Please keep the flames to six feet! The wild and wonderful world of Walthamstow art school

By Will Ashon

In the early 1960s, the old guard running Walthamstow art school quit – and a riotous spirit took hold, galvanising students from Ian Dury to Peter Blake. Now a new show, Be Magnificent, is celebrating the glory days

Terry Day’s eyes widen as he remembers arriving at the Walthamstow School of Art in March 1962. A small, wiry 76-year- old, his voice a mix of Dagenham roots and a lifetime spent as a British free jazz hepcat and pioneer, he sums it up quite simply: “The students were running the place. Nobody ever came and said ‘You gotta do this’ or ‘You gotta do that’. There was a lot of freedom.” His old friend Laurie Lewis, a photographer and film-maker – the National Portrait Gallery holds a clutch of his prints – laughs and nods his head. “You were encouraged to try everything,” he says.

Officially named the South West Essex Technical College and School of Art, Walthamstow School of Art hit a roll in the early 60s. When students such as Day and Lewis finished there, they applied to the Royal College of Art to continue their studies. As Lewis recalls: “If a local art school got someone into the Royal College they’d be very pleased. If they got in two people they’d be jumping up and down.”

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