PASSED/FAILED: Libby Purves

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The Independent Online
Midweek presenter for Radio 4. She is 46; her latest novel is A Long Walk in Wintertime.

First Qualification? A "Crossing the Line" certificate signed by King Neptune when I was 11 on the ship to South Africa, where my father had a diplomatic posting. O-levels? Maths, two English, Latin, History, British Constitution, Biology and French. A-levels? Four. An A in English. I got an A in French because I had been at school in France and was bilingual. History was a B, to the teacher's enormous surprise; I didn't earn it at all (When was the Thirty Years War?). I was predicted to fail Latin - I had been thrown out of the Roman History lessons - but scraped a D. University Entrance? I got a scholarship to St Anne's, Oxford. What did it mean? Fifty quid a year and a gown with big sleeves like a bat. What Degree? A First in English. And afterwards? I went up to the Liverpool Post for an interview, and they said, "You may have a first-class degree but you clearly know nothing about local government or football." When I went on a BBC studio manager course, they said, "Are you all graduates? Well, if ever we catch you without your screwdriver, you've had it." Failures? I failed my Geography O-level; I was pleased to fail something so that I wasn't called a swot. I failed my driving test four times in four years. I failed my BBC "Stereo Course". Cheating? My biology O-level was entirely fraudulent. I invented an ecological site. Glittering Prizes? Runner-up for an Oxford Shakespeare prize. This meant that my writing was legible. I typed all my essays and it hadn't occurred to me that I couldn't type in exams. My tutor forced me to enter as handwriting practice for Finals.

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