King Edward's School Home Old Edwardians Website

Memoir by a scholarship boy (Paul Griffiths, 1965)

I knew this was my one chance. Looking around at the K.E.S. buildings as I arrived to take the second part of the entrance exam, aged ten, I knew I had to get in. More than that, I knew I had to do so well I would get a free place.

It would be a leap. My parents and grandparents had all left school at ages between twelve and fourteen without any kind of qualification. My primary school, Kingsland Road in Kingstanding, had never had a boy get through even the first part of the K.E.S. exam.

But I made it-and soon found out how right I had been in my determination. Just to mention a few of the masters, Tony Trott taught me the fun and the challenge both of speaking English well and of analysing its structure, John Hall introduced me to the art of creative writing under constraint (he would list six objects we had to include in a story), and Angus Morris and Berny Guy encouraged my enthusiasm for chemistry. Then there were all the other opportunities open to a boy eager to discover the world: the library, where one could absorb the Encyclopedia Britannica or the News Chronicle in blissful calm; the Junior Debating Society, with its lessons in quick thinking, wit and argument; junior and in due course senior plays, in which we learned how to imagine ourselves into other people; piano lessons and singing in the choir.

I left the school in 1965 with a scholarship to Oxford and my path open to what I wanted to do. In the 1970s I found an editorial job on Grove's Dictionary of Music while starting to write on music for national newspapers. I became chief music critic of The Times when I was thirty-four, and later wrote for the New Yorker and the New York Times. My twenty books, which have been translated into ten languages, include what has now been for thirty years the standard work on music since 1945, as well as three novels and several opera librettos. I have been invited to lecture at universities including Harvard, Cornell, Stanford and Oxford, and have received international honours-not to mention a Wikipedia article.

That ten-year-old of more than half a century ago might not have glimpsed any of this, but he knew what the first step had to be and, thanks to the school's generosity, he could take it.

Paul Griffiths is a writer who has published several books including a Concise History of Western Music.  His latest book 'Let me tell you' is out now.