Passed/Failed: Michael Frayn

Michael Frayn, 65, is the award-winning playwright, novelist and translator of Chekhov. His plays include Noises Off, Now You Know and Copenhagen, currently at the Duchess Theatre
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The Independent Online
Beautiful and the beast: I went to an absolutely delightful little private school in Ewell, Surrey. I was part of a gang run by a very Amazon- like girl. I wore glasses, so she appointed me as the gang scientist with the task of making explosives. At seven I went for an interview at an unspeakable private school in Sutton. The headmaster, a clergyman, asked me to spell "beautiful". I spelt it wrongly but he let me in just the same. The architecture expressed the philosophy of the place perfectly: the front facing the road was brick, but all the other walls were built of corrugated iron. There was a lot of bullying and caning.

Cane mutiny: My mother died when I was 12 and my father had to get a housekeeper, which meant he couldn't afford the school fees, so I was faced with the black morass of the state system; in fact, Kingston Grammar School was a perfectly decent place. They did cane people, but only one or two boys a term. The teaching was extremely efficient.

Is the Pope a Catholic? My father was a salesman and thought he could have got me a job in his firm; he was rather hurt when I went for an interview at Cambridge. The senior tutor at Emmanuel was a notorious anti- Semite and anti-Catholic. He said, "Suppose you have children who go to France and come back converted to Catholicism. What would your attitude be?" I must have given some intolerant answer because I got in. Before going, I spent a year of my National Service at Cambridge on the Russian interpreter's course. You worked very hard; there was an exam every Friday and you got thrown off if you failed. Alan Bennett was on the course - we did shows together.

Lettuce pray: I came out of the army one day and started at university the next. Having been on the edges of university life, I knew what I wanted to do. I wrote a column called "Saturday Sermon" for Varsity and guest- edited one issue of Granta. I wrote the Footlights May Week revue. This was the only time it did not go on to the West End, but Bamber Gascoigne, a friend of mine, used two numbers in his revue, Share My Lettuce, which did go there.

Moral Science Maze: I started by reading French and Russian but changed after a year to moral sciences. In my last year my supervisor was Jonathan Bennett, a wonderful man. We'd start at 12 o'clock and at one o'clock we would retire to the pub next door. After lunch we would sometimes go back to his room and continue arguing until Hall. This was a very good way of learning philosophy. I got a 2:1.

Questions of sport: Emmanuel then was a sporting college, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. In my first term the chaplain asked me, "Are you a rowing man?" I said, "No." "Rugger man?" "No." "Soccer?" "No." "Cricket?" "No." "Athletics?" "No." "Boxing?" "No." "You are a member of the Church of England, aren't you?" "No." "There doesn't seem much point in continuing this conversation," he said.

Interview by Jonathan Sale

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