Twiggy

Published by Quiller, 2017.

When I was at Eton I was up to Michael Kidson for History when I was doing O Levels. Unfortunately for me I was not in his div when I did History A Level, my D grade is testament to that.

However, he did come as my guest to my Passing Out dinner at Sandhurst in 1973. We were only allowed one guest and one of his pupils wanted to invite two and as I was Norman No-Friends I adopted MGMK. He sat beside me and chastised me for my inability to tie a bow tie, a deficiency that remains with me still.

I’m sorry, already this post is peppered with Eton jargon but you can probably guess what it means. At Eton in your last two years you could choose a tutor to act as a check and balance against your house master. Kidson was hugely popular and over-subscribed, as were others like Bill Winter and Jerry Nichols (subsequently Head Master of Stowe). I chose “Twiggy” Branch who taught English. He was not over-subscribed –  there were only two of us.

Kidson was robust as were “his boys”. He was the Miss Jean Brodie of Eton and I could never have been part of his set, I was much too timid. My cousin, Richard, chose Kidson as his tutor and I wonder what he made of him and his other pupils when he attended Private Business? My abiding memory of being taught by Kidson was his eccentric pronunciation of Moscow, Himalayas, Trafalgar and so on. I use the Kidson versions to this day.

However, I fitted in well with Twiggy. He was young and possibly even more shy than me. He was diminutive had a very small house in the High Street where he lived with his wife. You visit your tutor weekly, or more often if the mood takes you, and these sessions can be about just about anything. Winter and Kidson curried favour with their boys. The former handed out sherry, the latter gin, whisky and fags. Nichols took his boys for a spin in his vintage Racing Green sports car.

One naughty thing I did in my last days at Eton was to ask my house master to authorise the purchase of a case of, unfortunately, red wine from the chemist (CJ Read) in the High Street. It was to be delivered to Twiggy as my leaving present. I intercepted my gift in Twiggy’s hallway and explained that only six bottles were for him and that the rest were to go elsewhere. I took them back to my house and after a leaving dinner given by my house master I drank them with my fellow leavers. I was spectacularly sick, so white wine would have been a better choice.

I’m up to speed on Kidson because of Jamie Blackett’s book about him, The Enigma of Kidson. If you were at Eton and knew Kidson it is a great read. I have not named the only other boy who chose Twiggy as his tutor because he had a penchant for shop-lifting in Windsor, a trait which got him into a bit of trouble. Twiggy took us to the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank to see an exhibition of kinetic art. I was mystified but enjoyed the outing.

I did English for A Level. Michael Meredith taught the brainy boys and poor young Twiggy had to put up with the thickheads (a Kidson favourite word) like me. Because of his teaching I got an A grade. I am immensely grateful to him. I was an early-adopter of Twiggy. A decade later he tutored David Cameron. Here’s Twiggy’s impression of DC.

I came across David as a young Etonian, aged about 14, and saw him for one tutorial session a week. He was outgoing, bright and generally enthusiastic – but then, most Etonians are. One couldn’t say he stood out as a high flier. He was not necessarily a person one would expect to make a huge public mark. I remember Boris Johnson as well – he had an exuberance that was always likely to find a public outlet; that wasn’t present in David.

5 thoughts on “Twiggy”

  1. If Kidson only taught you to O-level, presumably you were not one of those who attempted the essay set by him: “How greasy was Disraeli’s pole?” (cited in this week’s Spectator and today’s Times).

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