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.”