No Crying Over Spilt Milk? I was at Selcombe Primary School, Southgate, in north London, which had red jackets and red hats. It was run by two sisters, Big Miss Deakin and Little Miss Deakin.
Top of the Form? At seven I got a scholarship to Colet Court Preparatory School in west London, the junior school of St Paul's. The results in four key subjects were pinned up in the Great Hall. In the first few weeks, mine were "1, 1, 1, 1," and when my mother asked me how I had done, I said, "Not terribly well." For a long time I was too naive to realise that these weren't marks but positions - I was first.
A Hard Act to Beat? I got a scholarship to the senior school, St Paul's. My great success was getting the record of being beaten by four masters in 24 hours.
Examinations? In O-levels, I passed Physics with Chemistry, Maths, Biology, two English, History and French. I failed Latin. My A-levels were Chemistry, Physics, Zoology and Botany. I got a school prize for the best marks: a dictionary and an illustrated history of philosophy - I've still got them.
Doctor in the University? At the London Hospital I was the worst student of the year and everyone would have fallen about laughing at the idea that I'd ever be a professor. I was a member of the Failed Pharmacology Club; we had a gold embroidered tie with a Latin inscription saying "Eight Pints". I went into the viva wearing it and the Professor of Pharmacology promptly failed me again. At another pharmacy viva, one of the examiners looked out of the window at the autumnal trees and said, "The leaves are yellow. I'll see you again when they are green - in the spring." Pharmacology is a useless subject and I've never used it; if I want to know about a dosage, I ask a nurse. This was the era of Bill Russell, the original of the character in Doctor in the House, who had an allowance from his grandparents - for as long as he was a student. He failed his exams 10 years running.
Good Diagnosis? In the obstetrics exam I formed the opinion that I was faced with a breach birth but the examiner, who was one of the doctors in charge of the patient, said, "My boy, say it's a `vertex' [head-first] and you've passed. Don't spoil everything!" But I said, "I'm convinced it's a breach." The other examiner felt it - and it was.
Members' Entrance? I took my membership of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in my thirties. After the clinical exam in the morning, the examiner said, "You'll have no difficulty in the viva." I went to a restaurant and drank a bottle of burgundy and had a brandy. For the first part of the exam, which started at 3.30, you had to make a diagnosis from six slides under the microscope. I was very confident, even writing that I couldn't see why the sixth slide, of a normal uterus lining with nothing of any pathological significance, was included. The examiner looked at my sheet of paper - and dropped it into the wastepaper basket. And then I went into the viva ... I had, in fact, got it all right. I think he was playing a jokeReuse content