Capturing seven years in one book

21st July 2006 at 01:00
I was at a rock and roll fancy dress party in January, feeling cold in a Freddie Mercury outfit, when Head Boy, quite unexpectedly, asked whether I'd like to edit the leavers' yearbook. Perhaps my shoe-polish handlebar moustache had given a false sense of integrity and gravitas - was he sure?

We agreed that after spending seven years in the place, it seemed a bit of a waste to go and forget it all. So, we'd write it all down, get a few hundred copies printed and sell it in the last week. Head Boy and Head Girl would do the management and keep tabs on deadlines and the money, while the six deputy head guys and gals would sort out the pages.

We had a good idea of what we wanted. A flick through previous editions had inspired us, pilfering the best ideas (if you can't plagiarise subtly Year 13 then you haven't been paying attention. Or perhaps you have, and that's why you don't). An American college-style yearbook - straight-spined portraits, crests and delicate borders - seemed too earnest. We wanted that weight and permanence, but also to be readable and entertaining, sharp: edging, we dreamt, toward the mildly scandalous. We wanted a yearbook that would be talked about. Oh, and if possible, not lose too much money. Quite a tall order, then.

The first half of the book comprised of farewells written by senior teachers alongside seaside caricatures; then every student had a half-page profile of memories, ambitions and confessions. I'm sure everyone who collaborated in feeding their friend a dog-food pizza felt better for getting it off their chests. We asked groups of friends to put together photo collages, meaning the book carried everyone and didn't fall prey to cliques. We got some depth with a section on school events: Duke of Edinburgh Award, parties, music tours and all that jazz, and a timeline to tie them to national news and music charts.

But it was the lighter, more creative half of the book that excited us, and we tried to keep the material a surprise. Thence came the year's boy racers draped across their bonnets, supermodel-style ("They say this kid's the fastest ride in town. Got a pretty fast car, too"); a gallery of Top Couples ("No-one has a bad thing to say about Daz and Natasha. Mostly because he'll smash your face"); and a gallery of fit teachers (coveted honour or workplace harassment? You decide!) Popbitch inspired "A Series of Unfortunate Events", our catalogue of sixth-form scandal. As I wrote in the introduction, "we knew we couldn't please everyone; as such, we tried very hard to displease everyone."

Our nominations box - and a network of informers of which the KGB would have proud - reaped a harvest of strip clubs, vomit and salacious happenings on Caledonian ferries. We realised our boundaries though; any real upset would have spoilt the project. We knew we could write about the First XV (they love it) in a way that wouldn't have been ok for other people. (And, as Wikipedia says, it's not libel if "the claimant's reputation in the community is sufficiently poor that they are incapable of further defamation").

Four interesting months and 200 pages later, we hit the copy shop. A fondness for colour meant our run of 200 cost pound;12.50 a copy. It was more than we'd hoped; leaving school was becoming an expensive business.

That said, it was close to an inch thick, and, we thought as we loaded it into the car, just a little bit pretty. And, while it wasn't going to win any Pulitzers, it had been a lot of fun. Heck, I thought, as Head Boy counted a stack of banknotes after the launch, one might even be able to make a job of this. Now, that's scandalous.

Matthew Holehouse has just left Harrogate grammar school. His column continues through the summer. Email:

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