Mrs Ryan and Mr Corrin by Simon Mayo

Two history teachers encouraged the young Simon to think for himself. What they taught him has proved useful in his broadcasting career – and helped him to trip up some famous historians
19th December 2014, 12:00am


Mrs Ryan and Mr Corrin by Simon Mayo

My father was a headteacher and when I was a child we moved a lot. I changed school at 11 and then at 14 and I've experienced both state and private education. I took the 11-plus twice because we moved from London to the West Midlands and my new school wouldn't accept the first result, even though it was a pass. The second time I took the test, I failed.

I was at Worthing High School in West Sussex between the ages of 14 and 18 and that's where I studied for my O- and A-levels. It was in the history department that I met two teachers who had a great impact on me and who continue to influence my professional life. Mrs Ryan and Mr Corrin taught me history and politics at a time when I first became fascinated by those subjects.

Mrs Ryan was exotic because her husband had been a Labour MP. She was a passionate socialist and a firebrand - and Worthing didn't have many of those in the mid 1970s.

She sparked a number of discussions. I remember she invited her husband to school for a debate about social democracy. He defined social democracy in a LeninMarxist way and I was thinking of it in a European social democratic way. So we had an argument. This was unusual as you weren't encouraged to discuss these things at O-level; O-level was about regurgitating facts in the right order.

Mrs Ryan was far more flamboyant than Mr Corrin, who went through his lessons in a methodical way. He was quite awkward socially and wasn't particularly garrulous or friendly. Yet he was a good teacher and he told stories that were interesting and engaging.

We studied a lot of modern European history, British political history, as well as the rise of Germany and Stalin's Russia. This knowledge was never relevant when I was at BBC Radio 1, but at Radio 5 Live I interviewed a number of historians - at last it was possible to tie my education into what I was doing professionally. I gave Niall Ferguson a hard time, which he hadn't quite expected. And I noticed an error in Simon Schama's book, which I asked him about on air. Afterwards he made a very cross phone call to his publisher.

I was also down at Westminster every week for Prime Minister's Questions and very occasionally I found my knowledge of the work of political philosopher Edmund Burke relevant.

I got seven Cs at O-level and failed English literature. Mr Knox, my English teacher, would be genuinely flabbergasted to know that, of all the pupils he taught, I have had some books published.

I wouldn't have studied history and politics at university if it hadn't been for having the right teachers at the right time. In my first year at the University of Warwick I used loads of my notes from A-level.

I didn't keep in touch with these teachers. Do people keep in touch with their teachers? However, on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show I had a slot called On This Day in History and I dedicated it to Mr Corrin.

I would be surprised if he or Mrs Ryan remembered me at all because I don't think I was that memorable. But I certainly remember them.

Simon Mayo was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz. His latest children's novel, Itchcraft, was published in September by Doubleday Childrens

Tuned in

Simon Mayo

Born 21 September 1958, London

Education St John's Primary School, Croydon; Arden School, Solihull, West Midlands; Solihull School; Worthing High School, West Sussex; University of Warwick

Career Radio broadcaster, formerly on BBC Radio 1, Radio 5 Live, Radio 4 and now Radio 2; children's author

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