Education: Passed / failed: Trevor McDonald

TREVOR MCDONALD
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The Independent Online
Trevor McDonald OBE, 58, presents News at Ten. The only British journalist to interview Saddam Hussein, he has been a reporter, diplomatic correspondent and newscaster for the BBC, ITN and Channel 4 News. He is the author of two cricketing biographies and the autobiographical Fortunate Circumstances. He is working on an anthology of children's poetry and has written introductions to a series of children's classics published today by Andre Deutsch.

But First? My father took me to my primary school in Trinidad and came back later to see if I was all right. I thought it was a one-off; I'd now done it and could retire to a useful career somewhere else. All my school years were marked by passion on the part of my parents that I had to do well to survive and by fear of failure on my part and of not living up to their expectations. All West Indian parents of that generation believed that, if you were born in a tiny backwater of a big empire, you had to do something to get out: become a doctor or engineer or Gary Sobers. As C.L.R. James said, "We were driven like racehorses."

And Next? For entry to secondary school, instead of taking one exam, you were put in for a few early races to see how you would perform. I took at least three exams and won scholarships to two schools which my parents wouldn't have sent me to - and failed the one they wanted. My father had to pay for me to go to Naparima Secondary School. I wrote for the school magazine, showing off what I thought was my literary style, and started a little radio station in the school compound. It went out over the loudspeaker in every classroom: they couldn't get away. It confirmed in my mind - much to my parents' horror - that this was what I wanted to do.

One In A Thousand? There were two "Islands Scholarships" to Oxbridge for the whole of Trinidad - and there may have been 1,000 people who went in for them. I wasn't in that league and I don't think I even entered. University was a struggle. I worked part-time at Radio Trinidad and got a second in International Relations at the University College of the West Indies.

Any Spare Change For A Newscaster, Sir? My parents thought that I would never make it in the media, the preserve of white people who came to Trinidad for a great time. One piece of luck I had was that my father was asked by an English friend what I was going to do and said, "I've no idea - he doesn't want to be a lawyer or a doctor but something in the media." His friend said: "How nice - that would be rather lovely," and my father thought that I wasn't entirely wasting his money. My father lived to believe that I had not in fact entirely wasted his efforts. He came to see me in London, and kids crowded round for my autograph. He thought then that I hadn't become a total vagrant - or if I had I was a well-known one!

Schoolboy In Nose To Grindstone Shock Horror! One was always so pressurised that there was no fun in education. When one hears about the British and American system today, with their gap years, one bleeds with envy. When I came to London for a BBC training course, I realised how the rest of the world went about the business of education. I would be making programmes with people who had done mathematics at university and would say to them: "Why aren't you using your degree for your career?"

And Finally? I have about a dozen Honorary Doctorates. When these are offered to me, I write back and say it might go to my head if I accept too many of these things: this is the first step on the road that leads to Hell! Then they write back and say that the publicity would be very helpful to them.

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