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Mr Ullyart by Reece Shearsmith

An inspirational art teacher showed the budding actor that teachers are real people, not automatons

An inspirational art teacher showed the budding actor that teachers are real people, not automatons

Edward Ullyart. He was the only one. The only teacher who really inspired me.

He taught me art at Andrew Marvell High School in Hull and was unique in that he transcended the role of teacher; it felt as though he was a real person in the real world who took an actual interest in me. And that was so surprising because no other teacher had done that before, right up to my A-levels.

Mr Ullyart seemed like he genuinely cared. Often, when teachers try to speak to you on your level, it can appear to be something of a gimmick. It's forced, a sort of act, I guess. But Mr Ullyart genuinely nurtured me and wanted to do so.

I was good at art. It was pretty much the only subject I was good at. I enjoyed English but was fairly terrible at everything else. However, art was something I wanted to do and almost pursued as a career.

At the time, I remember I was on a trajectory towards art college but I kind of threw in a curveball and said I wanted to do drama. From nowhere. That was a shock to everyone, not least my parents - and, actually, it was a shock to me in a way. I remember wondering what the hell I was doing thinking I could be an actor.

But, interestingly, it was Mr Ullyart - who had nurtured me as an artist, mentored me and helped me to get a place at a graphic design school - who, in the blink of an eye, suggested Bretton Hall drama school. Just like that. He was very happy to indulge this new ambition despite the obvious effort he'd put into my art.

He gave me permission, as it were, to change the direction I was going in. He actually put me on the road to becoming an actor. With that in mind, he played a big part in my career. Absolutely he did. He put me on the right track to dare to do it, to dare to be an actor.

My granddad died around this time and I'll always remember how sensitive Mr Ullyart was about it. I was really upset and he took me aside and said, "If you need to leave the classroom at any time, go. If you need to be outside this room, just go." And that was so surprising to me, to see that human element to a teacher.

He showed me teachers are real people, not just automatons that are simply there to be hated. That was an eye-opening moment, really it was. And it didn't feel like a trick. I felt like the real person he was in class was the real person he was outside of it. And the other kids saw that, too. He was respected.

He had that great combination in a teacher where he had control of the class but wasn't fierce to the point where you'd be terrified to move.

It came naturally to him to appear genuine, and that put the class at ease. There wasn't that "them and us" situation you can often get between pupils and teachers. He could raise his voice - and he would. But he wouldn't often need to.

He was a big fan of The League of Gentlemen, actually. He came to the live show in Hull when we toured it, and I invited him backstage. I think that was the last time I saw him. He was a huge inspiration. I do hope he knows it.

Reece Shearsmith was talking to Tom Cullen. Series 2 of Inside No 9 is now available on DVD from

A league of his own

Reece Shearsmith

Born 27 August 1969, Hull

Education Andrew Marvell High School, Hull. Studied drama at Bretton Hall College, West Yorkshire

Career Best known for co-writing and acting in television comedies The League of Gentlemen, Psychoville and Inside No 9. He has also appeared on stage, including in the West End musical The Producers, and in films, such as the upcoming J G Ballard adaptation High-Rise

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