Mr Martin by Jim Rosenthal

The legendary sports broadcaster recounts a teacher and teammate who set the foundations for a career in journalism – and was good to go out for a pint with
16th June 2017, 12:00am
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Mr Martin by Jim Rosenthal

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/mr-martin-jim-rosenthal

It may not immediately sound like it, but Magdalen College School, Oxford, was a brutal environment to teach in. It was brimming with academically talented kids, but we were a wolf pack when it came to destroying teachers, particularly supply teachers. I remember one guy rather foolishly admitting he was terrible with names before asking us to ensure we stayed in the same seats for every lesson, so that he had a better shot at learning them. This was manna from heaven for us, and we set about changing seats as regularly as humanly possible until he broke down in tears. We thought that was a wonderful result for us.

But Brian Martin had no such problem - he exuded a natural easy, authority. Class control is an absolute gift and either a teacher has it or they haven’t. I spoke to him yesterday in preparation for this and he said: “Well, what was the point in punishing kids, because it would inconvenience me more than anyone else.”

Other teachers would issue pages and pages of lines, or detentions and he said that it was a bore and a waste of time for all concerned. I think he had a level of respect that meant he really didn’t need those punishments. He taught English for 40 years starting in 1961 when he was 25 and I struggle to believe that he handed out any punishments in that time.

He was ex-military and he had a very individual way of dressing and looking. He had shirts with removable collars; they were retro shirts that could easily come back into fashion. He always looked impeccably smart, which was a quality that I’m sure could be traced back to his military days. He was never hurried. Very early on in his career, I think he realised that he needed to pace himself.

I was the head boy and the first Magdalen student in a couple of hundred years not to go on to university. I went into the Oxford Mail from school - I still see myself as a journalist now - and I honestly believe Brian contributed to that decision.

‘He understood us’

He had a wonderful way of making his lessons interesting. He had an ability to suck the nuggets out of English and get you engaged. And he always was a great believer in using the English language correctly, which helped me immensely going into my career.

He set the foundations for my use of the English language. Set the foundations for my journey into journalism.

Brian played hockey - he was a particularly destructive left half - and I played as keeper. He took the school’s first XI, but we both played for Oxfordshire County, in the same team, so we engaged on the field as well as in class. He was of our generation and he understood us. You could joke with him and eventually, when you were old enough, have a pint with him and I’m still very much in touch with him today.

His outlook on teaching was “don’t take notice of any other members of staff and don’t take notice of the parents. Pay attention to the kids” and you really got that feeling from him.

He was incredibly skilled at spotting the strengths and weaknesses of his students. He could identify and encourage on the basis of that skill.

Certain other teachers didn’t look interested from the outset - they were just keen to exert their authority and I found it really hard to relate to them. For example, I was hopeless at maths and science and I think a lot of that came down to not having teachers I could buy into and benefit from.

The fun side of being taught by Brian is what made him stand out. And when you asked who was my favourite teacher was, his is the only name that sprung up in lights.


Jim Rosenthal was speaking to Tom Cullen. Rosenthal will be appearing in The Baby Boomers’ Guide to Growing Old, Tuesdays at 10pm on More 4

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