Living history

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

James GS and Mike Sadler cropIf a 97 year old man tells 15 year olds what he was doing when he was at Bedales in 1935  (aged 15, being taught Latin by John Badley) he is recounting his experience from 82 years ago.  If one of those 15 year olds lives to be 97 and talks about this (hearing the 97 year old in 2017) he or she will be talking in 2099 about hearing of the events that happened 164 years before, on the eve of the  Second World War.

The first bit of this scenario happened on Tuesday evening in my house when Mike Sadler, not only an Old Bedalian aged 97 (which puts him in a smallish club), but also one of the earliest members of the SAS (which puts him in an even smaller club).  I have listened to many intriguing people with extraordinary things to tell, but I cannot think of anything that could match this.

Mike, a slim and remarkably jaunty figure (pictured, right with Head Boy, James Grout-Smith), is surrounded by nine students and seven adults listening to him recounting his experience – from the latter stages of his Bedales career, through his initial contact with David Sterling, Paddy Mayne and the other founding members of the SAS, to the expedition to the Antarctic he undertook (with Mayne) following his war service.  We start shortly after 6pm and finish just before 9pm, with a brief break for something to eat.

Mike’s lively mind, interest in others, courtesy and sense of fun are palpable.  He has a brief tour of the school.  Interesting to think that the Memorial Library would have just opened when he was born.  He tells me that in his day there was a rather smelly generator where our smart reception now is.  His memory for where things are is legendary – as befits someone who was a brilliant navigator, who could direct a raiding party 100 miles across the desert in the dark simply by using the stars.

He shares his stories with a twinkle and, yes, a sense of fun.  His account of escaping from the white- hatted Afrika Corps and managing to get his jeep back to the Qatarra Depression was “an amusing incident”.  He describes his famous 100 mile, four day walk from Gabes to Tozeur, with only a goatskin tied together with bootlaces as a water container with an insouciance and twinkle that make light of it.  Other incidents, which sound as scary as scary gets, are described with a sense of fun and adventure.

When asked what he misses most about those days he says “so many interesting people”.    Mike’s independence of mind, willingness to question, delight in innovation and enjoyment of teamwork all found their home in those formative early years in the SAS.  It was the biggest of privileges for all of us lucky enough to meet him and hear him at his old school.

Marshmallows, tea and leadership

Eventually and not at all influenced by the promise of a marshmallow, I manage to attend one of the History Department’s Kings and Queens of England mini-lectures; they are taking the full regal line-up, chronologically of course – now it’s Henry III so you regal chronologeeks can work out how many, silly me, I’ve missed, but at least I am there now, marshmallow in hand, at 1.45 on Thursday, along with another 30 (half teachers, half students) listening to Chris Bott‘s spirited and informative account of Henry III, the Pious Builder. Poor chap (Henry not Chris), formally king from aged five, so dominated by regents (nasty people, my Ladybird books told me) for the first chunk of his reign and senile for the last decade or so, he had a mere 20 years (of his 58 years’ official rule) doing anything resembling ruling – and he made a hash of dealing with barons and goofed the diplomatic dance of trying to marry his son into the Sicilian monarchy. At least he built Westminster Abbey and was sufficiently notable to feature in the Divine Comedy (written about 50 years after his death), albeit amongst the third class of late repentants – “the preoccupied”; which is what my tutees (the two head boys and head girls) are as we sit on the 50 Church Road terrace, bathed in late afternoon sun and wafted by a wisteria-perfumed breeze, as we mull over the fruits of the newly-reformed student elections for the most likely lads and lasses to become their successors when the top student group is announced next Wednesday. At this stage, the top five boys and the top five girls, all nominated by their tutors as potential candidates, have emerged as a result of the whole school ballot. The people having spoken, now it’s the turn of the housestaff, the other teachers, Dominic, the head students and myself to discuss the best line-up. Formally, it is my decision, but generally some sort of consensus emerges as each individual’s strengths are gauged alongside the need for the head student team to work well as a unit. Next Wednesday the new head student team will shush at assembly and all will be revealed. In the meantime, here is a shot of the five of us beneath the wisteria, so you know that the rather overwritten (mauve prose?) piece of this blog was not entirely poetic license.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Keith and Head Student team


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Lunchtime history lectures proving popular

“How could you resist the chance to meet a 6 foot 2, blond, blue-eyed war hero?” is Jonathan Selby’s invitation at Bedales early morning notices as we reassemble after that unnatural coincidence of warm May weather and a bank holiday. His provocative message is to advertise the next stage in the history department’s regal march of Thursday lunchtime lectures – it is, of course, the turn of Richard 1st – aka Lionheart that he refers to. This series of brief and colourful lunchtime lectures, given by different history teachers and designed to help all students gain a better sense of that British chronology  – once distinctly unfashionable and now, thankfully, being revisited – is proving popular. Coming from a family where everyone older than me – mother, father and elder brother – were historians I have always found it difficult to see how anyone could not find history endlessly intriguing. In the end – a close call and no regrets – literature got me, but now my own reading for pleasure is at least as much history as literature. So it is always good to hear that something that I have read (a kind gift from one of our young co-travellers in California) and have been very tediously telling everyone else they should read gains additional prominence in influential quarters. In this case it is William Dalrymple’s Return of a King, his masterful account of the disastrous British invasion of Afghanistan in 1839 when, against good intelligence, the British marched into Kabul, deposed one leader (Dost Mohammed Khan) and imposed another (Shah Shuja) who, luckless fellow, had already had a series of ill-fated attempts to assume the kingship. The terrible retreat in 1842, which resulted in wholescale loss of life and just one survivor reaching his destination, is the grisly stuff of legend. The reason for the additional recent publicity, following a good amount of interest with the reviews earlier this year, is that Dalrymple was invited last week to the White House to give a briefing to the CIA and defence departments. In as much as one can be encouraged by anything to do with Afghanistan, it is good to know that there is some interest at this level in the country’s cultural and historical background.  No doubt, the Americans’ interest is partly tweaked by the fact that Hamid Karzai is a tribal descendant of Shah Shuja, whilst the Taliban come from the Ghilzai tribe who were the chief opponents of the British as they tried to extricate themselves from the folly of their invasion.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Jeremy Paxman on Empire

Historic day today as the Green Ribbon Club,  in effect a senior history society, has its inaugural meeting: Jeremy Paxman on Empire. An admirably lucid, trenchant and wonderfully wide-ranging talk which has as its premise the importance of Empire to the national psyche – its lasting legacy on the way that we think and act – both as a nation (whether that is through the overseas military adventures of Thatcher and Blair) and as individuals. Jeremy’s talk is also a strong advert for history, which he says we should all be interested in because it is about people and people are intriguing – how can you not be interested in people and therefore history? Some good debate afterwards over the game casserole (which itself might have provoked some). Has the accident of Empire made the UK more or less familiar with the world and, for example, with immigrants? Has it really coloured our attitude to Europe? Is killing people with drones worse than killing them with spears?
 
Jeremy’s talk deals much with the idea of the imperial hero – or the person that imperial folklore establishes as such – running from the piratical Henry Morgan, through the avaricious Clive to the much painted Gordon (who, we discover, changed into a white uniform before his impaling on the steps at Khartoum). All this even provokes me (at home, later) to get out my magnificent antique Kitchener propaganda poster which, celebrating the shortly to be drowned icon of the FWW recruiting poster, has Kitchener’s avenging of Gordon as one of the pictorial credits. Meanwhile, for those who want to connect a talk on heroes of the past to the sound of breaking icons, Lance Armstrong crashes further down as he emerges as a wizard with the mysteries of doping, rather than cycling hero; Savile’s originally heroic volunteer hospital portering is now looking like a vile ruse for systematic grooming and child molestation and Kagame, once the hero of Rwanda, is back in the news because of UK aid. How about an undisputed heroine? Try, Malala Yousafzai, the 14 year old Pakistani girl who dared to speak out against the Taliban and is in hospital after she was shot in the head by the them – “an icon of courage and hope”, said Pakistan’s army chief – difficult to disagree with that.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.