Passed/Failed: An education in the life of comedian Mel Giedroyc

'I was asked to stop doing physics'

Jonathan Sale
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:37

Mel Giedroyc, 41, presented Light Lunch with Sue Perkins on Channel 4. She "stole the show" in Eurobeat at the Novello Theatre, London. Her books include From Here to Maternity. She returns in the new series of Sorry, I've Got No Head which starts tomorrow on CBBC.

"How did you survive it?" Johnny, the cameraman on Sorry, I've Got No Head, asked me. It turned out he was also at St Peter's Primary in Ashtead near Leatherhead. At school in the 1970s, no one cared about bullying. I spent the first four years being the apple of the teachers' eye and being bullied for it. From eight to 11 I found it easier to be the person wisecracking at the back of the class. My mother is as posh as you like and would come to collect me wearing a headscarf; I put on this estuary, mockney accent and said I was adopted.

The teachers were good. There were hardcore old-school like Mrs Esdale, a Hattie Jacques lookalike who wore brooches and scary traffic warden shoes and then there were the woolly, vaguely hippy teachers and some random nuns.

There were two sets of skinhead boys in my class who ruled the roost and spent all their time beating people up. One pair went straight to Borstal and then prison. But there was a lot of laughter at St Peter's and I'm glad now I had experience of both camps: state and fee-paying.

We moved to Oxford and I passed an exam to get into Oxford High School for Girls. I remember the joy of walking into the class – and it was quiet. Everyone listened to the teachers. At religious studies, the teacher asked, "What do you think of when I say 'God'?" One girl said, "The Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer." (She is now a lesbian flamenco dancer in Venezuela.) I thought, "We're not in St Peter's any more."

There was a drama department and we wrote and put on plays. Lots of Shakespeare – and Antigone, in Greek. Fortunately I got out of it because I had my tonsils taken out. I absolutely loved Latin and Greek, which I did for O-level, as well as French, Italian and English, getting As. I scraped maths and biology with a C. I was asked to stop doing physics; I illustrated an essay about a frozen river with all the ice on the bottom.

We had amazing teachers; they knew their onions. I got As in English, French and Italian A-levels. That was my peak. I got into Cambridge and it all went downhill. I did comedy and drink.

At Trinity College there was a coterie of the poshest of the posh, people you didn't ever see, they were so posh. They went to each other's rooms and, at weekends, each other's estates. I preferred to be with the weirdo bunch of raggle-taggle thesps. I met Sue Perkins at the Footlights, where she brought the house down at the auditions. I said, "Would you like to do some gags?" We used to talk about performing together but just ended up getting drunk. She became president of the Footlights and I did "radical" theatre, which meant wearing urine-coloured pyjamas and shaving my head.

I got a 2.2. In my finals, I achieved a first in the Italian essay paper; but only 17 per cent on my history of the Italian language paper; I wrote about Monty Python. I hadn't written an essay in Italian during the four-year course, so I put together a massive amount of information, put it on a tape and learnt it by heart.

After we had graduated, I wrote a letter: "Dear Susan, would you like to form a double-act?" We had nothing else we could do, for God's sake.

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