Passed/Failed: An Education In The Life Of Tony Robinson, Actor, Author and Broadcaster

Tony Robinson plays Baldrick in `Blackadder' and presents the archaeological series `Time Team' on Channel 4. He has just published the `Hutchinson Book of Kings & Queens'

Primary School: It was a little private school with a very posh sounding name, as if it was preparing you for Winchester. In fact, it wasn't a school of "fag" and "tuck"; I later learnt that the teacher I was most terrified of - she was such a bully, with that cold contempt for children - died penniless because they hadn't paid her stamps.

My mum and dad were a working-class family who desperately wanted their son to pass the 11-plus. In my neighbourhood the exam was about shame: whether you passed or failed. It felt like a class distinction: there were people who could make it, and those who couldn't.

Secondary School: I thought that Wanstead County High was so sexy; it was a mixed grammar and the older blokes looked so cool and all the girls looked like Audrey Hepburn. I suspect that the staff were very progressive people but I was probably the worst kind of pupil. I was disruptive in class. I was in the A-stream because I was good at IQ tests but bottom of the class: I got eight out of 100 for Latin.

Last week I was sorting out my mother's papers; she had saved my reports and they were dreadful - horrible things like: "Both staff and prefects have had quite enough of Anthony's sense of humour. He seems to be getting more childish." At 11, that's such a put-down.

Half the time I was going up to London and being a child actor. I was always good at acting and what was called "elocution" - a word which does not spring much to the lips these days - and my mum and dad saw an ad in the newspaper for the original production of Oliver! with Ron Moody. After auditioning, I got in and became a marketable commodity. One day I would be carrying a plate of oranges on to a rugby field for Judy Garland and Dirk Bogarde in the film of I Could Go On Singing, and the next day I would be reading Isaac Asimov in class behind my French textbook, then going to a CND meeting in the evening.

I was a bookie at school; if somebody had threepence-ha'penny at 11-to- 4, I could tell you instantly what their winnings would be. But I was completely useless at maths. English was a doddle, not like working. And history was like football; I couldn't understand why other people didn't like it. In Woodford, which was Winston Churchill's constituency, you were forced to have a historical perspective: I remember seeing his statue on Woodford Green and people saying, "This great man" and "This great war". And my view was, "How can I know who I am if I don't know where I come from?"

I've got four O-levels - which should actually be taken away from me. I cheated. (I had played the Artful Dodger...) I took in a Robert Graves novel in case I finished early during the exams - and in faint pencil there would be written some French vocabulary.

Drama School: They said, "We want to put you into the Oxbridge set." I panicked. This would mean Latin O-level, maths O-level and three A-levels. I said, "I want to go to drama school." The Central School of Speech and Drama was the making of me. Round about the time I left there, I began to understand that working - rather than preventing me from living life to the full - could be the rocket fuel enabling me to do just that.

One of the great things about being Baldrick was that, because I was associated with glittering Oxbridge characters, everyone assumed I had three good A-levels and that I failed to get a Cambridge first only because I was too busy at the Footlights.

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

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little