For some reason, the name Anthony O’Reilly popped into my head late last night. He was someone that I taught in 1976 and, to this day, I have no idea whether I messed him around or did him an immense favour.
When I started teaching at Netteswell School in Harlow in 1976, I was 22 years old and I was given a Lower Sixth (Year 12) Maths A level class to teach where the students were only six years younger than I was. Although there were seven Maths teachers on the staff, there was only one other teacher who had experience of teaching A level. His name was Keith Strachan. He left the school in 1977 and went on to a stellar musical career. He co-wrote “Mistletoe and Wine” for Cliff Richard, he co-wrote a number of West End Musicals and in 1998 he wrote the theme music for “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” which, appropriately enough has made him a millionaire. He was always very encouraging to me and I can clearly remember how he managed to ensure that all his classes walked out of his classroom smiling and happy whereas my students ran out of my classes, miserable and angry.
Since I was the new boy, I was given the bottom set A level class. When the new Head of Department arrived the following year, he abolished the concept of setting at A level. The argument about setting or mixed ability raged on for as long as I was in education but this was the only time that I experienced Sixth Form setting as a teacher. As a pupil I was in the bottom Physics A level class which meant I got a very organised teacher and I was in a small class of about twelve students. Giving the new boy the bottom set (there were only two sets and my class had only ten students in it) was a bit perverse. The top set would have done well whoever taught them but the bottom set needed someone who knew what they were doing and by the time this cohort finished the course, half had left. Whether all of the students who dropped out of the course suffered from having a teacher who didn’t know what he was doing is a question I will never be able to answer. Even more of a conundrum is whether Anthony O’Reilly was a misunderstood genius or whether he was completely out of his depth.
There are plenty of films about mathematical geniuses. “My Brilliant Mind” is about John Nash. “The Theory Of Everything” is about Stephen Hawking”. “The Man Who Knew Infinity” is about Srinivasa Ramanujam. “Good Will Hunting” is a fictitious film about a janitor who is a mathematical genius. I could never decide whether or not Anthony O’Reilly should have a film named after him. Maybe “The Man Who Learnt In Trinity”.
Every week, I would take in the exercise books from my Sixth Form class to mark their work. I spent hours of my life marking Sixth Form work until I started teaching in a Sixth Form College where we gave students all the answers and told them to mark their own work. Some students handed in work that was more or less perfect; if a problem could be solved in ten lines of working, they would hand in exactly ten lines of working. Other students handed in work with lots of blank pages because they couldn’t answer the question. A very clever and funny student called Martin Pike once handed some homework with a blank page so I wrote on it that he appeared to have used invisible ink. The following week, he handed in his homework with another blank page except for some instructions which told me that if I wanted to read the answer, I should place in an oven on gas mark 5 for 30 minutes. I set fire to the edges of this page and wrote that it didn’t seem to work. Oh the jolly japes we got up to in the Seventies.
Where was I? Oh yes. Anthony O’Reilly. Every week he handed in about thirty pages of work. If a question could be solved using ten lines of working, he would use fifty lines which led nowhere. His algebraic equations and formulae were scattered at random on the page, often at acute angles to the horizontal. His writing was very small. I would spend hours scrutinising his work, trying to get inside his head to follow his train of reasoning. I never succeeded. He was monosyllabic when spoken to and kept his head down whilst shaking his head and muttering. I always worried that he was a misunderstood genius but in the end he dropped out of the course at Christmas.
The Irish billionaire, Anthony O’Reilly went bankrupt in 2019 but, sadly, he is too old to be my ex student.
In 1964, Nina Simone recorded an album called “Broadway-Blues-Ballads” and five of the songs were written by Benny Benjamin and Sol Marcus. One of these songs was “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” which had a third writing credit of Gloria Caldwell. The third writer was actually Horace Ott (who also wrote “Just One Look”, covered by The Hollies) but for legal reasons he ascribed writing credit to his wife Gloria Caldwell.
When Nina Simone performed the song, she used a very slow tempo which gave greater emphasis to the words which can be interpreted as either an homage to the Civil Rights Movement or as a plea for an understanding of her own attitude and career. Eric Burdon, the leader of The Animals said about the song that “it was never considered pop material but it somehow got passed to us and we fell in love with it immediately”. Their version was dirty, aggressive and unruly featuring Eric Burdon’s howling vocals. Around this time Them released an album called “The Angry Young Them” and it would have been appropriate if The Animals had released this song on an album called “The Angry Young Animals”. As it was, “The Most Of The Animals”, whilst categorised as a compilation album, included many songs that had not appeared on their two previous albums, “The Animals” and “Animal Tracks”. The title is a nod to their producer, Micky Most.
Possibly the best known song that The Animals ever recorded and the last song on Side One is “House Of The Rising Sun.” Bob Dylan recorded the song on his eponymous debut album, copying the arrangement from Dave van Ronk who intended to record his own version for a forthcoming album. He asked Bob Dylan to hold off for a few months but by this time, Bob Dylan’s album had been released. When Bob Dylan heard The Animals’ version of this song a few years later, he was inspired to leave his folk music behind and “go electric”, triggering a furious backlash from the folkies of New York.
Other songs on this album include “Mess Around” and “Talkin’ ‘Bout You” written by Ray Charles and “Boom Boom”, “Dimples” and “I’m Mad Again” by John Lee Hooker. Their version of “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” became a huge favourite with forces serving in Vietnam.
There are a few songs on “The Most Of The Animals” which were covered by Bob Dylan or Van Morrison. “Baby Let Me Take You Home” was recorded by Bob Dylan as “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”, on his debut album. The song was written by Bert Berns, who wrote “Twist And Shout” and “Here Comes The Night”. He also produced “Blowin’ Your Mind”, Van Morrison’s first solo album. “Bright Lights Big City, written by Jimmy Reed, was covered on Them’s first album. “Bring It On Home To Me” by Sam Cooke was covered by Van Morrison on his brilliant live album “It’s Too Late To Stop Now”.
Anthony O’Reilly, I’m talking about you. I’m sorry if I messed you around and you were misunderstood. If you read this, bring it on home to me and we’ll get out of this place. Boom boom!