Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design was a municipal art college in the Norfolk resort town of Great Yarmouth. It was probably born after the second World War – the United Kingdom being in the throes of social reform. It was one of the few colleges to keep plaster casts from Antiquity, the Royal Academy Schools being about the only Art institution not to embrace smashing of the casts in the post-war era.
Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design (GYCAD) used to be housed in a former private school on Trafalgar Road, near the sea front and pier. Cricketing gear from previous usage was still in the building during the 1970s. In the 1990s the college’s demise began, effected by education cuts mainly at the hands of central (Tory) government. No doubt there was some logic to the bureaucrats’ decision making. Nearby Norwich School of Art is another well established institution offering similar courses.
Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design was Yarmouth’s greatest export. The ethos of the place being entirely different to Norwich School of Art. A blithesome sense of humour celebrated all things absurd and ridiculous – and there was a drinking culture at GYCAD, cheerfully unhealthy, based around the Holkham public house and hotel. Run by a stern landlady called Edna, all students (it seemed) were obliged to spend considerable amounts of time in the Holkham, which housed students in rooms above.
At one point, Edna decided to give her large downstairs bar an inspirational change of name to ‘The Waikiki Bar’. Exotic! As if we were going to drink cocktails instead of twos. Martin Lord witnessed Edna in her altogether one night, after her nylon nightie was scorched off her by a faulty gas appliance! Martin is still in shock.
Drinking would take place at lunch-times and in the evenings, with staff often the worse for it. The Holkham was an easy walk, a couple of minutes away across the green. On one occasion I witnessed two members of staff so drunk (in college) they literally couldn’t stand up. Jolly japes and wizard wheezes aside, these people were supposed to be in charge of us and no doubt in some cases they were ‘in loco parentis’.
Yarmouth had numerous pubs, we would often tour them. Ye Olde Shades once saw a student named Darryl stand on a table whilst dropping his trousers proclaiming he ‘was a god’. The rest of us were more interested in counting how many bottles of St. Edmunds we notched up rather than the penile deity proffered. Generations of students adopted similar tactics as they became acquainted with the visual arts. Tony Keeler lived at the Recruiting Sergeant, which his parents ran – he had a penchant for brown champagne.
Jamie Wagg & co formed a drinking society named ‘The Wednesday Club of Dada-ists’. Robert Oxley took great pleasure in getting people to listen to ‘Rawhide’ on the juke box in some pub the name of which I can’t recall, though his interior design colleagues and he preferred the Talbot.
Nigel Moody and myself mixed drinking with drawing one afternoon at the Suspension Bridge Tavern. We returned around 3 pm. Moody poked his nose into Geoff Buck’s colour theory class: ‘Nigel!! Sod off!!’ came the response.
Moody was a remarkable student. They called him ‘Little Noddy’ to start with, because he wore a bobble-hat and was physically un-developed at the time. His long arms, big hands and love of cycling gave him a curious appearance.
Derek Mace invented all sorts of nomenclature which he applied to Nigel: ‘Steiner’ being the root or ‘genus’ for Stanley Fitz-Steinbecker, to which was added ‘Sir’, quickly whittled down to ‘Stan’ for ease. Mace also called him ‘Nigel Heliograph Moody’, NodStein, Noddy, Nigell (elision on the consonant g, with a French accent) etc. Mace decided it was effective to placate Moody at times, by repeatedly whacking him over the head with a tin tray. When Moody wasn’t cycling round the F2 room.
Though the liberating effect of living in digs was a step in the right direction for young people in their late teens, the experience of rattling through Yarmouth’s one year foundation course was insufficient preparation for the World. We literally had about four months in which to try the various art and design disciplines before deciding where to apply for a three year ‘degree’ course. The GYCAD ethos was unique but didn’t translate well into the fast moving environment of London’s West End and St. Martins School of Art, which is where I moved to the following year – and found rather boring by comparison.
The Foundation course at Yarmouth was a kind of ‘Never Never Land’ where you could be free and not have that much to worry about. Nick Ward kept decaying birds and other organic matter in specimen jars around the room while Damien Hirst was still in nappies. Jamie Wagg retrieved an allegedly ‘Matherian Turd’ from the lavatories using some rubber etching gauntlets, containing the faecal artwork in a jar: ‘I int scared of it, I int scared of it!’ he said. Finn Rawnsley climbed on the roof of the F2 room and painted ‘Off Fuck’ across the sky-light, letters facing the wrong way, his dyslexia getting the better of him – Punk was happening then, it was anarchy man.
Ward is known for his relentless pillorying of the late care-taker George Mather. Wil Crane and Brier Tidman hung poor Mather over the stair well so his pens fell from the top pocket of his boiler suit. ‘Right, that’s a pen you owe me’ is what Mather exclaimed afterwards. Mace read the Beano instead of newspapers (sensible thing to do) and life at GYCAD was very much in the ‘Bash Street’ mould. Barry Drake dispensed good humour, kindness and fairness all round whilst tending the ‘Whalonga’ (etching press) in the basement.
Barabara Balls taught ceramics; George Mather was always on hand to pug some clay. Barbara once went to George’s home to get something and remarked that he had several chest freezers, which were chained shut! What on earth was in them? Maggie Lydon was tall and so was Emrys Parry – so they made a good pair. Maggie’s see was fashion and textiles – she had to put up with cat fighting between Mark Boothby and Mark Baker.
Mark Baker – a camp individual from King’s Lynn, went on to marry Anna Kennedy though Mark has since ‘come out of the closet’ (we never thought he was in the closet). Mark put the college’s fashion & textiles department on the map when his entry for the Tisservale? fashion design competition gained considerable media attention in 1979.
One of their colleagues was pink and fluffy Di Capstick who still lives in East Anglia and gets up to all sorts of things including Art. Di campaigned for cleaner streets and civic pride in Yarmouth by ringing dogs mess with hard to ignore circles of colour, changing the council’s policy on the matter. She was also involved with the students union at GYCAD. Martin Lord, or ‘Martini’ (rifles and drinks), paraded around in a white Jag and referred to Heather (red head) from Graphics as ‘Fanny Gingere’.
L – R on shoulders Dennis Birkwood, Alice Hickling. Standing Caroline Blundy, Nick Ward, Robert Bridge RIP, Stephen Giles, Sarah. Seated Simon Bond, Elaine Vincent, Mark Goldsworthy, Alan Brown, Colin Giles. Seated on floor Mark Fisher.
In such a male dominated environment women were less ‘high profile’. The demure Mary Barham for example, Alison Buckley with her frizzy blonde hair, Debbie Collier who had a run in with Mace because she felt he wasn’t teaching her anything, Hubertine (Claire Isaaman), Miranda, Anne Hitchcock, Beth, Gill Ford, Jaquie Tacon, Sharon Sage, Cathy Gillion, Tessa Kemp, Mandy Brown et al.
Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design was great fun, but what they taught me about design and illustration could have been written on the back of a postage stamp. They helped me gain entry to St. Martins – which was a wrong turning, if ever there was one. Still, I could hold a gallon of ale, so that’s alright then – except it lead to problems in later life. Our Swan song as students at Yarmouth could be summed up by the Bursting Zits’ performance of the Mekons’ refrain ‘Where were you?’ ably sung by Mark Norton (true, honest!), supported by the likes of ‘Hog’ aka Chris Finch.
Many ex-GYCAD students have been successful in their careers. Perhaps the most notable to date being Keith Chapman from graphics who invented ‘Bob the Builder’. Though after watching it to death during our son’s early years, I would like to see an adult version in which Bob finally gets to shag Wendy over a barrow of sand or something ….. but the thought police wouldn’t allow it, would they?
Finch and me crossed paths at a later juncture in South London. Finch’s remarkable horticultural skills at height (high-rise flat in St.Ockwell), furnished us with one of the most bizarre evenings ever. As a youth, Chris lived in West Germany, where he dug a Nazi storm-trooper’s helmet out of the ground in a forest. We took turns to don the helmet and goose step round his room to some of the finest reggae cuts in his collection, brandishing a .22 air pistol ….. like you do. And we were grown-up!
During the late 90s and into the noughties I made several attempts to communicate with Great Yarmouth Borough Council regarding the use of the former GYCAD site. As is normal with bureaucrats, they were obfuscating. Eventually I got a reply, but too late, it had already been decided the place should be converted to accommodation for homeless young people.
However, I guess we should reflect on the photo below – taken by Nigel Moody, before the GYCAD building was renovated. Maybe this is what you get for pissing too much good-will in the business (or all of it) up against the wall?
Over recent years, people have commented the drinking culture at Yarmouth was ….. ‘a bit abnormal’. Several citing the fact they didn’t find any sort of meaningful overlap between their college of choice for further studies and GYCAD. I certainly found St. Martins a big disappointment.
Of Yarmouth alumni I know attending the same BA course as myself, one did a spell at the funny farm, the other eventually committed suicide. What does this indicate? Especially with regard to pastoral care of young males in the ‘teaching/learning continuum’ (if it can be called as much).
My vision is for an assortment of ex-students to purchase/hire the former GYCAD premises and re-launch the brand, Phoenix like, as a private educational enterprise. Because without knowing it, Great Yarmouth College of Art & Design has always been ‘Yarmouth’s greatest export’. The tears of ex-Yarmouth student Tony Keeler (at the sight of the derelict building), may well have been an expression of manly vulnerability, but it was a passive gesture. It takes cash, energy, co-ordination and organisation to make things happen. Arty types are hard to steward for such purposes, but during the internet age and with the right attitude and class action – this too, may come to pass.
Photo’s by: N.Ward, N.Moody, A.Dedman, Casey Moore et al
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