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 He was withdrawn from the country and resigned from the Diplomatic Service.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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea