Killer, drug addict, cheat liar . . . and a TV teacher

So much for meddling. When David Blunkett asked Channel 4's Brookside to work in some positive views of teaching, he surely didn't expect to get Jimmy Corkhill.

Soap-phobics need to know that Corkhill - jailbird, former drug addict, serial manslaughterer and falsifier of academic qualifications - is a ne'er-do-well of pantomime proportions. Appropriate, then, that he should help Mr Blunkett out by training as a teacher.

The Teacher Training Agency takes a different view, teacher shortage or no teacher shortage, and has this week complained to the Liverpool-based soap's makers.

"The TTA has written to the producers of Brookside expressing concern that one of the characters has falsified his qualifications to get on to a training course," said a spokesman, himself a confirmed non-viewer.

"This is not appropriate at a time when we're all trying to work together to boost the status of the profession. This does no favours to teacher training colleges or the profession as a whole.

"We know the producers of Brookside are responsible film-makers and would honestly like to invite them to discuss with us how that character's involvement in teaching will continue."

Prime Minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, has failed to learn the lesson. He told this week's party conference in Brighton that Brookside has been recruited to promote the National Year of Reading.

In fact Phil Redmond, creator of the series - and before that, the Grange Hill teen-soap set in a school - is genuinely keen to help. Brookside, after all, was the only major soap to welcome David Blunkett's earlier approach.

Nor is his interest partisan. Mr Redmond is not a former teacher, as often reported. He is a former quantity surveyor. This week he was unavailable for comment.

Government officials are now agog to see what form his support will take. The soap's 6.5 million weekly viewers have already watched Corkhill persuade a 15-year-old to write his application for training college. They have seen him stumble incoherently through the interview. And they watched him gulled by wily pupils on his first day of teaching practice - after, that is, he threatened to thump one of them .

The history of TV teachers is far from gilded. At the height of the last recruitment crisis, who should step forward but one Ken Barlow from Coronation Street. If Corkhill is, in the words of his producers "colourful", the Ken Barlow character is dismally dull. Barlow's affair with teaching ended after an affair with his headteacher. He was last seen working in a corner shop.

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