Dyslexia at work: Millions watch shows I make for BBC, but being dyslexic meant I nearly fell out of society

TV producer Ed Booth, who has worked on the likes of Horizon and Bang Goes the Theory, tells of the difficulties he had growing up with dyslexia and how lucky he feels to have made his way in the world, while many others struggle

"How bad is my dyslexia? Let me give you an idea – I only discovered last year, at the age of 55, that I was spelling my middle name wrongly as Stuwart rather than Stuart. I've written countless programmes for national television, watched by millions of people, but I don't know the difference between weather and whether.

Growing up with dyslexia

I was considered a bright kid, but I couldn't write or read. At eight, I effectively dropped out of school. It was an inner London secondary school and I was getting no support whatsoever. I was just a problem and they couldn't cope with me.

Very thankfully, I had a good mother who was a social worker. It really upsets me still to think of the narrow line between my life and someone who falls out of society completely. It could so easily have happened to me. Basically, my mum and a few breaks has stood between me and oblivion.

Ed Booth on set with steam train

Mum ended up sending me to a progressive boarding school in Scotland where there was zero pressure on me.

I didn't have to turn up at 9am and follow a schedule, I'd just say what I wanted to do that day, i.e., work on the farm in the morning and then do some woodwork after lunch, and they made sure I roughly stuck to that each day.

At 12, I decided I wanted to try to read and write and they supported me.

Dealing with dyslexia after school

I got a reasonable number of 'O' Levels and Scottish Higher exams, then I bummed around the world and got interested in sailing and started a yacht and boat yard management course. I found the paperwork and computing side of it difficult and, while they knew about the dyslexia, they were not at all understanding or helpful and told me I'd never pass.

Partly to spite them, after a lot of issues, I told them I was going to university anyway, and enrolled at Sussex as a mature and unqualified student in international relations.

Finding a lucky path into TV

It was while I was there that I fell into TV by accident. It was through helping a friend who was involved in the video makers' society. I realised it was fun and I could do it. I continued to follow this path and had some lucky breaks. I now make a living writing for the likes of Chris Tarrant, Jeremy Clarkson and lots of others, but I still feel I'm half an inch from disaster in a way. The line is so narrow for many people. 

It's good that I'm respected in my industry; broadly speaking I don't need to worry about the dyslexia quite so much these days. I just type scripts to the best of my ability and always go back 24 hours later and make changes.

There can be whole sentences I've missed. I find that online speech-to-text translation has improved greatly, which helps me a lot. When I first tried things like Dragon in the early days, I couldn't get on with them.

Computers and dyslexia

I wish computers had been around in my early years and for my dissertation, for instance. The first time I used a computer it felt like a bit of a miracle compared to older technology. I didn't realise quite how much it would help me. I started with an Amstrad 360, a brilliant piece of kit.

I know I am one of the lucky ones. There are plenty that haven't made it through the hurdles."

Photo: (credit Kate Szell) shows Ed on set for upcoming BBC programme The Railways that made Britain.