Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Bobby George, darts player and commentator
'I was called thick. Today it's dyslexia'
Thursday 10 January 2008
Bobby George, 62, is the BBC1 commentator at the Lakeside World Darts Championships. Aged 30 before he began playing, he immediately won major tournaments and later became the first full-time "exhibition" player. His autobiography, Bobby Dazzler: My Story, is out now in paperback
My dad was very hard, and my mum. I did hold a grudge against them when I was young but I realise that they did me a favour: they made me get off my arse. I would go to school to get away from all the shouting at home, but when I got there the teachers would shout at me, too. I suffered from a stutter before I went to school, and in class I'd put my hand up to ask a question – and stutter. The teacher would say, "Sit down, George". I knocked about with a stuttering mate, Eric Pratt, at junior school. I knew what he was saying but in public we came across as a right pair of idiots. My old man said, "Keep away from him", and Eric's father said, "Keep away from him". I drifted away from Eric, and at 16, two years after I left school, I realised that I wasn't stuttering any more.
My first school was Gearies Infants in Gants Hill, Essex, and I hated it. Most teachers came from military backgrounds and were extremely tough individuals. You didn't go into the playground; you went on parade: "Get in line!" A lot of the children came from wealthy Jewish families. One guy's house had wall-to-wall carpets; I'd never seen that. I asked my old man when he was going to clean the hall and he said, "When it smells". I used to have Army-surplus clothes and go to school dressed like a Japanese general.
At Newbury Park Juniors, I was good at metalwork and woodwork but no good at reading. In my day I was called thick, but now it would be called dyslexia. Spelling was like looking out of a window on a sunny day: it was jet black to me out there. My dad was very clever because he could remember things; anything you wanted to know, he would tell you. But if I brought homework home, he would tell me not to do it: "If they can't teach you from nine to four, they can't teach you at home either."
Ken Aston was my head teacher. He was also in charge of the referees at the Football Association and was the man who came up with the idea of red and yellow cards when he was waiting at the traffic lights: yellow for warning, red for stop. At school he put me in goal and I dislocated my fingers when trying to make a save. He said that this made my fingers flexible: "You'd never have made such a good darts player!"
The other teachers were like Hitler. I've had cards from guys at the school who are now pilots or solicitors. I think, "Did you really go to the same school as me?"
At Gearies Secondary Modern, I was a good runner but, for the 10-mile cross-country race, I would have to run there before the race and home again afterwards – and I didn't have spiked shoes. I was good at art – my father called me "Leonardo" – and I used to help the other boys in the class but the teacher would give them good marks and me low marks.
One day, just before I was due to leave the school, I was mucking about a bit in the classroom and the teacher said, "Get the gloves on", and we had a boxing match. I was only 14, but I knocked him out.
I left school a fortnight later with not one qualification to my name. If I could go back to school, I would suck everyone's brain dry. I'd learn everything I possibly could. I could have gone to art college but my father said, "Leonardo, get out there and work!"
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