The day that Sidney Delamere's A Level results came through, he almost didn't open them. He was late for work and had decided to leave his post till the evening. But his wife reminded him of the last time he had done that, and how he had nearly missed a very important invitation, and so he reluctantly decided to stay an extra five minutes and open the morning mail.
One of the packages contained his A Level results.
‘Good God,’ he said.
‘What is it, dear?’ said his wife.
‘It seems to be my A Level results,’ he said.
‘I didn't know you had been doing any A Levels,’ she said.
‘I haven't,’ said Sidney. ‘Not recently. Not since I left school. These are the results of my A Levels at school.’
Sidney Delamere was in his mid-fifties. He was the accounts manager of a large firm of undertakers. He wasn't interested in A Levels. He was interested in money and pension rights and tax schemes, which is not the sort of thing they award A Levels for, even in these enlightened days.
‘Well, surely you got the results of your A Levels when you were at school,’ said his wife. ‘Why are they sending them to you now?’
‘I don't know,’ said Sidney.
"What A Levels did you get?" said his wife.
‘Three.’ said Sidney proudly. ‘French, Maths and Art. I.... Hold on! What's this?’
He screwed up his eyes and stared at the paper.
‘I don't believe it ! It says that I failed Maths and Art! They're sorry, but I got only one A Level, in French...’
Moments later Sidney was on the phone to his father.
‘Dad, I know this is going back a long way, but can you remember what happened when I got my A Level results back in the early 1960s...?’
Sidney's father could remember. Sidney had been away doing a holiday job on the continent, and all Sidney's friends had got their results, and Sidney's hadn't come, so his parents, assuming the news would be good for Sidney as well, had told a white lie down the phone and said he had got three A Levels. Sidney had gone through life assuming this was so. But now his results had finally got through to him, forty years late. And he had failed two of his A Levels !
‘Don't worry, son,’ said his father. ‘You've done very well without.’
That wasn't the point, thought Sidney. The point was that he had always thought he was a success at school. And now he had discovered he was a fraud. It was tragic. Mark you, he could see the comic side of it as well, as he told his colleagues at work.
Mid-morning, his boss sent for him.
‘Sidney, what's this I hear about you failing A Levels?’
‘True, I'm afraid,’ said Sidney.
‘If this is so,’ said his boss, ‘I'm afraid we're going to have to rethink your position.’
‘I'm afraid I don't...’
‘When you first joined us nearly forty years ago, it said on your CV that you had 3 A Levels. If this was not so, you joined us on false pretences. In which case I have no choice but to let you go. We can't employ cheats at Withergill and Follow, The Undertakers of Choice.’
‘But I did have 3 A Levels then! At least ...’
The upshot was that Sidney had to apply to the examiners, asking them to re-grade his results. The examiners wrote back saying that it was impossible, as appeals could only be lodged within a month of the results being received. Sidney wrote back saying that this was the case and he had only received the results ten days previously.
After a short silence, they wrote back to him to say that all the examiners who had examined him were now dead, and he would have to re-sit the exams. Sidney said he was quite happy to do that, as after forty years he would have no problem. But when he came to re-sit the exams he had not done any serious revision and he failed all three. He therefore became the first pupil in British history to have an A Level stripped from him forty years after he had been awarded it. He also, sad to say, was given the boot by Withergill and Follow, Undertakers To Die For.
Moral Of This Story: Having an A Level doesn't tell people how clever we are. It tells them how clever we used to be. And in Sidney Delamere's case, not even that.
The Independent Sep 4 2000