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School Stories: 1930s

Thank you to alumna Betty Spector (nee Lipert, class of 1939) who contacted us to share her South Hampstead memories from the 1930s.

At eleven years old I passed the entrance exam for South Hampstead High School… My form mistress was the stimulating, red-haired Miss Bruce, who taught Mathematics, whom I admired very much. Two of my aunts had been happy pupils at South Hampstead in the 1920s and recommended we girls should go there. My sisters, who were juniors, and I were driven to school daily in my father’s Rolls Royce by his chauffeur.

During my first year in the Upper Third there was a competition to perform a mime – I directed and produced ‘Jack the Giant Killer’, playing Jack myself. I was the smallest girl in the school at the time. We won the prize and I knew then I wanted to act! 

In 1939, my family sailed on the Queen Mary to New York to see the World’s Fair. While we were there I had an audition and won a scholarship to the Neighbourhood Playhouse playing Joan in a scene from Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw. I entered the two-year course in acting and modern dance in September 1939. Among my fellow students were Gregory Peck, Tony Randall, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Eli Wallach who became film and stage stars. I recall playing Gregory Peck’s wife – he was 6ft 4 and I was just 5 ft – in a comedy. The acting director was Sanford Meisner and the modern dance director was Martha Graham.

I auditioned to play in Summer Stock at the Greenwood Playhouse in Maine, where I was cast as “junior lead”. Unfortunately I injured my back by foolishly demonstrating the Graham technique to fellow actors without warming up and had to return home to Manhattan for medical treatment.

Upon my recovery, I visited my sisters who were on holiday at a hotel on Long Island. They introduced me to a fellow guest, a handsome, sharp-witted Archie Spector, who was a graduate of the famous Wharton School of Business and Commerce, University of Pennsylvania. We married in 1943 just before the United States entered the war. I gave up acting, took a secretarial course, was employed at the Babies’ Hospital, Columbia Medical Centre in the Social Services Department. Archie joined the Signal Corps and when he was stationed in Joplin, Missouri, I joined him there.

In 1945 our first child, Kay, was born and we flew with her on the first civilian flight of a British Airways sea plane from Baltimore, Maryland to Poole, Dorset, stopping overnight en route in Iceland and Foynes, Ireland. An English Vice-Admiral kindly insisted that I have his private cabin on board with my baby. We were met in Poole by my father’s chauffeur and were appalled to see on the drive to London the terrible damage caused by the bombing. It was wonderful to be with my family after the war years and introduce my darling baby, Kay. We remained in London for two years and then settled on Long Island, New York, where Barbara and Paul were born.”

Thank you, Betty, for sharing your reflections of your school days; we are delighted to record your story in our archive so that future students can find out more about being a South Hampstead pupil in the 1930s. If you are a former pupil and would like to share your school days story, please get in touch:

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