Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Francis Fulford, landowner and writer

'I was fat at school, and very thick'
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The Independent Online

Francis Fulford, 53, has been a soldier, jackeroo (Aussie-style cowboy), trainee antique dealer, stockbroker and insurance broker. He is the author of Bearing Up and was featured in The F**king Fulfords on Channel 4. He presents Why England's F**ked on Monday 28 November on Sky One and on the same channel, Why America Sucks on 5 December.

I was born in Great Fulford, Devon, on the edge of Dartmoor, in the bed which I now sleep. We have been living here since the later part of the 12th century - since "time immemorial", which means since the reign of Richard I. You don't know much history if you don't know his dates: 1189 to 1199, very easy!

As far as my education is concerned, my parents couldn't be bothered to get up in time to take me to a conventional school. My father didn't come down before nine and my mother would have had to get up at seven to make the breakfast, which wasn't on. We had a governess until I was seven: several governesses, completely useless.

My pre-prep school, Leeson in the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset, was a total shock to the system. It was draconian and the food was completely dreadful. I was extremely unhappy - but I dare say they did teach you quite well.

I was there for just over a year and then went to Sunningdale School in Berkshire. I couldn't believe the food was so good! I was fat, and thus called Fatty, and also thick. The school prided itself on its academic standards and its games, so I didn't shine.

The best thing about the school was the brilliant library, with all the marvellous stuff by [Victorian adventure novelist] GA Henty: With Moore at Corunna, With Clive in India. I was dyslexic, but I learnt to read though I couldn't spell.

My plan was that I should go to Eton but I failed the exam. (I'm sometimes surprised by meeting people who passed and thinking that they're quite thick.) It was my introduction to the word "failure", which would feature quite large in my life, but perhaps it's better to learn about this early on.

Then I went to Milton Abbey in Dorset. You're not much of an education correspondent if you haven't heard of Milton Abbey! It was the headmaster's belief that, just because you didn't shine academically, you shouldn't be written off. I've always been a "late developer" and I drifted through my schooldays; I had a few laughs.

We liked the English teacher. He would recite poetry with his eyes shut and we would shoot paper pellets at him through Biro tubes. We were streamed into As and Bs and by being in a lower stream some subjects were barred to you. Still, there's always going to be some hard-luck stories in any system of education.

O-levels? I've still got my certificates. I took maths three, maybe four times, and got bored with it. I got an AS in general studies, a B, I think. I got three A-levels: economics and politics, art and history of art. I think they were Ds; but probably they'd be As if I took them today, wouldn't they?

University? I never thought of that. They were something to be despised: left-wing, sit-ins, anti-Vietnam demonstrations. The people there seemed like the dregs of society. At 18 I went into the Coldstream Guards as "another rank" and after nine months I failed my Regular Commissions Board, so I went off to Australia as a jackaroo. Then I came back and took the RCB exams and failed again: lots of failures in my life.

When you went to work in the city, you didn't have exams; you learnt on the job. If you look at all the people who make money, none of them went to f***ing university! A lot went to Milton Abbey.

jonty@jonathansale.com



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