Just Wil­liams

‘My plan was to fail the Har­row en­trance and be sent to the lo­cal day school – by bus, with girls on it’

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

Si­mon re­lives school­boy dreams

WITH A BACK­GROUND in the arts, my fam­ily didn’t be­long to any par­tic­u­lar so­cial class – we had the vow­els if not the in­come to pass for up­per mid­dle, but if Dad’s play was a flop we had to drop down a peg or two. When he was de­clared bank­rupt, my brother’s name was in­stantly struck off the Eton reg­is­ter of can­di­dates. Dad threw a hissy fit (long be­fore they’d been in­vented) and got him re­in­stated, a saintly god­fa­ther coughed up the fees. It was the per­fect school for Hugo, camp and lais­sez-faire – they could make a Tory leader or a poet lau­re­ate of any­body. You can tell an Old Eto­nian by the gaudi­ness of his socks and the way he crosses the street, heed­less of traf­fic – they are the gold medal­lists of jay-walk­ing.

Like an un­der­study, I was al­ways keen to walk in my brother’s foot­steps, wait­ing my turn to in­herit his glory. Eton sounded pretty cool to me, like But­lin’s with­out the red coats, but their pass mark was be­yond my reach. I hadn’t taken to ed­u­ca­tion at prep school – al­ge­bra, brawn, com­mu­nal lava­to­ries etc. My plan was to by­pass pu­berty and go straight to adult­hood, where I’d be an overnight suc­cess at some­thing yet to be de­cided. There was talk of Gor­don­stoun, where I would be ‘made a man of ’, like the chap toss­ing a caber on the por­ridge packet. No thank you. Or Stowe, which was then bot­tom of the nice-but-dim league, a mere spawn­ing ground for an­tique deal­ers. I was qui­etly con­fi­dent that I could fail the com­mon en­trance to Har­row so that I’d be sent to the lo­cal day school – by bus, with girls on it. My plan was thwarted by my kindly head­mas­ter who made me cap­tain of a one-off school team and wrote to Har­row’s ad­mis­sions of­fice, ‘Si­mon was the cap­tain of our un­beaten foot­ball eleven.’ He could have been done un­der the Trade De­scrip­tions Act. I scraped in and my par­ents had to sell an Alan Lown­des paint­ing to pay for the first year.

The Eton/har­row ri­valry was in­tense – the sum­mer be­fore I ar­rived, some Eto­nian pranksters had painted Floreat Etona in weed­killer on the head­mas­ter’s lawn and my loy­alty was di­vided. Things weren’t helped when my brother, freshly re­leased from Eton, came to visit me wear­ing drain­pipes and a black polo neck. I was called in by the head of house. ‘Who was that beat­nik you were walk­ing down the street with?’ ‘My brother.’ ‘He had his arm round you.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Why?’ ‘He’s my brother.’ ‘What?’ ‘That’s how we al­ways walk.’ ‘Was he in this house?’ ‘No.’ ‘Which house then?’ ‘He went to Eton.’ ‘ETON! Christ on a bike.’ Sud­denly I was the Kim Philby of Har­row.

Si­mon plays Justin El­liott in The Archers

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