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My debt of gratitude to Turgenev


Elected: Major scholarship, St John's College, Cambridge
Frederic Raphael Writer
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So I took my papers, and I thought I'd done pretty well. In fact, I was so smart that not only, when I did my Latin verses, I did them both in the classical Ovidian style and in a somewhat more loose [unclear] Catullan style as alternative lines, because the... in other words, I did my stuff.  That's what I thought you went to Cambridge to do. At least I thought at Oxford and Cambridge, there was nothing... but if you had it, genius, or certainly intelligence to declare, that's what counted and that was what would put you wherever it put you. So I did that.

Then I went to see my... the tutor who was in charge of the exams, the senior tutor, who was a man called RL Howland, and he was known as 'Bede' from a very early age because he was so knowledgeable. A very, very clever man, he'd also been a shot putter in the 1936 Olympics and won rugger blues and God knows what. They must have been soccer blues, because he'd been to Shrewsbury. So my interview with Howland was very different from my interview for instance with the guy at Winchester, because I asked him about what soccer was like at Shrewsbury, knowing perfectly well that is was very good and that he'd done well at it. And he spent quite a lot of time telling me about that, and he talked about Charterhouse, he assumed that I was in the first 11 cricket team even though actually I only had my House colours. And we had a very nice chat, and he said, you know, well very good to have seen you and I hope it all works out, we'll see what the results are like.

So I went back to London and I went back to my parents flat in Putney, Manor Fields, at the top of Putney Hill; the previous flat they'd been bombed out of. And I waited for the results, and I waited for the results, and I began to think they weren't going to be good because as you know, no news is always bad news. And then the doorbell rang, it was a telegraph boy, and he handed in a telegram addressed to me, and the telegram said, depend upon it, I remember it very well, 'Elected Major Scholarship at St John's College, Cambridge', you notice my voice cracks, 'Congratulations. RL Howland, tutor'.

So I said to the telegraph boy, 'Oh... er, here, have half a crown', which I'm sure is the biggest tip he'd received for a very long time. My mother was out for some reason, there was nobody else in the flat, but eventually my father came home from the office and my mother came home from whatever she was doing, and I was the Major Scholar at St John's College, Cambridge. And I said to my father I remember, 'And of course in the spring I can go up to Oxford and take the Oxford scholarship, because you know, I'd really like to go to Oxford'. And I went back to Charterhouse wearing my American trousers with the zip front, and a number of other kind of discordant non-uniform articles. I don't think I boasted to the other boys about it, but I was... I'm sure it showed that I was fairly pleased with myself. And I said to Ivor Gibson, you know, now I can, you know... I'm sure if I can get a scholarship at Cambridge, I can get one at Oxford. And he said, 'Have you ever heard about a bird in the hand?'  So I said, 'Yes, I think I probably have heard of that'. 'Yes', he said, 'well, you've got a Major Scholarship. I think, Raphael, you might settle for that'. I don't know where his accent came from, it wasn't as Australian as I'm making it, nor as sort of 'oikish', as we used to say at Charterhouse, as I'm making it, but it was a strange kind of... grungy accent.  Anyway, in other words he said, Major Scholarship, you know, take it and be glad. After all there were only two out of 600 people. So I did.

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: Charterhouse, Cambridge University, RL Howland, Ivor Gibson

Duration: 4 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 13 August 2014