Jimmy Carr

Mary McCarney

A maverick teacher who looked like the creator of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and swore a lot made this award-winning comedian believe in himself.

I changed schools when I was 16. Until then, I'd just been an average pupil - I didn't work very hard. But weirdly, when I did my GCSEs, I thought to myself, I'll change schools. And that's what I did. So I arrived at the Royal Grammar School (RGS) in High Wycombe and decided to work a bit harder, really give it a go, rather than being literally too cool for school.

My new form teacher was called Mr Claye (I'm not sure whether he has an "e" on the end of his name - if he doesn't, I'll get told off next time I see him. He's told me off before, so I can live with it.)

He was a good bloke, a bit of a maverick. He wore stay-pressed trousers and sandals and looked like Richard O'Brien from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He was tall and had presence. He was also my economics teacher and was interested in the socialisation of children and made sure we read a "proper" paper and knew what was going on in the world.

He was inspiring and the one who said to me: "You're a smart lad, you should go to Cambridge." He opened up my life to possibilities and the idea of doing other things.

He would hang out with the pupils, and swear a lot. At that age, when a grown-up figure of authority says: "Oh for fuck's sake", it means a lot. Mr Claye treated us as adults. He also used to invite us over to his house for drinks.

In school he was scary - not strict, but he didn't like bullshit. If you hadn't done your homework, he didn't want to hear lame excuses. He would rather you admitted you just hadn't done it. I remember him once having a go at our class. He had explained something well and we were all being lazy and dull-witted about it. He slammed his hands down on the desk and shouted: "I'm good, you're bad." I thought that was brilliant.

He encouraged us to start a debating society. I'm dyslexic and was always petrified of reading out loud in class, but the debating helped me. As RGS is a boys' school, Mr Claye suggested we should have a debate with the girls' school down the road. "Then you can meet some girls," he said. We thought that was a great idea.

You don't appreciate what teachers do when you are a child - the arrogance of youth and all that. Then you come across a really good one, who gives you a bit of confidence and makes you believe in yourself. That's what Mr Claye did for me.

I don't think he's a teacher anymore. He came to one of my gigs in High Wycombe about two years ago. I spotted him and thanked him in front of the audience. He sent me a nice card afterwards.

Mr Claye was an important person in my life, I don't know whether he ever realised that. I hope he reads this. And I'm sorry if he doesn't spell his name with an "e"

Jimmy Carr is an award-winning comedian and TV presenter. His new DVD, Comedian, is available in shops through 4DVD. He was talking to Mary McCarney.

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Mary McCarney

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