PASSED/FAILED: Malcolm Bradbury

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The Independent Online
Malcolm Bradbury, 64, Professor Emeritus at the University of East Anglia. The Atlas of Literature has just been published by De Agostini Editions.

First qualification? The 11-plus. This was the first of the three great hurdles. My father had left school at 14 and I was the first generation to go to grammar school.

The second hurdle? You had to get six or seven School Certificates at a decent standard. About half the school didn't, and left at 16 instead of going into the Sixth Form. I did well in English Literature, English Grammar (as it then was), Art and Geography, and fairly well in languages. I passed in Maths, History and what I suppose was called Religious Instruction.

The third hurdle? You took Higher Certificates at 18. They were like A-levels but taught in a more structured way with a great deal of rote learning. I got something like 2As and a B in English, Geography and Latin.

Top of the Form? I picked up a few literature prizes at school. Because of illness I was unable to play sport so sat in the library and turned into a literary person.

To What Degree? I was a scholarship boy at University College, Leicester (as it then was) - again, first generation. I got a very good first in English; it was an external London degree. I finished my PhD at Manchester.

Glittering Failures? When I was eight, I had a very unsettled period and was behind in my education: it was during the war and my school was bombed. I had trouble with my driving test, which I took two or three times. Before that, I used to ride a motor scooter but I failed the first time; for the emergency stop, the examiner jumped out in front of me, but I didn't spot him and ran over his foot.

Favourite award? I have to say the CBE. Of the academic awards, the honorary doctorate from Leicester. To 21-year-old me, this would have seemed beyond belief

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