Education: Rise of 'The Fallen'

Word of Mouth
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The Independent Online
WHEN ONCE I found myself outside a wee theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne with nothing better to do, I bought a ticket to see an unknown musical. I never regretted it. The show was Godspell, which later enjoyed a deservedly long run in the West End. So if you happen to be anywhere near Bedford today, tomorrow or Saturday, I suggest you pop into Bedford Modern School for the world premiere of a show that might do even better than Godspell.

A world premiere at a school? Not all that unusual, really. Remember that amazing duo, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice? They were just lads at Westminster School when they wrote Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. And look what happened to them! Now we have The Fallen, another rock musical based on biblical and literary sources, including Genesis (Cain and Abel - Kain and Aidan in the show) and Milton's Paradise Lost (the fall of Lucifer, who becomes Luke).

It all began when a couple of lads at Bedford Modern School toyed with the notion of writing a musical. Sixth-former Leon Parris, 17, took five years to perfect the score for a big band, 10 lead singers and a 26-strong chorus. The suggestion came from Paul Knight, also 17 and in the sixth form, and the libretto was penned by Christian Coulson, now 20, who, like Lloyd Webber and Rice, was a student at Westminster School and is now at Cambridge.

Jeremy James Taylor, who played Joseph in the original Dreamcoat production and is now director of the National Youth Music Theatre, is coming to see The Fallen along with talent scouts from Lloyd Webber's company. A CD has already been made for release this week. If you wish, you may hear a brief sample on the Internet (the website address is www.b-m-.demon.co.uk/fallen) but I suggest you go and see the real thing before it reaches the West End. It should, as they say, go far.

Dull summers ahead

I VIVIDLY recall the first Open University summer school I attended well over 20 years ago. It was on the campus of Keele University and it was great fun.

I had been invited to address the large student body regarding moves by the then Tory government to close the Open University before it could prove itself, and I suggested students might like to write in protest to the Prime Minister (Edward Heath) and the Education Secretary, a woman called Margaret Thatcher. They all took my advice and wrote reams. Now Open University students might like to take up their pens again, for there are rumours that its summer schools, which are thought to be proving too costly, might be axed. This would be disastrous. Other options are being looked at, including weekend schools and "virtual conferences". So far, only one - for social science - has been "earmarked for cutting". No others, I am happy to report, are in imminent danger. Some students who have heard these ghastly whispers have already reacted with vociferous disapproval.

Fight the good fight

EARLIER THIS month, the University of Greenwich put up a 5ft memorial plaque, which was hand-carved in Welsh slate, to mark the end of that dreadful war 80 years ago and to remember the 60 students and staff of Woolwich Polytechnic (its old name) who died for king and country.

Now the Leverhulme Trust has made a research grant available to a Greenwich University team, including geologist Peter Doyle, to fight that war all over again. Using advanced battlefield simulation techniques, they will map the position of every trench, day by day, to see how landscape and geology influenced the war.

"We will analyse trench maps digitally, taking them as a baseline to compare with our contemporary understanding of geology," says Dr Doyle. He is convinced the war to end war need not have been "the war of muddy trenches" and adds: "Allies need not have been slaughtered at the Somme, should never have fought at Passchendaele. Tens of thousands of deaths could have been avoided if only they had known more about geology."

Apples and the moon

IT IS hardly credible, but that apple tree which in 1666 helped Sir Isaac Newton come up with the theory of gravity is still alive and growing in the garden of his birthplace near Grantham. Who says so? Why, Richard Keesing, of the physics department at York University. He has discovered documents suggesting that the tree, thought to be merely an offspring of the original, is indeed the very tree itself. A bundle of family papers from Woolsthorpe Manor, Newton's birthplace, contained a sketch of his famous apple tree. But, scientist that he is, Dr Keesing was not totally satisfied, so he has sent samples of the tree for DNA testing. Carbon dating and other tests are to be conducted by Oxford University. If he is proved right, the National Trust should be well pleased. It owns Woolsthorpe Manor, which receives 8,000 visitors a year. I imagine that figure would be doubled - at the very least.

Further education goes further

MOVES ARE very much afoot to launch a Further Education Week to focus on a sector "which still does not receive the attention it deserves and to celebrate its massive achievements".

The proposal comes from Tim Boswell, who is a former Minister for Further and Higher Education in the last government. I know that he always took a genuine interest in Adult Learners Week and, as an officer on the all- party parliamentary group, he still has some influence. He should have words with David Gibson, the principal of City College Manchester, who has just been appointed the chief executive of the Association of Colleges, further education 's umbrella body. A former president of the Association of Principals of Colleges, he was clearly a popular choice for the job. Round peg in round hole, you might say, and the best chap to arrange a special Further Education Week. It is a good idea. So whatever happened to Roger Ward, the AoC's last boss, who left under a very stormy cloud? There are rumours that he is back in town and preparing to - wait for it - open a restaurant.

And finally...

"There are vast numbers of people who are very good at telling you what should happen with the rainforests but who do absolutely nothing about recycling newspapers. My children are very good at reminding me about my global responsibilities for the huge issues of mankind, but they never turn the light off" - John Gummer, former Secretary of State, speaking at the University of Oxford in support of the work being conducted by its environmental change unit.

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