Mr Polack by Mervyn King

15th August 2014 at 01:00
There's more to school than studying, says the former governor of the Bank of England, who was inspired by the ceaseless energy his teacher devoted to extracurricular clubs

I didn't have any particular ambitions at school - I had far too much fun doing academic work and drama, and playing chess and cricket. We all assumed we would find a job after going to university and were not into career planning.

I attended Wolverhampton Grammar School from 1959 to 1966. This ordinary state grammar was extraordinary in terms of the quality of its teachers. They were outstanding educators who were experts in their subjects and typically had very good degrees from Oxford or Cambridge.

The teachers wanted to develop young people as individuals and not just tick off items on a curriculum. They would teach their own academic subject but outside school they would organise activities such as cricket.

It was this experience that taught me what an enormous role sport can play in developing talent, which is why I am a patron of Chance to Shine, a campaign set up in 2005 that has brought competitive cricket into thousands of state schools.

The teacher who inspired me the most was a man called Bennie Polack. He taught me Latin and Russian, which I can speak a little. Mr Polack was an extraordinary individual and the qualities he exhibited were enormous intelligence and enormous drive. He was also a very positive person; you got pulled along by his positivity.

He ran the chess society and was part of the team that organised cricket. He also started a debating society. Mr Polack didn't drop something else to get that going: he worked very hard and expected us to do the same. He combined encouraging with pushing, which helped us to perform at our very best.

Mr Polack was in his thirties when he taught me and had a wife and children. He was very tall and somewhat angular, with shortish hair. But it wasn't his physical appearance so much as his personality that hit you. He talked very quickly and there never seemed to be any "down" periods to his energy and intellect; I can't remember a time when he didn't look alert.

He didn't advise me to pursue a particular career path. He believed that if you continued doing your academic studies and leisure activities to the best of your ability, you would find out what you wanted to do.

Maths was my favourite subject at school, but at university I didn't want to study pure maths. I was looking for an applied dimension to the subject and economics seemed the right choice.

I have been back to Wolverhampton Grammar School, which is now independent, a few times to speak to students and also on its 500th anniversary two years ago. I did see Mr Polack from time to time. I visited him at his home about 10 years ago, after I became governor of the Bank of England. I don't think he was particularly impressed with my career. Mr Polack expected all his students to excel, as he himself did. Sadly, he died in 2006.

Teaching was a job that had very high esteem in the local community when I was at school. My teachers were from a generation where the brightest and best went into the profession. Finland has a successful education system because that still happens there.

Lord King was speaking to Adeline Iziren. He is president of schools' cricket campaign Chance to Shine, which aims to give all children the opportunity to play and learn through cricket. Find out more at

Bank on it

Mervyn King

Born 30 March 1948

Education Wolverhampton Grammar School; first-class degree in economics from King's College, Cambridge

Career Lecturer at universities including the London School of Economics; joined the Bank of England in 1991 as chief economist, then became deputy governor in 1998 and governor in 2003; became Lord King of Lothbury in 2013

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