Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Dick Strawbridge, TV presenter

'I used to argue in maths'


Dick Strawbridge, 49, was still an army officer when he became a 'Scrapheap Challenge' contestant on Channel 4. He presents 'It's Not Easy Being Green' (Wednesdays, BBC2) and has written the book of the series

In the early 1960s the idea of a school uniform – shorts and cap – was the best thing since sliced bread. I enjoyed Bangor Grammar Prep School, in County Down, Northern Ireland, where I went when I was five. Our family moved to County Antrim and at nine I went to Ballyclare High School, first of all to the small prep department. We all used to go singing for the old folk and, although I am completely tone-deaf, I had to attend because we needed the numbers. I used to mime, until one old lady near me thought there must be something wrong with her hearing aid. I started to sing – and she turned it off.

I passed the 11-plus and went up to the senior school, where my two older sisters had already gone. I was in the "A" stream but in the third year they asked me to give up Latin; no one had ever got 7 per cent before. I spent a lot of time in detention because I used to argue with the maths teacher. My punishment was a long division sum that was never solved; it ran to 50 decimal places.

I got 10 or 12 O-levels – including maths and additional maths – with a mixture of As and Bs. Then I went to Welbeck College, a sixth form college in Nottinghamshire for young men who wished to be army officers and join the technical corps. I was the first of seven children to leave home and wasn't very happy about boarding but my parents encouraged me to stay. The college was then all-boys and positively monastic. It was like being caged but I used to go two miles through the "Wilderness", as the deer park was known, to the pub and meet girls. I got away with it and became head of college.

Although I didn't come from a bigoted background (I was born in Burma and had Catholic friends) I was a quite a narrow-minded Ulsterman and needed my horizons broadened. There were only 150 people at the college, 75 in each year. Studying was easy and the system worked. At A-levels, I got As in pure maths, applied maths and combined maths. I got a B in physics, which was a bit of a disgrace.

The first seven months at Sandhurst consisted of officer training and the second seven months, after I'd been commissioned, were "professional studies": the place of the Army in society and military history. Now an officer cadet, at the age of 19 I went off to Germany to command soldiers and then came back for a signalling and communications course, and then went back to Germany. I dug a lot of trenches back in those days. This was in 1980, when we were still expecting the Soviet Union to attack and we were the first line of defence.

At 22 I came back to do a three-year degree course in electronics and electronic engineering at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham Military College (now a campus of Cranfield University). I lowered my golf handicap, met my wife and left with a son. I got a "sportsman's degree" – a 2.2. A lot of my youth was spent playing sport: if in doubt, play rugby or do athletics. I was captain of the rugby side at Shrivenham – as were my two brothers after me.

I was still a serving officer when I competed in Scrapheap Challenge, initially as a major and then a lieutenant-colonel when I was joined by my brothers in a team called "Brothers in Arms". My role was as the leader. Although I am the oldest with the biggest moustache, my brothers are progressively taller; I put it down to the extra potatoes they were able to eat after I left home.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

SharePoint Administrator/Developer (C#, VB.NET, VISUAL STUDIO 2

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SharePoi...

European HR Director, London

£80000 - £95000 per annum: Charter Selection: A leading Global organisation Ja...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit