Simon Mayo remembers picking up litter in the playground and developing a passion for history


Me and my school photo: Simon Mayo remembers picking up litter in the playground and developing a passion for history

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UPDATED:

22:21 GMT, 22 June 2012


Broadcaster Simon Mayo, 53, presents Drivetime on Radio 2 and is the new host of Blockbusters

Broadcaster Simon Mayo, 53, presents Drivetime on Radio 2 and is the new host of Blockbusters

Here I am aged about five at St John’s Primary School in Croydon. My sister Sarah, brother Jonathan and I were always the new kids on the block because our father, Derek, was a head teacher and took various jobs around the country.

So my five years at St John’s were probably the happiest of my school life, because that was the one time I really got to spend a while at any one establishment. St John’s was secure and wonderful – everything a primary school should be. I was a gold star reader and good at running, but unfortunately I think I peaked both academically and sports-wise there.

I passed the 11-plus and was offered a place at the local grammar school in Croydon, but because we were moving to Solihull in the West Midlands, the local education authority there forced me to take the exam again, and I failed. So I ended up at a horrendous secondary modern, Arden School in Knowle – although it’s quite a good comprehensive now, I hear.

Back then it was a nightmare. Reading was frowned upon, and learning was not something smart kids did – you had to pretend to be dumb. I was utterly miserable. I was ignored because I was the new kid, and regarded as contemptible because I was in the top stream.

My parents were so unhappy about it that after one term my mum, Jill, went back to work – she was also a teacher – so they could afford to send me to the local private Solihull School. After Arden it was a breeze.

Funnily enough, my Radio 2 colleague Johnnie Walker also went to Solihull some years earlier and was expelled. In contrast to him, I was an angel. The only punishment I recall getting was having to pick up litter.

Simon is married with three children and lives in London

Simon is married with three children and lives in London

Three years later, my dad got another job, this time at a school in Worthing, Sussex, so I was off again to Worthing High School for Boys, a grammar school. It took me a while to find my feet again, but it got better in the sixth form.

Things were more relaxed and I enjoyed getting involved backstage in school drama productions, putting on plays like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. I remember having to conjure up a thunderstorm for King Lear, which was terrific fun.

Despite never particularly excelling in the classroom, I did well enough in my A-levels to get a place at Warwick University, where I studied history and politics.

I also got involved in the university radio station while at Warwick and it was there I really formed the ambition to go into broadcasting. I then worked in hospital radio and, not long afterwards, landed my first job in broadcasting at BBC Radio Nottingham.

Studying history and politics undoubtedly helped me when covering Prime Minister’s Questions for Radio 5 Live, which I did for some years. And I’ve still got a real passion for history. You can’t understand the present without a knowledge of the past.

Blockbusters is on the Challenge TV channel, visit www.challenge.co.uk. Simon’s children’s novel, Itch, is published by Doubleday.