Skip to main content

I have this strong memory of answering a question...

I have this strong memory of answering a question and Mr Marples saying, 'Yes, that's it!' with such fervour. It was my first real connection with a teacher

My parents were travelling show people, so my education was very interrupted. I must have attended about 20 schools over the years. My father was a producer-cum-light comedian and my mother sang and danced.

They put on old-time musicals, summer end-of-pier shows and pantomimes in the winter, and wherever they were working, my sister, Julia, and I went too.

The school where I spent most time was Hawes Down secondary modern in West Wickham, Kent, which I think is co-ed now, but then was boys only. Having failed the 11-plus, I was aware that I was not one of the clever ones. I was in the A-stream, but there was an X-stream above me. My concentration was poor, probably because of the fragmentary world I lived in. Life outside school was much more interesting.

The teacher I remember best, and whom I found inspirational, was Mr Marples. He was much younger than the rest of the staff, who seemed to have been there a very long time. His lessons were a breath of fresh air. He didn't adopt the usual "open your books" and scribble on the blackboard routine, he engaged us, and his lessons took the form of question-and-answer sessions. He would pose conundrums and try to get us to think. It was probably his first job, he was so full of enthusiasm. I have this strong memory of one day answering a question and him saying, "Yes, that's it!" with such fervour. It was my first real moment of connection with a teacher. Mr Marples was tall and had a red beard. This was in the late 1960s but he didn't wear flares or dress fashionably; he preferred tweed jackets.

When I was there, I was very involved. I was in school drama productions, which were organised by Mr Marples and another young teacher, Mr Coote. The highlight of my school career was being cast as Truffalino in The Servant of Two Masters. Tommy Steele was playing the same part in the West End at the time and I traipsed up to London to see him.

I was small for my age, but very energetic. I was in the football and athletics teams, and always came second or third in my year in cross-country - pretty good considering the blokes at the front were 6ft. I was the sort of boy who climbed trees and was happiest out of doors. I was an enthusiastic cub scout.

Looking at my old school reports now, I see I was good at maths - I came top one term with 96 per cent - and at geography and woodwork. The headmaster's comment at the end of my first year reads: "A lively, likeable lad who has worked well since he settled down; this took him almost until Easter."

Although I was involved at school, I found life outside more stimulating. I left when I was 15, having been offered a teeny part in a TV medical drama series called The Doctors, through an agent my father knew. The day I left school Mr Dawson, the head, announced in assembly: "Good news. Peter's going off to work in television." But it was only a four-day job, three days of rehearsals and one day in the studio. I played a boy who had asthma and died.

I enrolled at the Italia Conti theatre school, south London, but didn't spent much time there because I was soon working. I played Jim Hawkins in Bernard Miles's Treasure Island at the Mermaid Theatre in London and spent two years with the National Theatre.

It was only when I got to work in theatre with clever and instinctual people that I began to blossom. Now, of course, I regret that I didn't have a better education and am jealous of my children, who will be going to university or another further education institution. I did two years with the Open University, but Blue Peter came along and afterwards it seemed too late. But I still have a thirst for knowledge and would like to pursue my education in some way.

Chief Scout Peter Duncan was talking to Pamela Coleman THE STORY SO FAR

1954 Born London

1961-65 Balgowan school, Kent

1965-69 Hawes Down school, Kent

1969 First professional acting role in TVseries The Doctors

1970s Studies at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, south London; joins National Theatre

1980-84 and 1985-86 Presents Blue Peter

1984 Has own TVseries, Duncan Dares

1994 Olivier nomination for performance in the musical The Card

1999 Plays lead in touring production of Barnum

2000 Makes travel documentary with his wife Annie and four children for CBBC

2004 Appointed Chief Scout; appears in Peter Pan pantomime in Truro, Cornwall

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you