Ken Bruce: I once got the belt for failing an exam

An education in the life of the Radio 2 broadcaster, who presents the Eurovision Song Contest final from Oslo on Saturday
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The Independent Online

Ken Bruce, 59, presents his BBC Radio 2 mid-morning weekday show which has just achieved record ratings of 7.45 million listeners. When his job was thought to be under threat, the Daily Maillaunched a campaign to "save him for the nation". He will be compèring Music for Heroes at the De Montfort Hall, Leicester on 24 June. Tracks of My Years: The Autobiography is out in paperback next month.



Mrs Hamilton, my first teacher, looked like a cartoon figure of everybody's lover: busty, scrubbed clean, scraped-back hair. Giffnock Primary was in a slightly posh suburb on the south side of Glasgow, and I was in a cosy, warm enveloping kind of classroom.

You could stay until you were 12 and then take the qualifying exam – the "qually" – to grammar school, but I got sent at nine to Hutchesons', a fee-paying school, which seemed terribly posh but which had a wide range of people; there were some quite tough boys there. It was not a good school at that time and I would have been better off going to the local grammar school. Hutchesons' was an exam factory.

I once got the belt for failing an exam – history, I think. I got 20 per cent. The teacher felt I hadn't even bothered. Two of us were called up to the front for the "Lochgelly", named after the place where the belt was made. The teachers used to keep them in the voluminous arms of their gowns or over their shoulder, so they could whip them out. The belts were half-an-inch wide and two inches thick and had either two or three tongues.

I didn't get half a second of Latin and I had to give up art at 14 or 15 because you needed to do academic subjects. The most academic boys were given Latin and Greek, the next stream Latin and French, and the next – which I was in – did French and science. The fourth stream was more or less just art.

I can remember an English teacher reading out one of my essays, which I found deeply embarrassing. At the end of the composition, I was coming back to pick up my initial point, which I didn't know I was doing. I ran a little newspaper in the Boys' Brigade and wrote for that.

I got O-grades [Ordinary Grades, which were a GCSE equivalent] in maths, French, physics, chemistry, history and geography. Next year, I did "Highers" in English, French and maths, but didn't pass physics and chemistry, getting them instead at O-grades (again). I stayed on for a sixth year to get them as Highers but just got them as O-grades, so I got them three times: a consistency in the marking, if nothing else.

I became unwittingly something of a sports figure. I wasn't a sporty type; my eyes were looking in different directions and I couldn't catch anything. I gave up rugby as soon as I could. If you didn't play a sport, you had to sit in the classroom, but I discovered a curling club at the local ice rink. It's an enjoyable game, though a touch cold at times. I rose to the giddy heights of captain of curling and got my colours on my blazer.

I was quite a good runner at the 80 yards dash, but couldn't manage the 100 yards properly. Any little boys with school caps were an invitation to the local toughs and I managed to leg it when I felt their hot breath on my neck.

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