Education: Passed/Failed: Benny Green

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The Independent Online
Benny Green, 69, is an author, jazz musician and broadcaster. He presents 'The Art of the Songwriter' on Radio 2 and is writing a book of Ronnie Scott memoirs.

Primary? I had a wonderful elementary education at Clipstone Junior Mixed on the slummy edge of Marylebone. Then, two days before war was declared, the headmaster told us that we were going to be evacuated and might never see our parents again; some kids burst out cheering. I was billeted with another boy, Max, in a very chichi house in Moor Park, just outside London, with a maid; in the Sixties I went to review Ben Hur and the film was ruined for me, because slaving away in the galleys at number two behind Charlton Heston was - Max!

First secondary? Then I joined St Marylebone grammar school, as a scholar. I missed the first two months, so I didn't know what they were talking about when they used words like "algebra" and "Latin". I didn't like the ethos; it was snob-ridden, posing as a minor public school. The Latin teacher hated me. I wrote an essay about Cleopatra having a son by Julius Caesar, and she threw the exercise book across the room and said, "You're only fit to be a barrow-boy."

Second secondary? In January 1941, I came home for my holidays and said I wasn't going back. London was going through the Blitz and two grammar schools were opened for evacuees who had opted out. Into what was called the North London Emergency Secondary School was tipped all the ragtag and bobtail, a most wonderful, dissident rabble. It gave me a marvellous streetwise education.

After hours? I joined a youth club at 14. It was the first place where I played the saxophone in public, made a speech and wrote for a magazine, which I later edited.

Exams? At 17 I passed in five School Certificate subjects, with distinctions in English grammar, English literature and history. But I got nought in physics (all I wrote was "B Green: Physics") and nought in Latin (I answered one question, with "habere", but the correct answer was habeo). The headmaster had me disqualified from all five subjects. I stayed down in the Upper Fifth - but I studied by myself for the London University "matriculation", which was of a marginally higher standard than School Certificate, and passed it.

Did you go to Cambridge? Yes, three times, and twice to Oxford - to lecture to music societies and jazz clubs. That was about 1959. At 13 I had started learning the saxophone and at 18 I was obsessed with being a musician; I left school in 1946.

Educating Benny? When I was nearly 30, I enrolled in a course of English and history at the City Lit near Drury Lane.

Green shoots? My daughter is just finishing at drama school; my first son is a schoolteacher, head of English and drama; my second got a brilliant Oxford degree; the third, who now plays saxophone with Van Morrison, walked out of the Royal Academy of Music. Myself, I am a natural student, but I jumped off the systemn