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Making the most of army furlough


The social benefits of National Service
Brian Sewell Writer
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National service was one of those experiences that, in one particular, consolidates an interest. I mean, I was already interested, in a desultory way, in motorcars, because I thought they were beautiful to look at, but what the army gave me was the experience of driving and handling everything that moves on wheels. So I learned to ride a motorcycle, which I hugely enjoyed, but I also learned how to drive a tank. And a three-tonne lorry and jeeps and articulated lorries and so on. And so my later, almost scholarly, enthusiasm for motorcars was really consolidated and advanced by what the army gave me.

And of course one of the things the army had the potential to give every national serviceman who might come in as a, sort of, an uneducated and perhaps uneducable rogue, a thief living on his wits – we had those; we had to knock it out of them, as it were – was that, at the end of the two years, all the… no, I would say that only those boys who were so bloody-minded that they spent two years resenting the fact that they were doing national service came away from it without benefit. And that an enormous number of boys did their two years and learned some kind of trade. They may have learned to become drivers or electricians or typists or radio mechanics or whatever. There were all sorts of areas in the army where you didn’t just do soldiering. You weren’t the poor bloody infantry. And all those who were in the electrical and mechanical engineers, for example, would come out with an ability, a technical ability, that allowed them immediately to get a job. So it had an extraordinary effect on unemployment, because it took out of the unemployment figures... for two whole years, it took out every young man of 18 to 20 or thereabouts. And when it put him back into the employment pool, he was much more able to get employment than he had been two years earlier. It was a very considerable social good. We have nothing like it now.

I’m not suggesting we should reinstitute it, you’d never get anybody to obey the discipline. But at the time, it worked many a small miracle.

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: National Service, army, driving, motorised vehicles, technical skills, employment

Duration: 3 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2013

Date story went live: 04 July 2013