My song today is ‘Rave On’. This song was written by Sonny West, Bill Tilghman and Norman Petty in 1958. It was first recorded by Sonny West for ‘Atlantic Records’, which released his version in February 1958. Buddy Holly recorded the song later the same year, and his version became a hit; one of six of his recordings that charted in 1958. Holly is instantly recognizable as the artist: the record begins with a drawn-out "Well…" as stylized by Holly's distinctive hiccup ("A-weh-uh-heh-uh-ell…").
Holly's rendition of ‘Rave On’ is ranked Number 154 on Rolling Stone magazine's 2004 list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.’
This record was released during my 15th year of life. Prior to the age of 11 years, I attended ‘St Patrick’s Roman Catholic School’ in Heckmondwike, and despite being unable to speak properly until I was 4 years old, I was a very intelligent young boy. My educational progress was advanced for my years; I always came first or second in my class at every subject taught.
Before my 11th birthday, I was encouraged by the Headmaster to take my 11+ examinations to go to the Grammar School, six months earlier than usual. I passed my Grammar School entrance examination but then declined to go. At the time, my working-class credentials combined with coming from a poorer family gave me an ‘inverted sense of snobbery’. I considered all grammar school pupils as toffs who dressed in posh clothes, whereas mine were either well worn or torn.
Having passed my 11+ almost one year earlier than the examination was normally taken, combined with my refusal to go to the grammar school after passing the examination, my Headmaster, Mr. Armitage, gave me the type of punishment that only a Catholic Headmaster could possibly devise. He removed me from a class of my own age and placed me in a class of 14 and 15-year-olds under the guise of ‘pupil promotion’ instead of ‘pupil punishment’. In one spiteful move, the Head had separated me from all my friends and peers and stated, “In future, Forde, you’ll learn in a class with pupils of your ability”.
I’ll give the Headmaster credit; he certainly taught me how to ‘damn with faint praise’. Under the eyes of all his staff and the parents of other pupils, he was able to exact his own particular form of retribution for me ‘having let the school down’ by declining to go to the Grammar School (plus lowering the 1953 equivalent of his school stats).
Within that year, I was to incur a horrific accident when I was knocked down by a wagon that ran over me, twisting my body around the drive shaft. I was received into hospital with multiple life-threatening injuries including damage to my spine, chest collapse (22 of my 24 ribs broken) and extensive damage to both my legs. I was to remain in the hospital for nine months and it would be over two years after my discharge before I was able to stand on my own two feet again and walk.
During this time, I’d missed over thirty months schooling, but one of my teachers (Mr. McNamara) got me tested by Mensa and I came out with a very high score (142). Please note, Mensa scores themselves are more indicative of the way a person thinks and not a level of knowledge/intelligence.
I returned to ‘St Patrick’s Roman Catholic School’ briefly to take an examination to attend ‘Dewsbury Technical College’, and I commenced there six months after all my other technical school classmates had started their first term. I was six months away from my 15th birthday and I was still at the hobbling-about stage, having spent the years 11-14 being unable to walk. I thought that I’d be able to catch up to the other class pupils, but having missed so much education (over 2 years) and now having to deal with subjects, we’d never been taught at my previous school, instead of coming first or second in my class at technical school (as I’d grown accustomed to since starting school at the age of five), I found myself in 10th or 11th place.
This ‘normal’ position in class came as a great shock to me, and it was at a stage in my life when I also started to resent being at school because my parents couldn’t afford a change of uniform or pay for any of the additional school equipment required to enable a pupil to fit in and not stand out from their peers.
I’d had enough with school life and more than enough of having ‘to do without’. I wanted to become a worker and earn some money to put some decent clothes on my back and good shoes on my feet. I was unable to play football or rugby with my classmates as I was still having to ungainly hobble around and was unable to run until a few years later when my balance and mobility had significantly improved.
So, on the very same day that the school was having its Christmas party, I gathered up all my textbooks and handed them into the Head’s Office. Officially, I should have stayed on at school a further six months until I was fifteen and a half, but I’d had enough and told the Head to report me to the authorities if he felt like it. The Headmaster had the same surname as me (but without the ‘e’). When Mr. Ford heard what I’d told him, instead of warning me to the contrary or threatening to have my parents fined after informing the ‘Department of Education’, he simply said. “Good luck, Forde. I wish you well. Merry Christmas”.
The following Monday, I started work in a mill in Cleckheaton, as a ‘bobbin collector’ for the princely sum of £2:15 shillings weekly. Over the next six years, I was to remain working in textile mills, where I advanced in position until I decided to emigrate to Canada at the age of 21 years to live for a few years. These six years in the textile mills were some of the happiest years of my life and I wouldn’t exchange one day if I’d to live my life all over again. I met folk in the mill who were unforgettable characters; friends who would give you their last penny, people who deserved to dine at the top of any table in the land instead of serving it for extra part-time income. These were my type of people, folk with whom I was at greatest ease.
My time in Canada, and immediately thereafter when I returned, witnessed me starting to significantly change. Essentially, my estimation of ‘self’ had increased during my Canadian interlude, along with my expectations. I now wanted more out of life and returned to working in a textile company as a ‘working foreman’. I then progressed to taking a job at another mill as an ‘under-manager’, before moving mills again and assuming the position of a ‘Mill Manager’ on nights. I was only 26 years old at the time. In just three years, I’d made a meteoric rise in the textile field, but that wasn’t enough for me.
Upon returning from Canada, I met my first wife-to-be, became engaged and planned to marry her after she’d concluded her teacher training course in Bradford. Without me being consciously aware of it at the time, my value structure, cultural enhancement, and aspiration level were being encouraged to change through my daily association with my fiancée and her family. Whilst being wary of moving outside my social class, (I had always been proud of having come from a working-class background), I was obviously more prepared to go along with my fiancé’s wishes more than I could ever have previously imagined.
I started regularly attending plays, musical productions, theatres, and even ballets, and became familiarised with all manner of classical music. I even started reading a library of ‘classical literature’ instead of the more historical books I’d preferred to read since my teens. I was then encouraged to go back to night school and complete the educational examinations I never took during my 15th and 16th years of life.
Before I married at the age of 26 years, I’d made a momentous decision to change the future course of my life. I took an ordinary worker's job in a Brighouse textile mill which earned me one-third of the wage I’d been previously earning as a night-time Mill Manager. I did this to free me up in my evenings. This would enable me to go to night school three evenings a week and get the ‘0’ and ‘A-level’ qualifications to gain me university entrance.
I now knew what I wanted out of life. I wanted a profession, not a job! I wanted a salary and not a wage! I wanted something vocational instead of occupational and which best-fitted the talents I could offer. I wanted to use my brain instead of my brawn! I wanted to help lawbreakers become law abiders, thieves to turn honest and to show violent and aggressive people how to lose their violent behaviour and make their body aggression work for them instead of against them. I strongly believed I could do this because 'I’d been there' and had 'walked in their shoes'.
At the age of 29 years, I trained to become a Probation Officer at Newcastle (then a Polytechnical College, but now of University status). I’d finally obtained the position in life that best fitted me, and although being a Probation Officer was then a profession filled mostly by middle-class university degree-holders, I was determined that my own life experiences allied to my working-class credentials and values (which I’d temporarily stood down but had never abandoned after returning from Canada), would be the strongest tool in my workbox. How right I was!
I found over the ensuing years, that my having been a poacher-turned-gamekeeper, and having been brought up in a large working-class family on an estate with the values to match, was to be my best assets for a job in which I naturally excelled, in both performance and personal satisfaction. Between becoming a Probation Officer and retiring from that post, I never lost sight of the fact that the clients who sat at the other side of the desk or stood at the opposite side of the prison bars to myself were ‘my people’. Because of this, I found that I was usually trusted by them.
Trust between worker and client is a prerequisite to being able to effectively help them at all; and being able to help people stop committing crimes and to become healthier, happier and more hopeful as a consequence brings any Probation Officer as much satisfaction as is possible.
My claim in helping clients is beyond question if not comparison. Throughout my career, I researched my own work and after completing a ten-year follow-up study with hundreds of clients (each having committed a wide range of grave and numerous offences) the national average figure at the time for ‘non-reconvictions’ two years after the original offence had been committed, was exceeded by myself at a 3:1 ratio. My study group involved over 300 people who had completed my twenty-four two-hour weekly programmes of ‘Relaxation, Assertion Training and Anger Management’. The national figures were taken on a two-year basis; not ten years, as was my study.
During my specialised ‘Behaviour Modification’ work, I discovered many surprising aspects of human behaviour, of which I mention but a few here. I learned that once a worker gains client trust and offers the client a positive programme of work ‘which accords with the client’s philosophy’, it is easier to get men and women who have committed 100 offences to stop offending than to persuade a person with two or three previous offences to stop offending by the more conventional treatment programmes of Probation Officer work! I also learned that with the use of ‘Relaxation Training’, men and women, can more easily break all their drug addictions. I helped over two hundred people who had been taking heavy medication for between 1-10 years (anti-depressants), to break their addictions and not return to their drug intake. I consider this aspect of all my work over a 26-year-old career to have been my greatest achievement as a Probation Officer. I found that where good health needed restoring, that it could never come about without establishing ‘good sleeping practices. In all the major considerations of changing behaviour, I found the most important aspect to a client’s good health and position of self-enhancement was learning how to express loving feelings, become more truthful in thought and deed and learning to forgive self and others. It sounds more like a Bible lesson than a ‘Behaviour Modification’ one, doesn’t it?
I was also very privileged to have learned from my own early years of uncontrollable anger and aggressive behaviour pattern during the early 1970s. I founded the process of ‘Anger Management’, and within a matter of two years, my principles of the Anger Management process had mushroomed across the English speaking world. The numbers of people helped globally through ‘Anger Management’ have been millions not dozens, of which I played a small but significant part by my contribution to the working process of the method.
Throughout my life, I have had significant career changes and life experiences that have satisfied me immensely. I have always adopted a pragmatic and positive viewpoint. I have never held the view that there is only one way to best help all people with similar problem behaviour. I truly believe that anyone who espouses or asserts this view is grossly mistaken.
I have never found any difficulty in ‘moving on’ from one phase of life to another, believing that unless one is forever prepared to change along with the changing circumstances of one’s life and environment, one’s emotions can never progress to full fruition and one’s dreams of being the ‘you’ that you were meant to be becomes ever more distant.
However, I’d have to say that the one constant in my passing years amid all this change, has been my love of singing, the distinctive pleasure of all forms of music, the sheer delight of dancing; and, in particular, being a part of the ‘rock and roll’ and ‘Bopping’. ‘Rave On’.
Love and peace Bill xxx