Passed / Failed: JOHN SUCHET

Jonathan Sale
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:23


John Suchet, 53, presents the early evening bulletin on ITN. Beginning as a journalist on Reuters, he became a foreign correspondent for Independent Television News and then a newscaster. He is just completing Passion and Glory, the third of his novels based on the life of Beethoven.

But First? I was born and brought up in London, so it was fairly traumatic to be sent, a fraction short of my ninth birthday, to a boarding prep school on the Kent coast. I can still hear the foghorns and it still gives me a feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was fairly lonely until my brother came to the school. I have to say that it was a very good school. In the Fifties they really taught you your times table - and French declensions; when I'm speaking French, I can still see the verb endings written down in front of me.

Uppingham, Up and Away? I passed the Common Entrance to Uppingham, which was a shock. It is hunting country. I'm not a country man and would rather have gone to St Paul's or Westminster. I never really felt it was home but another planet.

The Russian Rush? My career at Uppingham was not distinguished - apart from modern languages. I couldn't wait to learn German and my only school prize was for German. A teacher called Mr Goodall really nurtured me in both French and German: he gave me a lifelong passion for languages. Later I read a lot in German for my Beethoven books. I was in the first class to do Russian and the first boy to pass Russian O-level. I also look back with great pleasure to playing the trombone. I had learned the violin and was in the school orchestra. Then I founded the jazz band. I knew a banjo and a trumpet player; for me, it was a case of learning either the clarinet or the trombone; the clarinet is very difficult so I borrowed a trombone, which I took to like a duck to water.

Don't You Give Me None Of That Jelly Roll, Boy! A notice in the Music Rooms said: "The playing of dance music" - they still called it that! - "on school premises is forbidden." I will never forgive them for that. We used to play in the tuck shop, which was owned by a chap who wasn't a school employee and it didn't count as school premises. We used to go there and play by the door in the hope that the music master, a nasty, horrible, vicious little man, would hear us. One weekend we sneaked into the music rooms to practice and he caught us and gave me, as the ringleader, a Saturday afternoon detention.

Don't Know Much About Historee? I didn't do that well at A-levels: too much jazz playing. As well as French and German, I wanted to do English but had to do history. I hated history. My father, bless him, sent me to a crammer in Notting Hill Gate and I got good passes. I wanted to go to university to study modern languages but there was a vacancy in Social Science at Queen's College, Dundee, which was then part of St Andrew's University. People said that I should take it and then switch to languages after a week but when I went to see the professor about changing, he said, "No. Grasp the bull by the horns" - the bull being Social Science. It was a blow, a serious blow but I stayed on and specialised in Philosophy and Political Science in my last year.

Anyone For Tay? Most of the time I was in Dundee but I used to go across the River Tay to Fife for debates and won the Debating Society prize three years running. I also founded a New Orleans jazz band. The highlight was the dental graduates' leaving do; we were the sole band and played for three or four hours, improvising.

And Finally? I got a 2.2 and became a graduate trainee for Reuters. I told them I could speak French - and they didn't test me! I'm convinced that because of my name they thought that I was half-French. My family was French once.

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