Passed/failed: JULIAN PETTIFER

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The Independent Online
Julian Pettifer, 62, is a television and radio reporter whose work has ranged from the Vietnam war to the environment. His TV documentaries include `Diamonds in the Sky', `Automania' and `Missionaries'; `El Nino is Innocent' will be transmitted later this year. His Radio 4 series `Crossing Continents' goes out on Thursday mornings. He has been Bafta reporter of the year and has also received awards from Unicef and the Royal Geographical Society.

Thundering canon? I grew up in a small village in Wiltshire called Crudwell, where my dad was the local vet, and went to the Church of England mixed infants. We were taught the three Rs by rote and scripture was frightfully important. The village rector, Canon Sole, who had black gaiters, a frock coat and an extremely stern demeanour, would test us every term on the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments. I had a broad Wiltshire accent.

Nethers Walloped? At nine I was whisked out of the village school over the road, to a traditional English prep school in Cirencester. Now an upmarket housing estate, it was Dickensian, a really tough school. Major Letts was the headmaster and Mrs Letts was a formidable lady who felt responsible for our moral welfare and table manners: "Pettifer, don't hold your table-knife like a housemaid." There was lots of beating - for anything. On Saturday mornings you had a terrifying review of your work and if it was not up to scratch, you were beaten. If you were "slacking" you were beaten. Fortunately I was pretty extrovert and enjoyed fighting - a ghastly child! - and games.

Too much of a fag? I passed the Common Entrance and got into Marlborough, which was heaven. Tom Heywood, the headmaster appointed when under 30, abolished fagging. I had a remarkable amount of freedom; we got on our bikes and roamed around the countryside. I played a lot of rugby, did some running, and was in the swimming team. Mr Barton, the art teacher always known as "Art-Barty", directed the school plays. I played Richard II, and Rafe in The Knight of the Burning Pestle, a most absurd play by Beaumont. I remember taking a an awful lot of School Certificates [GCSEs].

All vets are off? The next big crisis was my Higher Certificates [A- levels]. The idea was that I should follow in my father's footsteps and get into veterinary college, so I started science Highers. Then Dick Knight, my housemaster, said, "You might not make it." With just over a year to go, I switched to history, English literature and the general paper.

At your National Service? After my prep school, the army was a doddle - I'm serious! Basic training was in the Rifle Brigade in Winchester, where everybody else had been born within the sound of Bow Bells. I got a commission and was sent to Korea; the shooting war had finished but it was still active service. I certainly fired my rifle, but not in anger.

Falling foul of the law? At St John's, Cambridge, I started off reading law part I, then decided I didn't want to be a lawyer and read part II moral sciences; I got a 2.1. I was in the Marlowe Society and played Orlando in As You Like It, which went on tour to Holland and Germany. In my last year I played Troilus in Troilus and Cressida, with Daniel Massey, Bamber Gascoigne and John Bird; I think Peter Cook carried a spear.

Come back to Marlborough County? I did go back to Marlborough once to speak to the six form, which is now mixed. I found them utterly intimidating and so much more confident, and their knowledge of the world was so much broader. We were kids. They stopped being kids some time ago.