Me and my school photo: Bill Oddie remembers answering back and eventually becoming a prefect
Wildlife TV presenter and former Goodie Bill Oddie, 70, lives in London with his wife Laura. They have three daughters, Bonnie, Kate and Rosie.
This photo shows me sitting proudly as captain of the King Edward’s School (KES), Birmingham, rugby team. I’m holding a ball with 1959/60 written on it, so I was 18. I was captain of virtually every team I played in from Under-14s up.
I took and passed the 11-plus when I was only nine, so I left primary school for Halesowen Grammar School, but was then about 18 months younger than most of the other kids, which was a disadvantage for me at sport, the thing I enjoyed most.
Rugby captain: Bill Oddie (centre) writes, 'Im holding a ball with 1959/60 written on it, so I was 18'
But when I was 12, my dad, who was trying to give me the education he never had, got me to take the exam for KES, the best school in Birmingham, and I was offered a place. I knew this move meant forsaking the presence of girls, but since I was very young and hadn’t got very far in that direction, it didn’t really matter. Anyway, King Edward’s Girls’ School was over the road.
KES was my whole life throughout my time there. That’s against the background of my home life, which was boring and sometimes upsetting, because my mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and put in a mental home within a year of my joining the school. Sometimes I visited her, which was horrible.
Some teachers I got on well with, others I had an amiable bit of friction with, and one or two absolutely hated me, including the chief master, because I’d answer back.
I still have a report in which I’m described as ‘idle and insolent’, but this was countered by my housemaster who said, ‘I don’t recognise that person at all. Bill is extremely energetic and industrious and helpful.’
Bill thought he'd go on to do something with natural history, but showbusiness took over
Legend has it that, the night before the Queen was due to pass by on a Royal visit to the city in 1955, some of the other boys and I went out and rearranged the traffic cones so the convoy would be diverted through the school grounds. I don’t remember doing that but it’s become an urban myth, like the one about The Goodies beating up John Peel in a nightclub, or my hitting John Craven over the head with a tripod in an argument over a cup of tea.
I don’t think punishments included canes and rulers; it was usually detention. But the chief master’s way of punishing me was to not make me a prefect when all my friends were. It was vindictive and most people were shocked. But when I became rugby captain he had to make me a prefect – it came with the job. School productions were integral to my life and I wrote the school revue in my final year.
I was offered a place at Pembroke College, Cambridge, a year before I was due to go there, so I protracted my last year at KES, prompting one teacher to write in a report: ‘I’ve seen nothing of him at all this term – I presume he’s playing rugby!’ I went on to study English at Cambridge, thinking I’d go on to do something with natural history – I intended to spend a year doing voluntary wardening on a bird observatory. But none of these things happened as showbusiness took over.
Bill’s new stage show, Bill Oddie: Un-Plucked, starts on 25 April at the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton, Somerset, www.thebrewhouse.net