Andrew Marshall

Alumnus, Andrew Marshall

To continue our alumni series, we are pleased to have made contact with Andrew Marshall, who is a comedy screenwriter and producer, best known for creating the TV comedies 2point4 Children, Not the Nine O’Clock News and The Kenny Everett Television Show.

Andrew also collaborated with David Renwick on the ground breaking series End of Part One, Whoops Apocalypse, Hot Metal and If You See God, Tell Him as well as Alexei Sayle’s Stuff which they also wrote with Alexei. Additionally, Andrew co-wrote the movies Wilt and Whoops Apocalypse, with David Renwick.

He wrote, created and exec-produced BBC Television’s Dad and Health & Efficiency, adapted two episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot and created and wrote the Saturday night fantasy drama series Strange.

As a friend of Douglas Adams (English writer, humorist, and dramatist, and best known as the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) at the time of the creation of Hitchhiker’s… Andrew was reputedly the inspiration for the character Marvin the ‘Paranoid Android’.

Born in 1954, Andrew attended our school when it was known as Lowestoft Grammar School. Below he recalls his time here.

Memories of Lowestoft Grammar School

I’m not saying that my years at Lowestoft Grammar School were horrible, but I was expecting only to have to relate them to a therapist in a darkened room using glove puppets. However, to contrast with the current uplifting and enlightening experience you doubtless receive at the nurturing hands of Denes Ormiston – whatever that is  – Ormiston sounds ominously like a cover name for the Evil Alien Conspiracy in a slightly wooky Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story, doesn’t it? You know, a man with starey eyes, who has a Mysterious Factory called “Ormiston”, where there’s a sliding door that smoke comes out of just before people disappear, only to come back later with bubblewrap sprayed green instead of hands … But wait, I’m getting distracted. I’m sure Ormiston is nothing like that in real life. Probably. Let me attempt to give you my authentic memoir of times gone by in this excellent educational establishment …

I initially joined the “First Form” as Year (somebody under 40 fill number in please) was then laughingly called, some time in the late sixties. Pirate Radio Ship “Wonderful Radio London” was moored offshore nearby and in San Francisco it was the Summer of Love. Although in Lowestoft it was, as always, the Summer of Fish. Indeed, I suspect John Lennon was well shot before the White Album reached “Morlings – the House of Music” – a shop which still had tubas in the window throughout Punk Rock.

In those days children sent to the Grammar School were selected by passing something called the “Eleven Plus”, which was a kind of test, similar to the current driving test written exam, but with arithmetic. Arithmetic, I should explain, was like current day Maths, only for some unaccountable reason now lost in the mists of time, it mattered what the answers were.

Anyway, one day, a letter sealing my fate arrived, signed by the Borough’s Chief Education Officer, Mr. Slatcher, a man well known in our household owing to my Piano Tutor Miss Blyth’s hilarious impressions of him, by means of speaking pompous gobbledygook with an intact tangerine popped in her mouth. A marvelous combination of Margaret Rutherford and Thatcher, Miss Blyth also ran a kindergarten, over which her plummy nemesis held, in her opinion, quite unnecessary dominion. But I’m getting distracted again.

Anyway, this Pedagogical Jove had decreed my fate and I was afterwards delivered to the school every morning for the next seven years by a chocolate and cream Lowestoft Corporation ‘bus. Why they couldn’t use steel like everyone else I’ll never know. This made them vulnerable to melting completely if the sun came out. Fortunately in Lowestoft this problem never arose. The ‘bus paused only for a brief eleven hour wait at Pier Terrace while the Bridge opened and closed.  It was still the clockwork one in those days and regularly held up the traffic in order to let the Herring Boats into Lake Lothing, so they could loathe the herring.

Always, I was spiffily dressed in the regulation black Barathea blazer, white bri-nylon shirt, red and black striped Terylene school tie, red and black cap, dark grey Acrilan trousers, grey Polyester socks and black plasticized “Tuff” shoes. Artificial fibres, you’ll note, were big in those days. When boys’ trouser legs rubbed together while breaking into a run, we could generate more static electricity than a Van Der Graff Generator and no civilian would approach us for fear of a fatal electric arc striking them if they forgot themselves and pointed at us.

This borderline fire-risk attire was provided by “Edwards” – school uniform suppliers to the Grammar School. You could easily recognise their salesmen as they skipped down London Road North, laughing all the way to the bank.

As a nervous and self-conscious 11 year-old I always suspected the school’s academic staff must have been selected from a combination of the slightly less dangerous inmates of Lunatic Asylums and carefully worded advertisements in the Police Gazette. Their daily modus operandi appeared to consist of maintaining a display of mind-boggling eccentricity, artfully interleaved with moments of gut-wrenching terror. Many teachers would hurl heavy objects across the classroom, seemingly at random, or would fill the room with noxious smoke from pipes or cigarettes until a fugue-like trance was induced in their charges. There was a dark rumour that the French Department were permitted to carry crossbows. I seem to remember the Head of Physical Education once waterboarding someone for wearing an incorrect tee shirt into the gym. (It was a particularly cruel gambit, that one: there was no correct tee shirt for the gym, only a coloured singlet would do).

As you may have already guessed, P.E. was especially horrifying for a bookish and unathletic person such as myself. For me, the appearance on noticeboards of House Teams for Sporting Gala Days had something of the quality of the Proscription Lists nailed to the Rostra in Imperial Rome by the Dictator Sulla, only less light-hearted.

I’m ashamed to say that my spirit only survived by the use of elaborate fantasies such as eventually becoming a Carer to one of the Masters I particularly disliked, in his feeble dotage: “If you really want this insulin, Dan, you’ll have to run a little faster than that, ha ha!”

In the Third Year of school, a particularly terrifying ordeal awaited us. We were removed, in groups of five, into the Sick Room to be subjected to the legendary “Tine Skin Test” to determine which of us were to receive the BCG Vaccination against Tuberculosis. This test, if memory serves, was administered by a cruel and unusual tool: a devilish combination of a multi-pronged industrial stapling machine and a soldering iron. The six needles were heated up, primed with Tuberculosis antigen and then the whole thing plunged into the inside of your left forearm, like being marked as a Roman Slave. The heating up may have, in truth, just been sterilizing between pupils, but I’ll swear there were noises like bacon sizzling in the line of doleful boys ahead of me, as they clenched their teeth and dutifully tried to look like Kirk Douglas as “Spartacus”. The idea was – if your skin then showed a reaction within 72 hours, you were immune to TB, and were given the painful vaccination anyway. This kind of thinking ruled most institutional matters at the time, sadly.

Of course there were positive things about our school life as well. In the Physics Lab, for example, we were allowed to handle radioactive materials. This brought a future career as a Russian Political Assassin into possibility, something sadly out of the reach of current Ormiston Denes Students. We were also taught how to develop photographs, suggesting exciting adult blackmail opportunities or a career in the tabloid press. On the last day of term before Christmas, the Maths Master would cast all caution to the winds and allow us to play a complicated word game instead of finding algebraic solutions. I found one in the garden once, but unfortunately the cat had already killed it.

There were Gilbert and Sullivan Productions, Drama Competition and Sports Day but no School Prom, meaning, sadly, no Prom King and Prom Queen. This was because being good looking was not at that time considered to be an achievement in itself. Instead, we simply hated and ridiculed the good looking on an individual ad hoc basis.  There was, on the other hand, Speech Day – in which the entire school decamped to the Sparrow’s Nest Theatre for an afternoon of ritual self-congratulation. It was at one of these I gained a most valuable insight into the English Establishment.

My friend, invited to choose a book as his prize, selected several pulp detective paperbacks by John Creasey of which he was very fond. He discovered to his surprise, on mounting the platform, a King James Bible placed firmly into his outstretched hand. This was furtively swapped for the odious populist volumes at a later date, possibly in a darkened room after sunset, thus maintaining decorum. You’d be surprised how many figurative King James Bibles are later swapped for figurative detective stories daily in every public forum up and down this strange benighted land we all love so much.

But what was the most precious thing I took away from this curious institution? A love and respect of how words might be carefully strung together to achieve myriad effects. To inspire, to deceive, to educate and most of all to entertain and delight. My beloved English Teacher Brian Gibbs once handed back to me an essay I’d filled with reams of nonsense in the delicious hope that it might just make him laugh, with the sardonic comment “You ought to be the Scriptwriter for Spike Milligan”. I wonder what he might have thought if he’d known that one day, amongst other things, I was, for a while, exactly that. Quite possibly horrified, I imagine. But it just goes to show that what you’re interested in right now contains the means to light up the rest of your entire life. And that, more or less, is the meaning and purpose of Education.

See also

Andrew Marshall on Twitter

October 2014

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