News

Johnny Ball: ‘I Enjoyed Every Single Day’ Of National Service

Sixty years since the end of National Service, former TV presenter and RAF veteran Johnny Ball has been sharing his experiences.

A former TV presenter and RAF veteran is calling for the return of National Service, as the UK marks 60 years since the end of the practice of peacetime conscription.

Johnny Ball, best known for hosting popular children's TV programmes like Think of a Number, did his National Service in the 1950s. 

He spoke to Forces News about the impact the experience had on his life.

“I was looking to go to the RAF,” Mr Ball said.

“There were two people who came out of the RAF: those who’d hated National Service and said it was two years of their life wasted, and those who had a ball and had a wonderful time, and they were the energetic ones, and they were the people who influenced me.

"They said 'get in there, John, get in there, and volunteer for everything' and that's what I did."

Mr Ball passed his medical and was offered a spot in the Fusiliers.

He recalls, saying: “I don’t think so. I want to join the RAF.”

He told Forces News he “immediately” signed on for three years to join the Royal Air Force and chose his trade.

“I wanted to go abroad, if possible, so I chose [to train as] Radio Operator – the shortest training time and maximum chance of very deep posting, like Hong Kong [or] Singapore.”

Mr Ball came top of his training and was posted to Wales.

“I was determined to enjoy it and I enjoyed every single day,” he said.

Asked why he believes people would benefit from National Service now, Mr Ball said that the “life skills” learnt during National Service are “very similar” to those learnt at university.

“You make very close friends, friends that are going to be friends for life," he said.

“You do that at university, you do that in the forces as well."

The RAF Benevolent Fund is now calling for National Service veterans in need to come forward, saying they may not feel part of the RAF family.

Asked if he had stayed in touch with any of his Royal Air Force colleagues since leaving the forces, Mr Ball said that after becoming a stand-up comedian he did 20 tours for Combined Services Entertainment (CSE).

He added: “I was so at home with them.”

National Service was introduced in 1949 when healthy men between the ages of 17 and 21 were expected to serve in the Armed Forces for 18 months and remain on the reserve list for four years.

They were only exempt if they worked in essential services such as coal mining, farming or the merchant navy.

National Service ended in 1960, although periods of deferred service had to be completed, and the last national servicemen were discharged in 1963.