My Best Teacher;Interview;Huw Edwards;Features and arts

24th December 1999, 12:00am


My Best Teacher;Interview;Huw Edwards;Features and arts
There are pressures when your parents are involved in education, but there are advantages as well. My mum was a deputy head in a comprehensive in south Wales. She taught maths and PE and kids with special needs. My dad started off as a teacher and ended up as professor of Welsh literature at Swansea University. So my sister and I were aware of what was expected of us at school. We knew what strain teachers were under and what universities were looking for in students. My dad says A-level standards have come down, but he was saying that 20 years ago!

I went to Llanelli Boys Grammar in 1972. It was very old-fashioned and discipline was strict. The headmaster was pretty authoritarian. He won’t mind me saying that - he’ll take it as a compliment.

A lot of the teachers were exceptional. The majority of the staff were men who had come to the school in the late 1940s out of the forces, and they were still there in the 1970s. They were tyrants in their own way, but they were gifted teachers and knew their subjects well. They were enthusiastic and motivated and I benefited enormously.

I was one of those funny guys who straddled science and arts. At A-level I did French, economics and pure maths. I enjoyed them all but I regret not doing history and Welsh. It wasn’t a Welsh-medium school, but I was pretty keen and studied it to O-level. To me it was the same as doing English. The language at home and in chapel was Welsh, and most of the staff spoke it.

My Welsh teacher was particularly memorable. His name was Donald Hughes, and he eventually became head of the department. He was a gentle man, fantastically versed in Welsh and European literature. He could carry a class with him on obscure romantic Welsh poetry, and he was very disappointed I didn’t do it at A-level.

Gwyn Evans was special because he taught me French for six consecutive years. I had other good French teachers, but he was of a different breed. He’d been at the school since the 1950s and he was absolutely terrifying, but even as a teenager I could tell he was an exceptional linguist - better than most of the lecturers I had when I did French at university.

He had a fantastically wide knowledge of French literature and was a very good language teacher in terms of the intricate detail of language and grammar. He gave me a fantastic grounding, and inspired in me a lifelong love of French literature.

He was very aggressive in the way he taught. He’d say: “Come on! What do you make of that? Read it again! What does it tell you?” We used to have a session with him on a Friday afternoon for an hour and a half in a ghastly little temporary classroom out in the fields. It was freezing cold, but they were the best lessons I can remember. His great love was the poetry of Baudelaire, which was impenetrable to me at first. But he brought it alive in a special way and I still read the poems today. I found nothing at university that had the magic of Gwyn Evans’s teaching. He deserved a medal.

I’ve kept in touch with him. He’s been responsible for a twinning project between Llanelli and Agen in France, so he is still very active. I’m probably still a bit scared of him - last time we met he said: “You’ve done very well,” but it was more like an accusation.

If I hadn’t gone into broadcasting I probably would have gone into teaching. There is a big overlap - a news programme that isn’t educating people isn’t working. There’s a difference between simply informing people and explaining a story, which is more of an educative process. It’s been a difficult balance to strike on the Six O’Clock News. You can’t patronise people and you don’t want to miss the target and fly over their heads. Most people don’t spend all day reading briefs on current affairs.

All good teachers are performers in a way. I don’t have a class of children in front of me, but behind the camera last night were almost seven million people. You’re aware of that and you interact with them via the camera.

Huw Edwards has been presenting BBC Television’s flagship ‘Six O’Clock News’ since May this year. By the time he had been in the job three months, viewing figures had risen by 500,000 to a daily average of 6.4 million. He was a BBC correspondent at Westminster for 14 years, where he met his wife, BBC producer Vicky Flind. They live in south London with their two children. Edwards, 38, will be anchoring BBC Television’s coverage on the first day of the new millennium. He was talking to Nigel Williamson

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