Passed/failed: JULIAN PETTIFER

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015