Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Tim Harford, writer and economist

'I was top of the class and arrogant'

Tim Harford, 32, is the presenter of the BBC2 series 'Trust Me I'm an Economist', which starts on 18 August. He is a Financial Times columnist and author of The Undercover Economist.

I did go to playschool because I remember complaining to my mother about being moved to "work" - ie primary - school. In fact, Oaklands, in Handforth, Cheshire, not far from where all the footballers' wives now live, was not particularly arduous. The first thing was to draw lots of ones and twos and threes, which was rather dull.

I had drawing competitions with a schoolfriend. We would draw a picture of a dinosaur and show it to his mum and she always said his was better than mine. I do believe he went on to become a professional artist. From about eight I wanted to be a writer and produce the next epic fantasy trilogy. For three or four years I would fill whole notebooks with my terrible handwriting and drawings of dragons. Floppy discs of these epics survive somewhere but fortunately modern computers cannot read them.

At the age of 12 I began to edit a Dungeons and Dragons magazine called Adventurous Friend with a print run of about eight, photocopied by my father at work. I produced four issues in a year; I haven't seen any copies on eBay.

We moved to Chesterfield and I went to Whitecotes, a junior school where I was perfectly happy; I've generally been quite happy at school. Then I went to Manor Comprehensive; the teaching was very good but the school was a bit rough. I was there for a year, until one day the deputy head called me into her office and gave me a test, which qualified me to go to a grammar school in Buckinghamshire, where my family was about to move to. Now I realise the kids in Buckinghamshire schools would go through hell and have coaching to get this "12-plus" exam. Isn't it a pity all exams couldn't be like that, so that you're told retrospectively that you've passed and that it was very important?

At Aylesbury Grammar they did these strange imitations of private schools, doing Greek and Latin and that sort of thing, but despite that it was good. Unfortunately it was boys only, which set me back in important matters.

I wasn't made a prefect. The head of year told me it was "because you wind everybody up and not many people like you". I'm not sure his comments qualified as good pastoral care but it was fair comment. I was often top of the class and arrogant, but I was quite oblivious to all this. (When I went to university, I thought, "What can I do not to annoy people?" That is an economist's way of thinking about things, the intellectualisation of how you should behave towards people.)

I took 10 GCSEs, including Latin and Greek. I got As in them all; this is what I thought I would get, which was the sort of behaviour that pissed people off. My A-levels were maths, further maths, English, general studies and an AS in French. I got mostly As, although I got an E in further maths, as I worked out that I didn't need that A-level to get into university and so I concentrated on the others: a very good example of cost-benefit analysis.

I got into Oxford and read philosophy, politics and economics at Brasenose. I was planning to drop economics at the end of the first year but my philosophy tutor said, "The economics people think your strength is in economics - and we agree."

I was disappointed when I got a 2.1. Later, I did a MPhil, which is a very tough two-year course. I left university and then called on my old tutor about doing a PhD.

He said, "You seem to have everybody out there fooled about your abilities, so I don't think you should come here to demonstrate your manifest limitations."

It was the most wonderful piece of advice.

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

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...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back