Passed/Failed: An education in the life of comedian and actor Roy Hudd

'I wanted to go to building school'
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The Independent Online

Roy Hudd OBE, 73, has been in show business for 50 years. The News Huddlines ran for 26 years on Radio 2. His television work includes That Was the Week That Was, Coronation Street and Dennis Potter's Lipstick on Your Collar and Karaoke. His books on music hall include Roy Hudd's Cavalcade of Variety and his autobiography, A Fart in a Colander, is just out.

On my first day at the little village school in Maidford, Northamptonshire, I remember being introduced by my Gran to Miss ("Potty") Chambers and then running home. We'd been evacuated and I'd gone from bombs in London to the countryside and I loved village life: the fields and the folk. I didn't want to sit in a room. My mother was still in London and committed suicide when I was seven. My dad was away in the war; he married again and I hardly ever saw him.

It must have been Miss Chambers who taught me to read: there wasn't anyone else. This was one of the great joys of my life and the best thing I have ever done was teaching someone else to read, many years later in the RAF. One of the RAF police, a big bluff geezer, said, "I'd like a private word." Then he said, "I can't read." I taught him; I remember getting half-a-dozen Janet and John books.

We came back to London and I went to Tavistock School in Croydon, where my only memory is of being bullied. I used to cultivate the big boys and make them laugh so that they stopped people picking on me. While I was there I did the 11-plus. I got it – and like a bloody fool didn't go to the grammar school. This was because I wanted to go to the School of Building and get a trade; it was a terrible mistake.

I was terrific at deliberately designing walls which fell down by removing one brick. I was quite good at carpentry and a favourite of the teacher until he caught me making a pair of drumsticks instead of a mortise and tenon joint. The night before the plumbing theory exam, I learnt the diagram of a hot water system. It was the only diagram in the textbook – and it was the first question.

Tom Gibson taught English. When I wrote an article about him much later, I had letters from people who had become teachers because of him. He would read Treasure Island and play all the characters. The great thing was that in the "free reading" period he would say "You can bring anything you like," and boys would bring in the Dandy and Beano. Then he used to talk about what you were reading and say, "There's a book about this subject," and get you reading that. He was a mad lefty and wrote reports of football matches for the Daily Worker. I was always designated by the class to get him off the heavy stuffy like grammar; I would say how good the Daily Mail was and that we agreed with the Conservatives; that would start him off.

After school I worked as a messenger and designer for an advertising agency. They arranged for me to go for one evening a week to the London School of Printing and another evening to the Regent Street Poly, where we had a marvellous teacher, Harry Beck, who designed the London Underground map. I had a year's deferment to complete my art training and then joined the RAF for my national service. After two years of getting into trouble, I put it about that I might sign on as a regular. Our kindly warrant officer said, "Don't, please. Why don't you try show business?"