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.

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.

Higher Education: why bother?

Higher Education: why bother? is the Tateish title of my annual assembly on what is the next stage for almost all our students. There are some new themes to previous ones, three really: money, duration and abroad.

The money thing is bound to change the way that many students and families see higher education. Whether parents opt to pay for their children’s university education, seeing it, as many of ours will, as a continuation of the cost of education, or whether, as will be so in most cases, it is handled through a combination of debt, parental support and paid work in both the holidays and term-time, it cannot but be viewed differently when you know that your university education (even a mere 3 years)  is costing you £27,000 in fees and above £30,000 in living expenses. Thinking now annually and putting yourself in London and the annual total costs will be above £23,000 p.a. Make that a four year course and you are up to around £95K; add in the cost of lost earnings from paid work you might have had if you gone into a job straight off (say £10K a year) and you are up to £135K for the whole shebang. Paying for things makes people more demanding and UK universities are adjusting slowly to the environment that universities in the USA and independent schools have long inhabited where value for money matters. Watch this space on contact time.

Duration: I suspect I will have mystified some and annoyed some when, having talked about the cost, I then recommended that people do four years at university where possible – or at least that they are not fearful of doing four years. It is partly because of the abroad factor, but it is also because in what is going to be a very long working life, university should offer a brilliant opportunity to study something that you are really passionate about, whether that is something such as medicine or engineering that will be the basis for your vocation or something like philosophy, maths, history or Spanish that you just love. Three years  – really 2 ¾ is a very short time. That extra 33% makes a big difference to what you can do. If you choose languages, many science-based courses or go to Scotland or the USA then you will probably be on four years anyway.

Which takes us abroad. Over the past five years just short of 4% of our students have gone abroad for university. When we look back in five years time, it will be at least 10%.  The fee hike has closed the gap between UK and US universities and put UK and Canadian universities on the same level. Europe beckons. If, as is the case with many 17 year olds, you do not know what you want to do a degree in, then a US university is a very sensible choice: keep it broad initially and decide what you want to major in as you progress. With the great majority of the top 40 universities in the world in the USA, there is huge choice. There are just as compelling reasons for spending one year (usually your third) abroad if you go to a UK university – and after all we have 6 of the top 40 universities in the world (Times HE Survey), 5 of which are within 2 ½  hours’ travel of here.   Have a look at thirdyearabroad.com for the range of ways you can do this, often tying in with learning a new language or taking one you have studied at school  to fluency. The flexibility of mind and cultural understanding that time in a relatively alien environment gives you may well be one of the distinguishing features that helps you get the job that will allow you to make light of that debt – or at least have had such an life-enhancing, fulfilling and educationally enriching time to look back with a sagely philosophical view and think it really was all worth it.

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.

California Re-visited

Having spent a year in California on a teaching exchange in 1988/9, it was intriguing to go back: instead of being parents of a one year old we were parents of two university age children and one working for an American company. All three of our children have ended up having some university time abroad – the first two because they are linguists (so, France, Italy, Columbia and Mozambique) and our third, Lara, because she is at Edinburgh and has managed to secure her third year abroad, continuing to study history but at University of California, San Diego (UCSD); so, with the main attraction being visiting Lara and seeing a little of her San Diego life and the secondary one of re-visiting a state where we had spent a very intriguing and enjoyable year, we set off. Overused words like vibrant and innovative don’t really capture California, especially the coastal belt from San Francisco to San Diego. The raw data that compare California to countries capture some of it; the fact that since we were last there a whole clutch of Californian based companies have become world brand names also says much. The experience of visiting UCSD and also University of California, Los Angeles was also powerful: these places mirror what is going on economically in terms of ambition and world reach. Take a look at the Times Higher Education 2012/3 rankings – not only will you see that the California Institute of Technology is ranked first in the world but that there are 6 other Californian universities in the top 40 in the world: Stanford (2), Berkeley (9), UCLA (13), UC Santa Barbara (35) and UC San Diego (38). Not only are these west coast universities starting to push their east coast rivals back (Harvard and Yale are at 2 and 11 respectively), but they are supplanting their old world rivals – the UK also has 6 in the top 40 – Oxford (2), Cambridge (7), Imperial (8), UCL (17), Edinburgh (32) and LSE (39). My evidence base is entirely anecdotal – based on a tour and subsequent conversations with OB and former head boy Omer Sami (2nd year at UCLA) and a tour and various chats with Lara and some of her friends. Omer is taking maximum advantage of the breadth and flexibility offered by the American system: although he will major in Psychology his minor, which is in Film, may come to be in the most influential part of his degree in terms of a future career. He is going to be taking advantage of the ability to pick up additional courses, in his case with languages and will be adding to his current facility with French and Spanish through spending next year in Brazil and Denmark, thus giving himself Portuguese and Danish as well.  The scope for work placements alongside your degree looks to me to be unparalleled both at UCLA and at UCSD. Turning to Lara and her fellow Edinburgh undergraduates who are also at UCSD my sample of 3 – History, English & Philosophy and Bio-technology respectively – all rated the quality of the teaching they are having at UCSD higher than what they were receiving at Edinburgh. They are also more aware of the number of their professors who are making waves on the world academic stage. Plenty of food for thought – more on UK vs US university choices later this term.

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.

The beginning of summer

It’s Tuesday afternoon and summer feels as if it is trying to appear: some brave students are sitting in a circle on a rather damp Orchard and the sun is slanting into Reception giving it that indoor piazza feel. Summer terms, which begin here with the clunk of 6.2 mock exams and the sure knowledge that public exams face 60% of our students, have a far from leisurely feel to their start. But there is plenty to look back on with satisfaction, with six educational school trips taking in Turkey (Classics), Iceland (BAC Geography), Spain (Block 3 & 4 tennis), Nice (French), Russia (6th form History) and Scarborough (6th form Drama Festival) occurring happily and productively over the holidays. Teaching a poem about summer is one way to try to think your way into the season and my first outing to the classroom is at Dunhurst with a wonderfully responsive Block 1 English group who make good hay with Larkin‘s great lyrical poem Cut Grass, with its stunning first line (Cut grass lies frail…) and its celebration of summer’s arrival. Tuesday evening’s sunlight is inviting enough for a first early evening walk to the Poet’s Stone, pondering on the debating activity’s topical subject matter – This House regrets the passing of Margaret Thatcher – which I have just attended and which provoked some pungent views and rather lurid images of what life was like in the northern England in the 70s when and where, as it happens, I was trying to grow up. Domestically, there is much interesting to reflect on too: in the holidays we revisited California – somewhere I spent a happy year on teaching exchange nearly 25 years ago and where our daughter is now at university for the year – more on this and in particular visits to UCLA and UC San Diego.

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.

A snapshot of life’s rich plenty at Bedales

First thing Tuesday and Notices give a good snapshot of life’s rich plenty at Bedales: sixth formers returned from Swaziland, Green Ribbon (History) Club speaker on “What is History?” last night, Amnesty International group mustering ready to re-launch, invitations for student input on next year’s Badley Celebration weekend and Friday will bring a Science lecture on Chaos theory in the afternoon and a Civics in the evening on Scott, the South Pole and a small, sponsored horse (who accompanied Scott) called Bedales. Here at 50 Church Road, Monday night sees the Middle East Society kick off the year’s programme with a wide-ranging and increasingly well informed ramble over current intractabilities.

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.