It seems almost narcissistic to write about myself and my supposed contributions to archaeology but when I started to do so I realised that much of what I had to say was actually about other people. Unfortunately, this runs the risk of producing a litany of namedropping, as clearly concerned David Wilson in his recent 'Retrospect' for Antiquity (Wilson 2004: 904), but like him I feel that personal influences are of importance in our careers. I also think that self-reflection about one's work does have a contribution to make to the history of our discipline (for example, Connah 2004a) and it is to be regretted that some of our predecessors were either unwilling or unable to write about themselves and their activities. So, here goes.
I was born in 1934 in Bromborough, on the Wirral Peninsula between the Rivers Mersey and Dee, at that time part of the county of Cheshire. My father, like most men of his age a survivor of the First World War, worked in the Liverpool office of the London Midland and Scottish Railway. My mother had worked as a graphic artist for Lee's Tapestry Works in Birkenhead, until marriage forced her to give up her job as was then required. Sent to Heygarth Road Primary School, in Eastham, I survived the rigours of Mr White, a headmaster who believed in generous use of the cane, and of his head teacher, Mrs Hennessey, who believed in getting even unlikely pupils like myself through the entry examination for high school. In my case, this was the Wirral Grammar School for Boys, run by J.M. Molt, who seemed to have a phobia about the girls' school next door and would clearly have been happier running a public school (for non-Brits read 'private' school). The year was 1946, a time when such schools provided some of the only employment prospects for many university graduates. As a result I benefited from the ministrations of several extraordinarily able teachers (some others were less able), of whom the Senior History Master, Edward Graham Hodgkinson, an Oxford product, was the most influential. By then I had already discovered archaeology, at the age of eight, when someone lent me an encyclopaedia to look at and I logically started at the letter 'A'. I had also got to know Tom Price of Eastham village, who took me to see my first archaeological excavation at Goss Street, Chester, in 1948, and Nora Fisher McMillan, a Liverpool Museum malacologist, with whom I spent many happy days pottering about by streams and ponds collecting freshwater mollusca.
Thus informal learning became in some ways a more important influence than my school education, although the latter got me a County Major Scholarship and a Commonership at Selwyn College, Cambridge, in 1953. Prior to that I had spent substantial amounts of time helping on excavations into Roman and medieval deposits in nearby Chester, mainly under the skilled direction of Graham Webster, who also taught me to draw pottery, and it was in Chester that I first met Mortimer Wheeler. In addition, I excavated with Terence Powell, of Liverpool University, who proved in 1950 and 1951 that it was possible to find virtually nothing two years running on different prehistoric sites in different counties. These activities, plus bicycle trips as tar south as the Bristol Channel and numerous free railway tickets that were a by-product of my father's employment, gave me a chance to visit archaeological sites, castles, monastic ruins, churches and museums, from Lancashire to Wiltshire and beyond. In 1953, for instance, I excavated with Florence Patchett in Cornwall. As early as 1948 I was able to visit A.W. Stelfox in Dublin, a National Museum of Ireland zoologist, who had worked on archaeological faunas. All this might seem rather precocious for a teenager but, although I had many friends amongst my contemporaries, I found the company of older people, who had done all sorts of things and been to all sorts of places, more stimulating. However, one aspect of their influence was markedly depressing: they were all of the opinion that it was virtually impossible to pursue a career in archaeology unless one had a private income. …