Beaten into shape

27th June 1997 at 01:00
Anthony Worrall Thompson talks to Pamela Coleman

I was a troublemaker at school. I was a bit like a Jack Russell, little and always snapping at teachers' heels. I was exceptionally cheeky and a ringleader. School was great fun. I enjoyed being naughty and the centre of attention.

My parents split up when I was young and I boarded from the age of three at a nursery school and then at Milner Court prep school, attached to King's, Canterbury. The headmaster, Rev John Edmunds, was a complete bastard. He ruled by the whip and the cane. I was always being beaten. His aim with a blackboard duster was extremely accurate, too.

Rev Edmunds was the scripture man and a teacher of doom. He was quite small but very chunky and he had close-cropped hair like an American GI. You could imagine him as a member of the SAS. He would have made a good commando in a war zone. He was very strong; you wouldn't like to have met him in a dark alley.

My mother was warned that if my behaviour didn't improve she would have to find another school for me. I was always having bright ideas like unfurling fire escape chutes and abseiling from top windows. Once I pushed a teacher's car into the swimming pool. I was very aggressive. I used to kick the headboy. The headmaster was called in and dared me to kick him. I did. As a result, I was belted on the head and sent flying across the corridor. But nothing deterred me.

I was one of those boys who didn't concentrate in lessons but always managed to pass exams. That annoyed staff. I was told I wouldn't get into the senior school but passed with flying colours. I was good at cramming. I was quite good at sport.

One of the teachers at the school was sexually abusing boys. I had no idea what was going on and was rather jealous that I wasn't invited to join the group who went to the master's room at night. I thought they were watching television.

One day one of the boys told me what was happening and said he couldn't take it any longer. I ran to tell Mr Edmunds and set myself up as the fall guy. The predator was gone the same night. It was my finest hour and that year I was awarded the prize for the most improved student.

Another teacher I remember from junior school had the same name, but spelt differently. Mr Edmonds taught maths and I was pretty good at that. He was very tall with an enormous Roman nose and he was good at cricket. He had a soft spot for me and I suspect he stood up for me at staff meetings.

When I arrived at King's senior school, I was greeted with, "We are given to understand you are a troublemaker and we're going to knock it out of you. " I was beaten several times for various misdemeanours but some of the staff had a soft spot for me because I was so small. I was only seven stone as a teenager.

I continued to be a total rebel, letting off stink bombs and doing all sorts of wicked things. I saw no reason in life to be serious and probably still don't. I do have a serious side to me now, but on the whole my life is dedicated to enjoyment.

Fagging was still in operation when I was at King's. I got three times the going rate because I could cook.

It dawned on me then that there was money to be made from providing good food. I learnt to cook when I was six or seven. We had au pairs who were such bad cooks that the only way to get a decent meal was to make it myself.

At senior school I was moved from class to class quite a lot because I caused trouble. It wasn't until I was 15 or 16 that I started taking an interest and got involved in school activities. The headmaster, Canon Newell, was tolerant and seemed to understand me. He encouraged my interest in gardening and we walked together round his garden and he taught me about plants. I won a couple of prizes for coming top overall. I was quite bright, but I didn't care.

My school reports went to my grandmother who paid my school fees. She wanted me to go to Eton, as my uncle had done, or Wellington, where grandfather had been, but my mother insisted on King's. Grandmother was a Bette Davis character, a powerful army wife, married to a general. She had lost her son in the last week of the war and I became a substitute. She was the guiding light in my education.

I wanted to train to be a chef, but Grandmother insisted I did a hotel management course instead. I studied at Westminster College Hotel School and a guy there called Graham Leedom was a big influence. He was a chef lecturer and inspirational, although he did write on my report: "This boy should stick to accountancy, not cookery", because I was always using weird colours and trying to make my food look artistic.

Mr Leedon was an excellent teacher. He had a passion for cookery and his enthusiasm was captivating. I found college terribly boring, but I enjoyed the cookery. I'm glad I didn't study cookery full-time because the products of colleges tend to have tunnel vision and only cook in a certain way.

Looking back, I enjoyed my schooldays because I had fun all the time. It was a bit like being in prison; I got institutionalised. I've just done a TV programme on prison food and it reminded me of my days at King's inCanterbury. I can remember retching on lumpy porridge and sneaking food into my pocket because you had to clear everything on the plate.

Restaurateur and TV cook Antony Worrall Thompson was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. His latest business venture is a restaurant called Woz West, which is due to open in West Kensington, London, this summer

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