I have a very clear childhood memory. I am sitting on the carpet in my primary school’s library, listening to a man tell vivid stories about an amazing faraway place, with pictures projected on the wall. I’m about six or seven. The faraway place is Swaziland. And the man is, as far as I recall, the Prince of Swaziland. The Guardian reports.
As an adult, I’m genuinely curious about how a member of Swaziland’s royal family came to be giving a talk in Walthamstow in the 1970s. This curiosity caused me to idly ask what I thought was a fairly bland question on Twitter: “Who were the weirdest people ever to visit you in school to give a talk?” The volume of replies caught me by surprise. Someone described it as “a priceless thread of 1970s/80s British dysfunction”.
Several themes have emerged from the stories shared. David Prowse appears to have visited every school in the country except mine, but always in the guise of the Green Cross Code Man and not Darth Vader, the character the kids were inevitably clamouring for. There were boybands and pop stars on promotional tours, and politicians keen to impress the next generation of voters. Rather unexpectedly, several people claimed they had school visits from an ex-Status Quo drummer, although nobody was able to name him.
Sometimes, well meaning attempts at education backfired – for example, the talk about the dangers of getting high on substance fumes that only alerted children to the possibility of getting high on substance fumes. Then there were the addicts who unintentionally made a life on drink or drugs sound glamorous. Or the demonstrations on the perils of playing with fire that inadvertently taught a whole school how to make small explosive devices.
And then there were the animals. Parents today are no stranger to unexpected letters asking them to cough up £12 for a photo of their perplexed offspring sitting next to an owl, but rather more exotic animals used to visit British schools. You don’t have to think that political correctness and health and safety have gone mad to raise an eyebrow at the idea that someone might bring in a chimpanzee from a travelling circus. Or a baby leopard on a lead.
As a grown-up, you can’t help but wonder what the other adults in the room thought when a vicar dropped and broke a priceless artefact, a child asked an astronaut how you poo in space, or someone accidentally implied that Jesus was “really fit” in bed. Or when a man burst into assembly and dumped bin bags of rubbish he said pupils had thrown into his garden. Or when two policemen told an inappropriate and extended gory story.
Who was the weirdest person to visit your school? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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