Passed/Failed: Nina Bawden

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The Independent Online
Nina Bawden CBE, 73, is a novelist

and children's writer. Her novels have

included `Walking Naked',

`The Ice House', `Family Money',

which was adapted for Channel 4,

and `A Nice Change', which came

out in paperback recently.

Her books for children include

`Carrie's War' and, to be published

later this year, `Off the Road'

Making a bit of a drama out of a bit of a drama? I was four when I went to a nasty little private school in Goodmayes, Essex. I was quite good at drawing and they made me do art classes with a lot of girls who were older, and smelt. Then at five I went to an elementary [state] school. It was much better, and I was better taught, but there was terrible bullying in the playground. I wasn't big, and I spoke properly. I wrote a play; as it was being performed, I realised how terrible it was. It included the line, spoken by the villain as he fell into an elephant trap: "Carruthers, I have broken my confounded leg!" I said, "I didn't write it!" It put me off playwriting.

Get me to the church hall on time: At 11, I passed the scholarship - only just; I wasn't very good at maths - to Ilford County High for Girls. When the Second World War started we were evacuated, first of all to Ipswich, and then to Aberdare, Queen of the Valleys, in south Wales. We had either morning or afternoon in the local school. I liked it; it was very free and responsible, there was nobody to tell you not to talk as you went from one church hall to another. I must have taken my School Certificate [GCSEs] in Wales.

This little piggy tried for Oxford: We went back to London - and the flying bombs. I took my Highers [A-levels], and then my best friend's mother said: "You must go to Oxford." I took the entrance exam to Somerville. I was cleaning out the pigsty at a farm in Wales, where my mother had rented a room, when the results of my final school exam were handed to me by the postman, along with the news that I had a state scholarship to Oxford. I had waited for this letter for so many weeks that I had abandoned hope, deciding that I had failed ignominiously.

Somerville - and the living was easy? I read French for two terms and then decided, with the arrogance of youth, that reading a language was boring. I switched to politics, philosophy and economics and got a good second. I had Lord Lindsay (as he became), Master of Balliol, teaching me philosophy.

Shoulder to shoulder with Maggie: Margaret Thatcher was in my year, and our first-year college photograph shows us standing side by side in the back row. We were both grammar school girls on state scholarships. I was an active member of the Labour party and said to her that we should use our good fortune to make sure that, when the war ended, a new, happier, more generous society would take the place of the old one. She said that she wanted to get into Parliament and had more chance of being noticed in the Conservative Club because so many of the members were dull and stodgy.

Gone for a Burton? I met Richard Burton, an RAF cadet on a two-term course. I would have flirted more enthusiastically if it had not been for the horrid boils on the back of his neck.

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