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Thursday, 22 October, 1998, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
The St Trinian's reunion
hockey practice
There were no jolly hockey sticks at the real St Trinian's
The real Belles of St Trinian's are gathering for their last reunion.

Up to 100 old girls from St Trinneans School in Edinburgh have met in the city to renew acquaintances stretching back to the 1920s.

The school was the inspiration for cartoonist Ronald Searle's tales of schoolgirl horrors, although he anglicised the name to St Trinian's.

Most of the former pupils are now in their 70s and 80s and their old school is now part of Edinburgh University.

One of them, author Helen Lillie, remembers her time there as an austere period of her life.

"It was always freezing cold and coldness seemed to be regarded as an aid to learning," she said.

"I was also frightened of the headmistress, Catherine Fraser Lee. She was as implacable a dictator as any in Europe in the 1930s.

"She didn't approve of me writing fiction and verse in my spare time and told my mother they took time and energy away from my school work."

The writer had been planning to fly from her home in Washington DC to be with her old friends, but a fall prevented her from making the journey.

Revolutionary school

St Trinneans was founded in Edinburgh by Miss Lee in 1922. At the outbreak of the Second World War, it moved to the Borders town of Galashiels and closed in 1946.

It was known as a school where pupils did what they wanted because the girls were allowed to organise their own homework schedules, a revolutionary idea in the 1920s and 30s.

Ronald Searle first heard of the school in 1941 when he was stationed as a soldier in Kirkcudbright. The idea of a school run by the pupils caught his imagination and gave rise to his popular St Trinian's cartoons.

He is currently on holiday in Germany, but he sent the organisers a congratulatory postcard, saying he'd be raising a glass to toast the real Belles of St Trinian's.

From Searle's cartoons were born the film comedies of the 1950s and 60s, starring Alistair Sim as the school's genteel but permanently hard-up headmistress, who benignly ruled over her black-stockinged little horrors. The films also featured a youthful George Cole and Joyce Grenfell.

But the real St Trinneans was very different from Searle's invention. It was a genteel, middle-class establishment, which did not even play hockey - lacrosse was the preferred school game.

'Too old'

The reunion was organised by former head girl Joan Campbell and her lifelong friend and classmate, Pat Hendry.

Dr Campbell said: "We organised the first reunion 13 years ago and this second one will be our last. People are getting too old to make the journey.

"We got acceptances from old girls all over Britain and some have made the journey from even further afield from places like Wyoming."

She does not look back on her time at St Trinneans through rose-tinted spectacles.

"I don't think the school gave us a particularly good formal education, although a lot of old girls went on to lead very successful careers," she said. "What it did leave you with, though, was a sense of responsibility and duty."

Pat Hendry said: "The name St Trinneans on your CV always made people laugh, but we forged lifelong friendships there. Over the years a lot of us haven't lost touch."

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