Michael Tanner wasn’t expecting much in life after growing up on a former prisoner-of-war camp in Oxford and council estate in Oxford.

Yet through hard work and help from three key teachers, he went on to win a place at a grammar school and then Oxford University.

The first to inspire him was Peter Newsam, who became Inner London education officer and chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality and was later knighted.

In his role as history and Latin teacher at Littlemore Grammar School, he brought out the best in his pupils, particularly the young Michael Tanner

In a new book, from PoW Camp to Oxford University, Mr Tanner writes: “In front of a class, he came alive like embers doused with petrol. He inspired us in so many ways.”

He recalled how Mr Newsam would organise outings to places of interest to help with their studies, not only in school time but on Saturdays, in his car.

He also remembers him suggesting a ‘turn’ at the school Christmas concert, usually a staid affair of recitations and instrument solos.

“He suggested we dress up as yokels to sing a drunken version of the Devon folk song, Widdecombe Fair.

Oxford Mail:

“The curtains opened to reveal me guzzling from a beer bottle (empty, of course) before the rest trooped on in various stages of mock inebriation to strike up the song.

“The audience, including parents, went nuts and we were, unquestionably, the night’s star turn.”

Mr Newsam also launched a school magazine and as he left at Christmas 1962, he invited a select band of pupils – boys and girls – to a soiree at his home in North Oxford.

Mr Tanner, who lived with his family at Rose Hill after leaving the former Slade prisoner-of-war camp at Headington, writes: “Teachers like Peter Newsam were a godsend if disadvantaged pupils like me were to overcome their background and maximise their potential.”

Outside school, young Michael earned pocket money delivering paraffin to homes, betting on greyhounds and taking on a paper round.

Most of the money was spent supporting Headington United, forerunner of Oxford United, attending speedway matches at Cowley and visiting the Regal cinema in Cowley Road.

However, none of these activities was likely to land him with the ultimate prize he desired – a place at university.

It was Lynn Evans, the well-known Oxford rugby player, who helped him achieve his aim when he arrived at Littlemore Grammar School as games master.

Mr Tanner recalls: “He was a slightly bandy, jinking fly half, with a penchant for the drop goal. But what really set him apart was that he coached, unheard of in the early 1960s.”

He took young Michael under his wing and nurtured him not only in the school team but in the Oxford Rugby Club’s colts’ team and Charlie Ede’s Oxford Thursday team.

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It was hard work at his studies, plus, almost certainly, his skill on the rugby field that earned him his place at St Edmund Hall.

He writes: “I fought my way from a Nissen hut on a former prisoner-of-war camp to Oxford University by way of a council estate and a new and tiny grammar school. This unlikely progress could not have been achieved without the grammar school education that rescued me and the inspirational teachers who empowered me.

  • From PoW Camp to Oxford University, is published by Authorhouse UK