WHEREVER you went to school, there is no doubt you wish you could have changed something about it.

Maybe there was a teacher who always picked on you or a subject you did not like.

But however much you must have hated French, it is highly unlikely you thought about starting your own school.

Yet 11-year-old Hove schoolboy James Clifton was a highly extraordinary pupil.

Attending Holland House school in Cromwell Road, Hove, in the Twenties, James had an ongoing rivalry with tyrannical headmaster Clovis Chubb.

But the pupil had a lightbulb moment when teacher Mick O’Byrne threw a maths book at his head during a bout of daydreaming.

Fed up with corporal punishment, in 1925 James decided he would start Claremont Preparatory School, now The Claremont hotel.

The only problem was he did not have a headteacher... an issue he solved from an unlikely source.

“Weirdly James took with him Mick O’Byrne, the maths teacher who threw a book at him, and made him headmaster,” said historian Kevin Newman, who has written a fictionalised account of the school’s early days in his book Beef Every Day But No Latin.

“He was a bit of a father figure for James, who was from a broken home. His dad had left and his mum seemed to be a bit of a tyrant.”

Mick was a troubled First World War veteran from Ireland who suffered from alcoholism and shellshock. Yet he was loved by Claremont pupils, who he would often send to the shops to buy his tobacco.

But that was not before James and his friend Douglas Payne went on a mass recruiting drive to find pupils for the school.

“The boys would turn up at parents’ homes and convince them to send their children to Claremont,” said Kevin.

“They must have been remarkably persuasive for 11-year-olds.”

Douglas’s parents even pitched in to help the school, his mother constantly cooking beef for pupils’ lunches.

She may have gone overboard, though, as James eventually became a lifelong vegetarian.

James, as the school’s “senior partner”, was in charge of the curriculum and instantly abolished the subject he hated most: Latin.

A priority for the school was swimming lessons on Hove seafront administered by another First World War veteran, Herbert Marshall.

Herbert’s right leg was amputated after he was shot in the knee by a German sniper, his strong swimming an inspiration for the Claremont boys.

He eventually became a leading man in Hollywood’s Golden Age of the Thirties and Forties, netting himself a star on Tinseltown’s Walk of Fame before he died in Beverly Hills in 1975.

Despite starting the school, James left for a boarding school in Herne Bay, Kent, after just two years.

But Claremont remains his lasting legacy, still operating as a private school in St Leonards, where it moved in 1945.

“It’s a completely unique Sussex story,” said historian Kevin.

“There’s nothing like it anywhere. The Summerhill School in Suffolk is run democratically by pupils.

“But I can’t find any other school in the UK which was started by one.

“It’s a poignant story for this time, where schools are pressurised exam factories.”

Mick’s 18-year-old son William took over as headmaster in 1928 after the veteran left the school in a row.

But both James and Mick had the last laugh when Clovis Chubb’s hated Holland House school closed in 1930.

New headmaster William’s story was a tragedy, however.

Long affected by the stress of running a school from such a young age and bombing which hit the school in the Second World War, he died in 1958 aged just 42.

But the school was not James’s only remarkable achievement.

As a skilled engineer, his power inverter helped send Nasa’s Gemini spacecraft into orbit in the early Sixties. James also created the Clifton nanometer osmometer, a high-tech scientific instrument which bears his name.

He died in 2000 at the grand age of 87.

But historian Kevin hopes his influence will be felt in Hove long after then.

“It’s a story good enough for a film,” he said.

Beef Every Day But No Latin by Kevin Newman is available to buy online at therealpress.co.uk and allinclusivehistory.org