Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Simon Fanshawe, writer and broadcaster

'We went on strike against running'

Simon Fanshawe, 49, has won the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival, written a study of manners entitled The Done Thing and presented the Radio 4 series Fanshawe gets to the Bottom of ... and The Trouble with Gay Men on BBC3. He is on the council of Sussex University and on the board of the Brighton Festival (
www.brightonfestival.org). He interviews Eric Sykes at the Pavilion Theatre in Brighton tonight.

At Miss Kempsmith's nursery in Stirling I "gave" - as actors say - my Dormouse in the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland; I got stuffed into the pot.

My father was in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and my parents now lived abroad, so I went to a boarding school. Chafyn Grove in Salisbury was a friendly prep school run by terrifyingly outdoor friends of my parents with hearts of gold. During the spring of 1970 there was horrible weather and we had a sit-down strike against cross-country runs. The whole school was in detention and I was beaten - though not terribly hard - by the very nice deputy head. I was due to be head boy the next term. When he asked how I could possibly be head boy after leading the strike, I said, "I think it shows a degree of leadership!" I did become head boy.

They encouraged my theatrical interests. I was a Thunderbolt in a play called The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew and the Red Queen - very characteristic - in Through the Looking-Glass.

I went to Marlborough College and I just thought it was brilliant; I had the best four years and a fabulous education - but then I was never in a class of more than 12. John Dancy, the headmaster for half of my time there was, shock horror, a sort of Labour chap. He banned corporal punishment and stopped fagging.

I was part of a group of people who seemed fearsomely intellectual to me. My housemaster said: "It'll be very quiet when you boys go: less laughter." We had long discussions about whether bisexuality and homosexuality were OK. We decided in the end they were. I had a long affair with someone at Marlborough.

I was in a play a term: The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Black Comedy, Henry IV Part Two. Oliver Ramsbottom, the history teacher, whose wife was glamorous and floaty, taught me how to marshal arguments in an essay. My maths teacher got me interested by showing me the Leonardo drawings of the human figure in the circle. I did history, French and maths A-levels; I think I got three Bs.

I got into Oriel College, Oxford, but on the train back to London I thought, "I don't want to do that." I felt that it would be more of the same and that Sussex University, my second choice, was going to engage me. It was an irrational decision but the right one: I was born to be in Brighton! You study your main degree in the context of other disciplines; I did a law degree in the School of English and American Studies. I was taught by the very, very distinguished Professor Draper, who had been part of the team in the Nuremberg trials. There was another teacher who, as a test case of Scottish law, proposed to his wife-to-be in Scotland and then broke it off. She took him to court and won the case.

I got a 2:2. I was far too much engaged with politics. Like everyone else, I was briefly a Maoist. I was in the CPB(M-L) - the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) because I was in love with the man who ran it and then fairly quickly moved into the "Broad Left".

The thing you get out of Sussex is a sense of engagement and purpose: a feeling that you have a duty to look at the world outside yourself. I'm now on the governing body of the university, the most extreme example of poacher turned gamekeeper. When I went to the vice-chancellor's office after being appointed, I told him that the last time I'd been there was when we'd been occupying university buildings, probably to end global tyranny and injustice.

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 Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power