Education: Passed/failed - Ian Hislop - Profiles - People - The Independent

Education: Passed/failed - Ian Hislop

Ian Hislop, 38, alias Lord Gnome, is the editor of Private Eye. He has written scripts for Dawn French, Harry Enfield and Chums and Spitting Image and appears on Have I Got News For You. He recently presented two Channel 4 documentaries about education and the NHS, School Rules and Pennies from Bevan.

Mobile Gnome? I was entirely mobile: my father was a civil engineer and my parents lived abroad, so I went to a string of schools in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In Jeddah, I went to a school for the sons and daughters of TWA pilots, where I saluted the American flag and played baseball.

When I was seven, my father worked for a year at head office in England and I went to Lindfield Primary near Haywards Heath. Then he went to Hong Kong and I went to boarding school.

Gnome from home? I was at Ardingly College, Sussex for nine years. After the prep school, I got a scholarship to the public school. It was fairly primitive: 30 people in large dormitories with no curtains, quite spartan. Muscular Christianity but not much homosexuality. Liberal and tolerant with it. I was not a huge rebel. Like anyone with any sense, I worked the system; there is no fun in being thrown out. In fact, I was head boy, the ultimate in uncool; you got a lot of privileges - and the duties followed. There were huge amounts of administration; the amazing thing about public schools is the huge amount of work they give to prefects which you'd imagine other people would be paid to do.

A distinct lack of Chemistry? At O-levels, I did all the sciences. I was determined to be a civil engineer, probably because my dad died when I was 12, and I thought I would have to replace him. In the sixth form, I started Maths, Physics and Chemistry A-levels. After about a term, I dropped Chemistry and Physics and took up English and French. What changed my mind for me was that the chemistry teacher read out a letter in class from someone at university - hoping to inspire us - and I thought, "I couldn't possibly bear to do that!"

See me in the libel lawyer's study, Hislop! I edited the school magazine with some friends. We had a brilliant English teacher, Colin Temblett- Wood, who had been at Cambridge and in the Marlowe Society; of the same vintage as Trevor Nunn (on second thoughts it may have been Peter Hall. Same beard ...).

He suggested we put on revues. The highlight was a careers' sketch on How To Be A Bursar: join the RAF and embezzle funds. We had not heard of the laws of libel. The headmaster thought it was very funny and nearly fell off his chair.

Sorted for Es? There was a group of us who the school thought were basically lazy and not doing enough work - entirely true - so they put us in for Oxford entrance after four terms. I took a joint Maths and English paper.

I think they were rather cross when we all got in, which meant I could be even more lazy. My offer from Magdalen was two Es, although I actually got three As. I was down to do PPE and, with another brilliant change of mind, switched to English before I went up.

Shrinking Violet? While at Oxford, I won two awards, the Underhill Exhibition and the Violet Vaughan-Morgan Scholarship. The Violet Vaughan-Morgan scholarship, for which you took an exam in Jacobean literature, was worth pounds 150. I spent it on an airline ticket to California, where I had a great time, which was probably not what Violet Vaughan-Morgan had in mind.

In my Finals, I was viva-ed for a first; I looked at Professor John Bailey and thought: "You're not going to give me this, are you?" I got a Second.

Etceteras, Etceteras? I can't act, comedy is all I can do - so I put on reviews with The Etceteras, which is not a formal organisation like the Cambridge Footlights, but is basically a bank account which you could get your hands on.

I went up to the Edinburgh Festival, performing two shows which I'd written or co-written. Imogen Stubbs was the girl in the shows; she could act, which rather shocked us.

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