Passed/Failed: Paul Heiney

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The Independent Online
Paul, 48, is a broadcaster, writer and farmer. He has been in front of a microphone on 'Newsbeat' and 'Today' (Libby Purves, its presenter, later became Mrs Heiney), and in front of a camera on 'That's Life' and 'In at the Deep End'. 'Home Farm', his guide to the good agricultural life, and 'Domino's Effect', his first novel, are both published next month.

In At The Shallow End? I was born in Sheffield and went to Parson Cross C of E Primary School. I was deeply scarred when they kept telling me I sang off-key and told me to mime instead. I've done it ever since. We had this bizarre school band and everyone's dream was to do the castanets, but all I got was the bloody sticks which you hit together.

Who Guards the Yeomen of the Guard? I passed the 11-plus and went to High Storrs Grammar School, which was then more like a public school than public schools are today. The ethos was: rugby, Latin and get yourself into the Army - and if you're really hopeless, go into industry. There was a girls' grammar school in the same building, but a sort of Berlin Wall between us, and there was no contact. You got detention if you were caught talking to a girl at the bus stop. When a new head made overtures to the girls' school, it was decided there would be a co-production of The Yeomen of the Guard. But the girls weren't allowed to sing the line "Joyful, joyful, when virginity seeks man's affinity." This must be the first time there has been censorship of Gilbert & Sullivan.

Here's One I Made Up Earlier! After the usual O-levels, I did science at A-level: a C, I think, in maths and a B in physics and chemistry. It was in physics that I discovered that standing up in front of people was a better position to be in than actually knowing things. I persuaded the teacher to let me pull some wonderful old equipment out of a cupboard; the lectures I invented were all showmanship and no substance: great training for television.

Seeing Red? I was going to Birmingham University to read physics but I got the distinct feeling that it wasn't the right thing to do. I probably wouldn't have been very good. This was in 1966, when the World Cup, which England won, was being played round the corner at Hillsborough Football Club. Outside the stadium were all these television vans; I loved the wires and the scaffolding. I thought, I really want to get into this. I applied to the BBC and they said, "You're just the sort of chap we want, but we can't do anything about the colour-blindness." This was the first test I'd seriously failed. I'd not been in the slightest aware that I was red-green colour-blind.

Wired for Sound? Then I thought, if not broadcasting, what's the next best thing? The theatre. I got a job at Birmingham Rep as a stage hand, and then at the Mermaid Theatre in London as an electrician. I spent a lot of time rewiring the downstairs Gents. Then I had a year's training in sound recording at the BBC, worth tens of thousands of pounds; at the end you got a job - or not. After two or three years, I was one of the team starting Radio Humberside. In local radio, you could do anything you wanted, as long as you didn't want paying for it.

Who's a Little Lamb, Then? On the farming front, I bought a tractor and did a one-day course and got a Grade One Tractor Driver's Certificate. I also got a Diploma in Lambing, another one-day course. My favourite diploma is connected with sailing. Fifteen years ago I achieved a Wireless Telegraphy Certificate of Restricted Competence, allowing me to do certain kinds of radio transmissions. I thought, that sums me up: restricted competence.

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