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Bullied for being Jewish


Anti-Semitism in British public schools
Frederic Raphael Writer
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So I went to Charterhouse. It wasn't a bad school, but it was and is very anti-Semitic. Now, there's a comedy about anti-Semitism in this country which is, of course, that there isn't any. So, if anybody doesn't like you because you're a Jew, it's not because you're a Jew, it's because you're you – except, of course, there's not a word of truth in that. Now, the anti-Semitism which I met at Charterhouse, so also did my friend, Brian Glanville, who had never met it at his prep school, met it in a different house with a completely different set of people. And his was even more virulent in some respects than mine was, at least to start with. I had a very naïve idea of success in public school. I thought you had to... being a Scholar at Charterhouse was not very well regarded. They were known in slang as 'hash pros'. 'Hash' is work and 'pro' is professional and in those days in England being a professional was not a term of praise because it meant you needed the money. However, I wasn't the only Scholar in the house; there were a few others, but they were distributed all through the school, unlike Winchester and Eton they were not coalesced in a sort of elite house. I've always had a very sharp tongue. Not necessarily cruel, though I don't deny that it can be, but certainly very quick. My American grandfather used to say to me, 'You have to be quick on the uptake', and the comeback and in New York, believe me, you did have to be, and you do. In England it might be prudent not to be too clever too quickly, but I've never quite managed to remind myself of that in time. 

It was a strange time and I was quite good at games and I... and all the rest of it and for the first year or two I noticed when people talked about 'Jewy' people and people looking 'Jewy' and various other things, but these remarks were not addressed particularly to me and I elected out of cowardice or prudence or whatever not to take offence. And this went on for quite a long time. And when I was... been there for two years, I had to take what's known as a Senior Scholarship which was the sort of next echelon of Scholars, and to win a Senior Scholarship was considerably more difficult than a Junior one because of each bundle of dozen or so of Junior Scholars in each year only, I think, five or six became Senior Scholars which I did with some ease and with, I have to say, not much surprise. So then I was in the Senior part of the house, but this coincided with 1948, yes 1947/8 and of course with the... what was going on in Palestine including the hanging of two British sergeants by the... by the Stern gang, by... by whatever his name was, I can't remember it now...

[Q] Begin. Who was it? 

Begin and his men. That's right. I could hardly say that they had... the British had actually hanged a lot of Jews before the Jews hanged the British, but of course the nature of British justice was that we do the hanging and you hang, which I thought quite proper, quite proper. I had no notion of being on the side of those funny folk with strange accents and embarrassing names who were doing all sorts of things in Palestine. I was aware of Belsen, but I wasn't aware of anything else. We had a boy in our house called... who was very skinny and his nickname was Belsen. That's how the boys enjoyed all that. In effect, there hadn't been a war for us... we'd missed it and England went on being, although austere, rationed and cold, in terms of class élan very much as it had been.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

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: Palestine, Charterhouse, Menachim Begin

Duration: 4 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 13 August 2014