Passed/Failed: An education in the life of David Bailey, photographer

'The head was awful, despicable'

David Bailey, 68, began as a fashion photographer for Vogue in 1960. Now our best-known photographer, he has also made television documentaries and commercials. Books include the recent Bailey's Democracy and Havana, which will be published in the autumn. Examples of his work are included in the Olympus Inheritance Exhibition (photographs viewable at www. olympus.co.uk, plus details of the exhibition's national tour and the chance to win David Bailey's E-500 Digital SLR).

I remember our house being bombed when I was three. It was in Leytonstone - Alfred Hitchcock was born in the next street - in the East End, and we moved to East Ham. Some days you went to school and some days you didn't, and some days at school you went into the shelter.

I remember watching the doodlebugs - V1 flying bombs - in the sky. A V2 rocket knocked out a cinema in Upton Park where I used to go. I was pissed off: I thought Hitler had killed Mickey Mouse and Bambi.

I remember looking through the railings, waiting for my mum to take me home from Plashet Grove school. And I remember that for once in my life I got something right: when we were asked, "Who built the Suez Canal?" I said, "The French." I got it right by accident: I thought everyone who was foreign was French. After that, it was downhill all the way.

I am dyslexic; I used to get the cane for not being able to spell. You could ask me to spell words like "ant" that I had just read, and I couldn't. I still can't spell. I go by the appearance of words, not the letters. If I'm trying to find something specific, I can look at a page and find it very quickly. Maybe if I was Chinese, I wouldn't be dyslexic, because it's done by symbols. Well, that's my theory.

Then I went to a kind of private school, Clark's College in Ilford, which cost about £7.50 a term. They taught me less there than the "council" school. We were posh East End, if that's possible, but I had cardboard in my shoes and was at the social bottom of this cheap private school; some of the parents had tobacconist's shops, which was a bit posher.

Caning was rampant and the head, who was ex-RAF with a moustache, had a special cupboard made for his 30 canes. He made you choose the one he was going to use; I always chose a thick one because I thought the thin ones would be more whippy. I used to have scars - congealed blood - on my arse. He was awful, despicable. When I won a prize for writing a story, the arsehole never gave it to me; it was probably just a book about the Air Force. He used to take spelling lessons and I tried to bunk off on those days. In one year, I went to school only 33 times - and I wasn't the worst.

Teachers are not all saints, and the head didn't know that some of the male teachers would try to kiss you. One of them, an alcoholic with veins on his nose, put his lips next to mine; I remember him coming round to our house and asking if he could give me extra lessons.

The teachers thought I was an idiot, although when I was 12 or 13 there was a woman art teacher that liked me. I could draw and paint. My mother always said: "My Dave, he's going to be a commercial artist," but the head told her, patronisingly, "Somebody's got to dig up the roads."

I left school at 15 and educated myself. Like my hero Chet Baker, the jazz trumpeter, I began to read Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald and then Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Now I probably read more than most people; I don't sleep much at night. And I can write quite well, as I always look for the words I can actually spell.

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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada