MEMORIES of half-a-century ago came flooding back for former pupils and staff at long-gone Park school in Swindon and in particular of its talented, much respected, no-nonsense head of music Louie Thatcher... all because of an old-fashioned, seven-inch vinyl single.

Echoes from the past were sparked by a story in Saturday’s Adver concerning a mystery disc that turned up at the Prospect Hospice Music and Book Shop in Swindon town centre amidst a batch of pop singles.

The four-track 45rpm record – or EP (extended play) – was recorded by The Orchestra and Girls’ Choir of Park Senior High School in Swindon on a Bristol record label SAYDISC.

However the disc, which comprises performances of Verdi’s Grand March, Old Mother Hubbard, Praise Ye The Father and Behold The Lord High Executioner, bore no date.

The shop’s assistant manager and vinyl expert Martin Roche guessed that it was recorded between 40 or 50 years ago but had never seen a copy before and appealed through the Adver for more information.

The record’s picture sleeve, however, credits Miss L Thatcher, the school music teacher, as conductor.

Linda Drayton (nee Warren) was one of several former Park pupils – now all in their 60s – who remembered playing on the record either in 1965 or ‘66.

“I sang in the choir and played cello in the orchestra,” she said.

“The recording was done in the school hall with full orchestra – strings, brass and woodwind. First violin was Philip Musselwhite, who was older than me and would have left the school by 1968. There are many teachers and ex-students still in the town. Two of us – myself and Elizabeth Kolodjiev – went on to become music teachers.”

Joan Varley (nee Fenton) now of Edenbridge, Kent, who saw the article on a Facebook page for former pupils, also appeared on the disc.

She said: “I was in the choir and the orchestra playing the cello. My brother Frank was also in the orchestra on double bass.

“From what I remember the recording was all very straightforward. We were always expected to perform our best at all times for Miss Thatcher, and she was quite fussy about who was in her choir and/or the orchestra.

“The choir was on the stage for the session. The orchestra was down in the hall. I don’t remember much about the recording equipment, so it must have been fairly discreet.”

Her brother Frank Fenton said: “It was either late 1965 or early 1966, recorded in the school hall with only a couple of takes for the orchestra.

“Ian Roland was the trumpet player on the Grand March. David Robinson was on timpani I think.

“The orchestra was so large at that time the Swindon Music Festival adjudicators had to come to the school to judge them – and we always passed.

“The orchestra played at every assembly and every stage production.”

Another former pupil, Swindon sports historian Dick Mattick found an old school yearbook showing a photo of orchestra leader Philip Musselwhite who he also recalled was the school’s rugby team scrum half.

Former Park art teacher Keith Tyler, 85, not only remembers the school’s formidable music teacher Louie Thatcher but still has a stunning “semi-caricature” picture of her leading the teacher’s choir, which he drew himself in 1963.

Mr Tyler, of Lower Stratton, who spent ten years at Park before going on to Churchfields in Swindon, said: “Miss Thatcher was an absolutely dedicated music teacher and musician – a very talented violinist.

“She ran four choirs and two orchestras at the school – including a staff choir. The choirs and orchestra were so popular they did a couple of broadcasts for the BBC.”

Park High in Marlowe Avenue became Park Grammar and then Oakfield School before it was closed during council cuts in 2000.

Miss Thatcher, who is understood to have died some years ago, taught at Park from 1962 to 1969.

An old school year book describes her as a “professional performer in her own right. She demanded and obtained a very high degree of discipline which turned all her concerts and recitals into memorable occasions.”

  • The Prospect – which cares for terminally ill patients and their families in the Swindon area – stocks around 2,000 records as well as books, CDs, DVDs and other items at its Commercial Road shop.