An excellent writer and humorist, Brooker’s frank style of analysis is well known as a result of his work with the BBC and The Guardian. His work frequently concerns the media, so it’s probably not much of a surprise that Brooker was a student of Media Studies at the University of Westminster. What might be surprising is that Brooker failed to graduate as a result of writing his dissertation on video games, which his institution disapproved of.
There’s a certain irony to this. Having studied a similar discipline, I can testify that, at least at Cardiff University, Media and Journalism Studies lecturers frequently cite and show Brooker’s programmes as excellent incisions into the modern media. Newswipe, in particular, provides a good example of how bizarre mainstream news values appear when faced with serious scrutiny. Not only that, but video games have taken Brooker further than his degree alone would have done; he’s currently producing a documentary for Channel 4 entitled “How Video Games Changed the World.” Take that, dissertation supervisor.
A man of many talents, Hugh Laurie is known for many things, such as being one half of Fry and Laurie, or for being the miserable House M.D. Laurie has also recently experienced success as a musician, releasing his second album to critical acclaim. Somewhat surprising, then, should be Laurie’s academic background; educated at Eton, Laurie studied the (fairly humourless) Archaeology at Cambridge University.
In many respects, Hugh Laurie and David Mitchell’s career have a number of interesting parallels. Both were educated at Cambridge University, both studied relatively dry degrees (Mitchell read History), and both assumed the presidency of the University’s esteemed drama society, The Footlights. The society was where they both encountered their longtime collaborators: in Laurie’s case, he met Stephen Fry, who was studying English Literature, and in Mitchell’s case, he met Robert Webb, an English Language Student.
Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.
However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.
On the subject of people who lacked a real academic career, look no further than Alan Johnson. Johnson is frequently touted by believers in the British meritocracy, having lived an extraordinary life. An orphan, Johnson lived with his sister and left school at 15, working in a supermarket and stacking shelves until he became a postman. It was in this position he began a slow climb before becoming the general secretary of the Union of Communication Workers.
While many MPs have come from backgrounds outside of the typical Eton-Oxbridge Industrial Complex, few have reached the same heights. Johnson has served in a variety of ministerial positions, and revealed in an interview with The Guardian that he nearly lead a Labour-Lib Dem coalition government. it’s such a shame Johnson’s ministerial career ended the way it did; he resigned following a scandal in which it was alleged his bodyguard was having an affair with his wife. Despite what you might think of his actions in government or his personal ideology, Johnson’s the only MP in office who’s worked in a supermarket.
Known most recently for hosting reality shows such as Rude Tube and Meet the Parents, Alex Zane has had a much longer career than people realise. A talented broadcaster, Zane began working for XFM in the early 2000s and has held a variety of positions since. However, Zane wasn’t always destined to work in media - initially studying Medicine at the prestigious University College London.
After a year, Zane dropped out to study Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, one of the University of London institutions, putting an end to any potential career in healthcare. While I’m sure that his parents probably recoiled at that career choice, it’s certainly paid off for him in the long run; one wonders if his presenting skills are any indication of his bedside manner.
Frankie Boyle’s foul-mouthed comedy attracts ire and admiration in equal measure. The Scottish raconteur is well known for his controversial sense of humour, having touched upon topics ranging from down’s syndrome to Jimmy Savile. Owing to his creative use of the language, it’s probably not too much of a surprise that Boyle holds a BA in English Literature from Sussex University.
However, what might come as more of a surprise is that Boyle trained to be a teacher, having spent a period after graduating working with mental health patients. “I worked in an asylum for a year, and then community care homes with schizophrenics.” Boyle claimed, in an interview with Julie Hamill. “I wanted to work with people with learning disabilities, but in mental health you can’t be promoted without a mental health nursing qualification before going into social work or teaching.” Boyle noted were it not for his comedy career, he’d probably still be working in healthcare, having applied to work with The School for the Blind and others.
Association of Online Publishers
Bless ‘im. Prince Harry is known to the public as the shaggy-haired brother of Prince William - you know, the one who had that wedding that got everybody a day off. Much has been made of Harry’s military career, having served in the British Army and fought in Afghanistan. Indeed, as far as elite institutions go, Harry began his training at Sandhurst, the UK’s premier officer training school. In purely academic terms, however, Harry isn’t much to speak of - gaining only two A-levels, despite his private schooling and privileged background.
This is in stark contrast to his brother; William studied at St. Andrews, taking a course in Art History and graduating with an MA. However, a friend of mine once described taking art history as taking a “course in being unemployed forever,” so maybe they’re not so different. It’s not like it matters what degree you study for when you’re steps away from the throne anyway.
Guardian Columnist Polly Toynbee comes from a family with a strong intellectual history, although she’s the most well known in contemporary culture. A number of her relatives worked as historians - her grandfather, Gilbert Murray, for example, was a particularly prolific classicist. However, despite all this, Toynbee only gained one A-level, having worked in factories and fast food restaurants.
Indeed, despite her pedigree, Toynbee provides a good example of somebody who essentially skipped university altogether. Though her A-level performance was poor, she was admitted to Oxford as a scholarship student, dropping out at 18 months. What followed was a journey across multiple ‘working class’ positions, which she recounted in her 1970 book “A Working Life.”
Okay, Okay. You might not find him that funny. But enough people like Russell Howard that his show, Russell Howard’s Good News, has been airing for four years, spanning eight series. I know! It’s crazy how time flies. The prolific comedian is also further proof that people in his profession come from all sorts of backgrounds - Howard studied Economics at UWE. (Interestingly, fellow comic Miranda Hart studied at UWE, attaining a degree in political science.)
When asked why he chose that particular course of study in an interview with the Daily Record, Howard responded that he “just did a degree because it was what [his] mates were doing.” “If I’d told my dad that I wanted to do something like this or drama or whatever he’d have slapped me purple. [...] I just don’t come from a background where that sort of thing’s allowed.”
AKA Johnny English, or Mr. Bean, Rowan Atkinson is an extraordinarily accomplished entertainer. The Blackadder star has appeared alongside Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, both of whom have been mentioned on this list, as well as Tony Robinson and John Cleese.
Rowan Atkinson’s degree may come as something of a surprise: that’s right, Mr. Bean holds an MSc in Electrical Engineering from Oxford University. It’s hard to imagine that somebody whose career as an entertainer has revolved around comic ineptitude could have achieved one of the most esteemed degrees from one of the world’s premier universities, but hey - it takes a smart man to play dumb.