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I was a solitary observer


Knocking the House platoon into shape
Frederic Raphael Writer
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One of the other Scholars in the house a year older than me, who had nothing to do with the anti-Semitism thing, was made head monitor for the next year and I was by that time an acting corporal in the Corps, the JTC [Junior Training Corps], because, of course, I was British as well as American, and now I was much more British than American and expected fully to go into the army and all of that stuff. So, Jeremy Atkinson, who was a scientist, said to me, 'Well, I'm going to be running the House and I want you to run the Corps', even though he was this corporal and I was only an acting corporal having taken the exam. Of course, when I sat the exam I did well in the exam, that's why I became an acting corporal, and if it had been an exam to enter the Hitler Youth, and I hadn't been a Jew, I would have become an acting corporal in the Hitler Youth because that's what kids do, I'm afraid. Mimesis is all our trade. So Jeremy said, 'Will you do that?' So I said in my timid, careerist way, 'I don't think I can be expected to run the House platoon', every Tuesday they paraded in khaki with rifles and marshaled up the place and all the rest of it, 'unless I am a monitor', which is what the Carthusians called prefect or whatever. So he said, 'No, I'm sure you're right'. So the next term when the next year began, Jeremy was the head monitor and I was made a monitor along with one or two of the people who had been among the leading anti-Semites, and one or two who had not. And on the first Tuesday, when I was to take the call as their commander, 16 kids with big boots, clunky boots and rifles, possibly 20, actually – I think there were only about 60 or 70 people in the House altogether, so there were probably 25, 30 – I said to them, 'I know exactly what you think, you think that Tuesday afternoon Corps is a completely bloody waste of time. Let me tell you, I think exactly the same thing'.

But I said, here we are, all dressed up to play soldiers, so that's what we're going to do. And here's the other thing – it's like a play. We can either do it well and not do well in the competition which will, of course, take the form of one House against another – the whole of Charterhouse is made up of different Houses, all ending in -ites except for Gownboys which used to be the Scholars' House and wasn't anymore, but they still were called Gownboys and they didn't wear gowns – they had once. So, I said to my platoon, 'Lockites has always been rotten at Corps and I don't care, but why don't we amuse ourselves by becoming very good at it? So I'm going to give orders and you're going to obey them and you're going to stamp your feet and slope your arms and you're going to do up-two-three, down-two-three and I'm going to keep a straight face and so are you and we're going to do very well in the drill competition'. So we did. It's funny how you can do these things if you propose to do them. I was very keen. I polished my boots. I, you know, did all... blancoed my webbing and all of that, and I set a good example and I marched about and I learned how to operate with my swagger stick and all of that stuff, and we came fifth in the drill competition and I was promoted to sergeant and my second- in-command, who was a Welsh anti-Semite, became an acting sergeant and those other people became whatever they became, and everyone was rather pleased. Fifth wasn't high, but it was five out of twelve – not bad for a House which had always been in the relegation zone. And by becoming a monitor, I also became a bit of a toff in the House and I became friends with all sorts of people and I was in the under sixth and I did pretty well in Ancient History and all the rest of it, and then the question came about going to Oxford and, of course, since my father had gone to Oxford, my wish was to go to Oxford. And then a year later, that's the beginning of the next academic year of 1949, after my mother and I had been back to America to see her parents and I had had another refresher dose in what it was to be American and also, incidentally, what it was to kiss American girls, which was a great deal more rewarding than kissing English girls. So I was quite re-excited by America and by the clothes I bought there and all the rest of it – pants with zips! Nobody at Charterhouse had a zip and they didn't have... they didn't have lots of things. They didn't have pants that didn't have turn-ups. I came back to England because I resumed my Charterhouse uniform and resumed rehearsing the Corps, and that year actually, anyway. 

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: Oxford University, Charterhouse, Jeremy Atkins

Duration: 5 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 13 August 2014