Mr Baker by Alex Brooker

The presenter of The Last Leg remembers a man who made him believe he could succeed despite his disability. But it didn't stop the young Alex from sorely testing his French teacher's nerves.
13th March 2015, 12:00am


Mr Baker by Alex Brooker

Mr Baker once called me inspirational and I've never forgotten that. The confidence it gave me was wonderful. Just wonderful.

Here's how it went down. We had a swimming competition one Sports Day - it must have been Year 10 or 11 - and there was a race called the clothes relay. You know the one, where you all dress in pyjamas or a T-shirt and joggers and swim about for whatever reason.

All four of the school's houses had to swim against one another. I have short arms and a prosthetic leg, so I was at something of a disadvantage, but I gave it a go. I always gave everything a go. When I finished the race, there was one other kid still swimming and I thought it must have been the fastest I'd ever swum. But it turned out that all the other kids had already swum a second time and got out - I'd been that slow.

I remember thinking, "Oh God, this is so embarrassing", but Mr Baker came over, looked me in the eye and said, "That was incredible." He was being completely genuine. He said: "That's one of the best things I've ever seen." He wasn't even my gym teacher. He was my French teacher.

He didn't think I was quite so inspirational when I got an E in my French AS-level, mind you. I was pretty crap at French. I didn't really repay his faith in me, which is a dear shame.

Anyway, this was an all-boys school, so it was pretty testosterone-filled, and teachers tended to fall into one of two categories: those who would bollock you at the drop of a hat and those who would pretty much let you get away with anything. But not Mr Baker. He was incredibly fair and he levelled with you when you misbehaved.

A couple of stories involving Mr Baker spring to mind. When we got into sixth form, me and my best friend Paul used to skip French rather a lot. That sort of explains my grades. One time we skipped it and stayed in the common room. I'd just had an operation on my leg and was in a wheelchair, so basically I had to go wherever Paul took me - and that didn't always include classes.

I remember this vividly. Paul was dancing around in the common room singing a song about how rubbish French was and I was in fits of laughter. Then Mr Baker walked in. I felt terrible, like I'd let him down. He did dish out a very deserved bollocking on that occasion, but he could have got us into so much more trouble and we respected him for not throwing the book at us. His judgement was spot-on.

Paul used to talk and talk during lessons. I remember he was waffling away to me in Mr Baker's class when I spotted the teacher out of the corner of my eye, getting annoyed. Paul kept talking and talking until Mr Baker hurled his pen to the floor to get Paul's attention. Paul, without missing a beat, turned around and said, "Sir, you've dropped your pen", before spinning back and carrying on jabbering away. Mr Baker turned a shade of red you only see in cartoons. I was laughing so hard I almost lost control of my bodily functions.

But he was a great man - he is still is a great man. I went back to the school last year to give out a prize and Mr Baker was there. He'd retired a few years previously but he had a prize named after him. He's ingrained in the culture of the school and I love teachers like that - teachers who stand for what the school is about. When I spoke to him, I slipped into calling him Sir without noticing. "For goodness' sake, Alex," he said. "Call me Roger."

I'm not doing that. No chance. It's hard-wired into me to call him Sir. He deserves it as a mark of respect.

Alex Brooker was talking to Tom Cullen. Brooker is an ambassador for Why Not People, the first members club for people living with a disability. Why Not People hosts exclusive and accessible live music events. Membership is available at

As seen on screen

Alex Brooker

Born 15 May 1984

Education The Norton Knatchbull School, Ashford, Kent; Liverpool John Moores University

Career Journalist and television presenter. Co-host of Channel 4 panel show The Last Leg

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