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Ex Andrew Makes Good.

Lifted direct from yesterday's MoD Truth Central ( for those with);

Matelot who made multi millions
18/08/2008. Dragons' Den TV star Duncan Bannatyne started his career in the Royal Navy but it was far from plain sailing. Report by Lorraine McBride.

When Dragons' Den tycoon Duncan Bannatyne signed up to join the Royal Navy back in 1964, his modest wage was a world away from the reported £310 million fortune that he enjoys today.

But money was far from his mind, such was his desperation to escape the well-trodden path to the local Singer sewing machine factory:

"I wanted to get away from poverty, to see the world and I also understood that girls liked men in uniforms," smiles Duncan.

Initially, his mum refused to sign the forms until Duncan, showed glimmers of his gutsy Glaswegian determination by threatening to run away to London and become a tramp and a junkie.

Who could blame her if she had deep misgivings? Duncan's late dad Bill was cornered by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore. When the ship he sailed in was bombed by the Americans, he watched helpless as many of his fellow soldiers drowned. After hours in the water he was rescued from the sea, not by the Americans but by the Japanese again. Taken to Nagasaki, his dad endured appalling conditions. Once he told Duncan the horrific story of how he had to pile up bodies of his comrades in the PoW camp and set them alight:

"He told me how he had to watch bodies burn," says Duncan. "He also told me of the terrible time when he and his comrades caught, cooked and ate a large rat as they were starving."

As a lad, Duncan took his dad's experiences in his stride but today he says that thinking about his suffering affects him more deeply. His father convinced him to join the Navy:

"He said that if I joined the Army, I'd spend all my time square bashing, and the Navy would be better to see the world."

When his proud family waved him off at Glasgow Central Station, Duncan felt pure excitement, no doubt dreaming of maritime adventures ahead. Happy to be leaving his native Clydebank, he was itching to see the world. At 15, and just 5 ft 3 inches tall, (1.6m), he was sent to the boys' training base HMS Ganges, famous for its 143-ft (43.6m) high training mast:

"As soon as we walked through the gates we were told to stand in a line and march in a quickstep. NCOs were shouting at us but I was more excited than nervous," he recalled.

Duncan instantly bonded with his fellow recruits whom he met on the train journey down and with whom he roomed.

Broken nose

Early on, he got into trouble for being lippy and was punished with runs around the parade ground. Duncan admits that the discipline was pretty tough but dismisses any suggestion that he pined for home, emphasising in his no-nonsense scottish accent, so familiar to TV viewers:

"I was never, ever homesick."

His first ship was HMS Eagle where he trained to be a stoker in the engine room and discovered an aptitude for boxing. He sparred most days with his best mate Brian Smith and later badly broke his own nose in a bout, which is now a permanent reminder yet nothing put him off:

"It was immensely exciting. I travelled the world. I had a great job in the engine room. it was fantastic and a great life. I enjoyed it," he said.

Indeed by the age of 17, Duncan had visited farflung destinations such as Yugoslavia and South Africa, which he describes as "absolutely phenomenal":

"It was such a great life seeing people that I would never have seen otherwise. I remember a snowball fight on top of Table Mountain and watching the faces of people who had never seen snow."

Docking in Split, Yugoslavia, Duncan visited his first communist country. Unsure what to expect, he said:

"The strange thing was, there were so many people with guns walking about, militia and soldiers. Yet even poor people wanted to buy us a drink, which was hard to understand and quite moving."

In Hong Kong, there was drama ashore, when Duncan and Brian headed to a bar, keen to sample the local nightlife. Although advised to stick to small groups of three or four to avoid trouble, the pair were confident that their boxing prowess would keep them safe. Perhaps inevitably they were attacked by a gang of drunks. As blows rained down Duncan looked at Brian and the pair exchanged a tiny nod of the head, an implicit agreement that they would respond in kind. In the brawl that followed, Duncan held his own, but out of the corner of his eye, he was dumbstruck by the sight of Brian "who was like something out of a Bruce Lee movie". Next day, the pair were back on board ship, when word spread, enhancing Duncan's kudos as a fearsome boxer.

Dishonourably discharged

By 1968, after four years, Duncan tired of naval life. But he was aware that unless he was killed in action or maimed badly, the chances of getting out were pretty slim unless he misbehaved so badly that he was discharged. After falling out with his senior officer Duncan accepted a £5 bet to throw him overboard near Lossiemouth and spent Christmas in the ship's cell:

"He was just a complete idiot, he was above himself. It seemed the right thing to do at the time and so I just did it," said Duncan.

It didn't take long for the penny to drop that he was in big trouble:

"Yeah, when I was taken down to the ship's cell, I absolutely knew," he said.

In his book, Duncan writes that he kept the court martial a secret from his parents to spare them any worry. So you can imagine his mum's shock when she watched the TV news to hear the newsreader announce: "nineteen-year-old sailor Duncan Bannatyne was today dishonourably discharged from the Navy..."

"I'm not sure if the coffee stain ever came out of the carpet," he admits.

Sentenced to nine months in Colchester Barracks, he served time alongside two terrifying and violent thugs, jailed for skinning cats alive. Both were incredibly hard and fit, but Duncan maintained peak fitness and made it his mission to beat them on the assault course, which he achieved on his last day.

Naturally competitive, Duncan felt an overwhelming relief at finally getting out:

"I wanted to get out and start my own business. I knew that in six months, I would be out and free to do what I liked."

On the day of his discharge, when Duncan left Colchester (and Navy life) forever, he went off to meet his girlfriend.

Anyway, how could he have any regrets? Duncan went on to become an entrepreneurial genius behind an empire of icecream vans, care homes, nurseries and fitness clubs . He also won an OBE, found fame as one fifth of TV's Dragons' Den and is a proud dad of six, almost enough for his own miltary platoon.

He doubts that he learned much in the Navy to prepare him for life as one of Britain's most successful businessmen. Yet he concedes his meticulous nature may be a hangover from his service days:

"I put things in order and I'm not untidy in my mind and I think that comes from my time in the forces."

Does he think the senior Service shaped him?

"I think it was part of my life in a good way. I just know that the Navy was part of my life and made me what I am and I'm happy with who I am."

Bright lad; should have gone far;

After falling out with his senior officer Duncan accepted a £5 bet to throw him overboard near Lossiemouth and spent Christmas in the ship's cell:

"He was just a complete idiot, he was above himself. It seemed the right thing to do at the time and so I just did it," said Duncan.

It didn't take long for the penny to drop that he was in big trouble:


War Hero
Even in the 60s, would a stoker getting kicked out of the mob get reported on TV? What a load of old bullshine.
And getting 'killed in action' or 'maimed badly' ?

Indonesian Confrontation had finished by then, and NI hadn't really kicked off - what " action" could he talking about - anyone know ?

Nice dit - had a chuckle :)


War Hero
Book Reviewer
Is it a good dit in the first place? Seems he couldn't wait to get out of the RN at the time, but now he is famous he wants to show tha he's not the stuffy suit people probably think he is, so he lets slip this story about his misspent youth.

Woop-de-doo... 8O
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