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Monday 26 September 2011

Robert Kilroy Silk and the conductive debate

"Landscape" by Susie Mallett, July 2011

Recalling the programme so well

I have just read the account on Andrew Sutton’s blog about the Robert Kilroy Silk debate on Conductive Education that took place in 1986.

I relived every moment of that thirty-minute programme as I read Andrew’s posting. Word by word images of Robert Kilroy Silk with his perfect suit, his snow-white hair and orange-tanned skin came to mind. I could visualise him hopping up and down the steps amongst the studio audience and remembered how he passed the microphone from one angry person to another.

I remember a few men and many ladies in the audience and I remember there being some angry physiotherapists who seemed to me at the time be desperately afraid of losing their jobs.

Waiting for Petö

I knew none of the speakers, although I had heard of Andrew Sutton, having read about him and the Foundation for Conductive Education in several newspaper articles. I knew relatively little about Conductive Education at that time but I knew enough to know that I wanted to go to the Petö Institute to train to become a conductor. I had already begun what turned into a three-year-long application process in order to do so.

I had not worked in a state school since qualifying as a teacher so I was immediately turned down on the first occasion that I applied. It was 1989 before I was able to apply again and with success. Having moved from a job with disabled adults to work at a LEA school for the physically disabled, in Basingstoke, I had become a “proper teacher” with a registration number!

Once at that school in Basingstoke I learnt a little more about CE. There was nothing available for me to read except Phillipa Cottam and Andrew Sutton’s book Conductive Education, Hári and Ákos’s Conductive Education, and whatever was appearing regularly in the press. At the LEA school I was able to pick the brains of an occupational therapist who worked with me, who had attended a six-week course at the Petö Institute, and there was a wonderful speech therapist who seemed to me at the time, when I was young and inexperienced, to know something about everything.

I suppose that, had I known how and had had access to a university library, I could have tracked down other articles written by Andrew Sutton during his early involvement in Conductive Education, but I had no idea how to go about this and of course the World Wide Web was yet to become a household feature.

Unlike the trainee conductors who are beginning their training this month, who have so much available to them to read online before they even listen to their first lecture, most of what I knew I had learnt from debates like Robert Kilroy Silk’s, from newspaper reports, from colleagues and first hand from parents who had been to the “World Famous Petö Institute, some of whom I believe were in that studio audience.

Back at the studio and Andrew’s account

I wonder if my memory serves me right and that James Rose was in that audience with his family. I did some baby-sitting for the Rose family when I was in Budapest and have been in contact more recently when James did a tandem parachute jump to raise money for charity. I expect that someone out there remembers better than I do if they there were there with Mr Kilroy Silk.

I remember Janet Read taking the microphone, but like Andrew I do not remember what she said. I had no idea then who she was and little did I know that in a few years time I would be squeezed beside her in the tiny bathroom of her Budapest flat, doubled up with laughter as a friend and I helped her to put blonder streaks in her already blond hair. It probably would have been safer for her to go to the fodrás but at that time in 1990 we were still not sure after only a few Hungarian lessons whether we could ask for the right treatment. Janet worked in Budapest for two years for the Foundation for Conductive Education

There is probably a video of that debate stashed away somewhere so we could listen again to her emotional words. I expect that Gill Maguire or the Foundations’s National Library  will know the answer to that one.

Something else that remains a mystery to me as so many of my memories return is how I actually managed to see that debate. I seem to remember that it was daytime television and as I was working at the time, in the Makarenko-style home and work place where I had been for several years, I wonder how I got to see it. There is also the fact that I have never owned a television in my life and that makes it even more remarkable that I could retrieve such vivid memories of this particular programme from the archives of my life experiences. Perhaps, as it was so important for me at that time to find out all I could about Conductive Education, a friend, or even my sister, videoed it for me. Since my collecting habits are just like my Mum’s, that video, if it exists, will probably pop up at sometime in the future when I open up a neglected box of treasures.

It is interesting to recall those few years before I went to Budapest in 1989.  It was a time when Conductive Education was in the news almost every week. In 1988 I even listened to a report on television about the Birmingham Institute for Conductive Education as I sat in Singapore Airport waiting for a flight to Australia.

Before the WWW, CE was so well known

As soon as I left England for Hungary, then later for Germany, I had very little knowledge about what was developing in Britain and little chance of finding out, unless friends sent me cuttings, until 1994 that is, when the Internet became a household object in my home, communication by email became easier for me and the World Wide Web was there if I really needed it. Then in the mid 2000’s, when it became cheap enough to use the internet to surf and access everything that was being put on line, my knowledge of what was happening in the conductive world increased enormously.

Thank you Andrew for reminding me of those battle-ground scenes at the television studio, and also for making me realise that in some ways not much has changed. In Germany the debate goes on as, thanks to the World Wide Web, I now know it does in most parts of the world.


Andrew Sutton-

Robert Kilroy Silk -

James Rose -

1 comment:

Gillian Maguire said...

Yes, there is a recording of this debate on video and it was held in the National Library of Conductive Education when I was there.