My best teacher

25th July 2003, 1:00am
Janet Morris


My best teacher
In my final year, I was expelled from St Joseph's RC junior school in South Oxhey, Watford, Hertfordshire. I made an idiot of myself. I climbed on to the school roof and started howling abuse at people. I thought I was being funny. No one thought it funny when the police turned up with my dad and the headteacher, with a loudhailer.

After that, I had to go to the only comprehensive in the area, Sir James Altham, because nowhere else would take me. Later, this school got knocked down and now there's a housing estate and supermarket on the site. Looking back, it was very ropey. If you left with four O-levels you were doing better than most. I think I got six O-levels, but with poor grades. I was in the top stream, but I was lazy and didn't enjoy authority. My ethos was to do just enough to keep out of trouble but, even so, I was nearly expelled.

Two PE teachers and the headteacher, Mr Bendon, were allowed to discipline you with a "slipper" - a plimsoll actually. Once, when the head was trying to slipper me, I said to him: "Don't you think it's a bit strange that a grown man in a suit wants to spank the arse of a 15-year-old boy? Don't you think that's a bit weird, sir?" That just got me into a whole load more trouble. A lot of kids who went there are in prison now. You've got to try to maintain some discipline with that type of school.

There were a few teachers who were brilliant and a real inspiration. If you said something funny in class, they'd say something funny back. That's the way to earn respect, rather than sending you out of the room. The English teacher, Morris Alan, was a slightly camp, smaller version of John Cleese.

He had an acerbic wit, and would feign falling asleep in mid-sentence if you were talking back to him. He'd come up with these Basil Fawlty-type lines about what sort of torture he'd like to inflict on you.

Once he took one of my essays and showed it on a projector to the whole class to demonstrate my dreadful writing. I said that no one had won a Pulitzer prize for spelling. But I ended up taking an exam a year early because of him and developing an understanding of literature.

My interest in drama came about through being involved in school plays.

People shouldn't underestimate their use and potential. They give everyone an outlet, and you learn to be more considerate of other people. You're working together so you want them to do well.

And you can gain some sort of cool, even at the roughest school, if you are good or funny in the play. I was a pasty, mouthy misfit, but it gave me something to talk about with the older boys. You make friends that you wouldn't normally make.

My best performance was playing Mr Squeers in a musical production of Nicholas Nickelby. I wrote a sketch of The Young Ones, the TV show of that time. The science teacher, Jan Yudris, was a hippie with CND badges and long hair. He played Neil.

Sue Cash ran the drama department, and Steve Bevan was in charge of music.

They were tremendous characters, in tune with kids at an honest level.

Instead of skiving off and shoplifting, pupils would go and sit in the music or drama rooms.

Morris Alan would organise theatre trips and make them sound groovy. We'd go off to the National Theatre and get a day off school.

Britain has a fantastic legacy of dramatic literature, and we should embrace that. I did drama A-level at Harrow college in Hatch End, but was chucked out because I stopped going. Applying to drama school was a desperate measure, to avoid getting a job. I auditioned for Mountview theatre school in Hatch End, north London, lied about my age and got in on the spot.

The story so far

1968 Born in Hertfordshire

1972 St Joseph's RC primary school, South Oxhey, Watford

1979 Sir James Altham secondary, Watford

1984 Harrow College, Hatch End, Middlesex

1986 Mountview theatre school, north London

1990 Stars in Buddy's Song with Roger Daltrey and Chesney Hawkes

1992 Guests in TV's Heartbeat and Casualty 1998 Plays Eddy in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

2000 Appears in Rancid Aluminium, with Joseph Fiennes and Sadie Frost

2003 Plays Adam Ant in Ant Muzak at The Rushes Soho Short Film Festival (July 26-August 1,; planned autumn release of co-written film The Baby Juice Express

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