Skip to main content

Male literacy: it's a job for the SAS

Soldier-turned-author recruited for campaign to fire up boys' interest in reading

Soldier-turned-author recruited for campaign to fire up boys' interest in reading

It is one of the hardest missions in education - getting boys as interested in reading as girls.

And so the National Literacy Trust (NLT) has called in a man known for surviving in the most difficult and hostile environments.

Chris Ryan, former SAS man and bestselling author, has accepted the challenge of making reading cool.

Mr Ryan is best known for taking part in the botched Bravo Two Zero mission in Iraq during the first Gulf War, alongside Andy McNab.

Mr McNab, the leader of the eight-man patrol, was captured and held, but Mr Ryan managed to escape on foot and trekked almost 200 miles to the Syrian border, a survival story detailed in his book The One That Got Away.

Mr Ryan left the SAS in 1994 and went on to write 14 thrillers for adults and two series of books for teenagers, Code Red and Alpha Force.

In a competition launched this week, children in 2,800 schools will be undertaking Mr Ryan's Operation Read.

The competition is part of the NLT's Reading Champions campaign, which uses male role models in a bid to motivate boys to read.

Pupils in Reading Champions schools will form teams of between three to eight members and undertake missions that will encourage reading. Each one will be outlined by Mr Ryan in a short film.

The challenges will include creating a reading wall and finding out which books other pupils in their school are reading.

"Having the ability to read well is essential for any soldier, whether learning more about military operations, following detailed orders or carrying out other daily tasks," Mr Ryan said.

"Reading is important in all kinds of ways, and during my time in the Army I read a lot in my spare time."

Two winning teams will take part in an adventure day out with Mr Ryan.

To take part, visit


Girls can read a flowery novel and an action novel. If a boy tries to pick up a flowery novel, he is ridiculed.

Boys ask what my favourite weapon is and how far does a gun fire or a tank drive. Girls ask whether the character Ben in my books will get a girlfriend.

I was a reluctant reader when I was a child and that was a big mistake. It was only once I was in the Army that I gained a love of reading.

The children want to know what it was like in the SAS, but I'm not there to promote warfare. I say to them to get a good education, read as much as you can, and have the choice when you leave school. And I always say my favourite weapon is the pen.

They think, and then they get it.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you