Passed/Failed

An Education in the Life of Robert Llewellyn, Writer, Actor - and perhaps best known as Kryten the too-anxious-to-please robot in BBC2's `Red Dwarf'
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The Independent Online
Robert Llewellyn, presents Scrapheap Challenge on Channel 4. His novel Punchbag was published in July.

Primary colours: My trousers fell down in a Nativity play, but Booth's County Primary School, Northampton, was a happy time for me.

I was usually in the choir or playing a triangle - but this time I was the pageboy to a king. Everyone found it very funny. I certainly was a show-off and a loud-mouthed kid. I did know from an early age you could get attention by getting a laugh.

I liked art and English. I drew obsessively. Whatever work I handed in, there was always a little drawing in the corner. I took the 11-plus and surprised the teachers by actually passing the exam.

My mother was thrilled to bits: my brother and sister both failed.

Secondary characteristics: Trinity High School, which had 600 or 700 children, was fairly traumatic for me. I definitely hated it. There was one particular teacher in charge of discipline who was comically Hitleresque, with a toothbrush moustache and incredibly bad breath, so that being told off by him when he was standing close to you was punishment enough.

He did beat children to an alarming degree. We saw him whacking a kid, and even our teacher blanched a bit.

I loved the `Scrapheap Challenge'. When I was 12 or 13 my brother and I built a go-kart, which was frighteningly fast.

Moving on: When I was 14 we moved to Stamford in Lincolnshire. I had the choice of going to a fee-paying grammar school (where they proudly showed us the enormous sports facilities - I hated sport - but they didn't have an art room) and a secondary modern. My parents let me go to the latter - which was an education in itself. It showed me the iniquity of the state system at that time: comprehensives were coming in, but hadn't reached Lincolnshire.

Academically I was in the mid-range at Northampton grammar, but at Fane secondary modern I was years ahead of my class. One of the kids I sat next to had the writing ability of a seven- or eight-year-old - and he wasn't stupid. The teachers' ignorance was quite shocking. I remember cheekily correcting a history teacher on a historical fact. I was only there for nine months. What I learnt was Smoking, Swearing and Fighting.

On report: At Henry Box grammar school in Witney, Oxfordshire, named after a 16th-century grocer, I was a bit of a ragamuffin and I feel sorry for the teachers. I wanted to be a hippie and grew my hair very long. I was very cynical and wrote "Schools are Prisons" on a school wall. It didn't take a lot to find me out: I'd also written it on the cover of my French exercise book.

When I was 15 the headmaster pinned a note to my Easter term report: "The boy will leave school." My parents had long talks with him and I was allowed back to take my O-levels. I failed them all, except for art. My parents were furious: I was their one hope of academic success. I went to Witney Technical College.

At school I had built a very big, 17ft-high geodesic dome and they used it to store sports equipment. The headmaster mentioned it at Speech Day, but by then I had been thrown out and was working at a battery chicken farm.

Interview by Jonathan Sale

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