He was City editor of The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, and is now president of the
British Board of Film Classification as well as a columnist for The Independent
First edition: In 1940, when I was three, I went to the prep school of Birkenhead School, Cheshire, because it had an air-raid shelter - and a very heavy bombing raid had flattened the city. I stayed there until I was 18. It wasn't really a proper public school, but a direct-grant day school. I came from a vicarage and my father had little or no money to spend on my education. There were a vast number of free places, and the fees were small.
Le Miserable: I wasn't very happy at the school, but I now have amicable feelings. I am president of an appeal fund designed to replace money taken away when the assisted places scheme comes to an end. It wasn't the school's fault that I was in no sense a success. I was neither very successful academically nor at sport. I knew I wasn't going to be a prefect. I was a miserable fellow at the end of the queue. I suppose I was one of nature's late developers.
Economical with the A-levels: I passed the 11-plus, or our version of it, to go to "Big School". I did my O-levels and A-levels: they turned out OK. My main claim to fame was that, with one or two others, I was the first boy in the North of England to do economics. There were no commercial interests in my family, but from an early age I enjoyed the City and business sections of the newspapers.
Commoner as muck: I got myself into Oxford; the school wasn't interested in helping because they thought I wasn't bright enough to get a scholarship. The myth that schools propagated, out of intellectual snobbery or possibly ignorance, was that you sat the scholarship exam and got a place, even if you didn't win an award. I lived in my local library, and one evening I came across the statutes of Oxford University. I discovered - always read the small print! - that you could get a place by sitting an exam to enter as a "commoner" rather than as a scholar. I saw that Keble College was a clerical foundation; my father got me a reference from the bishop, and I then had the pleasure of telling the school that I had the place.
A vicar's son in paradise: Oxford was as great a shock as national service, when I had been in the infantry and guarded Spandau Prison in Berlin. Oxford in the late Fifties was still the world of Brideshead Revisited - which I certainly wasn't. I entered into it as fully as possible; I knew at the time that nothing would be as nice again. Journalism didn't occur to me at the time. I made it a rule - it was very juvenile and a luxury nobody could afford today - that I would never do anything which anyone could construe as being beneficial in my future career. I read philosophy, politics and economics, the chattering classes degree, which I enjoyed very much. I specialised in philosophy; it transformed my life and my way of thinking. It had a permanent effect on me, lasting until this very day.
Third edition: I was so ashamed and miserable about having a third-class degree that I didn't take my degree. Finally, many years later, I ended up as an honorary fellow of Keble College, and decided that I must take my BA before I was found out. I took my BA and MA in one morning. A college servant said: "Just to please us, will you wear a scholar's gown?"
Stop press: I have retained my interest in philosophy and am now reading Bryan Magee's The Story of Philosophy - very slowly. I have got up to Aristotle so far.
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