Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Craig Murray, former ambassador

I always came top in the exams

Craig Murray, 48, was Our Man in Uzbekistan until the Foreign Office took exception to his inconvenient reports on local activists being boiled alive. He was withdrawn from the country and resigned from the Diplomatic Service. Murder in Samarkand, which came out in July, is to be filmed by Michael Winterbottom with a script by David Hare.

I enjoyed Sheringham Primary in Norfolk enormously but I was worried that I was going to be separated from half of my friends, whether I passed or failed the 11-plus; teaching was old-fashioned with learning by rote but it seemed to work and half the pupils got through.

Paston in North Walsham was 15 miles away and the nearest grammar school. I hated it. It was run on rather military lines; most of the teachers had been in the Second World War and didn't seem able to leave it behind. The cadet force was compulsory and they took it terribly seriously, as if they expected Nazis to invade Sheringham any day. I was suspended, mostly for refusing to turn up for the cadets. The teaching was very formal, in large classes, and we were very much force-fed information. I had one or two inspirational teachers and the history teachers were excellent.

My O-levels weren't terribly good; I got about seven. I was off for the four months leading up to the exams when I had peritonitis and very nearly died. I did English, history and French A-levels but not at all well. I didn't choose Dundee University, Dundee chose me: I got in through Clearing. In those days you could get in with half an O-level, though nowadays it is one of the top universities.

I had the most wonderful time at university. It was immediately like a release from the shackles of force-fed learning. I loved the place and, despite having a social life, I really enjoyed learning. Single-sex education at school is a terrible thing and I was well into my second year at university before I could talk to a girl without blushing. I made a policy decision not to attend any lectures but to read voraciously and teach myself history. In the February of my second year, I was chucked out for not having attended any tutorials - despite having come top in the December exams. They hated me! (In my entire university course, I never came anywhere other than top in any exam.) They let me back in but I had to repeat the second year; I still didn't go to my tutorials.

I got active in student union politics and finished as president - twice - which meant two sabbaticals. The university Court passed a change in the university charter to say that nobody could be president for more than two years, because they were afraid I'd do it again. (I had no intention of doing so.) This change had to be approved by the Privy Council in Westminster. I was there for seven years: it was a four-year degree, one year was repeated and there were two sabbatical years. I got a First.

The Foreign Office was never an ambition but I took the Foreign Office exam because my friends were doing it and was in the top three in the entrance exam.

I've been getting e-mails saying, "I'm enjoying your character in The State Within." I gather the BBC say it's a complete coincidence but in this series there's an ambassador from a non-existent country called Tyrgiztan who was sacked for exposing human rights abuses. By another complete coincidence, his name is James Sinclair: I live in Sinclair Gardens. I'm not complaining: he seems a good guy, so far.

I loved it in the Foreign Office. I was always conscious of being unorthodox but I was very effective. They accused me of being an alcoholic but you can't serve as a foreign diplomat without being occasionally hungover and I certainly didn't drink any more than many very senior colleagues. I was an ambassador at 42; that's not bad. And I'm quite enjoying myself now. Being a dissident is quite fun.

jonty@jonathansale.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat