Old School Ties by Tim Devlin and Hywel Williams (Sinclair-Stevenson, £17.99) Desmond Albrow
CARDINAL Flume seems to be very well-satisfied with the education that he received at Ampleforth. The Master-General of the Dominicans, Timothy Radcliffe, is equally happy with the one that Downside gave him: "Many of the monks communicated a calm benevolence towards all human folly and a fundamental optimism about human beings."
But Fr Michael Hollings, an ex-chaplain at Oxford, cannot exactly enthuse over his time at the now-defunct Beaumont. "I learnt the hard way to be separated from home in an alien society that I resented."
He disliked school and "developed a love-hate relationship with religion." Rupert Allason MP (the spy author Nigel West) found Downside "a bleak, unpleasant school with pointless regulations. It made me rebellious, sceptical, inherently anti-Establishment, iconoclastic and virulently antipomposity..."
You pays your money (at least your parents do) and takes your chance with an English public school education. Yet, as Old School Ties shows. grammar schools, convent schools, high schools, comprehensive schools. secondary modern schools, can also he a hit-and-miss affair for the average pupil. What are the happiest days of your life for some are a veritable purgatory for others.
Tim Devlin (Winchester and Oxford) and Ilywel Williams (Llandeilo Grammar and Cambridge) had a good idea when they planned this book. The focus was to be on the relationship between the school and the career initially chosen by those who had made it into the "premier division" of life. They sent out a questionnaire to 3,000 people and received replies from more than half.
So far, so good. Then they obviously went adrift when they started to launch the project. Some of the replies were interesting and revealing, some positively banal, some too brief for thought (Ian Botham), some overlong (AN Wilson).
Yet it appears that, like some avuncular house-master who dos not want to damp youthful enthusiasm. they have not had the heart to ditch the lame entries but seem to have included virtually all those who bothered to reply. Take these two examples from the world of sport: "The cricketer Neil Fairbrother 'only played a couple of games a year' at Lynn Grammar. 'Hardly inspiring!' is his wry comment."
"Lucy Soutter too noticed sadly that 'most of my squash contemporaries came from private education, which is a pity' ."
Sportsmen and women. I am aware, are not always the most eloquent and articulate of people, but I could quote equally brief and boring remarks from the religious, business and acting fraternities.
It would, of course, be impossible to compile a book of this nature without some fascinating and delightful material.
I liked Peter Walker's observation on his old school. Latymer Upper, and its classless background. "When you see a Rolls in the City it's possible that both the chauffeur and the man in the back are wearing Latymerian ties."
Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, who did not have the most comfortable of rides at Stowe, makes the sound point that you need only one teacher "with whom you click" to transform your life.
Each chapter of the book deals with a different trade or profession (armed services, acting, literature, politics, music and the like) so you can at least find the sections that most interest you.
What the book lacks is an index of the people who appear in it. We are given, for God's sake, a full list of all the schools mentioned and also a full list of their alumni but with no page references. This strikes me as publishing perversity or meanness.
The authors and publisher should be soundly flogged with their old school ties.
Desmond Albrow is a former editor of the Catholic Herald and assistant editor of the Sunday Telegraph