A tale slightly tenuously linked to Burton’s Menswear

Published on 1 December 2020 in , ,

The news that Arcadia Group, owners of brands like Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins, and Burton Menswear, has gone into administration, reminded me of something.

Actually it reminded me of many things. But my Top Man chenille roll neck jumper, whilst fantastic, isn’t worthy of writing about. The metallic silver trousers, probably are, but that brings about a whole other conversation.

No. The thing that rattled in my head most, was a connection with Burton. And it was nothing to do with clothes.

It’s 1995. Or could be early 1996. Either way I’m in my second year of my A-Levels at Hyde Clarendon College. Studying in the same buildings that Timmy Mallet and Ronnie Hazlehurst were educated in when it had been a grammar school.

I studied four A-Levels: Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry, and Physics. I had a batch of offers for university to study Maths. I can’t remember them all, but at least two required an ABC. And I was a little worried.

Chemistry was by far my weakest subject. I didn’t enjoy it, and struggled to do well in it. With the benefit of hindsight I should have done something like computer science instead. Something I would have been good at as I liked messing with computers. I liked programming. But no one told me you could make a living from it, whereas the sciences, well they were generally agreed to be useful. They were important. So that’s what I did.

But my general naffness in Chemistry meant I didn’t feel I could rely on even hitting a C in it. And that meant I needed to get my grades from the other three subjects.

And I was a little worried about my Maths. I was doing four maths modules. Pure Maths, Further Pure, Statistics, and Mechanics. My Maths A-Level would comprise of Pure Maths and either Stats or Mechanics. My Further Maths A-Level would comprise of Further Pure and the other remaining module. The exact combination was to be decided but needed to be fixed before the exam. Pure was a doddle. I knew I’d do well in that. Further Pure, I thought I’d do okay in, but there was a risk. I was good at Stats, less good at Mechanics. How those four modules would be combined would affect everything. I could easily end up with one great Maths A-Level, and one really poor one. Alternatively I could end up with two so-so ones. In short, I was a little worried.

That left Physics. I was okay at Physics, but I struggled with a few bits. I wasn’t sure what I’d get from the subject.
One of my teachers was called Hugh. Can’t for the life of me remember his surname, but Hugh was the best of my A-Level Physics teachers. He was smart, witty and engaging. I enjoyed his classes. He was also friendly, and easy to confide in. And as I was feeling worried, that’s what I did.

His reply stayed with me to this day.

“Andrew,” he said, “you will get an A. I have no doubt of that. Indeed if you don’t get an A, I will strip naked in the window of Burtons, and shout ‘I LOVE MARGARET THATCHER’.”

I left the room feeling a bit more reassured. I still wasn’t convinced I’d get an A, but I felt more confident I’d get at least a B.

Hugh never performed in the window of Burtons’s Hyde branch. But not because I got an A.

My grade was no fault of Hugh and his teaching. I screwed up one of the two exams in spectacular fashion. The morning of the exam, I was asleep in bed when the phone wrong. It was one of my maths teachers who was also the exam coordinator for the college.

“Andrew, you know you should be in an exam right now, don’t you?”

I didn’t. Every time I’d read the exam timetable – and I mean EVERY SINGLE TIME – I read the exam as being in the afternoon. It was in the morning.

I threw on my clothes as fast as I could, thanked whoever was listening to find my mum hadn’t driven her car to work that day. Twenty five minutes after it started, I rushed into the exam hall, and tried – desperately – to do my first Physics paper.

When the exam ended at noon, I handed my paper in. I was told I could have the additional 25 minutes. But I knew there was no point. I’d screwed it up big style.

The second paper was smoother but the damage was done. That I got a C was a miracle.

I was too embarrassed to hunt out Hugh on results day. If I’d got a B I may have jokingly said I was going to hold him to his pledge. But this was my fault. It was my fault.

Thankfully I got the grades I needed to get into university. I got the A and B I needed from my Maths paper. And a C in Chemistry meant I could have missed both Physics exams and would have survived.

But that one simple misread of an exam timetable deprived the world of a potentially glorious sight. Sorry world, but Burton’s window never did see Hugh start naked, declaring his love for a certain prime minister.