Passed/Failed: Hardeep Singh Kohli

An education in the life of the comedian
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The Independent Online

I'm writing a novel called AJ and Pickle, about growing up in Glasgow, and will mention my schools. I am going to write another two chapters and then get a big advance; except they don't do big advances any more.

Hillhead Primary School was a Victorian building in the West End of Glasgow, which is like the West End of London but with less shopping. I had a lovely time there, although it is only recently that I managed to shake off the spelling mistakes caused by ITA [Initial Teaching Alphabet]. Progressive educationalists brought in this phonetics-based reading system with the best intentions, but since it has been blown out of the water as, frankly, shite.

Then we moved to Bishopbriggs, in the suburbs, to a house rather than a tenement, and I went to Meadowburn Primary, where I had two-and-a-half happy years. I fell in love with my first teacher, Miss Knipe; she was lovely, she smelt lovely and had lovely hair. Me and my best mate and my brothers were the only brown kids, though there was a Norwegian boy.

At eight, I moved out of the state system and got sent, bizarrely, to St Aloysius College, a Catholic school which was 10 miles and a two-bus journey away. The trend for parents from the Indian subcontinent was for their children to be educated privately; they wanted them to be professionals. (My parents are still not happy that I'm self-employed, and my mother occasionally tells people I'm a lawyer.)

One particularly nasty teacher referred to me and my brother as "burnt toast", but generally they were good and, in some cases, brilliant teachers. They had a good sense of social justice and you couldn't help but have respect for that. Generally speaking, I was amazingly lucky to be there. Of course, as it was a Jesuit school, we all got grade-A passes in A-level Guilt. There was a bit of an issue when I wanted to wear a turban at the age of 12 but, if you're a religious school, you can't exclude a child for wanting to follow his religion. I was a Sikh but at least I wasn't a Protestant Sikh.

In my teens, I realised that information was power: if I knew stuff, it would perhaps give me some cachet. (I now write and present quizzes for my children's schools and for Century, a member's club in London.) I was always arguing the toss, be it about Macbeth - one of the characters in Meet the Magoons refers to an essay he wrote about "the misunderstood Macbeth" - or be it about socialist intellectual thinking in the west of Scotland. None of my family was surprised that I wanted to be a lawyer.

I didn't work as hard as I could have done, but I got eight As in my O grades, and in my Highers I got four As and a B; the B, in physics, still rankles.

I got a place at Glasgow University Law School and became very engaged with the sense of its history; I was studying in an institution that was hundreds of years old, under teachers who looked as if they were hundreds of years old. After about a year-and-a-half, I realised that the law wasn't as egalitarian as I thought. There were 12 High Court Judges in Scotland - all men, all Protestants. They didn't even give the gig to a Catholic or a woman; what hope was there for me? After getting my law degree, I never practised as an advocate. I had been in some televised debates, and the BBC, which I think had been rather taken with the idea of a Glaswegian Sikh who appeared to be funny, had started to court me. I thought I would be pushing at an open door. Would that had been true!