Malcolm Craig – April 1957 Opening a Singing Studio.

There was nothing more to be done. We had sung at concerts, taken roles in musicals, appeared in film adverts, and made some radio broadcasts. If wealth could have been measured by the number of times our photos appeared in the society pages of the local newspapers, we would have been the richest people in Jo’burg! The truth was that we really couldn’t live on what we were earning. The money we had managed to bring to South Africa together with what we had left in a bank before we returned to England after our tour was fast disappearing. We had to cast our net wider in order to continue living with a certain degree of comfort. Reluctantly, we realised we had no alternative but to start teaching singing, certainly the last thing I had ever wanted to do.

I had been blessed with a good voice and had never needed to work very hard in order to improve it. To tell the truth, I had absolutely no idea how to teach other people to sing. On the other hand, Marina had worked diligently to improve her small voice and rid herself of a range of vocal faults. She was always telling me that things had come far too easily to me, while things had been difficult for her. Despite all her hard work, her voice remained average in comparison to mine. That might sound very big-headed, but it was no more than the truth.

For a very reasonable rental, we found a charming, airy studio on the eighth floor of a building in central Johannesburg. From the balcony leading off the studio we had a fine view of the hustle and bustle of the city. Across the road from the studio we had competition from three little boys who appeared every morning to play Kwela music on a penny whistle, guitar, and a bass made of a tea chest with strings attached to it. We moved our Chappell Grand piano, a fine Wilton carpet and a full length mirror into the studio. With the aid of a fitted cover and matching cushions Marina managed to turn a rather pedestrian divan into a fashionable studio couch. There were roomy shelves at one end of the room so we brought all our music in and filled the empty shelves with our large collection of songs and scores. Marina had a glass panel erected above the studio couch and we placed numerous photos of ourselves in various shows and with some of our famous colleagues from our days in the UK behind it. We had a phone connected in the tiny room leading off the studio which we grandly called “the office”, bought a smart leather-covered appointment book, put several classified advertisements in the local newspapers advertising our services, and waited for a rush of prospective pupils to phone for an audition and put in an appearance.

We even held a studio-warming cocktail party one evening in anticipation of the arrival of our prospective students. All the well-known musical and theatrical folk we had met attended the get together, along with friends we had made since our arrival in Johannesburg. Some genuinely wished us well in our new venture, while others attended out of mere curiosity to see how we had arranged our studio, and perhaps hoping that our latest venture would fall flat very soon.

“It’s very charming,” said one of the local singers who ran a large and successful teaching practice in the city, styling herself as Madame Ricardo. I sensed a “but” was to follow, and I was right. “But where are all your music diplomas and degrees? You should put up all your qualification certificates on the wall. Even though you are famous compared with the rest of us poor locals, parents usually like to see that you have letters after your name before they hand out their money to you every month. I have one wall of my studio simply plastered with all my music diplomas – you must come up and see it one day.”

Marina and I smiled at Madame Ricardo and murmured non-commitally. Truth to tell, neither of us had a diploma or a degree to our names! Despite the lack of these paper qualifications we had enjoyed careers these locals could only dream about. Had Madame Ricardo, with her wall plastered with all her musical qualifications, ever sung in the Albert Hall or at Drury Lane? Having letters after her name did not automatically mean that she was a capable performer.

“And of course, you must join the South African Society of Music Teachers,” Madame Ricardo continued. “I’ll be very happy to nominate you for membership. All you have to do is fill out a form listing all your qualifications and your teaching experience.”

We moved on to greet our other guests without giving her the satisfaction of admitting to our lack of professional qualifications. Presumably the Society of Music Teachers would turn us down flat as we had neither qualifications nor any teaching experience! Not for the first time, I wondered if I was living in the middle of a terrible nightmare from which I might never wake up!

We had a number of curious inquiries from our classified advert, but few followed up their initial enquiry when we told them the fee we were asking. We had assumed that we would charge the same sort of fee we had heard quoted before we left London. One of my colleagues had retired from the concert platform and was running a successful and busy teaching studio from his home in Highgate. Before we left the UK he had told us what he charged for lessons. We had reckoned on charging the same in Johannesburg, but we had not bothered to ask the local teachers with all those impressive letters after their name, what the average local fee was. Before we even had a chance to gain experience in teaching, we had effectively priced ourselves out of the local market.




Gingerly Heather Craig nibbled on the thin slice of dry toast and drained her cup of weak black tea. The morning sickness was getting worse and she didn’t know if she could hide her pregnant state from Malcolm for much longer. She was relieved that she had an appointment with her gynaecologist that morning, and not a moment too soon.

Mrs Hubbard bustled into the dining room with the first post. Malcolm’s agent had forwarded the week’s fan mail, so she put the pile of letters at Malcolm’s place. The pile was not quite as high as it had been four or five years earlier, but it was still sizeable. In contrast, Heather received a few accounts and the weekly letter from her mother. Heather noticed that the month’s copy of Gramophone had arrived, probably containing the anticipated review of Malcolm’s first long-playing record.

Heather decided to read the review before Malcolm came down for breakfast. He was due at the recording studios later that morning for his regular recording session. She had difficulty in locating the review as it was much shorter than she had anticipated. As she read the brief review her nausea returned, this time brought on by shock and dismay. One sentence stood out above all the others.

“Only Malcolm Craig’s most ardent fans will enjoy this innocuous collection of highly forgettable songs.”

Heather heard Malcolm’s footsteps on the staircase and hurriedly hid the periodical under her chair. This spiteful piece was the last thing he needed to see before his recording session and the Watford concert that evening.

“You’re up early, darling,” he remarked as he planted a kiss on the top of her blonde head. “Have another cup of tea and keep me company while I eat.”

Malcolm poured some strong tea into her cup, but she knew she would not be able to take a sip of it.

Malcolm glanced perfunctorily through his post.

“No sign of the Gramophone?” he asked casually.

“Perhaps it’ll come by the second post.” Heather tried to sound light and cheerful, willing her warring stomach to settle down. She bent down and somehow managed to hide the offending periodical under her red dressing gown, before fleeing from the table. Just in time she managed to reach the privacy of the bathroom before nausea overwhelmed her completely. Malcolm would have to wait until tomorrow before he faced some unpleasant reading.


It was March 1951 and Malcolm Craig’s recording contract was due for renewal. The ritual was always the same. Each year, for the last twenty years, Frank Downey, the managing director of the famous BRG recording studio in Wigmore Street, would arrive before the session and invite Malcolm into his office to sign the new contract when he had finished his work. The business concluded, Downey would offer him a tot of his excellent single malt whisky.

“How are you, Malcolm?” Frank Downey greeted Malcolm Craig effusively. “Would you mind calling into my office after your recording session? I have some business to discuss with you.”

Malcolm Craig recorded the eight selected songs in less than three hours. He was an excellent sight-reader, so all he needed was a brief run through with the eminent accompanist, George Manning, before he was ready to lay the cake on the table.

He listened to the takes with his producer and George Manning, then, satisfied with the morning’s work, made his way up to Frank Downey’s sumptuous office to find the gentleman already hovering at the door ready to greet him.

Downey ushered Malcolm to the plush leather chair facing his large oak desk. Usually the contract was lying on the desk waiting for him, a gold Schaeffer pen near at hand, ready for him to sign on the dotted line. But today the desk was bare and Malcolm speculated about the empty desk and why Downey appeared so fidgety and uncomfortable.

“Is the contract late?” Malcolm asked, trying not to show concern.

“That’s what I wanted to discuss with you, Malcolm,” Frank began. “What with the advent of the LP and changes in people’s taste since the war, your records are just not selling the way they used to.”

Downey watched Malcolm’s rugged face slowly lose its colour. He really had not reckoned on the man passing out on him.

Despite his pallor, Malcolm spoke in measured tones.

“Frank, I’ve known you too long to listen to a lot of soft soap. Are you telling me you’re not renewing my contract?”

“I’m so sorry, Malcolm. I fought against it of course, but I was outvoted.”

As though to console Malcolm, he added brightly, “You’re not the only one to suffer – we’re not renewing the contracts of many of our gifted pre-war artistes. They’re all still in good voice, but there’s no demand for them these days. I’m really sorry.”

Malcolm’s legs were trembling. Despite being nearly fifty, and one of Britain’s’ greatest and most versatile tenors, he was close to tears. He was still in the prime of his vocal life, and here he was being discharged like an indolent office boy. He was due to sing at a concert in Watford that evening. After this blow he would need all his professional expertise to carry the engagement off successfully.

He rose to his feet, willing himself to leave with dignity before he broke down.

“There’s nothing more to be said then,” he said baldly. “No doubt you’ll send any money owing to my agent.”

“Please don’t leave like this, Malcolm! Have a whisky with me for old time’s sake,” pleaded Downey.

What was there left to discuss now that he had no contract binding him to the company? The whisky would choke him. He turned on his heel and walked out of the office, and left the building without a word of farewell to anyone. He gained the privacy of his Wolseley, lit a forbidden Capstan and drew on it deeply. Concert and radio dates had been falling off a bit lately, but he and Heather relied on the steady income from his recordings to keep them in comfort. What was he to tell her?

He made his way to his comfortable home in Hampstead, aware that he would probably never drive the same route again. He wondered whether his voice, the splendid gift he had taken for granted since childhood, could be failing him. But that couldn’t be right. He had just heard the recordings he had made that very day. His voice sounded better than ever. As he edged the big car slowly up the driveway, he glimpsed Heather, in tiny pink shorts and a bright seersucker top, sunbathing on a deck chair near the rose bower.

He had met Heather in a concert party in Margate, a few years after he had signed his first record contract, a gorgeous blonde of twenty, with sea green eyes and a complexion like a ripe peach. Her stunning looks and charm excused the fact that her voice, though pretty and sweet, was merely run of the mill. She had managed to make a stage career for herself because of her looks and charming personality.

They had fallen in love, and spent every free moment together, mingling with the holidaymakers licking cornets, while their children were having special treats seated on the staid donkeys on the beach. The light-hearted atmosphere on the seafront contrasted with their seaside lodgings where they were surrounded by elderly corseted widows in the dining room and the lounge.

They were married at the end of the season and Heather was only too happy to stop attending audition calls to take on her new role as Malcolm’s dutiful and loving wife. In those heady days he was in great demand for West End musicals, oratorios, Masonic Concerts, recording and broadcasting for the BBC, Radio Luxembourg and Radio Normandy.

Malcolm’s successful singing career gave them all the luxuries of life, but their mutual desire for children remained unfulfilled. Heather had twice fallen pregnant, but had miscarried both times. They eventually accepted that they would be childless and transferred their thwarted parental instincts to their two Scotties, Whisky and Soda.

Malcolm emerged from his reverie and watched Heather as she lounged, half-asleep in the sun without a care in the world. The two dogs had been cavorting around the garden, always with half an eye on their beloved mistress, but now they bounded in his direction to greet him with an effusion he found difficult to reciprocate that day.


Heather had kept her appointment with her gynaecologist. Dr Urquhart, an elderly Scot, did a thorough unhurried examination to which Heather submitted with stoicism. She had been through such inspections before to no avail. At the age of forty she had not held out very great optimism that she could have a child at such an advanced stage of life.

“I can safely say your pregnancy is going smoothly, Mrs Craig,” he said with a rare smile. “You’ll have to take things easy for you are not young as far as child-bearing is concerned and you have had two problem pregnancies before, but if you look after yourself I see no reason why you shouldn’t carry this infant to full term.”



Heather had seen Malcolm’s car at last and hurried to him, eager to kiss him and tell him her glad news right away, but her elation evaporated at the sight of his haggard face.

“Did you sign your new contract?” she asked uncertainly, knowing before he spoke that all was far from well.

“There is no new contract,” Malcolm murmured under his breath. “I’m finished at BRG. I’m sorry, darling.”

Heather took his hand in hers, hurt to see her usually cheerful uncomplicated husband so downcast.

“It doesn’t make sense. You’ve never sounded better. Did Frank give you an explanation? There must be a mistake.”

“They’re getting rid of a lot of us pre-war singers because public tastes have changed. The British public prefers crooners these days. I fear my days as a singer are numbered.”

“Nonsense! As soon as other companies hear you’re free they’ll jump at you,” said Heather hopefully.

“I don’t think so,” replied Malcolm dejectedly. “I’m getting an old man.”

“Rubbish!” she said. “You’re not even fifty. You have years ahead of you as a singer.”

“I’m too upset to talk about it. I still have to get through that concert in Watford tonight, though I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to do so.”

Her heart went out to him in his misery. She decided to postpone her news until after the concert. The copy of the Gramophone was under her side of the mattress. It would be a while before she would produce it. He didn’t need another knock for a while.

Malcolm bathed and changed, then sat on his favourite chair in the drawing room, absentmindedly stroking one of the Scotties, idly regarding the Spanish cabinet, the Chappell grand piano, the Wilton carpets, and the fine antiques, all the beautiful possessions he and Heather had acquired from the money he had earned over the years. How could they afford to go on living like this now his career was on the wane?

He was surprised to see Heather emerge in her low-cut red evening gown – always his favourite – with the diamond necklace he had given her for her last birthday gleaming at her throat.

“‘You take my breath away Heather,” he remarked with a gentle smile. “I didn’t know you were going out this evening.”

“I’m going out with you to your concert,” she replied. “It’s a long time since I heard you singing in public. You‘re still the greatest tenor in Britain whether you have that contract or not.”

He knew she was being kind but he was comforted by her presence on the trip to Watford. The concert was sold out, and a group of ardent fans was waiting for him at the stage door of The Playhouse.

Thousands admired his voice, but this small coterie of fans bought all his records, collected his press cuttings, and travelled to all his concerts up and down the UK if they had money to spare. Over the years, he had developed a personal relationship with them and he and Heather sent them Christmas cards, and sometimes complimentary tickets for one or other of his appearances.

Singing had certainly given him an insight into vagaries of human nature he would never have experienced had he been voiceless and working in the family butchery alongside his two older brothers.

Heather watched him brace his shoulders to face his fans with good grace. Although it was the last thing she felt like doing, she smiled as she wafted quickly through the crowd, knowing it was Malcolm they really wanted to talk to.

“Hello, Geraldine. Don’t tell me you’ve come all the way from Manchester just for tonight. David and Veronica – lovely to see you again.”

Malcolm was always genuinely pleased to greet his loyal fans. Tonight especially it cheered him to see their friendly faces glowing with pleasure at his kind words.

“We couldn’t believe that review in the Gramophone,” said Veronica. “I’ve already written to the editor to say that it was a disgraceful criticism. The reviewer ought to offer you an apology.”

“The review? You mean the review of my LP record?”

For the second time that day, Malcolm’s face lost all its colour.

“Was it very bad?” he asked in a small voice.

“Quite uncalled for,” said David, as the others nodded their agreement. “But don’t you worry, Malcolm. We think you’re still the greatest tenor in the world – never mind just in Britain. We’ll all be buying your LP.”

Malcolm tried to smile.

“I hope you enjoy the concert. I’ll probably see you all afterwards. God bless you for being here tonight.”

He went to the Green Room to warm up with George Manning, who had played for him at BRG earlier that day, and had booked him for tonight’s concert.

“I’m so sorry about the contract, Malcolm,” George said. “Frank was distressed when you left so suddenly.”

“Not half as distressed as me!” replied Malcolm dryly.

He caught a glimpse of his beloved Heather sitting in the prompt corner and raised his hand to her. Even without the record contract and news of the bad notice in the Gramophone, he was still the luckiest man alive to have such a beautiful and loving wife. As he walked onto the stage, the audience rose to cheer him before he had even sung a note. He was engulfed in the warmth of their sincere affection.

He raised his hand and immediately they sat down, waiting in silence for the recital to begin. George began playing the opening bars of Schubert’s To Music. Malcolm’s earlier ordeal had put him on his mettle. He sang better than he had ever done before. They were stamping for him at the end and he sang several encores, finishing with I leave my heart in an English Garden from Dear Miss Phoebe by Harry Parr-Davies. The show had opened at the Phoenix Theatre the year before and was still running.

Although his mood had lifted, he dreaded the mayoral reception, but it was in his honour so it would be bad manners to disappoint the guests and go straight home as he longed to do.

When he and Heather entered the reception, the guests applauded, although most of them were not music lovers, but the well-heeled influential great and good of Watford. To Malcolm’s surprise, he saw George, already settled with his whisky and soda, chatting easily to Frank and Lucille Downey. He thought he had seen the last of Frank for a long time and he certainly didn’t want any more of him now, but Frank was bounding towards him relentlessly.

“I’ve never heard you sing better,” he told Malcolm effusively.

“So why is my contract not being renewed?” enquired Malcolm.

“We may still be able to offer you a bit of work on an ad hoc basis here and there, with all the music we’ll be putting on to the LP format. That’s what I had wanted to tell you before you rushed off this morning. After all, aren’t you one of the most versatile tenors in Britain today?”

Frank Downey was relieved to see that Malcolm was slightly mollified by his remark, although he said nothing.

Heather and Malcolm left the party early. He longed to shut out the world of fans, admirers, detractors, and record producers, without giving a thought to singing. He wanted to relax with Heather in his arms.

When they were in bed, Heather said, “I have some news, but it might not be as welcome as I thought it would be when I saw Dr Urquhart.”

“You’re not ill?”

Malcolm realised that the cancelled record contract was nothing in the scheme of things compared with his darling Heather being in poor health. Now that he looked at her properly, she did look rather pale and drawn.

“I’m pregnant, darling. I have been for a few months but I thought I was starting the menopause early so I didn’t say anything until I saw Dr Urquhart today. He seems to think I’m over the danger period, but I’ll have to take things very easy for the rest of my pregnancy.”

Malcolm took Heather gently in his arms and kissed her, all thoughts of the lost record contract and the bad review forgotten.

“I’ll make sure you take things easy, darling,” he said. “The contract pales into insignificance when I think of holding our baby in my arms at last.”

It had been a funny old day with highs and lows as wide as his extraordinary singing range. He was glad it had ended on a high, he thought, as he lay close to Heather.

Towards the end of 1951, he signed a lucrative record contract with Mellotone Records. A week later Heather gave birth to their adorable little boy.

Fiona Compton. Updated 8 September 2021.


Sally Roos waited restlessly in the line of contestants auditioning for the pop singing competition. Only ten more to go and then it would be her turn. Nobody had made it to the next round for quite a while. She watched the live broadcast of proceedings in the audition room on the giant TV screen: the judges were not at all forthcoming, sometimes even downright rude, making no allowances for the nerves of the contestants. Many were told bluntly, ‘You can’t sing. Promise me you’ll never sing again.’

Sally could see that in many cases they were right, but it was mean to deflate people’s egos so completely. Singing is such an integral part of a person, and it takes courage to sing in public, only to be callously ridiculed. Each failed contestants did a doleful walk of shame, trailing past the waiting hopefuls to the exit door. Many were tearful at having their dreams and self-confidence shattered so abruptly; others were angry and voluble, promising to show everyone that they could still be stars regardless of the flash opinions of the four powers-that-be. But most of the rejects were simply numb from their ordeal, longing for the comfort of home where they could pretend the lowering experience was a nightmare that had never happened. After the excitement of preparing for the competition, the only thing they had to look forward to was that their failed audition would be repeated over and over on TV, reinforcing the debilitating experience in their own mind and the collective mind of the nation.

Worse still, for those still waiting, were the whoops of delight from the few who were given the nod to the following round. Everyone cheered the victors with seemingly unselfish delight, although each one knew that another person through meant there was one less place for them.

Despite the disastrous audition process, most of the crowd were still full of hope. Sally was amazed at the confidence of some of the contestants, who thought nothing of singing in front of everyone at the top of their voices. She wondered whether being a complete extrovert was a prerequisite to becoming a pop star. Some could sing, but many others, equally confident, should never have been there in the first place.

Sally was wearing jeans and an emerald green top to match her eyes and complement her auburn hair and translucent skin but she realised that her mode of dress was conservative in comparison with the girls with pink hair, bare midriffs, low necklines and tight jeans or micro mini-skirts.

Sally had been studying piano since she was small, and classical singing for the last three years. Although Sally loved classical singing and had a pleasing soprano voice, she enjoyed pop music and could party with the best of them. She was doing music for matric, and only three weeks ago she had sung the final ABRSM singing exam. Her teacher, Barbara Boucher had been pleased with her performance and thought she would do well. But her schoolmates egged her on to sing the pop songs of the day. She knew she could do passable imitations of Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Cher or Britney Spears, in voices quite distant from her own natural soprano. They all thought she was great and encouraged her to enter the pop competition.

She had decided to sing Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’, which had certainly been a popular song in its day, and Charlotte Church had sung it in the film she had made recently. It had jazzy rhythms and she could use her own voice rather than do an imitation of a pop star.

On one side of her was a confident girl with synthetic red hair, dangly earrings, and full stage make-up, her skimpy sequined top and a pink mini skirt barely covering her neat behind. Her shapely legs were clad in fishnet tights and she was frozen on this cold morning. But her spirits were warm and hopeful.

‘I’m ready for this,’ Lauren told Sally, as she rubbed her cold hands together. ‘It’s been my dream since I was a little girl to be a pop diva. I was born to be the new pop idol of South Africa. After that I’ll take on the world.’

Sally was impressed at her new pal’s supreme confidence. She wished she felt as positive about her own pop singing ability, but she knew she was a bit of a sham. How could a classical singer expect to become a pop star overnight? She wasn’t even sure she wanted to be one. She was certainly not as hungry for such a title as she was meant to be.

The boy on her other side was wearing a bright orange woolly hat. Unlike Lauren, he was nervous and twitchy. Periodically he had been up and down to visit the gents, which was no wonder, as apart from his nerves playing havoc with his bladder, he was drinking copious amounts of water from a large bottle.
‘My mouth is so dry,’ Sizwe told her. I’ll never be able to sing properly when I get in there. The judges don’t seem to know what they want. I’ve only just started with a voice trainer. She says I just have to get my voice more mature, and then there’ll be no stopping me. But I’ve only had lessons for three months. Maybe I’m not ready for this. Who’s your voice trainer?’

Voice trainer reminded Sally of a dog trainer. She had a singing teacher, which she presumed was the same thing as a voice trainer, just in different parlance.

Suddenly it was her turn. Lauren had shrieked her way through a Whitney Houston hit with the appropriate accent and ornamentation. She had been suitably berated for imitating her idol and emerged deflated from the audition room, leaving without a word.

Sally wondered what she herself was doing here. At least at the classical music exam she had been well prepared and confident that the examiner, a music professor from the Royal Academy, worked according to the rigorous standards set by the examining board. He had been polite and had not made her aware of his feelings – approving or disapproving – of her singing. The examiner would have written his report with due care. Whatever she achieved in that exam would be her true worth as a singer and musician.

This competition was simply entertainment for a TV audience of couch potatoes, slopping on their sofas, swilling beer, smoking fags, and munching chips and chocolates. A singing competition made a change from Rugby, ‘Big Brother’ or ‘The Weakest Link’. The potatoes could mock the bad singers and laugh at the antics of the cocky know-it-all judges, who were playing up to the cameras by being rude and dismissive to contestants. Even at a cut throat theatrical audition, the director was never rude to those auditioning.

It was too late to leave. She had been called to say a few words to the energetic presenter before her ordeal. Now she was going into this audition room where fairness and politeness were not to be expected from those in authority. Some good singers had been rejected, while poor ones had gone through to the next round. Sally did not rate her chances highly.

‘Just enjoy yourself,’ said the hearty presenter. ‘Show them what you can do, girl!’

Sally walked into the vast audition room, feeling cold, and nervous despite herself. After the preliminaries, she launched into ‘Summertime’. She had more or less found the right key for her unaccompanied performance. Eventually she was aware of a peremptory hand waving to her to stop in the middle of a phrase.

‘You have a good voice,’ admitted the female judge grudgingly. ‘You can sing.’

She was relieved to hear that much.

‘But you’re too operatic,’ said the next one. ‘And that’s not a pop song. Maybe you could make it in musicals, but not pop.’

‘You sing too high,’ said the third judge. ‘You’re not a pop singer. You should stick to opera.’

‘It’s a ‘no’,’ growled the chief judge, yawning and bored.

Sally felt quite dispirited to be turned down so uniformly. At least they hadn’t told her to stop singing under any circumstances. In her case, the judges were right. She wasn’t a pop singer. She didn’t long to be the second Madonna. She had only entered the competition because her mates had persuaded her to do so. Classical singing was far more satisfying and challenging, and what she had been trained to do. She would stick to it in future.

As she gathered up her belongings, she could see Sizwe on the TV screen, adopting a pseudo-confident stance to face the judges, still clutching his water bottle. She wondered what he would do with it while he was singing. Perhaps he would pretend it was a microphone, or the object of his serenade.

They wasted no time with him. He managed to stumble through a few lines of his song. She could hear the judges’ belligerent voices following her as she did the walk of shame.

‘Why are you wasting our time?’ the cocky young judge asked indignantly. ‘You can’t believe you can sing?’

‘And why do you sing in that false accent when you’re a home boy from Soweto, Bru?’ asked another.

‘Don’t even sing in the shower,’ said the third.

‘It’s a no,’ the other mumbled, making no attempt to hide his giggles at the boy’s egregious performance.

Sally was glad she didn’t have to see the crushed expression on Sizwe’s face when he emerged from the audition room. Her boyfriend, Pierre, squeezed her hand sympathetically and led her to his waiting car.

‘The judges don’t know what they’re talking about, Sally. You were the best singer there!’

‘But not a pop singer. They’re right about that.’

One look at her pale tired face told her parents that she hadn’t made it through to the next round. Her mother made everyone a strong cup of tea and brought out her special homemade ginger bread, still warm from the oven. No doubt, she had made it as a treat to celebrate if Sally had gone through to the second round. Now it was comfort food, complete with melting butter.

‘The results from the Board arrived,’ said Mrs Roos casually. ‘Can you face them after that awful audition? I’ll save them till tomorrow if you like.’

‘No, Mum. Where’s the envelope?’

Some colour reappeared in Sally’s face. If she was a flop as a pop singer, perhaps she had fared better in the classical singing exam. She opened the envelope and glanced through the examiner’s report, looking for the all-important mark.

‘It’s Honours!’ she cried. ‘I’ve never had such a high mark for an exam before. At least I’ve managed to do something right.’

Enclosed with the results was a letter asking her to sing at a gala concert for high scorers. There was even a chance she might qualify for a scholarship to one of the British music academies as a result of her high marks.

Pop singing was forgotten as she phoned her singing teacher excitedly to tell her the good news. They planned some extra lessons to prepare for the forthcoming Concert at the Linder Auditorium, where there would be no electronic instruments, no microphones or screaming teenagers in sight, just the grand piano, the accompanist, the singer and a quiet appreciative audience.

Sally would not forget this harrowing day in a hurry. Her musical journey might lead her along a different path to the one followed by pop singers. She might not be destined to be a pop idol, but singing would still play a large part in her life. She could not wait to begin.

Fiona Compton. 8 September 2021.


My name is Jean Collen and I have published a number of non-fiction books about the famous British duettists, Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, at: websterboothanneziegler.wordpress.com

Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler.

Fiona Compton is the pen name I use for my fiction writing. I have published 6 fiction books on Lulu.com. All these books – paperbacks and e-books – may be seen at: FIONA’S STORE – FICTION WITH A MUSICAL THEME FIONA’S STORE – FICTION WITH A MUSICAL THEME

Fiona Compton – Fiction.

My first novel was I Can’t Forget You, written in 1977 and revised and published in 2010.

Apr 16, 2015 This review was included by PEARL HARRIS when the book was first published on Aug 21, 2010

Once I started reading Fiona Compton’s romantic novel, I could not put it down. I soon became involved in the emotions and events of the main characters’ lives. Derek Bailey attracts females and trouble wherever he goes, due to his charisma and talent. How the women in his life deal with subsequent events must touch a chord in the heart of every female reader who has ever fallen prey to the charms of a philanderer. The writing style is flowing and the dialogue authentic. Place descriptions set the scene firmly in 20th-century Britain. I particularly enjoyed the Scottish dialect (the author having been born in Scotland, this too is genuine!)and the descriptions of daily life in London. This is no run-of-the-mill romantic novel. Due to the author’s musical knowledge, “I can’t forget you” has a depth and authenticity lacking in most novels of this genre. You will not want to put this book down before discovering what the final outcome of the hero’s romantic entanglements is to be.

At the same time, I published a collection of short stories – The Song is Ended and Other Stories. 

I am most grateful to mjpotenza and Pearl Harris for taking the trouble to write reviews for various books.

Here are two reviews:

By mjpotenza
Any fan of short stories will enjoy this selection of entertaining tales by Fiona Compton. The author presents women’s viewpoints, emotions, and experiences accurately and uniquely. The women characters are interesting, complex, and sympathetic (the men are mostly cads). One wonders how much is autobiographical. The writing is descriptive and precise. The style flows nicely, making for easy and pleasant reading. The Wedding Singer,Miss Stratton Disappears, and The Sunset Gleams, to name a few, all have the right combination of humour and sadness. In short, these well written stories are very enjoyable.

By Pearl Harris
Each short story in this collection is refreshingly different and will touch a chord in the heart of most female readers. All the characters are masterfully and realistically portrayed. Many of the incidents depicted are those which affect all women at various times in their lives and with which the reader can readily empathise. Some bring a chuckle and a feeling of optimism, others a feeling of sadness. All left a lasting impression on me. Fiona Compton’s voice is a charming mix, evidence of her Scottish, South African and musical roots. These stories particularly appeal to me as an expatriate South African, as many of them richly evoke the South African lifestyle. However, all are timeless in their own right and certainly worth reading by both women and men, whatever their nationality.

I have published four novels in the Malcolm Craig series.The first novel in the series is called Just the Echo of a Sigh
It was published at the end of 2013.

Oct 12, 2015
I thoroughly enjoyed “Just the Echo of a Sigh” – the first in a series about famous English tenor, Malcolm Craig, and his complicated love life. Obviously written by an author with extensive musical knowledge, the novel transports the reader back to the era in Britain before World War II, with rare glimpses into the lifestyle of those times. Ms. Compton has a rare gift – she brings her characters to life through their dialogue and her fine description. I look forward to reading many more of her novels.

The second novel in this series about Malcolm Craig is called Faint Harmony

Oct 14, 2015 Having thoroughly enjoyed “Just the Echo of a Sigh” – the first in this series by Fiona Compton – I could not put “Faint Harmony” down until the last line. Ms. Compton’s characters are living and breathing – and her knowledge of the musical scene in Britain after the beginning of World War 2 lends authenticity to the description of her characters and of those times. I can highly recommend all 3 novels in this series to readers, with interests especially in music, Britain, South Africa and the not always idyllic lives of the rich and famous.by Pearl Harris

I published my third book in the Malcolm Craig series towards the end of August of 2015. It is called Love Set to Music

Jan 13, 2016
Fiona Compton has pointed out that the novels in the Malcolm Craig series are partly novels with a key and partly biographical/autobiographical novels. She has written these books under a pen name, presumably because she did not want to write the story as rather sensational fact, but preferred to write it as a mixture of fact interspersed with fiction. Possibly she wrote the Malcolm Craig series in this way so that she would not hurt or embarrass family and friends of the protagonists. I found “Love Set to Music” most interesting. I imagine that the character of Kate Kyle is Fiona Compton herself, thinly disguised. Neither Kate Kyle nor Malcolm Craig are covered in glory and some might consider their spring/winter relationship unseemly even over fifty years later. They obviously felt deeply for one another and Malcolm Craig’s wife, Marina Dunbar, was not without blame. I look forward to reading the final book in the series and sincerely hope that it will reach a satisfactory conclusion otherwise the emotion generated by the affair which changed the life of Kate Kyle/Fiona Compton radically without bringing her lasting happiness would have been a meaningless waste of time.
by Jean Collen

I highly recommend all 3 novels in this series by Fiona Compton. In her easy flowing style, the author draws the reader into the lives of the various characters and the environment in which their destinies cross. I could empathise with the emotions experienced by the vulnerable young Kate and did not stop reading until the last line. I await the 4th novel in this series….. Review by Pearl Harris.

A lovely comment about the Malcolm Craig series from Suzanne West.

This is the fourth and final novel in the Malcolm Craig series. The stormy marriage of Malcolm Craig and his wife, Marina Dunbar eventually reaches the point of no return. They have to decide whether to remain married for the sake of their “sweethearts of song” image in the eyes of the public, or go their separate ways at last. In 1965 Kate Kyle, the young woman who is the object of Malcolm’s attentions, is so distressed and hurt at the course of events that she decides that the only course open to her is to leave the country and try to make a new life for herself in the United Kingdom.

Jan 13, 2016 I read the 4th in this series without being able to stop until the very last line. Fiona Compton traces the thoughts and emotions of her various characters realistically and with special insight. Seeing the story unfold from the different viewpoints makes fascinating reading. I highly recommend this competent novelist and hope to see more of her writing in future. Review by Pearl Harris.

All my books are available in paperback and as ebooks. lulu.com/spotlight/fiona_compton

Fiona Compton


Noel Coward’s Diaries edited by Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley

I have been reading 
The Noel Coward Diaries edited by Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley  (1982) and am nearly at the end of this large volume of over 650 pages. The diaries extend from 1941 (several years before my birth) to 1969 when Noel Coward was about to be knighted.
Cole Lesley and Noel Coward.

I found this a fascinating book which gave a clear view into Noel Coward’s busy and successful life. I dare say that he might have had a fair inkling that these diaries would be published after his death, but despite this, he did not pull any punches in what he said about people he met;  plays, films, concerts and operas he attended; and books he read.

He was a hard worker. He took roles in films and plays, performed in cabaret, and was always busy writing a new play or novel. He travelled extensively, and although he had many famous friends in theatre and royal circles, his inner circle of intimate friends was small and he remained loyal to them throughout his life – Cole Lesley, Graham Payne and Lorn Lorraine. The last-mentioned was his secretary and manager from 1924 until her death.

By the time his diary reached the nineteen-sixties his health was deteriorating. He was sad that Graham Payn was not making a success of his stage career and wrote a touching entry about Graham on 24 November 1966, “He has a loving and loyal heart and no future anywhere but with me… ”

I saw Noel Coward in his last West End performance in 1966 – Shadows of the Evening and Come into the Garden, Maud at the Queen’s Theatre. His co-stars were Irene Worth and Lilli Palmer. Apparently Irene Worth could do no wrong, while Lilli Palmer presented him with numerous irritating problems during the run of the play. I will always remember seeing a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce arriving at the stage door to fetch Noel Coward after his performance. He waved graciously at the hoi polloi as the car drove off.

Noel Coward died in 1973. On the day of his death, British tenor, Webster Booth was in East London directing The Mikado. He and I were having tea and cream scones at Marina Glen that afternoon and spoke of him.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the inner workings of the theatre. Noel Coward’s diary is beautifully written and gives fascinating insights into the theatre,  the critics, and the vagaries of a number of famous performers, by a multi-talented performer, writer, and composer who certainly deserved the title of The Master.

Jean Collen 17 January 2019

A VERY PRIVATE EYE: An Autobiography in Diaries and Letters – BARBARA PYM

A Very Private Eye: The Diaries, Letters And Notebooks Of Barbara PymA Very Private Eye: The Diaries, Letters And Notebooks Of Barbara Pym by Barbara Pym

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have only recently discovered Barbara Pym’s novels so this book gave me an excellent insight into her life, her work and her friendships. I was very sorry that such an excellent writer should have had such a struggle to have her early novels published in the first place and after a steady acceptance of them in the fifties suddenly had An Unsuitable Attachment rejected by her regular publisher twelve years later. It took many years before she became a published author again although she continued to write her excellent novels in her spare time while working as assistant editor at the International African Institute.

It is very sad that her health deteriorated just at the time when her work was acknowledged by critics so that she only managed to enjoy a few years of the success she should have been enjoying during her entire literary career.

Jean Collen

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An Unsuitable AttachmentAn Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the first book by Barbara Pym that I have read. I enjoyed it very much and hope to read more of her novels in future. She wrote this book in 1963 and it was rejected by her publisher after a number of others had been published earlier. Naturally, she was extremely despondent that this book had been rejected.

Perhaps it was rejected because the characters are very reserved, class-conscious, repressed and old-fashioned for the average person living in the early 1960s. They do not take any risks: rock ‘n roll and sexual freedom are certainly not in their ambit.

She has been compared to Jane Austen although I think more happens in Jane Austen’s novels than in Barbara Pym’s. The height of excitement is a communal trip to Rome with a small group of fellow parishioners who are all regular churchgoers at St Basil’s in North-West London. Moments of dry humour give light relief to the tedium of the novel and the banality of the lives of the upper-middle-class, churchgoing characters. Despite its limitations, I enjoyed the book which is beautifully written and look forward to reading more novels by Barbara Pym.

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The Other Side of the Street (Lavender Road #5)The Other Side of the Street by Helen Carey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is a long time since I have enjoyed a book so much and the first time I have ever awarded five stars to any book I have read and reviewed on Goodreads The Other Side of the Street. I have read the previous novels in the Lavender Road series and think that this one is even better than the earlier ones. Helen Carey tells a spell-binding tale with the principal inhabitants of Lavender Road in 1944 clearly delineated. I am amazed at the close attention she pays to the timeline of WW2 as she intersperses events, both large and small, with her fascinating story. I unreservedly recommend this book and others in the series.

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School in Kensington (1957 – 1958)

I arrived in Johannesburg just in time for the last school term of 1957. There were no available places in the Form 2a class at Jeppe Girls’ High so I was placed in Form 2c with the History teacher, Miss Kay, as my class teacher.


Jeppe Girls High School, Kensington

It was not very pleasant being a new girl again and  arriving there in my Vaal High uniform. One of the girls in my new class asked why I hadn’t gone to Queen’s High as my uniform was almost identical to the Queen’s uniform. In those days, there was no such thing as off-the-shelf uniforms. There were a number of dressmakers in Kensington who made school uniforms to measure. I went to one of these dressmakers to be measured and my mother bought the required amount of material to have the uniform made. It took at least a week for the dressmaker to make my uniform, but this meant that I had to attend school in my Vaal High uniform for over a week.

It was difficult arriving at a new school at a time when everyone was preparing for the year end examinations for which they had been studying all year. Although the Vaal High and Jeppe were in the same province, the schools had different text books and seemed to have been studying entirely different material! I was a very conscientious child and it did not occur to me that the staff might make allowances for me in these exams. The late Margaret Masterton (Plevin), who became a life-long friend, was kind enough to lend me all her note books and I copied them out and spent all the hours heaven sent trying to prepare myself for the exams.

Vivian Vernon, one of the girls in my new class, took pity on me and asked me to sit with her and her friends at break. We sat in the quadrangle to the right of the school. Some older girls stood on the grass above the quadrangle and bullied me because I was new and not wearing the school uniform. They made life very unpleasant for me for a time.  Thankfully I have forgotten the names of the girls in the unpleasant little gang of bullies. Even all those years ago there were bullies who delighted in making the lives of those who were not part of the established in-crowd as miserable as possible.

There had never been compulsory sport at the Vaal High. I wasn’t very keen on sport at all. I wasn’t a fast runner and I didn’t enjoy gym either – other girls bounded over the beastly horse while I usually landed on top of the thing and had to do my best to struggle off it while the others giggled at my lack of prowess.

Despite all the upheaval of the sudden move, living in a boarding house, called the Valmeidere Hotel in Roberts Avenue, run by a Scottish couple called Murdoch until we found a suitable flat in Samad Court at the corner of Queens Street and Langermann Drive. Samad Court is still here, but the flats were turned into offices some years ago. Samad Court, Kensington as it is today

I managed to pass the exams quite adequately at the end of the term and was moved into Form 3a at the beginning of 1958. I was just getting used to the girls in 2c and now I had to face another entirely new class of clever girls the following year.

After my success in the Vaal High play I decided to audition for the school play at Jeppe in 1958, Lace on Her Petticoat by Aimee Stewart, produced by Miss Constance Cox, the French mistress. This was a Scottish play so my authentic accent, which I could turn on like a tap, stood me in good stead for it. I was given the male lead of Hamish Colquhoun. The cast was a small one so we all became very good friends during rehearsals and the run of the play: Margaret Malcolm, Gilian McDade, Elizabeth Moir, Elna Hansen, Winifred Smith and me. As far as I remember, Elizabeth was the only other Scot in the play. I don’t think many people realised that I had a Glasgow accent, while her accent originated in Aberdeen!

Lace on her petticoat19

“Lace on her Petticoat”

Gilian McDade became head girl in 1959 and emigrated to Canada after she left university, where she died of cancer a number of years go. Her mother was a stalwart of Children’s Theatre Productions and Gilian and I ushered at some of these productions and were allowed to watch the shows as a reward for our ushering efforts. Elizabeth Moir, as Elizabeth Rankin, became the first woman Dean of Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand and emigrated to New Zealand some time ago. I lost trace of the other girls in the cast, but it would be lovely to hear from anyone involved in that very happy production.

I remained at Jeppe Girls’ High from the last term of 1957 until the end of the second term in 1958 when we returned to the UK on board the Winchester Castle.

2011-10-02_214721Winchester Castle cut

Winchester Castle. 

We lived in Southampton for six months and I attended St Anne’s Convent for a term as no government grammar school would accept me as I had not done the 11 plus examination. I remember it as a period when I hardly uttered a word to anyone. Most of the subjects and syllabi were different, or more advanced than what I had been doing at Jeppe.

Towards the end of 1958 my parents decided to return to South Africa. We travelled on board the Pretoria Castle and arrived back in Johannesburg in time for me to return to Jeppe Girls’ High where I was admitted to Form 4 in time to do Matric at the end of 1960. 


Pretoria Castle.  2011-10-02_205924Pretoria Castle

Miss Cox was doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the school play for 1959 and I played a small part in that production as one of the workmen and understudied Bottom. Miss Hirsowitz, the formidable Maths mistress, insisted that I continue with Maths although I had realised when I was at St Anne’s that Maths would not be my strong point as I struggled to grasp trigonometry, not to mention physics and chemistry! At the end of 1959 I changed to Geography and spent the December holidays copying out more notes. The brief time spent in the UK had not done me any good as far as school work was concerned! Having been at 10 different schools during my school career I was lucky to pass Matric at the end of 1960. My parents seemed more settled in Johannesburg and bought a house in Juno Street, Kensington.  This terrible photo shows me with our lovely dog, Shandy outside the house.

Me standing on the steps with Shandy_

Jean Collen (nee Campbell) Updated 20 August 2021.

Hendrik van der Bijl Primary School

I was very pleased to hear from Margaret Nel van Heerden, the daughter of  the late Mr A.S. Nel, headmaster at the Hendrik Van der Bijl Primary School in Vanderbijlpark in the 1950s. Margaret is a distinguished visual artist and lives in Pretoria. Her article about the school reads as follows:Hendrik Van der Bijl Margaret Nel

Margaret Nel – aged 8.

I read your article Vanderbijl Park: Early Fifties with a great deal of interest. I am  Margaret Nel, daughter of the first principal of Hendrik  van der Bijl Primary School, Mr AS Nel, not a Hollander or “Dutchman” but a highly qualified South African (BA, MA, BEd, MEd, BCom, BEcon), very well regarded by both the staff, parents and pupils of the school. Both he and my mother came from conservative Nationalist Afrikaner farming families. Both were fully bilingual as am I.

My parents had spent some time in the UK  a few years before World War Two.  My father was an exchange teacher in London and was sent at short notice to different schools, mostly in very poor areas, when one of the teachers was absent for some reason. This experience gave him a better understanding of the backgrounds of his pupils whose parents left after the war and settled in South Africa hoping for a better future for their children. He always believed that any child, no matter what his culture,background, or creed could make a success of his/her life if given a fair chance.

Hendrik VanderBijl School (1953)

Hendrik VanderBijl School (1953)

Hendrik vdByl badge

I attended the Hendrik Van der Bijl School from 1951 to 1957. My mother, whose name was also Margaret, was my Grade 1 teacher before she went to Oliver Lodge Primary School and later to Vaal High School. The headmaster at the Vaal High was Mr Thomas whose two daughters, Brenda and Sally, attended Hendrik van der Bijl School during the same period.

I am also left handed but my mother’s attitude was that I lived in a right handed world and taught me to  sew, knit, crochet and cut with a pair of scissors with my right hand. I write with my left hand however and remember left handed children in the school class being made to sit next to each other at a desk to prevent accidentally bumping the hand doing the writing.

My father was a keen sportsman who coached school cricket, rugby and athletics in addition to his duties as head master.

Athletics Team

Athletics Team

Names in the Athletics' photo

Names in the Athletics’ photo

The names of many of the children mentioned in your articles are familiar to me. Bridget (Biddy) Lawrence was the younger daughter of my family’s GP who lived for some time opposite the headmaster’s house, which was located almost next to the school. One of my best friends was Stephanie (Steffie) Daniel, younger sister of Joy. Other children who were in your Standard 3 class and whose names you may recognize are Kathleen Richardson, Geraldine Black, twins Walter and Jackie McGuicken, Darryl Pile, older brother of my best friend Jennifer Pile, Michael Beisly, who died of leukemia in 1956, Merle Aronstam, whose family owned the local hotel and Jennifer Forbes.

Hendrik Van der Bijl Staff

English and Afrikaans staff at Hendrik Van der Bijl School (1952)

The end of year concerts that you mention were enormous fun even though at primary school level no auditions were really considered necessary.  Mothers and teachers made the costumes while my father,  who painted (rather badly, as he had no training) as a hobby, supervised the construction of the sets. The Standard 5 teacher Frances Bird, usually wrote the script if it was an English play, often a version of a fairy tale such as Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. Every year we would go to Johannesburg to a shop called Carnival Novelties to buy stage makeup and false hair for the wigs and beards. Needless to say, as the headmaster’s daughter, I only ever had a very small part and was never selected for a leading role as that would have been considered favouritism. After the final evening performance, all the staff members who were involved with the concert gathered at our house for refreshments while the children of the teachers played Blind Man’s Buff in the dark on my double bunk bed.

His Majesty’s Theatre, Commissioner Street.His Majesty's Theatre

We often visited Johannesburg as it was the only place where we could access book shops and go to the theatre. Ballet performances were always held at His Majesty’s Theatre, with the corps de ballet selected from local dancers while principals were always imported from Sadlers Wells. The library had a small theatre below ground level where Children’s Theatre productions were performed. A visit to Joubert Park and the National Art Museum near Park Station were always included on our visits. We didn’t have a car so traveled to Jo’burg in the red railway buses and stayed at the Victoria Hotel for the weekend. We often went to the East AfricanPavilion for curry or to the wonderful restaurant within Park Station where one could also see the massive Pierneef paintings.

Standard 2 class (1952)Hendrik Van der Bijl Standard 2dHendrik Van der Bijl Standard 2c

Children in Standard 2 (Afrikaans)

Children in Standard 2 (Afrikaans)

Standard 2 Afrikaans class (1952)

Standard 2 Afrikaans class (1952)


Names of Standard 3 Afrikaans class (1953)

Names of Standard 3 Afrikaans class (1953)

Standard 3 Afrikaans class (1953)

Standard 3 Afrikaans class (1953)

I have all the photographs of the school buildings and of the primary school class  included in your articles. As a year end gift for my father, his staff compiled a photograph album of all the classes, both English and Afrikaans of that particular year, as well as photographs and programs of the concert which was held every year at the Iscor Recreation Centre quite close to the school, and also of school sporting events. These albums, seven in total, dating from 1951 to 1957, with every child’s name inscribed under the class photograph, are very precious to me, as they are the only record of a very special period of my life. Many of the teachers, including Joyce McFadyen, whose daughter Dawn was one of my friends, Mrs Hicks, whose two children Muriel (who was in your class) and Edwin also attended the school, Mrs Erasmus, my Standard 3  teacher, and Irmgard Verhoop, the sewing teacher, who was German and whose husband Daan was Dutch, were all family friends as well as colleagues of my parents. The Verhoops were good people, their daughter Mareliese and I great friends although she was a year younger. Mrs Verhoop studied in Germany before the war and a great treat for us was when she took out all her beautifully sewn and embroidered handwork which she had completed for her exams.

Some members of staff off-duty!Hendrik Van der Bijl Staff off duty

Because we lived in a government house next to the school I was friends with children from various cultures living in the neighborhood, from very very poor Afrikaans children who were originally part of farming communities and whose parents couldn’t afford school clothes,  to immigrant children, and children who lived in more affluent suburbs, albeit many of these in very modest homes. Almost all their fathers were connected to Iscor in some way, either at management or blue collar level. My earliest friends were Afrikaans children who lived in small pre-war houses in the same street, while also being taken by my parents to visit the luxurious riverside home of Mrs Erasmus, the Standard 3 teacher whose husband was a manager at Iscor.

My parents were acutely aware of possible family problems affecting the immigrant children whose fathers were employed by Iscor and Vecor and who came from the UK, from war-torn Europe, and Hungarians  after the occupation of Hungary by Russia in 1956. There was no effective social network for these people to make up for their absent family members and friends.

The Nationalist Party came to power in the 1948 general election  and decided  to do away with parallel or dual medium schools. My parents together with the proactive  Parent-Teacher Association were appalled by this retrogressive move and in 1956/57 decided to take the State to court in an attempt to retain the status quo of the school so that  children would continue to be educated in the language of their parents’ choice while both language groups remained free to play together at break and practise sport together on the sports fields. The State lost the court case and there was much jubilation amongst many parents and teachers. The staunch Nationalists were extremely unhappy with this outcome so the State appealed the case in 1957. This time the verdict went in favour of the State and against the School. It was a sad day for everyone connected with the school, especially for my own family, as my parents were much loved and respected by the community. My father was forced to resign his post and we moved to Swaziland where he took up the post of headmaster at the Evelyn Baring High School. From 1958 the Hendrik Van der Bijl school became a single medium Afrikaans school with the vice headmaster, Mr Schroeder becoming headmaster of the school in my father’s place. When my mother died just over three years later, my father and I  returned to the Transvaal, where he taught Mathematics at a Pretoria high school and later at Jeppe Boys High, where Haldane Hofmeyer was headmaster.

Because of my parents’ public opposition to the policies of the Nationalist Party I was given a place at the then politically progressive girls’ high school in Johannesburg, Kingsmead College. The daughters of the political activist Braam Fischer, and Helen Suzman’s nieces attended Kingsmead, as did Nadine Gordimer’s daughters some years later. My father was amongst the few brave people during the era of Grand Apartheid who stood up for what he believed in despite possible dire consequences. Most people simply went along with the system essentially knowing that it was wrong.

Later, as a mark of protest towards the government of the day, we spoke only English at home and all my friends were English speaking children from the neighborhood as well as from the suburbs nearer the Vaal river. Having such a wide circle of friends was beneficial to me for I have an understanding and empathy for people from different backgrounds and can easily accommodate myself when meeting people from areas as divergent as Houghton and Saxonwold to Pretoria West and Capital Park.

I have visited the school twice, the last time with my daughter about eight or ten years ago. The area is still essentially a poor white area, but the school, which became a prosperous Afrikaans-only institution and acquired a state funded school hall, administration block and swimming pool after we left, is now again, ironically, a dual medium school. This time it caters for a minority of white Afrikaans speaking pupils remaining whose parents wanted them to complete their schooling there before going to high school, and the majority of black pupils who were taught in English despite their native vernacular being a black language such as Sesutu. Sadly the buildings and grounds had deteriorated badly, the swimming pool unused and empty.  I suspect that it now enrolls only black pupils.

My father fought for equality and friendship amongst the two predominant white cultures. Never in his wildest imagination could he have foreseen the path the school would follow after he left.

Margaret Nel van Heerden

Read more about appeal at:Hendrik Van der Bijl School appeal

Resolution of the committee of Hendrik Van der Bijl School

www.margaretnel.com and www.art.co.za/margaretnel



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Good Reads Book Reviews

The Moon And SixpenceThe Moon And Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Apparently Strickland was based on the artist Paul Gauguin, but if this was the case, there is a very loose connection between the two for this in not a novel a clef. The book held my interest while the narrator had personal contact with Strickland and his wife. Almost from the beginning of the novel, before Charles Strickland had appeared, I thought him a thoroughly reprehensible character.

Admittedly his wife was not an imaginative woman and used her established position in society to cultivate the society of writers and artists although she appeared to be devoid of any artistic talent herself. She obviously regarded her "dull" husband as nothing more than a meal-ticket and she had never encouraged his artistic inclinations. It is only after he leaves her to her own devices that she manages to pull herself together, fend for herself and look after her children without being dependent on a man any longer.

The portrait of a completely self-centred, inarticulate Strickland, who does not care about the opinion of others was well-drawn but after the narrator is no longer in personal contact with Strickland and the rest of the story of Strickland's life is related to him by a third person the story is less satisfactory. I have to admit that I did not finish the last fifty pages of the book. Although I like Maugham's work, this was not my favourite Maugham novel.

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