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Bill Oddie

After an unhappy start to the secondary years, a switch of schools helped the expert twitcher's studies to take flight

After an unhappy start to the secondary years, a switch of schools helped the expert twitcher's studies to take flight

I was put in for the 11-plus exam two years early, so when I started Halesowen Grammar School (now the Earls High School), I was a year-and-a- half younger, a couple of stone lighter and a few inches shorter than the rest of the boys. It was a problem for me, because I loved sport. I remember doing hurdles and they looked like high jumps to me.

I don't remember the teachers there with any affection. There was one teacher, nicknamed "Killer Dodds", who was violent in a way that just wouldn't be acceptable now. Once, when he came around belting people around the ears, I retaliated by jabbing a pen into his hand. I had a strong sense of injustice and I was particularly righteous about the incident.

Thankfully, after three years my dad decided he wanted me to go to a better school and made me sit the entrance exam for King Edward's School in Birmingham, which was a kind of cross between a grammar and a public school. I was quite pleased about the exam because it had questions about sport in it, which made me think they weren't just interested in your academic potential.

I'd always had an idea that I was quite good at sport, but it wasn't until my first day at King Edward's that it really hit home. During a football game, I remember running for the ball and someone else running with me. I won the ball, and afterwards everyone came up and told me I'd beaten the school champion. It was the schoolboy experience of all time.

Pat Hutton is one teacher from King Edward's who really sticks in my mind. I was grateful to him for defending me when people tried to push me into areas that didn't interest me. When I first went to the school, you were put into streams according to your interests and abilities: classics, sciences or arts. I spent a couple of years in the classics stream, then moved to science, which is what my dad wanted me to study. But I wasn't happy. Pat wrote a long letter to my dad explaining that he had been teaching me and really thought I should be in the arts stream. My dad relented, I became much happier and I still can't thank him enough for writing that letter. I ended up studying English literature at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

King Edward's was brilliant at encouraging you to explore your interests. As well as playing sport, I ran the jazz club, the natural history club and the debating society. There was a bird reserve in a park next door to the school, so we used to go to the breeding station there and keep records on everything. Basically, I just lived at school.

Another favourite was Mr Trott, who taught history and was known, affectionately, as "Piggy Trott". He was small, with dark hair and little round glasses. His lessons were always fun and he had a knack of linking the topic we were studying to the news in a way that made it interesting. He took a group of us out to a Chinese restaurant in Birmingham. It was 1959 and the first time any of us had been to a Chinese restaurant and tasted things like lychees.

I wasn't a wilfully disruptive pupil, but my strong sense of injustice could get me into trouble. If I felt a teacher was picking on me, I would argue back. I didn't get along with one of the French masters, who wrote in one of my reports that I was "idle and insolent". Having seen the comments, Piggy Trott wrote that he didn't find me like that at all, that I was industrious and conscientious. He stuck up for me, and sometimes, frankly, I needed that.

Bill Oddie is a broadcaster, TV presenter and author. He was talking to Janet Murray.


Born: Rochdale, 1941

Education: Halesowen Grammar, then King Edward's School, West Midlands; Pembroke College, Cambridge

Career: First of the long-running TV comedy show The Goodies, 1970; Appointed OBE for services to wildlife conservation, 2003; first of three series of TV's Springwatch, 2005.

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