Hey Fred, you’ve got a Grade X privilege!

Grade X privilege? What on earth is that?

It means you’re the cleverest kid in the year!

Oh no! You’re joking! I’ll never play for the soccer team now…

Soccer team? What do you mean?

Well I’m already having to play hockey because they said the squad is full, and now they’ll say that I’m a swot and swots don’t play soccer; swots play hockey at the girl’s school. Like I do.

Don’t you want to be top of the year?

Top of the year? Is that what Grade X privilege means?

No, it’s more complicated than that. But you are the only fourth year with a Grade X, there are 3 Grade O’s as well, so you must be top of the year.

Grade O’s? What do you mean? Where did you get all this information? Anyway what is a Grade X privilege?

Come on; I’ll show you! There is a notice opposite the Deputy Heads door.

The Deputy Head ran a tight ship at Windsor Boys School, Hamm, BFPO 20 and was very precise in everything he did. I wasn’t surprised that it was his privilege to publish information about our “privileges”

Look, you’re the only Fourth Year to get a Grade X privilege, there is more than one in every other year, so that’s a bit special, well done! Oh and you are the only one averaging over 7. How did you do that? Amazing!

Blimey, that really makes me stand out; Robbo will probably beat me up for being a swot as well.

I don’t think so. Robbo likes to win and he’ll see it as Balmoral being the Top House in his year, so you’ll be alright; I think. Your Head of House will probably announce it to the whole House on Saturday morning. He’ll love you for it; you’re the only Grade X in Balmoral in any year.

You’re joking!


You know I need somebody


You know I need someone


Hey Fred!

It was Danny from Ireland; we’d already hit it off in the beginner’s German classes where neither of us had a clue, but he had a ready wit and mine got readier with a fellow conspirator.

Top man Fred. You must be fooling about in German! I never realised you were so smart. Do you mind if I study with you next term, I just missed out on a Grade O. I’m going for the Civil Service exams and I’ll need to do better. I want to get into the Diplomatic Corps, and you’ve got to do real well for that.

Okay Danny, if you think it’ll help.

Help! You’re Top of the Pops at school boyo! Of course it will help.

When I was younger

So much younger than today

I’d only been at the school for one term and, having got into a lot of trouble for not doing homework the last time I moved school, I had decided not to make the same mistake here. This time I had worked quietly and assiduously and got every piece of homework in on time. I had also prepped all of the very strange Learning by Rote sessions we had once a week in our year groups. These were just insane. Each year group was made up of a random bunch of lads from different houses who never met at any other time but who had to answer ten strange questions together like, who was the Venerable Bede and why is he well known? It was a sort of weekly O-Level in Trivial Pursuit questions. However we couldn’t leave until all the questions were answered. It was so boring I ended up answering all of them on my own just to get out of there; big mistake…

I never needed anybody’s

help in anyway

Then again the Privilege award was based on your Effort grade. Dual grades were awarded for every piece of work, the academic mark, say 67% and the effort grade, which was awarded out of 9! A Grade X privilege was awarded for an average of 6.75 out of 9. Makes no sense whatsoever, a decimal average in a nonary number system. Mind you we were in Germany, so the decimalisation bit made sense, but grades in base nine? Help!

But now these days have gone

I’m not so self-assured

Put it this way. As ever in British schools 9 out of 9 was never awarded, so top marks were either 7 or 8. Most people were very happy with 6 out of 9 (so does that give you an average of 6.666 or just 6? Guess!).  So you have to get better than 6’s to be privileged. Teachers liked giving 6 and kids like getting 6. Everyone happy, no privileges offered. Most grades, about 2/3rds of them, were 5’s, which meant; doesn’t try but not rubbish. Some grades of 4 were given. Below 4 you got into Grade Punishment territory. 3.75 was a Grade O Punishment and 3.25 a Grade X Punishment. Robbo, Balmoral Robbo, king of my bloody dormitory, and the reason I was now called Fred by all and sundry, well Robbo got a Grade X Punishment of course. There it was up on the board. We were the only two kids in Balmoral with a Grade X. So our dorm officially had the biggest swot in the school and the biggest moron. Combustible stuff; my Grade X privilege next to his Grade X punishment. This was looking even less like a privilege than it had sounded at first.

I could imagine the conversation when I got back to the dorm.

“What did you get Robbo?

Uh? Oh a 3.1 recurring, whatever that means. What did you get then, Fred?

Er, 7.1. I got 7.1.

7.1? That isn’t even possible, you bloody swot!

At which point, of course, I would become a bloodied swot.

And now I find, I’ve changed my mind

I’ve opened up the doors

Actually Robbo wasn’t a moron he was a hard case. A bloody hard-case, as though he was in The Bofors Gun and was protesting against National Service. Actually his protest was more a “what have you got” kind of rebellion. He took his punishment with awesome grace under pressure. We went from sniggering at his failure to wondering how he took all the punishment. Caned and forced to walk round the school pitch all Wednesday afternoon, our only free time in the week, three times in a row! So I did miss out on being caned this time, only my reward was to share a room with the one guy who did get caned. And he was the bloody king of the dorm.

Help me if you can

And just to put this academic rule-laden game into perspective, none of it was explained to me before I made the mistake of trying too hard by trying not to try. Next time I was going to plan not trying properly. You’ve got to try really hard if you aren’t going to try at all. I already knew I’ve got to hide my brains away, now I had to make it look like I’m not trying when I do. Help!

I’m feeling down

I felt swizzed; I really wasn’t trying, so I had no idea where I the Xceptional effort grade came from. I had focussed on getting average academic grades in each class so I wouldn’t stand out and as a result they had put me down as putting in an outstanding effort. Had they got me down as someone really thick who was just trying hard? Well I wasn’t thick. I was deliberately NOT trying so that I didn’t look smart. On the other hand I was trying like mad to get into the school soccer team and that effort was completely ignored. Schools hey? When do they ever get it right?

Then I clicked! This wasn’t an effort grade it was a punctuality grade, which I only observed in order to keep the school off my back. Instead it was all over my back; in fact I was being backslapped into notoriety. Right! Less Learning By Rote prep and less punctuality should sort that out.

And I do appreciate you being round

Help me get my feet back on the ground

So what do I get for a Grade X privilege?

Any number of things, you’ve got a choice.  A weekend back home, extra exeat passes, only any good in the fifth form when you can go to the pub, or if you want to go shopping at the Soest PX. Oh, and three free cinema tickets.

Three free cinema tickets? The school prize is three free cinema tickets?

Yeah, not bad eh? But you’ll be going home wont you?

Well I’ll ask, but I doubt it unless Dave has a Grade X as well.

No his name isn’t up here, hang on he’s Grade O; pretty good, smart family!

Can he go home too?

Not sure, maybe.

Wont you please, please help me

Well three free cinema tickets sounds great to me. When can I go?

Right away! And you could go home early for Christmas this weekend if you want.

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways

Oh, you’ve got a free ticket love. You have been a good boy haven’t you?

Hmm, well getting free tickets to see the Beatles is pretty good in my book.

Well you’ll enjoy the film then.

Oh don’t worry, I will do! Beatles films are like listening to their albums on a great big record player!

My independence seems to vanish in the haze

Now I know I need you like

I’ve never done before

Wow, that’s really good, I really love films by The Beatles.

Not many songs in it yet though.

No not really, only two; so far. I love “got to hide your love away” in that fake house!

Yeah the fake house is brilliant alright, great song too; but there are fourteen songs on Billy’s album so there’ll be more right enough.

And you get a decent sound system with a film, better than Billy’s pokey record player!

Yeah it’s really knackered isn’t it? Maybe we should club together and buy him a new stylus.

If I ever get an album of my own I will do!

Oh look they’ve got the second reel sorted, let’s hope for more songs.

Yeah! Help is a bit old.

Help me if you can

I’m feeling down

And I do appreciate you being round

Help me get my feet back on the ground

Wont you please, please help me

Danny had come with me to see the film, I was his new best friend, and he was mine. He was very critical of all new music, especially when it was assumed to be good because it was popular. He instinctively railed against simple assumptions. But he liked The Beatles, they had now reached the point where they, despite the rush of new and interesting groups, especially the Stones, The Kinks and The Who, were seen as the Gods of a newly emerging pantheon. The lodestone of quality. Now that Danny thought I was smart he was happy to hang around with me, and he was opinionated and could talk on just about anything. So the instant a reel ended and the house lights went up, as the school only had one projector, he just picked up on our last conversation or started another. It was great having a friend who knew the real me.

When I was younger

So much younger than today

I never needed anyone’s

Help in anyway

Well I’m beginning to think it isn’t as good as Hard Days Night. Is it a spoof of Goldfinger?

They are trying to be funny aren’t they? It’s more of a film than Hard Days Night though.

How do you mean?

You know Hard Days Night was about them and their life and we’d never seen that before. This time it is a comedy film with a story. A bit like a Bond film, a bit like Peter Cook and Dudley Moore on TV

Yeah, it is a proper film isn’t it. I like the bit where they used the Harrods van for the Bond car chase!

Hopeless! And they were eating in an Indian Restaurant, very exotic.

Oh Indian restaurants were our favourite when we used to go to Leeds. I always had prawn korma.

Well there’s none in Dublin; Shhhh, Third Reel!

But now these days have gone

I’m not so self-assured

And now I find

I’ve changed my mind

I’ve opened up the doors

Are you really going for the Diplomatic Corps Danny?

Yeah of course, good lifestyle, good pay. Anyway how else am I going to see the world like The Beatles? I can’t sing, can’t write songs, can’t act naturally.

Neither can they!

Oh, they are not so bad! What about you? Will you go to University then?

I hope so, I’d like to go to a redbrick and do Aeronautical Engineering.

Aeronautics? Why? Oh, I know! You wanna be a spaceman!

Maybe, but I’d like to be a pilot too, they earn phenomenal salaries. I reckon I’ll have the widest range of options with Aeronautics; spaceman, aircraft designer, engineer or pilot. If you miss out at one level you…

Shh final reel! What do you reckon?

Ringo will lose his finger and it’ll be all over for the Beatles.

Mad man!

Help me if you can

I’m feeling down

And I do appreciate you being round

Help me get my feet back on the ground

Won’t you please, please help me

Well that was great right enough! A film really makes Saturday night doesn’t it? Are you looking forward to the Christmas holiday then.

Yeah; it’s my third Christmas in Germany, I really like them, lots of snow, big Christmas trees, lots of parties at the camp!

Yeah, we have good parties too. Where are you based?


I’m in Detmold, nice little camp there.

Yeah we went to Detmold in 1959 to play cricket with my Dad. I like that monument on the hill.

Oh yeah! Herman the German!

Herman The German?


Learning by Rote!!

I’m A Loser and I’m not what I appear to be!

That’s Billy singing, he must have been at the film too!

Yeah! Trust him to sing a song that isn’t it!

Well he is a big fan of B-sides, and that’s a classic.

Help Me! Help Me! – ooohhh mmmm


If you liked this story the full novel, 63/68 A Visceral History, is a free download on Slideshare


  1. August 8, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    […] story is about the first time I saw HELP! the […]

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  3. Bakuvia said,

    August 10, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Very entertaining, Fred. 🙂 I must say, I am jealous of anyone who managed to go see the Beatles films at the cinema ‘back in the day’… I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen them on the big screen!

  4. fred6368 said,

    August 10, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Thanks, much appreciated!
    If you like stories about the films I’ve already done Hard Days Night and Yellow Submarine will be in about two weeks time. Oh and there is a funny one about the Abbey Road film coming up that the BBC wiped! Enjoy 🙂

  5. January 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm

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  7. Quora said,

    February 7, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    How common is it for intelligent people to pretend to be dumb to fit in?…

    What a great question! As Kate says, quite common at a younger age. I was an Army Brat and went to 11 schools, complicated by my Dad becoming an officer in the middle of this (and so changing class as well), so I was always desperately trying to fit in…

  8. May 23, 2012 at 7:40 am

    […] completely different experiences for me, all exactly the same in NOT explain learning to you. The story HELP! is about how I made mistakes in trying to fit in Germany by trying not to repeat the mistakes […]

  9. July 25, 2012 at 8:28 am

    […] 63/68 A Visceral History, but here are a couple of chapters that cover points raised here, (about fitting in at school, role models and being assessed) […]

  10. July 25, 2012 at 8:30 am

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  11. Robin Patches Ellwood said,

    August 1, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    My aunt met The Beatles before they were famous when they were the support band to her then boyfriend’s band – they never became famous.

  12. August 7, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    […] and was a permanent outsider always trying parse the new environment I was trying to fit into. My story HELP! is about trying to do this both successfully and unsuccessfully when I was 14. I did learn how to […]

  13. December 13, 2021 at 8:55 am

    […] Or support your learners learning? (Alternatively you might like my Beatles-inspired story HELP! About switching […]

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