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Hertford College’s 21 Grateful Proles.

My parents both had a difficult childhood. Both had “work or starve” jobs before their teens. My paternal grandfather was an unemployed Warrington steelworker who died leaving his wife with six children and no money. My father worked part time until he could leave school at fourteen. My mother was twelve when the German occupation began and the schools were shut. She lived through the Athens famine where  40,000 died from starvation.

Compared with them I was cosseted. Having little education, my parents were in awe of “education”. I was the only boy to pass the eleven plus at my primary school, itself an alienating experience, then I was placed in the top stream of Warrington’s boys’ grammar school. My school report states “position in form: 1”  (out of 30 boys) at each set of progress exams up to sixth form. My mother used to take my school report into work. After the first “position in form: 1”, I worried each time imagining my emotional reaction to the loss of face I might feel if I didn’t repeat the achievement. It didn’t happen. I had nine sets of exams, and was “position in form: 1” each time for five years. Education had for me become a matter of status and competition, rather than a pleasure in its own right, or even a means to an end. I felt alienated, and when Headmaster Jackson prevailed upon me to apply to Oxford, I wasn’t at all happy.

I can’t blame my mother though. Her education was curtailed in a way unusual for people living in England. She had difficulty using the western alphabet, and feared appearing illiterate. I think she needed to use whatever means she could to impress people and increase her self-confidence.

My parents therefore were emotionally invested in my success. When my finals results arrived with the letter that said “it’s a real pity things conspired to cause you to do much less well than you should” my father said it was “like a blow to the solar plexus”. Years later my father would tell me he how much he would give to see me settled down. A few years before she died, my mother told me “I thought you’d be an executive”. She never lost her Greek accent, and I can still hear the way she pronounced it. It was an observation, not an accusation, and not much was ever said, but it’s impossible not to conclude that I had disappointed her.

I have felt chronically ashamed that I achieved nothing like the very interesting careers described by the Hertford College former students in “50 years of the Tanner Revolution in Hertford and Oxford Admissions”, the brochure which is downloadable as a PDF from the Hertford College website. I’d love to have had one of those careers, and my parents would have been proud of me. I wonder how I would explain to my parents, if they were still alive, the contrast between the stories of the 21, and mine?

Firstly, I’d say this is not a representative sample of Hertford College’s former students, the 21 are perhaps one or two percent of those eligible. Eleven of the 21 are women. Hertford prioritised award holders and women when allocating its scarce accommodation, women being guaranteed college accommodation for their whole course, regardless of means. None of the women had to suffer the unpleasantness of being spat on by youths waiting at junctions when cycling back on their hired bike to their miserable lonely cramped uncomfortable privately rented back room, way out on Southmoor Road, or their miserable lonely noisy upstairs privately rented front room, way out on Marlborough Road. Having no award I had to find private accommodation for the two years before my finals. If I too had college accommodation I’m sure my experience of university would have been happier, and I believe I’d have a class of degree I could more reasonably have expected given my A-level grade “A”s.

Academic’s daughter Natasha Kaplinsky wrote in the document’s section on co-education: “I soon realised that the perceived poverty was Hertford’s true wealth”. What a strange remark! That’s all very well if you have connections and the college spends its limited resources on you. It’s the poverty and the disadvantageous distribution of limited resources together with the accidents and misfortunes I had that made Hertford for me such an unpleasant experience.

I wonder if any of the 21 had three “A”s at A-level like me (maths, physics, chemistry)? When I took A-levels, approximately eight percent of entries were awarded grade “A”. By the time David Cameron achieved his grade “A”s at Eton College, grade inflation took that proportion to approaching fifteen percent, a few years later, 25 percent. My friend who was awarded a History “open” scholarship at Hertford didn’t have three “A”s. I doubt I’d have felt quite so humiliated if there hadn’t been such a disparity between my school performance and my university finals result. My expectations, and those of people who knew me in Warrington, were higher.

Although I achieved three “A”s at A-level, and although neither of my parents was educated beyond age 14, I was awarded only a place at Hertford. The “open” scholarship was awarded to eventually the only other student, an Oxford University chemistry professor’s son. Did anybody care what a disadvantage that was? Other years had a larger intake of chemistry students, who could co-operate and provide mutual encouragement. I wasn’t particularly on the same wavelength as the professor’s privately educated son, but he lived with his father in Oxford, and not having an award I lived out of college, so there was little opportunity for collaboration.

Some of the experiences described by the 21 were actually similar to some of mine. There’s the female law student who said she had no idea she was a Tanner student. I didn’t know either, until recently. Hertford College and grammar school headmaster P.M. Jackson were deceitful I believe in not making clear to me this was a novel and unorthodox scheme. Knowing the scheme’s provisional status would have supported my idea to take a year out, and apply to universities on the strength of my A-level grades using more conventional approaches. Some other things I didn’t know when applying to Hertford – when Headmaster Jackson dropped the application form on my desk, I didn’t know Hertford was one of the more accommodation deficient colleges. I didn’t know Hertford was about to demolish the Holywell Street rooms, worsening the deficiency. I didn’t know that the Oxford University Accommodations service would blame the newly elected Labour government for a lack of affordable private accommodation. I didn’t know the chemistry tutor at Hertford took his first degree and his postgraduate degree in the same provincial city (Bristol) where he had been to private school, and was unlikely therefore to understand the needs and feelings of an over-achiever from a state school in Warrington, a long way from home.

Also in the “50 years …” document is a description by a physics student of how his school principal “almost physically forced me to apply” to Hertford. My school headmaster did have me physically locked in the library when I arrived two hours late for the maths paper. He didn’t bother to have me supervised. Every few minutes during the long lunch break, a face would appear, in the door’s glass panel, of a boy wondering why the library was locked. The remorse that I felt, when it all went wrong for me a few years later, because I hadn’t said “no”, is, I believe, the kind that suicides are made of. TSB Bank IT management spiked my career development a decade later, a senior manager saying,  “you had trouble at university didn’t you?”.

I had a 2 “E”s offer of a place at Manchester University, but if I had rejected Hertford, I’d probably have taken a year out and got work in Warrington for a year. I don’t remember hearing the phrase “gap year” until well after leaving university, but I doubt it needed be an option available only to middle class students indulging in foreign travel. I might well have applied to Cambridge, where many colleges provided accommodation, and some Cambridge colleges were already co-educational years before Hertford. I would at least have been better informed about the value of my A-level grade “A”s. Whatever I did in my year out, I’m sure things would have worked out very well for me. With chemistry at Oxford being a four year course, taking a year out need not have delayed me finding a graduate career. I had my ambition set on a career in academic science at the time, and a first or a good second at Manchester or elsewhere would have enabled that outcome, when an unclassified degree from Oxford didn’t.

Will Hutton says in the document that he has spent a large part of his career arguing for a fairer Britain. In what way was it fair that, in spite of having three A-level grade “A”s at a time when grade “A” was awarded far less frequently than now, and in spite of neither of my parents being educated beyond the age of 14, that I was the only chemistry student in my year who didn’t have a scholarship award, and coincidentally the only chemistry student who wasn’t an Oxford University chemistry professor’s son? In what way was it fair that I had to resort to Oxford’s private student accommodation market, when wealthy, privately educated students had conveniently located subsidised student accommodation in college?

“Hertford’s initiative challenged the status quo and was unpopular with vested interests, but eventually led to reform of the wider Oxford admissions process, whilst also greatly improving Hertford’s academic standing” states the “50 years …” document’s introduction. What the vested interests were, isn’t said. I doubt University opposition to Hertford’s scheme was as simple as stated. Hertford’s attitude seemed to be that it wanted to boost its Oxford college academic results league (Norrington Table) position, and it didn’t matter if some of the proletarian types underachieved or had a difficult time. I think the wider University would have had at least some concern for the welfare of its less well-connected students.

The Hertford College “Tanner” scheme I believe cheated me out of the career my A-level grade “A”s deserved, and cheated society and the taxpayer out of benefiting from the skills my grade “A”s represented. There is rarely a day in the past 40 years when I haven’t regretted accepting that place at Hertford College. I’d have had a career commensurate with my A-level grade “A”s, better relationships with family and friends, and I believe a happier life, if I had refused.



Abbey National’s Zombie Probation

15 October 1990
In accordance with the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act, 1978 ….
This appointment is subject to a probationary period of normally three months with regular reviews.

4 March 1991
I confirm that your membership of the staff pension scheme commenced on 01/03/1991.
The first contribution will be deducted from your salary on 19/03/1991 ….
Yours sincerely
Administrative Assistant

3 April 1991
Re: Philip Chippendale – Mortgage Account No – 5Tnnnnn
I write to confirm that with effect from 5 February 1991, the above named successfully completed his probationary period and is therefore entitled to have his staff mortgage re-arranged such that £nnnnn is paid at the concessionary rate of x%.
Recruitment Officer

23 August 1991
To Phil Chippendale
From Judith Parsnip, Senior Project Leader, Office Systems
Copies to P. Dork, Manager, Finance, Banking and Office Systems
Following our meeting last Friday and you subsequent memorandum to me I would like to re-state the following points.
You are working a three month probationary period in Office systems with now less than one month of that time left. In your first month your performance was less than satisfactory however, following the work plan agreed at that time, you have performed satisfactorily in the second month. The decision as to whether or not your appointment will be confirmed, will be made at the end of the probationary period.
Your application for support to do a DMS course is not granted at this time. Whilst Abbey National have a policy to encourage study of appropriate subjects, these must be both relevant to the job at hand and tangible benefits to the company need to have been identified.
The benefits of the DMS course will accrue best when you are in a management role. Should this be the case in the future you are free to re-apply to your manager at that time. The granting of support is a concession and not a right.
You are, of course, free to study in your own time and at your own expense.
As a final point the Sharesave scheme second issue is only available to you if your appointment is confirmed by the 11th of September. I will discuss this matter with Paul Dork on his return from leave in the meantime you are free to apply if you so wish.

2 September 1991
Dear Mr Chippendale,
With reference to your conversation with Judy Parsnip last week, on behalf of the Company I would like to formally confirm your appointment to the position of Analyst/Programmer II, Grade 6 in Office Systems.
As you are aware this is a grade lower than the original position offered but we feel it is a better reflection of the skills and experience you have to offer at this stage of your career. Your contract of employment remains unchanged in every other respect and I confirm that your current salary of £nnnnn will not be altered.
Your signature of the enclosed copy of this letter signifies acceptance of this position and as a formal amendment to your contract. I would thus be grateful if you would return it as soon as possible.
If in the meantime you have any queries or would, like to discuss anything further please do not hesitate to contact me on extension xxxxx.
Wishing you every success in your new position.
Yours sincerely
Anita Ratt
Senior Personnel Officer
Personnel and Training (MSD)

28 June 1993
Dear Phillip,
In recognition of your recent enquiry to ANSA in relation to your probationary period, I am now writing to confirm that your substantive grade is Grade 7, Analyst/Programmer I.
If you have any further queries regarding the above, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Yours sincerely,
Sally Worms
Personnel Officer
Personnel & Training (MSD)

DMS = Diploma of Management Studies. Nene College Northampton’s faculty of management and business offered me a place, on one of Abbey National’s approved courses. The interviewer complimented my GMAT score. Abbey National’s group training and development department registered my course and offered me a cash reward to pass. I was set to go when Mrs. Parsnip vetoed it. It was good of Mrs. Parsnip to point out that I could study in my time and at my own expense, but in the end I chose a different use of my resources.

I wonder what skills and experience Abbey National was looking for. I wonder how many people with  A-level grade “A”s in maths, physics and chemistry, and/or a degree from Oxford University they demoted. The person appointed to be my grade 7 line manager was at least a decade younger than me, almost straight out of college. The renewed probation prevented me from attending my uncle’s funeral, as I wasn’t allowed time off. For me this was a humiliation too far.  I found it difficult to be motivated after that. Eventually Abbey National management accused me of vexatious use of the company grievance procedure, although they were forced to reinstate my grade after breaking my contract of employment, they sacked me.

I doubt the managers who promoted each other at Abbey National were exceptionally competent. Abbey National itself wasn’t sufficiently well managed to make it as far as the credit crunch. They bought a vast quantity of the corporate debt of Enron, in a deal actual bankers avoided. Fortunately for Abbey there were still well-capitalised banks around to buy them out. Barclays, Lloyds and Santander were all possibilities. In the end, Santander made the purchase. While many people thought Barclays would, nobody expected the Spanish institution.


Iggy Pop, Ian Curtis and me.

Iggy Pop’s “Open Up and Bleed” was on the turntable – but there was no blood. Just the extensor tendon slipping up and down under the cut in my knuckle as I moved my right hand index finger.

Somebody gave me a lift to the Radcliffe Infirmary. I remember a tear migrating towards my ear as I lay waiting on a trolley. A nurse asked me what was wrong, and I was grateful nobody was openly judgmental about what I’d done. The doctor told me I was lucky I didn’t completely sever the tendon. Dr Marmalade’s comment “In ten years time you’ll wonder what you were worried about” was on my mind. “Well it won’t be like that” I thought.

A few days before, I’d visited a psychiatrist at the Warneford Hospital. I remember a gothic building with lots of corridors and wooden stairs, and a nervous seeming assistant, possibly a PhD student, with hair that was very long, even in that era. The psychiatrist seemed unsympathetic and quite sarcastic, so I said there was nothing mentally wrong with me, and they seemed satisfied with that.

I think I had the referral to the Warneford through the Oxford University student counselling service. I don’t remember visiting a GP at that time in Oxford. I doubt anybody who knew I visited a psychiatrist also knew I punched a window.

I regret how I behaved, I handled the situation and my emotions badly, but I felt very bitter about my experience of Hertford College, and Oxford.

A bit over two years after leaving Hertford, Trustee Savings Bank offered me a job as a trainee computer programmer. I was asked to complete a medical declaration. My GP back in Warrington advised me that I should declare the episode at university when he prescribed amitriptyline, so I wrote “Mild depression, summer 1976” on the form. Perhaps naively, I assumed that the form was for purely medical purposes, accessed only by medically qualified people. In the event, the information was read by line managers and at one time passed on to team member colleagues.

I doubt I’d have mentioned the depression diagnosis but for feelings of remorse about the window punching incident (I didn’t tell them about that). If I’d known how TSB management would use the information, I’d have tailored my answers to the questionnaire to create a better impression. I fractured my cheekbone playing football for a Hertford College team, requiring an operation at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, which left residual nerve damage causing me some problems. I’d have found a pretext to include this injury on the statement. When Brian Biscuit asked the rhetorical question “You had trouble at university, didn’t you?”, I could have replied “Yes, but our employer TSB does sponsor sports, should that be held against me?”.

One or two TSB managers seemed positively vindictive. An appraisal that praised my technical skills and my initiative was withheld from my personnel file by a TSB “Executive”, Mr Flute. The appraisal could have supported my application for a software programmer job at TSB’s new centre in Milton Keynes, which was rejected. I think Mr. Flute felt he had licence to behave as he did because of my medical declaration. Fortunately for me, I think I dealt with bullying at TSB with greater resilience than one unfortunate employee (Mr V.) who committed suicide.

I’m not the world’s most knowledgeable person on pop and rock music, but I like the music of the 70s Manchester band Joy Division. I think it’s partly because I share something with Ian Curtis. We both self-harmed to the music of Iggy Pop. Obviously he went further than I did, but I did my thing before he did his. I’ve never been an Iggy fan though.

Ten Years After

“You had trouble at university, didn’t you?”. So said TSB Bank computer division departmental manager Brian Biscuit* when explaining why he refused a promised but delayed career progression.
This was in 1985. I left Hertford College Oxford in 1976.

Dr. Marmalade’s promise after my finals results was ironic. “In ten years time you’ll wonder what you were worried about”. How that was going to happen, he didn’t say.

I still wonder what he meant. “You’ll wonder” …

… Because those are proletarian grade “A”s and therefore worthless, you Northern working class fool …

… Because when you’re driving your bus on those Warrington housing estates, you’ll have entirely forgotten the opportunity we decent chaps from private schools offered you …

… Because proletarian types like you survive and persist  …

… Because it’s not as if you’re a professor’s son …

… Because I say this to ease my own feelings …

No TSB (“We like to say yes!”) manager or personnel officer said, “It’s a pity going to Oxford from a working class background didn’t work out for you, and your degree is unimpressive, but those are excellent A-levels in desirable subjects (grade “A”s in maths, physics, chemistry), and it’s in the company’s interest to encourage the development of your career”.

*Brian Biscuit is not his real name. TSB is the real company that promoted him into senior management. Mr Biscuit succeeded in persuading me that however well I performed, I wouldn’t be allowed a career at TSB. For as long as I was employed by TSB, that I had trouble at Oxford University a decade or more before would be an unchangeable fact.


Ten Years After, year zero. Sadly nothing to do with Hertford College or TSB.


Loneliness of the A-level overachiever.


Alan Sillitoe in 2009

I might have saved myself a great deal of pain if I had read Alan Sillitoe’s “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, before Warrington Grammar School Head P.M. Jackson began his machinations to get me to apply to his preferred university. The relationship between Jackson and me could be compared to that between the Risley Towers Borstal governor and the young offender, Smith, in Sillitoe’s story.

Headmaster Jackson, educated at a private school in the South of England, owned the power. As a thinking, feeling person, I was of no interest to him. His masturbation obsession was more than just a peculiar eccentricity. He used it to confuse through his repulsive behaviour, so he could pretend concern yet avoid asking questions like “how do you feel about Oxford?”, and “what would you have done if I hadn’t locked you in the examination room when you arrived late for the entrance exam?”

I took part in a school visit to Warrington’s police station once. The constable showed us a hatch in the door, and told us that only one person had ever escaped through it. The constable said it was a petty offender he identified as little Reggie Pugin (not his real name). Reggie Pugin used to live next door but one from us in Broadhurst Avenue.

Manchester University seemed very keen to have me. They gave me the same A-level offer as Hertford – 2 “E”s. To Manchester Uni., I wouldn’t have been a disposable object in a social experiment. They would have taken me seriously as a student, and would have valued my 3 “A”s. If they had a chemistry “open” scholarship to offer, I doubt they would have given it and the associated accommodation entitlement to Manchester University chemistry professor’s son.

Headmaster Jackson wanted to brag about sending proletarian type students to Oxford. Going to Hertford College was a rotten, lonely, alienating, damaging outcome for me.


Piers Gaveston: My part in his downfall.

Private Eye no. 503, 27 March 81.

Auberon Waugh’s Diary Private Eye no. 503, 27 March 81

“I wonder what Sunday Times readers will make of some disgusting photographs of the new style Oxford undergraduate with a commentary by Ian Jack …

Oh dear. Perhaps I should give instructions for no more copies of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ to be printed. It really was not written for the modern Oxford undergraduate nor for the modern Sunday Times reader, let alone for the failed Northern chemists who write their drab little hearts out in its terrible pages.”

Auberon Waugh’s Diary, “Private Eye” no. 503, 27 March 81.


In 1981 I was employed as a programmer in the TSB Bank computer services department. One of the software programmers supporting TSB’s new mainframe dropped his copy of “Private Eye” in the bin, and I fished it out to read. I didn’t know what to make of Auberon Waugh’s comments. I hadn’t read “Brideshead Revisited”, or anything else written by Evelyn Waugh, and I didn’t know anything about the novel. I did wonder who or what Auberon Waugh meant by “failed Northern chemists”. This “Eye” was printed four years after I left Hertford College, in December 1976.

Ian Jack recalled his own 1981 Sunday Times article recently in the Guardian.

Jack describes interviewing Caroline Kellett, then a final year history student:
“Everyone here, even the ‘Northern chemists’, are out for themselves. If you’re at all bright, you know you fuck other people before they fuck you.” In the piece, I turned “fuck” into “screw” and explained that “Northern chemists” were “drudges in the sciences, up from the comprehensives”.
Why Ian Jack translates “Northern chemists” as “drudges in the sciences etc” he doesn’t say. Why would Waugh and Kellett both say “Northern chemists” rather than South Coast physicists or West Country engineers?

Granada tv’s 11 part serial was broadcast in October to December 1981. I was not looking forward to it. I expected to hear a succession of people telling me how much they enjoyed the Oxford scenes, how they would have loved to be a student there, how unfortunate it was that I didn’t appreciate it, and so on. I felt happier discovering that much of the story was about somebody having an emotional crisis in Oxford. The story showed that going to Oxford didn’t guarantee happiness, even for the rich.

The BBC comedy programme “Three of a Kind” included a sketch called “Brideshead Regurgitated” (series 2, episode 3, broadcast late 1982). This included comic narration performed by Lenny Henry in the Charles Ryder role:
“I stayed with Sebastian that Christmas at Brideshead. Brideshead was a baroque dream of domes, ramparts, colonnades, and lots and lots of bricks.
With its Chippendale furniture, Chinese drawing room and great tapestry hung hall, it just needed extensive modernisation to make it almost fit for human habitation.
I tried to draw it and managed to capture its subtle splendour.”

I thought it significant that there is a reference to “Chippendale furniture” in this four minute comedy sketch. “Chippendale” gets a couple of mentions in Evelyn Waugh’s novel, but none at all in the eleven hours of Granada’s tv serial.

This is the back story I imagined. When Granada came to Hertford College to film its serial “Brideshead Revisited”, in 1979, it would have been natural to compare current student behaviour with Waugh’s time in the 1920s. There would have been people around who witnessed my own departure in December 1976. “There was a chemistry student from the North of England, who … his name was Chippendale”. I don’t think anybody in a Waugh novel punched a window through though.

I can imagine the kind of people who created the Piers Gaveston society being both intrigued and disgusted by my existence and my behaviour. Intrigued because they are more likely than most to observe the hereditary principle and the significance of family names. Disgusted because it was a Northern state school science student who unwittingly created a spectacle possibly most comparable with the departure from Oxford of Waugh’s fictional young lord. Piers Gaveston people able to purchase better accommodation and more sympathetic tutors, and with a greater sense of entitlement, are less likely than poorer students to leave Oxford unhappily or prematurely anyway. I can imagine the people who adapted Waugh’s novel for Granada being fed up with Oxford students’ jokes, consequently making a few slight amendments to the script. The “Chippendale” reference in “Brideshead Regurgitated” seemed to me perhaps an in-joke at Granada’s (and my) expense.

“Privileged” was a low budget film set in Oxford, made mostly by Oxford students, and released in 1982. Warrington public library had a VHS copy, and I watched it on my Mum’s video cassette player. I don’t remember much about the film, except at one point one of the male actors punched a wall, bloodying his hand. That seemed to me to reference the very stupid thing I did in my final term in Oxford. “Privileged” the film seems to have disappeared completely, even though it was the first project of several well-known people in the film industry, including the actor, Hugh Grant.

A 2014 article on the “Cherwell” website, on Oxford drinking societies, names both Hugh Grant and Ian Hislop as former members of the Piers Gaveston society (which is said to have been formed in 1977). Ian Hislop is credited as a writer for “Three of a Kind”, and first wrote for “Private Eye” in 1980, and doubtless knew Auberon Waugh by 1981.

It cheered me up to think that the authorities at Hertford College mlght have suffered some slight embarrassment. Hertford College seriously fucked me, to use Caroline Kellett’s word. If I had taken a year out after school I would be heading towards a first or at least a good second class degree when I was due to finish Chemistry part 2 of the four year course at Oxford (June 1977). I hated myself for letting those private school people walk over me. As far as Hertford was concerned, I was disposable proletarian roadkill on their way to Norrington Table success. I would have been much better off taking my A-level grade As elsewhere. I think other people would have been better off too.

Nepotism of the Profs….

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Marmalade and Raspberry

Would Dr. Marmalade’s career have progressed unhindered if he had written a “real pity” letter to Professor Raspberry’s son? Raspberry Junior didn’t seem to be the happiest of chemistry students. I completed all my compulsory laboratory practical work by the end of the second year, to make space for exam preparation. It was a good plan, though it went wrong because I overestimated my ability to study while having to live in private accommodation in high-rent Oxford. RJ still had a significant proportion of his laboratory practical work to complete at the beginning of the third year. Would there have been ways found to circumvent the “things” that “conspired”, if they were conspiring against the professor’s son?

The unavailability of suitable accommodation was a conspiring thing. It might make sense for a college to allocate limited accommodation preferentially to students who are awarded scholarships for academic proficiency. They could act as a resource in college for the students living out. That didn’t work for me. Raspberry Junior, though awarded a scholarship, lived with his father in Oxford, not in college.

Dr. Marmalade wasn’t my ideal tutor. He was educated at a private school in Bristol, and then at Bristol university. I doubt he had the experience to understand the needs and feelings of an academic over-achiever from a state school in Warrington, a long way from home. I underachieved in all subjects in my finals, but I was worse in his subject, physical chemistry, than in the others, for which I had tutorials in other colleges. I wasn’t far from an alpha on one of the inorganic papers, “physical chemistry 1” was the only outright fail.

A couple of things Dr. Marmalade said to me post-finals were distinctly unhelpful. “In ten years time you’ll wonder what you were worried about”, he said. That might have been true if I had been from a well-connected middle class background and went to private school, like he did. Right then, I was feeling devastated by the Oxford experience.

“Nobody likes exams” he said, when I told him I had a difficult time in my finals. Actually, I enjoyed exams, when they went well. Most times and in most subjects at my state school in Warrington, I gained better results than everybody else. I often felt a sense of achievement. I am familiar with the sentiment that everybody hates a swot. I didn’t expect to hear it from an academic tutor at Oxford University.

Dr. Marmalade eventually became Professor Marmalade, appointed a professor of physical chemistry, at Oxford University, like Professor Raspberry.