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Richard Martin’s MPW Memoirs – Part 2

Posted by: Richard Martin - 17 May 2023 - 50th Anniversary - Read time: 5 minutes

In part one, we discovered how Richard first came to be a tutor and about MPW London in the 1980’s. In part two, we discover the surprisingly rock and roll side of being a tutor at MPW…

I remain very grateful to Rodney Portman for stretching a point and enabling me to meet Mick Jagger whose daughter, Jade was thinking of enrolling at MPW London. Robert Woodward, a very committed fan of the Stones, must have been on sabbatical since he would surely have bagged the interview had he been able to. Rodney with characteristic and eminent tact made himself scarce for my part of the interview process. Great honour as it was to meet Mick, it was however a little frustrating to have to discuss the finer points of the A level English syllabus with Jade when I rather wanted to talk to her father, resplendent in a mint green suit (how strange I can remember that!), about Exile on Main Street. ‘Never meet your heroes’, they say. Well in fact, I’m very pleased to have met Mick, though he probably forgot about me before he’d even left the building; he certainly couldn’t get my name right in the interview itself, so ‘Peter’ it was for the duration. That is the prerogative of gods after all: they forget your name but only we remember that they did so – as well as the colour of their suits.

I think Jade ended up at MPW Cambridge: her father was apparently anxious about the metropolis and its temptations. Marlon Richards (Keith’s son) did come to MPW London and I loved the fact that correspondence was conducted on letters with the distinctive Rolling Stones’ tongue logo. Marlon with infinite thoughtfulness gave me the suede tour jacket for the ‘Steel Wheels’ tour and I only later realised that this had been given only to members of the inner circle and was never made commercially available. I must admit to it being a bit of a tight fit. All members of rock bands that formed in the ’60s were on the skinny side (blame it on post-war rationing) and probably had to remain that way. I think I read somewhere that it remains a stipulation in the Stones’ contracts which, I imagine insist that they must only “(drink) the wind and (take) a mess of shadows for (their) meat.” There was a reason why the Small Faces were so called after all. Incidentally, whether Mick was particularly diminutive or not would be difficult to say since his charisma made all objective judgements absolutely impossible.

For some reason Marlon was in possession of his father’s Hard Rock Cafe card and gave it to me on semi-permanent loan. This was not a loyalty card (I’m not sure such things existed in the late ‘80s) so much as something that enabled one to walk straight passed the queues that formed at said superior hamburger joint. Quite why the instantly recognisable ‘Keef’, a.k.a. the ‘Human Riff’, would have needed such a thing, I never fathomed, but then nor did I fathom why I was able to use it with a 100% rate of success since I did not, even in my wildest, rock and roll dreams, bear any resemblance to Mr Richards – as noted above the tour jacket was a very tight fit! That year I frequented the Hard Rock Café with greater frequency than ever before, and certainly ever after, waving Keith’s card aloft. I was never even challenged and impressed my wife-to-be no end in the process.

Mary McCartney also enrolled at MPW and very kindly made sure I had excellent seats for her father’s Wembley shows and the Knebworth gig in 1990. Concerning Mary and Marlon I have rarely met two more well-adjusted students in all my teaching experience. Unphased by their illustrious parents they were the soul of discretion and I remember only one revelation from Mary, that her father and mother had been given a mantra which they had to retrieve from a bank vault. That is how I remember the story anyway. An interesting snapshot and a luminous detail for any student of ‘60s counterculture, wouldn’t you say? Strange, is it not, the things one remembers when all else is consigned to oblivion? I remember both Marlon and his friend Nick Spice(r?) trying their best in lunchtime sessions to teach me to play guitar but it wasn’t to be. They both achieved good grades, so they had the best of the deal, but then I was (musically) poor material to work with and they (academically) were not.

Finally, I remember a wonderful student called Katherine Taylor inviting me to her 18th birthday party at Annabel’s. I can still remember how good the Pomerol tasted and the incredible magnanimity of her father paying for my taxi home. You can see from the foregoing that there was a greater level of socialising between staff and students than would be deemed appropriate now, but these were different times. Tutors were younger (by which I mean, I was) and students generally older. Thus, it was only a matter of logistics (a holiday in the Dordogne already booked) rather than ethics that led me to miss Mary’s birthday bash in Sussex. I’ve often regretted that. It would have been nice to chat to Paul.

My reminiscences have hopefully identified how different life at MPW was in the 1980s, but they haven’t answered the burning question that all MPW students from the ‘90s onwards always ask: were students allowed to smoke in lessons? The answer is that they could with the tutor’s permission. Not being a smoker myself and fearing that the finer points of an iambic pentameter might be missed in the time it took to ignite a cigarette, I only let students light up at break time. I don’t remember this tradition extending beyond my first year, so the academic year ‘84-’85 must have represented its last gasp – not so shocking when one calls to mind that passengers smoked on London Underground until 1987. Different times, as I said.