I was born Charles William Langmead Griffin in Ruislip, Middlesex on 20 May 1946. A middle child with a brother six years older and a sister 10 years younger. My parents were self-employed, my father, Alec, being a manufacturer’s agent for two or three furniture firms and my mother, Joyce, working as a Chiropodist. As a small child I gave mum several heart-stopping moments. Once I went missing for a couple of hours and was found on my tricycle in the middle of a main road a mile away, with traffic dodging around me. Another time I was found at the top of a roofer’s ladder. But my mother inadvertently got her revenge for these escape attempts. While she was working in her surgery I was in the care of their cleaner, Mrs Tuckwell. Mrs T brought her son to work, a boy a few years older, who was sent out with me to ‘play’. I have vivid memories of clinging onto my tricycle, being pushed at speed across Cherry Close into a privet hedge.
My education began with an infants’ nursery in Ruislip and then St Bernard’s School, run by Mrs Squires who was never seen without a cigarette. My parents managed to earn enough to send me to Northwood Prep School which involved bus rides from Ruislip. Whilst there the French master set a project which inspired my life-long love of newspapers. The class had to produce a mock newspaper written in French, with pictures and …..cartoons! I later produced similar newspapers in English in collaboration with another boy. My exercise books also were liberally defaced with cartoons and caricatures, and my school chums would encourage me to draw the teachers in compromising (rude) situations.
At home I would always look to see what the cartoonists were drawing in my parents’ papers. We took the Sunday Express which had Giles cartoons at that time, and the Evening News with cartoons by Lee. Giles was my favourite, and the annual at Christmas was always eagerly awaited. Other influences were Rupert Bear and other strip cartoons. The Beano, Dandy and Eagle were delivered to the house but other comics were also bought secretly and hidden (unsuccessfully) under the bed because my parents tried to discourage my obsession.
I was not studious and needed extra coaching in Maths and French to get me through Common Entrance to Public School at the age of 13. The Prep School advised my parents that I would not do well enough in the exam to get to Merchant Taylors which would have been a day school, and suggested they set their sights lower and put me down for Berkhamstead which would require me to be a boarder. As it turned out I achieved 62%, enough to get to Merchant Taylors but I was already ear-marked for the boarding school.
My time at Berkhamstead was a bleak period of my life. It was a school that was proud of its new science building, and sport was a very important part of the boys’ education. Neither of these was appealing to me and my star did not shine bright there. Fights were a common occurrence, something I avoided, but I could not avoid the attention of bullies who because of my lack of fighting skills found me an easy target. I did manage to pass nine O Levels although Maths had to be retaken 6 times, at least I think it was 6 times – I lost count, being bad with figures. For A Levels I chose Art as one of my subjects but there were no classes for A Level Art at Berkhamstead so I had to keep pestering the art teacher for projects.
One thing that I did excel at during my school years and that was shooting. The school, like most public schools at the time had a cadet force. Every Friday boys would arrive for lessons dressed in army battledress, and as soon as school finished they paraded and drilled or attended classes in weapon training or Bailey bridge-building. There were field days, and in the summer holidays we went to camp. This involved a 50-mile march with the band playing at the head of the column. The camp lasted for two weeks and toilets consisted of a hole in the ground with little privacy so constipation was a blessing in disguise. The highlight of the camp was the shooting competition with .303 rifles. I achieved the highest score and experienced the kudos of finally being good at something.