My ambition was always to be a cartoonist, but my parents had other ideas. Because they were self employed they were keen to see their children settled in good careers with a decent pension etc. My elder brother Simon became a chartered accountant, but this was obviously out of the question for me, being numerically challenged. I didn’t have a plan B so they suggested a visit to the careers master at school. At the interview I was asked what my favourite subject was. “Art, Sir”. The master consulted his alphabetical list of careers and said, “I don’t seem to have Art. I’ve got Army.” That is how I ended up at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, training to be an army officer.
The first interview for Sandhurst did not go well, probably because when asked what I would do if I failed the entrance tests I said, “Oh, I have other irons in the fire.” So they failed me and gave me the option of joining the ranks as a private soldier on an S Type engagement, just to see how army life agreed with me. I didn’t really have any other irons in the fire so I thought I had better do as they suggested. Army life as Private Griffin in the Queen’s Surreys at Howe Barracks, Canterbury proved to be an eye-opening experience. I shared a barrack room with young men who had been in prison, or else had been advised by a friendly policeman to join the army to avoid prison. But the energetic training created a strong bond and we were all loyal to each other. At one pub near the barracks my fellow squaddies had to rescue me from having a nail file forced up my nose by a girl who took exception to my ‘posh’ voice.
I did eventually reach Sandhurst where because of my previous military experience I found himself better able to cope with the strict discipline there. The staff assumed I was more capable than the others and I was given more responsibility than I could handle. It didn’t take long for my fellow officer cadets to catch up and overtake me in the fields of arms drill, kit polishing and the avoidance of giving smart-alec replies to the sergeant-major’s questions. As a junior cadet I managed to find time to draw cartoons that made fun of the sergeants and sergeant-majors, who were mostly drafted in from the Brigade of Guards. A senior cadet caught sight of my drawings and whisked them off for publication in The Wishstream, the Academy magazine. This may have caused me to be marked down as a subversive and not helped my military career. I myself didn’t really have much confidence in my prospects. It began to dawn on me that I was not very good at taking orders from other people and even worse at giving orders to others. My commanding officer also saw this, but the final straw came when I was asked to submit a caricature for the Academy art exhibition. I unwisely chose a caricature I had made of my CO. And that was the end of my military career.
Following my forced entry into civilian life, I tried various jobs but they mostly ended disastrously. I then decide to train for another career and went to Slough College to take a one year course in Personnel Management. I managed to scrape through the final exam and took the worst job of my life at Racal Electronics at Bracknell. I lodged at a private house, staying with a family run by a formidable woman who did not take kindly to my unfavourable comments about the slippery nylon bed sheets. I found the world of Human Resources much harsher than the army and was, of course, very unsuited to the position of Personnel Officer. There was no scope for cartooning, or shooting. My two bosses were the Personnel Manager and the Personnel Director. It is more than 40 years since I shared office space with those two men but even now I come out in a cold sweat when I watch a Mafia movie, and am reminded of them. They gave me 30 seconds to decide whether I wanted to resign or be sacked. I cannot remember which I chose but clearly remember a lot of F words being used and being escorted to the main gate.