Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Andrew Collins, writer and broadcaster

'Pretending to be stupid isn't easy'
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The Independent Online

Andrew Collins, 42, a former editor of Empire and Q magazines, is the film editor of Radio Times and the author of Where Did It All Go Right? and Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now. He was also co-writer of the BBC sitcoms Grass and Not Going Out. The latest series of his BBC Radio 4 comedy show Banter is on Wednesdays at 6.30pm

My mother attempted to put me in a playschool but I didn't like not being at home, so I shouted and screamed. My first day at Abington Vale Primary in Northampton was so unhappy that they said, "You can do anything you like". I drew a picture; I still have it. It's called Boy. After the first week, I had a very happy time at school.

At a fete in my last year, I sat behind a desk and drew cartoons for money. I was an artist prostituting himself at an early age! I drew Deputy Dawg or a character from Top Cat for one penny. I don't know that they were worth that...

Abington Vale Middle School was a happy experience, too. I was a reasonably good pupil; at that stage there was no stigma attached to being clever. In my last year, for the classical studies exam, we had to tell the story of Narcissus and draw a picture. My story wasn't right but the picture was so good I got 100 per cent. This made me top of the class, but I knew I hadn't really earnt it.

Weston Favell Upper School was a shock. It was co-ed, and most of my friends had gone to the boys' school. I realised that it wasn't cool to be clever, so I pretended to be less clever than I was. It takes a lot of intelligence to pretend to be stupid; to give a convincing wrong answer, you have to know the right answer. In an English test, for example, you had to give the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and instead of Harper Lee, I put Lee Harper.

I also supported Leeds United because the cool kids did. It sort of worked. The other thing I did was to draw pictures of the teachers. When I drew one of Miss Szkopek, a nice French teacher, on the board, she encouraged me to draw pictures of all the teachers.

I didn't do brilliantly in O-levels. I failed history because, before the exams, the teacher worked out from previous papers which subjects to revise – and none of her predictions came true. In the sixth form, I did English, art and biology. I enjoyed biology but failed it.

All I needed was two A-levels to get into Nene College (now the University of Northampton) for a one-year art foundation course. Being an art student and living at home is not an easy mix. I wore a lot of black and army surplus; my mother and I had a fractious year, but I still enjoyed it. I applied to Chelsea School of Art (as it was then called) mainly because its brochure had no photos, which I thought very cool. I spent the next three years doing graphic design and illustration. They said, "There's no point if you only want to do cartoons", so I'd do huge, dark, smeary pictures. There was a lot of photocopying and cutting out for collages; that was easy.

I started doing commercial work, earning money from my cartoons. In the third term of the third year, we had to do a big project, and I produced a huge autobiographical comic strip, which I've still got, depicting all the people there and the things I had to do. The teachers gave in and said, "This is what you're good at".

One of my proudest moments was last year, going to open the new Heyford Fine Art building at what is now Northampton University. I was a visiting lecturer there, and recently talked to 90 students on the subject of "Art vs Commerce". I took along my huge, dark, smeary pictures. They do look rather silly now.

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