A Chapter                                                                                                                                        Posted 13th July 2013

(This is a continuation of the chapter posted on the 23rd June. If you haven't read the first part of the chapter then you can do so by clicking here.)

Connery's sense of the importance of money in life had been established early.  It's not hard to see where that awareness came from.  There is no clearer indication of how much money matters than not having any.  Many natural impulses and desires find themselves trapped within circumstances as obdurate as brick walls.  Even as a nine-year-old Connery had begun his own naïve attempt to work against those circumstances, like a prisoner trying to tunnel his way out with a pen-knife.
But even then there were rules to this innocent escape plan.  The money had to be honestly earned and his portion of it would be what the situation could reasonably allow, to be decided by his mother.  It made him not just an earner for himself but for his family.  There was already another man-in-the-making about the house.
The importance of that secondary working presence was emphasised with the outbreak of war in 1939.  The continuity of his father's working life was dramatically disrupted, just by being co-opted into the war effort and then by injury, so that his earnings would become less dependable for a while.  Joe began working at the Rolls-Royce factory in Glasgow, returning home at weekends only, until an accident, in which his wrist and his nose were broken, put him out of work for a while.  (It was during this time that he took over his father Tommy's pitch as a street bookie and the incident of Joe's failure to turn up to collect the betting-slips occurred - an indication, perhaps, or how haphazard his earning capacity could be.)  The elder son's contributions would provide the family with a very fragile safety-net throughout these times.
It isn't surprising, given this early induction into the terms of the real world, that school seemed no more than a temporary irrelevance to Connery.  He was a good reader from an early age but reading is a private pastime that can be enjoyed without formal assistance. Also, the partial independence he was finding through work must have made him baulk against the kind of rigidly authoritarian education that was on offer at the time.  Having come off an early morning shift that earned him money before arriving at school, he wouldn't have relished growing down again into obedience to the whims of a teacher.  He seems to be remembered by his schoolmates chiefly as an impressive playground scuffler, prepared to put up the dukes whenever required.
His disenchantment with education wasn't helped by a move from Bruntsfield Primary School in 1940.  A decision was made to break up classes in the school and disperse them in small groups among the houses of the well-to-do middle-classes.  Aerial bombing was becoming a nightmare issue of the times and this may have been seen as a way to lessen the danger of a mass burial of children.  (But then wasn't bombing more likely to take place at night?)  Or it may have been that a temporary requisition of large buildings for other purposes was required.  In any case, the arrangement didn't last long, although its impact on Connery did.
He felt unwelcome as a working-class interloper in the houses of the well-off.  He decided that it was obviously all right to deliver things, such as milk, to the doors of these houses but not to pollute the interior with his presence.  There are no specific incidents recorded that induced this feeling, since only he would know them and he's not saying.  But the feeling was real enough to stay with him.  It may have been one of the roots of his famous touchiness, a sense of himself that you don't diminish without riposte.
It wasn't that school or the social limitations it tended to imply in those days intimidated him.  It was just that they didn't seem relevant to him, since he instinctively didn't accept them.  He found a more relevant teacher in the conditions in which he and his family lived.  The lesson was a hard one and he gave it close attention.
The final expression of how strongly he felt about the irrelevance of formal education to his immediate circumstances came when his time at Bruntsfield ended.  Secondary education offered him two choices, dependent on a qualifying examination. One was a Senior Secondary School called Boroughmuir which provided academic courses, including foreign languages.  The other was Darroch, a Junior Secondary School that specialised in crafts which might be preparation for a trade.  Connery has claimed that he deliberately failed the qualifying exam, known as 'the qually'.
Any scepticism about the truth of this statement should be tempered by an awareness of some social attitudes of the time.  It was known for pupils who passed the exam still to refuse to go to Senior Secondary - sometimes not even informing the parents that the possibility had been earned.  For some kids the abandonment of most of their mates who were marked for Junior Secondary would have amounted to a kind of class betrayal.
The rigidity of social prejudices then meant it was possible for some teachers not to see the point of encouraging children who had passed the exam to take advantage of the opportunity.  As late as the early 1960s I heard of a pupil from a rough working-class background who earned a place in a Senior Secondary and within a year or so had committed suicide.  In the staffroom of his old primary school the news was received without surprise.  The sage opinion among most of his former teachers was that perhaps he should never have been taken out of his natural element.  There seemed to be no serious discussion of what other factors might have been involved.  He had got above himself, couldn't cope and paid the penalty.  No wonder Connery felt unwelcome in those suburban houses.
With the possibility of some teachers not really seeing the point of transplanting working-class children from their supposed natural habitat and of some parents being ill-informed about what the opportunities were, the final decision about secondary school could sometimes be left to the vagaries of childish impulses.  Whims could determine the direction of a life.  One of the motives Connery has offered for his desire to go to Darroch is that at that school they played football, whereas at Boroughmuir rugby was the game.
That too I can understand.  At the Senior Secondary I attended, I had a six-year running argument with the head gym-teacher, himself an ex-professional footballer, because I only played rugby for the school for one season and then refused to continue because they wouldn't let us play football, since the school didn't have a football team.  He was a nice man but that didn't stop him giving me a hard time at scrimmage-ball in the gym, knocking me against the parallel bars and then asking me, as I stood gasping for breath, if I had changed my mind yet.  But my resentment at not being allowed to play football was too strong.
For most working-class boys like Connery in Scotland in the 1940s, unless perhaps they came from the Borders, football was the only game in town.  You could play it any time anywhere, in the park, in the street with a tennis ball, in the house with old newspapers compressed into a ball and held together with string.  You could find scratch games drummed up spontaneously, with jackets for goalposts and frequently involving teams of 22-a-side or so, the teams being a mixture of teenagers and grown men.  For many boys it was a communal dream of one way to make it.
Connery certainly showed promise in that direction.  Having played centre-forward for Bruntsfield School, he maintained his enthusiasm for playing the game into his twenties.  His appetite for watching it has never left him, as demonstrated by his spur-of-the-moment decision to leave for Hampden with Rod Stewart.

His time at Darroch may have given him the possibility to play football but it doesn't seem to have given him much else.  It certainly didn't affect his indifference to formal education.  The school-leaving age was fourteen.  He left at thirteen, presumably because his fourteenth birthday would come at the end of the summer holidays and it wasn't worth his while coming back since he could leave then any time he chose, and certainly would have done.
He went straight into a job as a full-time milkman.  In retrospect it looks like a severely truncated childhood but then childhood was looked at differently then.  As Connery himself has said, you were expected to work things out for yourself to a great extent.  Parents would oversee your attempts to do so and give you some security while you were at it but they weren't inclined to smother you in protectiveness.      


  e-mail: william.mcilvanney@personaldispatches.com