Len Malcolm on the BI/Whetstonian sites."
Here are some words and memories from Ben Johnson about the Nelkon and Parker book:-
"Nelkon and Parker were the authors of a chunky tome entitled "Advanced Level Physics". Mr Malcolm mainly referred to it as "Nelkon", as in "Take out your Nelkons and open them at page 339!"

Actually it's brother Bobby's book, as a look inside the cover reveals. It also reveals that Bobby was sometimes not fully paying attention to Mr Malcolm's words of wisdom, and letting his fertile imagination wander to meet up with his artistic talents. (See below).
Mr Malcolm will live on in the minds of many, what finer tribute could there be?"


The best laid schemes of mice and men ---------- A toast by Lenny Malcolm

Shortly after the Dinner of October 1998 Harold came round to discuss how it had gone and to start planning one for this year. I made two main points: since it was to be a gathering of Old Instonians the emphasis should be on Birkenhead Institute and an attempt should be made to cover as wide an age range as possible. Having painted myself into a corner, I sat down to write the history of B.I. from my view point from the 1930s to the 1980s, with many stories of incidents and individuals, of staff, pupils and certainly of those who would be at the Dinner. When I had finished I sat back. The history of Birkenhead Institute. In 20 minutes? I realised that it was an impossible task. The stories would have to go for a start. 20 minutes! This would allow for essentials only.

I would wish to mention the Junior School - Sadie Bowers, Head Mistress, a large lady with a sit up and beg bicycle, and Kathleen Booth - a School which was so successful until its demise was brought about by the Butler Education Act of 1944.

I must include the 23rd Scouts run by Don Coughtrie. The time factor will preclude mention of others. I'll just look at an old photograph to see if I can put names to faces. This I found somewhat harrowing for I realised as I looked at the photograph taken in the mid-thirties that in twelve year's time, as Secretary of the War Memorial Committee, I would be including on the Memorial, among the 93 names of casualties, the names of Ted Mathews, JohnGullan and John Beckett.

A feature of the 23rd was the camping. Overchurch at the weekends on a site long since gone and then longer camps in the holidays at Brynbach in North Wales and Wootton Fitzpaine, north of Charmouth in Dorset. I have revisited both these sites. The one I have not been back to is Gatehouse of Fleet, this for psychological reasons. I am sure most of you can look back at moments in your lives when opportunities were missed - I had one such moment at Gatehouse of Fleet. One day we were divided into pairs and sent forth into the wild Kirkudbrightshire countryside with only basic materials and told to light a fire and prepare our own meals. I wish, oh how I wish, that I had paid greater attention to my partner. I had a letter from him only last year. "Since Gatehouse of Fleet in 1938 I have learnt to become a first-class cook (references available)". I wrote back immediately to offer my congratulations and to ask to see the references. They have never been forthcoming.

I will have to refer to the third of September 1939. Each pupil was given a gas mask and put on the train: the evacuation to Oswestry had begun. I have been back there too. I walked round Oswestry High School, across the town to the Market Square and over to the Memorial Hall, for ever linked with the Ancient Order of Buffaloes, and then back to Cae Glas Park where the school assembled on arrival. The great W.E. Williams, who taught history, moved along the serried ranks with a brown paper carrier bag collecting catapults and peashooters. When he emerged he held the carrier bag aloft and at this, the start of the war with Germany, announced "Disarmament Conference".

Of course, all were back in Birkenhead for the bombing. This meant nights in the air raid shelters and the occasional detour to Whetstone Lane to avoid unexploded bombs. The only damage to the fabric of the school happened on the thirteenth of March, 1941, when two incendiaries fell through the gym roof; Gerry Hall was the firewatcher on duty. He summoned assistance and the fire was extinguished. The School did lose one pupil, A.R. Gibbons, who was killed when a bomb fell in Hamilton Street.

Part of the School's war effort was the farming camp held on the farm of Harry Blackburn at Great Barrow, on the far side of Chester. I have been back there too and how it has changed. The village pump, which once overnight suffered the indignity of being whitewashed has gone. The arms on the signpost at the crossroads now point in the correct directions. The White Horse Inn is still there but opposite it is the Post Office surrounded by modern housing. No barns, no mushroom sheds. I felt a pang of conscience as I walked along the main street as I had organised the last four camps and had been in charge of the cooking. I thought back to Gatehouse of Fleet. I wish, oh how I wish, that I had paid greater attention to my partner. If any of you still harbour complaints about my cooking of fifty years ago I suggest you visit my partner of sixty years ago and see how far it gets you. He lives at 1 Salem View.

Then what of the School's Tours abroad? 9 European Countries visited in 20 continuous years - no time. And the Dramatic Society? There are many tales there but no time. That is a pity for there is that story of E. Wynne Hughes and the Birkenhead Brewery - but there is a fund of E. Wynne Hughes stories. (I do not know what to do about that boy - everything I say runs off his back like duck's water. Now you boys I want to make it clear that snowballing is out of bounds.)

To go on would be most unfair for I can claim that I knew him better than most and can vouch that he did a great deal for B.I. He left an impression on a number of Old Boys. To put the matter in perspective, it is only the minority here who will remember him - only those who were at school between 1929 and 1950. To the majority, his name will mean as much as those of William Connacrer and Jimmy Smallpage do to me.

So into the fifties which was a difficult time. It was no part of my job to see the situation from the point of view of the Education Authority but, looking back, the School was too small to be economic and there was no room to expand on the Whetstone Lane site. The solution of the Education Authority was anathema to many - the school should combine with Rock Ferry High School. That reminds me that I am still investigating a matter from 1953. Rock Ferry opened one day to find that their goal posts had been painted black and gold. In connection with this, I would like to see Thomas Hodgson afterwards.

The protests started with a meeting called by Reg. Lockyer in the Liberal Club in Claughton Road. A number of us met to concoct a letter to the Ministry of Education in London: Eric Webb provided the facts, I drafted the letter, Roy Dorrity signed it. With the assistance of a number of people dotted round this room, I organised a series of Dinners - 3 in Birkenhead Town Hall and 2 in the Masonic Hall, Clifton Road - concentrating on well-established Old Boys who would carry most clout: - The Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, Sir Herbert Manzoni C.B.E., the City Engineer of Birmingham, Schofield Allen Q.C., LL.B., M.P., the Recorder of Blackburn, Professor Hallett of Durham University, W.L. Cottier, the Medical Officer of Health for Willenhall, and many more. John Allison supplied me with a list of names and I consulted a copy of "Who's Who" at the Birkenhead Library and was heartened by the support I received. Then there was the subterfuge with the Chairman of the Education Committee but, alas, no time. The plan was eventually withdrawn.

I hope that those at the Dinner will appreciate that academic work proceeded apace in Whetstone Lane. Should I drown them in letters? S.C., Subsid., H.S.C., were replaced by G.C.E. O and A, and then along came C.S.E. and, later, G.C.S.E. The syllabi were continually changing and much hard work was done by pupils and staff.

Then there was Ingleborough Road:- Athletics, Rugby, Cricket. In all the years I spent at square leg looking at the pavilion, the memorial to the 83 casualties of the first World War, including Wilfred Owen, I never imagined that it would ever be occupied by Tranmere Rovers.

Then in 1970 came the move to Tollemache Road. I have no wish to get embroiled in the relative merits of the Grammar School/Comprehensive systems. The decision was taken by politicians elected by the majority which is known as democracy. The education authorities were as fair as possible:- Park High combined with Hamilton, Rock Ferry with Kirklands and B.I. with Grange. One of the main advantages was the improved facilities and one of the main disadvantages was that the School more than doubled in size with the loss of a degree of friendliness, Is that not the way of the world? Small banks and corner shops have largely gone and in a few years' time Birkenhead was to be absorbed into Wirral. I remember the 1970's as a period of hard work tinged with sadness. In 1972 Dennis Hughes died having been on the staff for twenty years and he had certainly thrown himself enthusiastically into the life of the School. In 1975 Miss Cojeen retired after thirty three years of valiant service. I did have one piece of good fortune. I was so busy that I failed to realise that the buildings in Whetstone Lane were being demolished. If I had, inevitably I would have been drawn there to recall stories of Johnny Paris, Bertie Bloor, Tiger Lewis et al and many Old Boys. I would only have got upset and so it was as well that I did not know.

Immediately after the Dinner of 1998 I wrote to Harold to draw attention to his inability to spell correctly the word "Questionnaire". He replied immediately. "You were the first one to spot my deliberate mistake. A prize for this will be forthcoming eventually". I hoped for some culinary delicacy but have received nothing. I wondered how I could prise my reward from Harold's grasp and decided to run a competition. One of the features of B.I. of the 1930s was the appearance of the janitor of those days, one Russell by name, to toll the bell above the bicycle shed before each session to cause boys to hare along Hollybank Road. During the demolition that bell was purloined. I would award "Harold's Prize" to the first at the Dinner who could trace it. I would have to give clues - but alas, no time.

So into the 1980s and in 1982 it was time for me to leave. 48 years after crossing the threshold in one direction I crossed it in the other, taught for three years elsewhere and then retired.

If I had to associate my time at B.I. with only one word I would choose the word "friendship". I was fortunate in that the generation before mine produced men who became colleagues and then friends. I am thinking particularly of A.O. Jones, W.E. Williams, Robert Hall and Reg. Bolton. In my own generation Dennis Hughes and then three whom I still see regularly - John Allan, Norman Bailey and Rene Cojeen. Then there are the ghosts, not all departed this life, whom I have met at Brynbach, Wootton Fitzpaine, Oswestry, Great Barrow, Ingleborough Road and Whetstone Lane.

I serve on a committee with a man who was semi-educated at Park High School. Since this is a private meeting I will admit, somewhat reluctantly, that Rock Ferry and Park High were worthy opponents but I will continue to decry them in public. The result is certain banter in which I have an unfair advantage since I visited both Rock Ferry and Park High so often with Rugby and Cricket Teams that I got to know members of their staffs and, through them, some of their weaknesses. It always ends the same way: when my friend reaches the end of his tether he says "Well, they are still both open". To my credit, I say nothing but I know what I am thinking - no sixth forms, both flooded with girls, the "new education" and, in a strange way, I am not sorry that B.I. is no more. I put on my rose-coloured spectacles, get out my numerous photographs and dream of times past.

I thought my days of giving reports were well and truly over but I will give one more.

Report on Birkenhead Institute - "While not perfect, in the main was successful for over a hundred years and certainly provided the framework for many friendships".

Who would have forecast that the lad who entered B.I. in 1934 would in 1999 have the honour of asking fellow Old Instonians to stand?

I propose a toast. "To the spirit of Birkenhead Institute". 

Len Malcolm's excellent speech is reproduced above.


Here are some memories and a tribute to Mr L.T. Malcolm and the Birkenhead Institute, courtesy of former pupil, (1971 - 1978), Clive Jervis.
These memories are excellent, because they remind us of Mr Malcolm's fine teaching skills, and I can also recall similar memories when I myself was studying "A" Level Physics in Mr Malcolm's class:
I came across your website whilst trying find out about Len Malcolm. I was sad to see that he had recently died. Len malcolm was one of those few people who has had a marked influence in my life and I wanted to send you some thoughts of my memories of him from my time at BI.
    Clive Jervis
I am saddened by the news of Len Malcolm's death - I was hoping that he was still alive and I could visit him this year (2011).
I was a pupil at BI from '71 to '78, the first year that started senior school a year later under the then new comprehensive system.
I first came into direct contact with LTM when he taught me Physics in the Sixth Form, although his fearsome reputation was well known to all throughout our schooling at BI. Funny, but I don't think he ever used the stick to enforce discipline as did other teachers - we often had pupils sitting in detention at the back of our class doing their homework when LTM gave us extra lessons after school. I remember once how he calmly ended a "strike" by pupils. There was a teacher's strike going on (I don't recall it affecting BI, but this was the seventies after all), so during lunch break many pupils from the senior playground decided they would also go on strike and left the school, protesting from the other side of Upton Road. The school bell rang and the strikers did not budge. LTM soon appeared, announced that he would close the school gates in 5 minutes and anyone who was not in school by then would be deemed absent. Every last pupil returned immediately!
LTM imparted much wisdom to me that I carry today, but at the age of 17 I didn't then recognise it. He taught more than just what was required by the curriculum, such as the Scientific Method - only many years later on did I realise this was based on Karl Popper, something that far too few scientists today seem to know anything about. He was also a stickler for good English, amongst his pupils who could ever forget how to spell 'accommodation': "a double c, o double m, OOO dation"; 'okay' was a forbidden Americanism. Sayings he used to preach have stuck with me, such as "the path to Hell is paved with good intentions," and oddities like "and the captain played the ukulele as the ship went down." His pretend shock at none of us knowing any Greek letter beyond pi prompted me to learn the Greek alphabet.
LTM taught us classical physics and "Acker" Richards taught modern physics. I imagine that today's curriculum dispenses with much of the detail he taught in favour of cramming in more topics, which is a great pity. I believe that LTM taught us to think and understand scientific development - who today would even know what the "error of the exposed column" referred to, and yet temperature measurement is such a 'hot' topic today? Or that materials expand linearly only because that is how we choose to calibrate it?
I think LTM took a shine to me after the first examinations. He had marked his papers before Mr. Richards, and I had done very well on his questions, but I fell short in answering the requisite number, for which he chastised me. However, once Mr. Richards had finished his marking LTM understood that I had completed all the modern questions and so I achieved the highest overall marks. LTM stopped me in the corridor one day (fearful in itself) to congratulate me for conducting successfully Young's Experiment - something I gathered was not done very often.
However, one of the main reasons I will be eternally grateful to LTM was his administering Cambridge entrance examinations for me during the summer holidays, even though I did not succeed. Mr. Moore, my maths teacher, suggested that I should try for Cambridge to read maths and of course I liked the idea. Several teachers helped out in preparation, I had extra lessons in Maths from a temporary teacher, and headmaster Sam Dennerly attempted to teach me Spanish as I had no language O-level. Indeed, as Sam was on good terms with the headmaster of Birkenhead School, I was allowed to attend a speed course in Spanish given to pupils there who wanted to pick up an extra language on their way to Oxbridge, as well as a Maths course preparing their pupils for the Oxbridge entrance examinations. I used to ride between the schools during the day.
Looking back it was no surprise I did not make it to Cambridge, by today's standards BI would probably be classed as an inner-city school; the difference between Birkenhead School and BI was immense. I failed my Spanish O-level, my only exam failure! Ironically some thirty years later I married a Spanish speaker - I still can't speak Spanish well, although I can swear proficiently, cabron.
In the end I went off to the University of Leeds, had a great time - often at the neglect of studying hard - eventually emerging with a Ph.D. in Mathematical Logic. Not bad for a comprehensive school kid! I have been fortunate to work in research ever since and still have a love of science and mathematics. I have never been in touch with any of my teachers since leaving school, which I now regret.
Part of LTM's advice to me was that I should seek a person to work closely with academically. Unfortunately that never really happened, although I have shared many publications and patents with other people.
I wonder what LTM would make of me now living in the USA - 'okay' is okay with me, but am critical of newer Americanisms such as 'signage’, and poor English and spelling - thank God for spell-checkers! As for scientists and non-scientists alike, I try to get them to understand what science is really about. Thank you Mr. Malcolm, just sorry I could not tell you in person of your lasting influence and my gratitude.