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The social benefits of National Service


Punished for being too modest
Brian Sewell Writer
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I’d been transferred from Aldershot to a new posting, and had the bog standard interview with a commanding officer, and sort of, you know, 'What are you going to do when you grow up?' and so on. And, 'What sort of games do you play?' And I said, 'Well, I used to play rugger at school'. 'Do you play well?' 'Not particularly'. End of topic. And about, oh, two or three weeks later, our battalion was in some kind of organised scheme of weekly rugger games with the navy and the air force in the more or less immediate area, and this was to be against the navy. And influenza or something had struck the team a bit, and the normal hooker, who is the man in the middle of the scrum, who has to get the ball out of the scrum... once it’s put in you hook it out, with, you know… He was too ill to play. And it had actually reached lunchtime on the day when the captain of the team let this slip over lunch. And I said, 'Well, if you’re desperate, I used to hook at school'. Oh, so there we are.

And I played hooker that afternoon. And we beat the navy and we beat them well, and I… it was a wonderful game, really, you know. There are… you know sometimes when you’ve had a game and it’s been a good game. It hasn’t been all one way, but you know you’ve done it. And I was off to change when some lance corporal appeared and he said, 'The commanding officer wants to see you'. I said, 'Oh, I’m just going to have a bath'. And he said, 'He wants to see you now'. And I said, 'Like this?' And he said, 'Yes, like that. He wants to see you immediately'. So I trundle off to the HQ, and into the commanding officer’s room I go. He said, 'You didn’t tell me the truth when I talked to you on your first day here'. He said, 'You told me you didn’t play rugby very well'. 'Oh. I was being modest'. He said, 'Well, modesty will get you nowhere. You will be duty dog for a week'.

So that’s how I know about being duty dog.

But it’s also another lesson, you know. You really… yes, I should have told him I played rugger quite well, but the other part of my background is to never boast, never push yourself forward. Always, sort of, wait for something to happen. Well, I waited for something to happen and it did, and I got punished for it. So, you know... what conclusions about life can one draw from that?

Born in England, Brian Sewell (1931-2015) was considered to be one of Britain’s most prominent and outspoken art critics. He was educated at the Courtauld Institute of Art and subsequently became an art critic for the London Evening Standard; he received numerous awards for his work in journalism. Sewell also presented several television documentaries, including an arts travelogue called The Naked Pilgrim in 2003. He talked candidly about the prejudice he endured because of his sexuality.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: rugger, rugby, Aldershot, duty dog

Duration: 3 minutes, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2013

Date story went live: 04 July 2013