The 100th anniversary of Wanstead High School in 2024 is a momentous event. 

The school became Wanstead High when it turned from grammar Wanstead County High School to a comprehensive in the early 1970s.

I went to Wanstead High from Aldersbrook Primary. The head was Donald Mackay, who had a rather austere persona. He was ably supported by deputies Michael Jones and Nick Wheeler-Robinson. The team had a real commitment to the ideal of comprehensive education, giving everyone a chance, regardless of background.

The head’s austere image came crashing down early on when a relationship between him and a former sixth former was revealed. National media were out around the gates of the school and we pupils were told not to speak to them. Mackay left the school.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Cllr Paul Donovan remembers some of the characters from his time at Wanstead High SchoolCllr Paul Donovan remembers some of the characters from his time at Wanstead High School

The school had several characters over the years among staff and pupils.

Sports and geography teacher Brian Arkle was a favourite. Brian loved a good cross-country around Wanstead Park. He sadly died a couple of years ago having retired from spending his whole career at the school. He was also deputy for a number of years.

Head of English, Bernard "Bugsy" Doyle was someone many ex-pupils will remember. A small, at times rather angry, aggressive man. The Bugsy nickname came from his resemblance to a rabbit.

Whilst English could be testing with Doyle, he knew his stuff and there were never any disciplinary issues in his classes.

History teacher and cricketer, Paul Smethurst, was another from the era. He was another Wanstead lifer. He was at the school when Churchill visited in the early 1960s.

The last big celebration at the school was for the 75th anniversary in 1999. It was fascinating to go back for the day, meeting staff and pupils - seeing how things had worked out.

One conversation I remember in the main building that day was with Daniel Levy - now chairman of Tottenham Hotspur.

Daniel was in my year, a member of House 4. His rise to fame and fortune came after he left Wanstead High. At the 75th, he was relaxed and chatting about the old days. He had yet to take over at Spurs at that point.

Another, who rose to fame and fortune from my time at the school was Nick Berry. Nick was a couple of years younger than me but came to play football on the top field during the lunch times. 

Nick of course went on to find fame as an actor in EastEnders (Wicksy), Heartbeat and Harbour Lights. He packed up acting a while ago but still lives in Essex.

The present custodians appear to be carrying on the school traditions. Long may it last - looking forward to the 100th anniversary celebrations.

  • Paul Donovan is Labour councillor for Wanstead Village ward, Redbridge Council and a blogger (