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'We used to weigh the students...'

When Jean Shrimpton was at Lucie Clayton College, she learnt deportment and how to emerge elegantly from a sports car. But today's gels will acquire thoroughly modern skills. Simon Midgley reports.

Lucie Clayton College's alumni list reads like a roll call of Britain's most beautiful women: Jean Shrimpton, Joanna Lumley, Shirley Anne Field and Celia Hammond to name a few.

Now this quintessentially British institution is opening another chapter in a glamorous history as it merges with London's oldest secretarial college, St James's.

Founded in 1928 as a charm school - a sort of non-boarding finishing school - Lucie Clayton expanded into modelling two years later before spinning off what was to become Britain's top modelling agency in the 1950s and 60s, which is where Shrimpton et al came in.

In the late 1960s Lucie Clayton added secretarial training to its "grooming and deportment" work. The latter consisted of such things as flower-arranging, make - up, how to walk, dancing, and how to look after your husband and servants.It is not clear how much, if any, time the gels spent walking with books balanced on their heads.

The college went on to become Britain's most celebrated purveyor of typing and shorthand to debutantes and the upper classes.

A Lucie Clayton girl knew how to emerge elegantly from a low-slung sports car, how to hold a cigarette and glass of champagne at the same time, and how to eat asparagus without dribbling butter down her chin.

The modelling agency closed in the late 1970s but the school went on preparing young ladies for marriage, society and The Season.

Judith Kark, principal of Lucie Clayton before the merger, said that the college had in the past concentrated on style and presentation - make-up, deportment and dress sense. "It was very much the idea of a perfectly charming young lady - the attributes that she needed to succeed in society."

"We used to weigh the students," Mrs Kark admitted. "I have no idea why but we did."

But a modern future now beckons with the merger, brought about by the need to share IT resources and pool teaching resources.

Geoffrey Shopland, chairman of Training for Tomorrow Ltd, the Bristol-based company that owns both colleges, said: "The two colleges have worked closely in the past, developing training courses in the IT, secretarial and personal assistant field. This consolidation allows for a pooling of their teaching resources and development of new programmes without duplication of effort."

Mrs Kark said several of the courses at the new college would have a modern take on "grooming": there will be sessions in presentation, image andbusiness etiquette. "These subjects still have great importance in the commercial world," she said, adding: "Deportment, table-laying and getting into and out of a sports car will not be revived."

Tess Housden, former principal of St James's and director of studies at the merged college, said: "St James's has an outstanding short course department and offers a broad choice of graduate training programmes. Lucie Clayton's three-term secretarial diploma is a popular choice for post A-level students seeking an alternative to university. There is an obvious synergy between the two businesses.

"St James's is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.. This merger is a means to move into challenging areas such as the corporate market. This can take place while we expand the number of IT, PA and secretarial courses offered to the private market."

But some things do not change . While St James's amp; Lucie Clayton College will not teach you flower arranging, it still offers one or two week-long summer courses for 15 to 24 year-olds with sessions on skin care, make-up, manicure, dress sense, body language, diet and nutrition, posture, public speaking, hair-styling and etiquette. A sign, perhaps, that this new college will maintain a link with its genteel past.

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