Tony Price protected me from other masters who were determined to get me

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
There were a lot of teachers who didn't like me because I pushed the rules all the time

I enjoyed my school days hugely. I had a wonderful time. It was like one long party. I knew a mortgage and children and all those things were coming and I made the most of this period of no responsibility. I went to Repton in Derbyshire, and no one seemed to be bothered that I spent a lot of my time at the local girls' school and in the pubs around Burton-on-Trent (the brewing capital of the world), about four miles away. The first two years were a bit tough. Fagging was brutal and I got bullied horribly, but it wasn't the end of the world. I got beaten up and my belongings thrown in the swimming pool. It was par for the course then. Everybody was bullied; I just accepted it. Nobody complained. They would now. We're becoming a nation of weaklings.

Public school instilled in me that you never rat on your peers. I learned to be rebellious, too. When the careers master asked me what I wanted to do, I said, "I don't care as long as I don't have to wear a suit." I was put in detention. The goal of the school was to produce 100 estate agents and stockbrokers a year.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to my housemaster for the last three years, Tony Price. I suspect he saw that I might do something that didn't require a suit because he protected me from other masters who were determined to get me. There were a lot of teachers who didn't like me because I pushed the rules all the time. I didn't do anything seriously bad, but I would refuse to do up my top button, or wear slightly the wrong colour jacket, and training shoes. Tony Price would say: "You're in trouble with so and so, but I shouldn't worry too much about it."

He was an immensely likeable man. He taught me chemistry lower down the school and I didn't understand the first thing. I wasn't good at anything.

I managed to get nine O-levels, but it took years. Economics bored me; I couldn't see the point of history (though now I wish I had). I knew the names of all the capital cities and that was about it. I read Melody Maker throughout my French O-level in an attempt to look cool and got nought per cent. My English was mediocre. Nobody ever said "Ooh, that's good" about an essay I wrote. I didn't win prizes and I was never made a prefect. I was useless at games. You have no idea how unco-ordinated I am. I once took a penalty in a game of football and the nearest the ball got to the goalmouth was when it was on the spot.

Tony Price was my ally and a sort of father figure. All I did at school was try to make people laugh and I have a sneaking suspicion that he quite liked that. He wasn't at all strict. Although smoking was banned he'd walk into my smoke-filled study and say nothing. He didn't catch me drinking in the pub because he didn't look.

When I was in sixth form I managed to convince him that I should have a car so I could drive home at weekends because my father was ill. I had no intention of going home, but he agreed as long as it was parked in his driveway and he kept the keys. The car was an Audi and I gave him an old set of false Fiat keys but he didn't seem to notice. I regularly took the car out in the evenings and he turned a blind eye.

He had the right attitude because if I'd had one of the more authoritarian housemasters I would never have lasted at the school as long as I did. They threw me out 10 weeks before my A-levels. I could have gone back to sit the exams, but by then I'd got a job. My reports were greeted with tears and recriminations at home, but after I'd tipped off Tony Price that one boy who was being bullied wasn't up for it, he praised my "streak of goodness".

His parting words, as I left, were: "When you get sent to borstal, try to make it the one nearby so we can come and visit you." But he said it with a glint in his eye.

TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson was talking to Pamela Coleman

The story so far

1960 Born in Doncaster

1973-78 Repton school, Derbyshire

1978 First job, reporter on Rotherham Advertiser

1980 Launches motoring press agency

1989 onwards Presenter of BBC2'sTop Gear motoring programme

1995 Begins writing weekly column for Sunday Times

1997 Wins Royal Television Society's best presenter award

1999-2001 Presents chat show, Clarkson, on BBC2

2002 Presents Meet the Neighbours and Speed and, in BBC1's Great Britons series, champions Isambard Kingdom Brunel

May 2003 Presents new series of Top Gear

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