Magazine article The Spectator

Back to Basics

Magazine article The Spectator

Back to Basics

Article excerpt

There was a lovely piece about me in Private Eye this week suggesting that the influence of this column is so powerful that I am destined to sell as many books as Tony Parsons and Allison Pearson, which was nice. But I really must take issue with the mag's outrageous calumny that when not writing about myself all I ever cover is documentaries about the second world war.

Readers. Dear, loyal, loving readers defend me here. You know as well as I do that I write about loads and loads of other stuff besides that. Vietnam, for example. The Peninsula War. Nelson's Navy. That horrid incident in Korea when they all had to retreat down the valley, clinging to tanks and getting shot to pieces. Mediaeval siege warfare. The Civil War. The first world war. To name but a few.

This week I had hoped to broaden my scope still further by writing about the American War of Independence (except unfortunately Rebels and Redcoats, by the magisterial, nay God-like Richard Holmes, has finished: but it was bloody good, wasn't it, especially those fascinating Nam parallels?) or perhaps about the conflict in Somalia (except, sadly, the video of Black Hawk Down: The True Story never got to me). So I guess I'll just have to do That'll Teach 'Em (Channel 4, Tuesday), instead.

Actually, I don't know why I'm feigning reluctance, because That'll Teach 'Em was the thing I most wanted to see all week. I was a huge fan of its predecessor Lads Army, in which a group of late-teens foolishly volunteered to undergo National-Service-style basic training; and this one slightly younger teens relive the Fifties grammar school experience - looks set to be nearly as good.

I say 'nearly' because already I've noticed a couple of annoying flaws. One, the teachers aren't allowed to cane the pupils. Two, all the kids look suspiciously well-brought up, bright and middle class. Hiding sweets underneath the mattress and pulling funny faces on espying their first spam fritter is about as naughty as they get. No doubt this is in keeping with the period and not unrepresentative of the children who did actually pass their eleven plus. But just think how much more fun it would have been if they'd got a few kids in from the inner-city estates, with their gats and their teeth-sucking, facing down the mofo headmaster and declaring that they ain't going to be nobody's bitch.

Also, for all its attempts to make out that this school was really harsh and demanding, I can't say the regime looked any worse than the one I experienced at prep school in the Seventies. …

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