Friday, May 30, 2014

Alan Bennett makes GCSE List with History Boys

Having just watched Alan Bennett's The History Boys on the BBC this week I can see why it is a chosen play. I was so impressed I watched it twice.

Being of another age and a girl I went to school but received no education. I wanted to take GCE English literature but three weeks before the exam I did not even know what the set books were. Then I met a teacher like Hector who saw I had potential and in three weeks taught me the three books one of which was The Selected Poems of Thomas Hardy. She told me that these poems would be with me for life and I still quote them from memory. She was right.

This woman was my entire education. She taught me the love of literature and poetry but more importantly how to learn and question in just ten days. She was appalled at my spelling and said it was a mark off for every mistake!The way she interpreted the love poems written by a man in his seventies has left a lasting impression. She said it was impossible to complete the three books and I never read the complete novel The Rover by Conrad but she handed me the crib and said get as far as you can. I should not do this under any other circumstances.

I was bright! Although I was actually working at the time, a yes I was a professional child actor, I just did it. I took the exam. The only girl in my school to do so.When the results came up I had 87% but as Mrs Payne for that was her name, gave them to me she said. Pity about your spelling. We shall never know your true academic worth! This mattered not to me as I knew I was not going to be one as I was going to be famous on the stage. In some ways I did achieve this!

I married an Oxford educated GP Miles RC Heffernan so I know all about Oxford. Alan Bennett got it absolutely right in his play. My husband said at Oxford some entrants only write a page of the exam and yet still gain entry. I felt like the boy who was good at sport and became the builder. I think had I received the education these boys got in Sheffield I too might have made Oxford. Watching made me realise how poor my faith school convent education was. Oh to have lessons like that! To have the confidence that those boys had to answer back and be accepted. This quality is also bestowed at Eton. I have never had this ability. Bennett's Sheffield school maybe more imaginary than real, I suspect.

However I was lucky. I have Oxford although second hand. My husband once said only go for the best as life is too short for the second rate and he was right. I had a crash course in the best for which I am extremely grateful.

That is why I am delighted Alan Bennett is included as it might encourage teachers to be more courageous and pupils to see what they should be getting. Strangely I featured in the life of Benjamin Britten and in a book published for his centenary my essay on Britten  first published in the Times is immediately after Alan Bennett's! Our education could not be more different both of us were outsiders but at least he had the advantage of being working class and a man. I am working class too although I don't sound it but a woman. Big difference. Thanks to Mrs Payne, Benjamin Britten and my husband I survived my education but think what I might have achieved had I been educated?

PS Forgive the typos as my spelling has not improved!

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