I wasn’t a good pupil at secondary school. One teacher commented that I seemed to prefer being class comedian rather than studying useful things like maths or science. He was right — but he wore a wig and touched the girls a bit more than he touched the boys, so what would he know about anything? But I am ahead of myself here; let’s go back a few years.
In primary school, I was a proper goodie-goodie. I could spell, write, was polite and knew when not to pick my nose. I also (mostly) managed not to piss myself in class — a trick not all of my classmates had mastered.
Accordingly, I was seen as a Good Boy by the primary teachers, and, in retrospect, maybe had a little more attention and coaching than I deserved. I sailed through my primary leaving exam, which ticketed me as a candidate for the local Grammar School, rather than the Secondary Modern that most of the weaker-bladdered pupils attended when they turned 12. I could wear a uniform, a cap, and had a leather satchel. I was smart: official. My future beckoned. But Grammar School introduced me to distractions that primary school had only hinted at — girls.
I discovered that to be popular, all you had to do was to make the girls laugh. Boys would scowl, and punch me stealthily in the kidneys for making Judith Telfer titter — but it was worth it. Making my classmates chuckle was my thing and I loved it. I threw myself into my new role with gusto.
Sadly, my brain was still developing, and could only manage to concentrate on one thing at a time. It was either snappy quips and fart noises or learning basic algebra. Algebra lost out.
By my second year at Towcester Grammar School I had established myself firmly in the Academically Mediocre Band. For the next two years I honed my skills as a permanent member of the lowest quartile, with comments from teachers to the effect that it might help ‘if I took school seriously’, or be better if I could rein in my ‘natural ebullience’ during classes.
By Third Form, hitting my stride, I signed up to the full-time comedy artist profile. As a result, I plummeted to 32nd overall (out of 34) in the end-of-year rankings. That’s full-on dunce territory.
I was reprimanded, threatened, warned and told my behaviour simply would not do. I was put on Daily Report. That meant the teacher had to sign a slip with Good, Satisfactory, or Bad as a comment on my general behaviour — for every single lesson! All the previous week’s slips of paper were then required to be presented, in person, by me, to the headmaster in his study every Friday. The study was a sombre place, and smelled of beeswax and old curtains. It also housed The Cane.
If there were more than four Bads on that week’s Daily Report slips, the headmaster hitched up his gown and gave me a few buttock-clenching whacks on the arse with The Cane. I didn’t much like being caned, so gave up comedy and applied myself to learning.
The next year, I came top of my class. My school report glowed.
It oozed with comments like: “we knew Jeremy had it in him”, “Jeremy has proved what he can do”, “a hard worker” and more. Boosted by this new-found academic success, I applied myself seriously to my work — as a comedian. The following year I slumped to 13th out of 20 pupils. I was put back on the Daily Report list.
As a result of the re-imposed, potentially punitive regime, I scored seven good O-levels — which was a pretty impressive result for an attention-lacking 15 year-old comedian, and would have been good enough to get me into A-Level classes.
But it was all too late; I had been irrevocably stamped with the Too Hard Work For Our Teachers mark. The headmaster, in his final comments, cane still twitching under his gown, noted that ‘Jeremy does not currently have the ability to make a success of an academic career.’
I had outstayed my welcome in the halls of the proud and illustrious, centuries-old Towcester Grammar. They had had enough of me. My parents were advised there was no point me staying on to do A-Levels and trying to become a credit to the school’s reputation. I was beyond redemption and would have to leave — and get a proper job.
Luckily, once every year for a few days, a Careers Officer (CO) dropped into our school to advise pupils nearing the end of their studies. His job was to help choose a sensible and rewarding career. He had nicely oiled hair, drank tea out of a cup (not a saucer) and was very well-informed on issues like what kind of medical doctors were in demand, the best universities for would-be researchers, and where best to seek premium internships that would oil the promotional wheels for neophyte captains of industry. He wasn’t so hot on advising smarty-pants comedians.
CO : “So what do you want to do when you leave school?”
“I don’t really know.” Hmmm.
CO : “What do you like doing outside school?’
“Making model aeroplanes.” Sigh.
CO : “Do you have any brothers or sisters?’
“Yes, four brothers.”
CO : “What do they do?’
“My oldest brother is in the Navy.”
CO : “How about joining the Navy then?”
Despite living as far away from the sea as you could possibly get in the United Kingdom, I joined the Merchant Navy, and began my working life.
I’m still wondering what to do when I grow up.