You know how to whistle, Mick, don’t you?

john radford

If there’d been an O-level for whistling, I’d have got an A*.

My nan used to say “here comes Whistler’s Mother” (which was curious given that this was an 1871 painting, rather than some sort of noise).

Rather than whistling, looking back, I should have been reading. Reading, when it came to school exams, was a more constructive ability to have than whistling.

Having passed my 11-plus in 1968, I set off to grammar school; I choose to go to Bec, a grammar school in Tooting (an educational paradox if ever there was one). The summer in-between schools I was sent a reading list.  The list contained about twenty books – none required a whistling accompaniment.

I was never a great reader as a kid and the summer of ’68, when Jimi Hendrix and rioting French students were making headlines, was no different. I read the first chapter of Rodney Stone (a Gothic mystery written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) (about 1% of the reading list) and decided that perfecting my leg-break and learning to imitate the call of garden birds of south-west London or members of The Goons (which I can still do – so look out Britain’s Got Talent) was a better use of my time.

Throughout my teens, rather than reading books, I would read comics which were bought for me – Beano and Shoot being the two which were regularly procured.  If there’d been a question about Roger the Dodger or Lord Snooty, rather than Lady Macbeth, during my English Literature O-level, I may have got a better grade.

Rather than reading (and learning) Juno and the Paycock, I was fully occupied making sure the free ladder from Shoot magazine was up-to-date with the movements of the First Division football teams.

Whilst I can’t remember how many pounds of flesh Shylock wanted, I can remember that seventies Arsenal striker John Radford’s favourite food was “steak and chips in the Olympic Café, Neasden”.

Or was John Radford one of the twins in The comedy of errors?

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