Hepscott Hall, Coming of Age and Kevin Keegan – Chapter Five of The Bernician Chronicles

Hepscott Hall Plaque

Hepscott Hall, Coming of Age and Kevin Keegan

From the birth of my sister, Joanne, in 1974, our house in Cramlington felt smaller every year that passed, so my Dad started looking for a bigger property in Hepscott, Northumberland, where Newcastle legend, Malcolm MacDonald used to live.

In late 1978, he took us to see a derelict, nine hundred year old, former Norman Peel Tower in the quiet, leafy village on the outskirts of Morpeth, which he had acquired for just £70,000.

He restored the magnificent four story house to its former glory on a shoestring budget over the next two years. We moved in on the 10th of October 1980, by which time its value had already risen considerably.

The move sadly coincided with the beginning of newly elected Thatcher’s first recession, which caused the insolvency of my Dad’s insurance business.

To safeguard the Hall, the ownership of the property was transferred into my Granddad’s name before my Dad declared himself personally bankrupt. He then had no choice but to sign on to claim benefits.

This meant that the monthly mortgage payments on our house would be made by the Department of Social Security and the chances of losing it to my Dad’s bankruptcy appeared to be non-existent.

Chantry Middle

Less than a year after we moved into Hepscott Hall, I started my single year at Chantry Middle School in Morpeth. This proved to be one of the most enjoyable periods of my fourteen years in the educational penitentiary system.

Right from the beginning, I cast off the yoke of perpetual academic expectations and claimed the role of class clown, within just a few minutes of entering the school.

The Nickname That Just Refused To Die

As I stood at the back of the assembly hall with the entire school present, Chantry’s amiable headmaster, Mr. Tweddell, started his first day of term address, with all the teachers lined up behind him.

When he started by welcoming the new inmates, I knew two things for certain. Firstly, my name would almost certainly be last to be read out; and secondly, that the head would not know how to pronounce my surname.

I assumed this on the basis that most academically educated people tend to pronounce it WAR, rather than WOFF, which is how Waugh is pronounced in the north east, whether I like it or not.

The head hesitated before mispronouncing my name, as expected, and I wasted no time in correcting him.

“It’s WOFF, sir…” I shouted from the back, which caused the first wave of mischievous laughter form my peers.

“What?” said the head.

“No, WOFF!” said I, which reduced the entire hall to laughter.

“WOFF?!!” said the head. 

“Yes!” says I, to which he smiled and politely apologized for getting it wrong.

However, from that moment I was known by all, including the teachers, as Woffy. This was, of course, the nickname I had been given by my friends at St. Paul’s, which I had hoped I’d shaken off when we moved to Hepscott. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

Friendships and Football

It was during this era that I met four lifelong friends, each of whom moved to Hepscott either a little before or a little after we did, when unbreakable bonds were formed that nothing would tear asunder.

No band of juvenile delinquents has ever exuded more youthful high spirits when engaged in mischief, in the days before boys being boys was criminalized.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before Chris and Peter [who both lived in houses opposite the Hall], Gra [who lived two houses away from Chris] and Wils [who lived at the other side of the village]], were going to Newcastle matches with my Dad and I.

By this time, we had season tickets in the new East Stand at St. James Park. We hardly ever missed a match, whether home or away, no matter how badly we played or how broke my Dad was.

Keegan scores winner on Newcastle debut

Keegan scores winner on Newcastle debut at St. James Park.

King Kev

Newcastle’s fortunes famously improved significantly in the summer of 1982, when Kevin Keegan rocked the footballing world by signing for Arthur Cox’s black ‘n’ white army.

We were at every game he played for us, from his debut against QPR at the beginning of the 1982-83 season, to his emotional departure in a helicopter, after his testimonial match against Liverpool, following our promotion back to the top flight

I and every other supporter felt genuinely excited to be a Newcastle fan again, for the first time since Gordon Lee sold Supermac to Arsenal.

Because my Dad was friends with some of the players at the time, such as skillful midfield workhorse, Kenny Wharton, he was tipped off before Kev signed the deal, so we knew he was coming before almost everybody else did.

When I told all my friends, at first they refused to believe that I wasn’t winding them all up. However, after it was announced in a press conference a few days later, the credibility of my Toon-related predictions was never doubted again.

Keegan Visits As Vultures Swoop

Just after the deal was announced, the official receiver in my Dad’s bankruptcy insisted that Hepscott Hall be placed on the property market, despite it being legally owned by my Granddad.

How tragically ironic that Kevin Keegan was the first potential buyer to come and view the Hall, with enough money to buy it outright.

As my Dad and I showed him round, it was obvious that he was one of the warmest, friendliest, footballers we had ever met. He also complimented me on my intelligence and told me that he had a feeling I was going to go far in this world.

Even though he loved our house, Kev ended up buying a small mansion in Tranwell Woods. After that, nobody else viewed the property for a few years because of the floor dropping out of the market in Thatcher’s first recession.

Miner's Strike 1984

“It’s you who need locking up, not hard-working families, fighting for their lives.”

Destruction of Close-Knit Working Class Communities

The recession paved the way for Thatcher’s war against the miners, which the government deliberately caused by announcing the plans to close the majority of British pits, knowing full well that National Union of Mine-workers [NUM] leader, Arthur Scargill, would call an all out national strike.

When this initially happened in 1984 and for at least the first six months of the grueling and punishing strike, virtually every mining family in the North East truly believed that the violence perpetrated against them, by armies of tooled-up police officers, would guarantee enough national support to win the strike.

However, the government-sponsored media and in particular, the tabloid newspapers, engaged in a hideous propaganda campaign to convince the rest of the country that the miners and their families were the perpetrators of the violence, rather than the victims of it.

Thatcher's War Against The Miners

Does this look like Thatcher’s government exercising ‘reasonable force’ against striking miners?

Trade Union Power Neutered

After a bitter two year battle, during which the striking miners and their families lost everything they fought so hard to preserve, the war against Thatcher’s government was lost.

The power of the trade unions was then neutered and nobody outside of British mining communities seemed to give a shit about the hardship, destitution and insolvency that ensued for so many people in those shattered communities.

This naturally led to the dismantling of the British mining and shipbuilding industries, which had sustained both sides of our family for generations. As well as the destruction of the close-knit communities which fed those industries for centuries, such as Shiremoor and West Denton. 

Places where nobody had any reason to lock their doors, let alone fear going out at night, before the dark days of Thatcherism cast tens of thousands of hard working families on the scrapheap. 

If my Dad hadn’t become the first man on his side of the family not to work down the pit since the industrial revolution, he would have been one of them. As my granddad would have been, had he not retired before the strike, after spending fifty years of his life at the coalface.

The previously thriving North East quickly turned into a barren, post-industrial wasteland, where ‘jobs for life’ were replaced by the dole queue and the only things worth shouting about transpired on a football pitch or in the Bigg Market on a Saturday night.

King Edward VI High School in Morpeth

King Edward VI High School in Morpeth.

Mischief, Recalcitrance and KEVI

When I was thirteen, I left Chantry and started the first of five years spent incarcerated at King Edward VI High School [KEVI] in Morpeth, where I expanded my comedic and creative output every chance I got, along with my burgeoning and habitual recalcitrance.

Just a month before my fourteenth birthday, in the spring of 1983, my friends and I started drinking in pubs. A few weeks later, I smoked my first joint and a twenty year period of largely unbridled hedonistic mischief began. 

Whilst I very rarely read any of the texts I was given in English classes, I was reading books like Brave New World and The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, The Communist Manifesto and Das Capital by Karl Marx and Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche.

It therefore isn’t really a surprise that the first serious philosophical disposition I adopted as a teenager was that of a revolutionary existential anarchist, which compelled me to pick and choose which lessons I would attend at KEVI.

However, I always turned up to interesting lessons with teachers who allowed me to express myself creatively, which included Drama, English, Sociology and History lessons.

In addition, I always turned up to practice with or play for the school football team, as well all attending rehearsals for any of the school plays I performed in, the most notable of which was ‘Grease’, in the summer of 1983.

Grease Is The Word

Since starting St. Paul’s when I was four, I had been cast in every school production, from the Christmas Nativity to Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat.

However, not until I was cast as ‘Roger’ in KEVI’s production of the stage play version of ‘Grease’, did I have the opportunity to display my comedic repertoire to a large audience.

This was only possible because of the wonderful Mrs. Cooper, my English and Drama teacher, who described me as “a natural comedian and entertainer” in her end of year report.

It was this intuitive belief that convinced her that she should allow me to improvise and improve upon the script, in order to maximize the show’s comic potential.

After the first two sold out shows, word had gone around that ‘Grease’ was the best school play anybody had ever seen and that my performance was reminiscent of John Belushi in ‘Animal House’, which was the favourite film of all the ‘cool kids’ at KEVI.

Given that I believed Belushi to be a comic genius at his best, this was already enough to make me smile from ear to ear. However, after I belted out my rendition of ‘Blue Moon’ on the final night, I was graced with my first standing ovation from a cheering full house.

Before the show, I was already popular with my peers, mostly because of my reputation for delivering wise-cracks to teachers. But after ‘Grease’, even the ‘cool kids’ were saying I was destined to be a famous comedian and my popularity naturally soared to new heights.

The strangest thing was that I could never decide whether I actually liked being that popular, even though I knew I wasn’t going to stop doing all the things that caused it.

Telling The Head Where To Go

Despite my perpetual truancy and my frequent refusals to do what I was told by any teachers who hadn’t earned my respect, in the eyes of some I could do no wrong. This proved to be invaluable numerous times, when I could easily have been expelled without obtaining any academic qualifications.

On one infamous occasion, having learned to play the guitar, I formed a school rock band, which was due to play a Christmas benefit gig at KEVI in December 1985, along with another two school bands.

After we had been given permission to rehearse in lesson time on the day of the concert by one of the deputy heads, we set up our equipment and began rehearsing our respective numbers.

Unjustified Intrusion

Within what must have been no more than five minutes, the headmaster, Mr. Duffy, charged into the lower school hall and screamed at us to stop what we were doing.

However, we were playing very loudly through two heavy duty bass cabs and an original Vox AC30, so none of us could hear anything except the track we were rehearsing.

Moments later, Duffy turned off our power supply at the wall and we all turned around to see his beetroot red face and the steam pouring out of his ears. Without hesitation, I angrily shouted at him: “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

At that point, the dozen other musicians who made up the three bands almost swallowed their tongues, trying to keep quiet and refrain from laughing in sheer disbelief. Duffy replied with utter contempt: “I beg your pardon? What did you just say to me?”

To which I responded by telling him that he knew exactly what I had said and had no right to pull the plug on rehearsals we had permission from the deputy head to hold during lesson time.

Nevertheless, he ignored every word and stormed out of the hall mumbling incoherently to himself.

Failure To Expel

Despite the concerns of the other musicians, I calmly re-plugged our power supply and counted in the next song in the line-up. Within an hour or so we had finished rehearsing, when I was called to the deputy head’s office.

There was no doubt in anybody else’s mind – I was about to be expelled from KEVI. I, on the other hand, instinctively knew there was no way that was going to happen. No matter how much I would have welcomed my early release for bad behaviour.

The first thing the amiable Mr. Lee said after I closed his office door behind me, was that he assumed I knew why I had been summoned. I casually suggested that it was almost certainly because of what I said to Duffy.

I was then informed that I would have been expelled already, were it not for the head’s failure to procure the consent of two of my current teachers.

As I smiled cockily at Mr. Lee, he became understandably agitated and went on to tell me that my A level Sociology teacher, Mr. Childs, my A level English [and ex-form] teacher, Mr. Embley and my former English and Drama teacher, Mrs. Cooper, had all threatened to resign if Duffy went ahead with my expulsion.

Heartfelt Gratitude

Because of those three people, along with English teacher, Mr. Ramsay, who kicked my arse when I needed it; and head of English, Mr. MaCombie, who gave me the advice a young writer needed to hear; I was able to finish my A levels in English, Sociology and History, without being ejected from the school.

Had I been expelled, it would almost certainly have blighted my chances of securing a decent offer from a University or Polytechnic. This would have forced me to choose a very different path from the one I chose, when I was eventually released from KEVI in the summer of 1987.

For that, those brave and self-less teachers will always have my heart-felt gratitude. Especially when they had no way of knowing that my somewhat reckless treatment of my academic potential and career possibilities was a deliberate attempt to free myself from any attempted restriction of my creative endeavours.

The very fact that I failed to get myself expelled, even after speaking to the head the way I did, convinced me that, for whatever reasons, I was destined to obtain the A level grades required to get a place on a drama or theatre studies degree course.

Suffice to say, the concert went ahead as planned and I spent the rest of my time at KEVI, without provoking another attempt to expel me.

However, from that day till the day I left, as I walked down the corridors during recess, I would often hear voices say: “That’s the lad who got away with telling Duffy where to go.” Which still tickles me to this day.

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