When failure was a good thing

The current news buzz about school students and their exam results - success and disappointments both - inspired me to remember when my own failure to get good results proved, in the long run, a blessing.

In 1961 I took A Level Physics and Maths for Science. I passed the Physics, but failed the Maths for Science.

Now, if I had passed that, I would have taken up the place I was conditionally offered at Southampton University to study ‘Light Electrical Engineering’ - what we now call ‘Electronics’ (‘Heavy Electrical Engineering’ being motors and the like). My estimate is that I would never have made it through the course, and would have been slung out after the first year. It was, with hindsight, a wrong road to be going down.

As it was, the Careers Master suggested the BBC as they would take me as a Technical Operator on one A-level. I joined Bush House Control Room, and after six years there was an amalgamation and I became a Studio Manager (sound mixer, etc.). This job proved a suitable place for my peculiar mix of talents; it didn’t make me rich, and there were certainly downsides to it, but on the whole it was probably the best place I could have been.

And if I’d passed Maths For Science there would probably have been no BBC career in any form, I would never have written six books, and my life would have been so different that I can’t begin to conceive what it would have been like.

Failure can be success sometimes.