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My best teacher: Mr Dickenson by Noddy Holder

The Slade singer and Christmas hit-maker remembers a man who was great at teaching, but not so good at predicting musical success

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I went to a school called T P Riley Community School in Bloxwich, outside of Walsall. In those days, you had an 11-plus exam and if you passed that, which I did, you went to grammar school. One year in to the grammar school experience they brought in the comprehensive system and I was part of what I guess was something of a test case. It was a good system, actually, because you mixed with all sorts of people, who all had very different standards of knowledge.

I had good teachers and I enjoyed school. Music classes, less so. They were very basic. It was just a choir, really, and if you were lucky, they’d hand you a bloody tambourine.

We had a history teacher who was very, very old school. Very strict. But he was a genius. When we were doing our O-level exams – a two-year course – he arrived one year into it. The first year teacher wasn’t so good. That’s an understatement: our mock exam results showed us to be way, way below par. Then in came Mr Dickenson – an ex-army disciplinarian – and he taught two years' worth of courses in one year. He drilled home the facts. Facts, facts, facts. Everything we needed to pass the exam and not a lot more. And it worked.

He taught us the subject in its basic form and it got through to us. A lot of people didn’t like him but I did, because I could see that he was snatching success from the jaws of defeat. Given more time, he would have explored the subject more, given context, been more expansive. But he did what he had to do, on the timeline available. Sometimes you just have to get the results, right?

My dad worked as the window cleaner at my school and he used to chat to Mr Dickenson regularly. They were both ex-military – my dad was in the Second World War, with Monty in the desert – so they had that connection.

When you used to go and see the careers officer in those days, you’d get four options and that was it: you could be a teacher, a bank worker, an accountant or a lawyer. Rock’n’roll wasn’t on their radar. I was advised to be a teacher and had it not been for a huge passion for music, I guarantee I would have been a history teacher.

Anyway, after my O-levels I had a choice: to continue on the academic path or to follow music. In those days, if you left school, telling the teachers you wanted to be a musician made you the lowest of the low. You were considered, by them, to be a dropout of society. All my teachers, including Mr Dickenson, went mad at my dad for allowing me to leave.

Eight years later, I got my first hit. My dad had been getting flack from the teachers that entire time and when we started to tour the world, I used to send him postcards. He’d take them into school and show everyone. New York. Tokyo. Rome. And he’d be like, “You see? You see why I let him go?” They had to eat their words. My dad told me that even Mr Dickenson did.

After even more hits, I had a letter from my former PE teacher. He hated my guts. I loathed cross-country, so I used to hide in a bush and wait for the lead few to run past me, towards the end of the race, and then I’d pop out and join in. He never picked me for any of the teams; he disliked me intensely. He sent me a letter saying that he was opening a gym and he asked if I would come down and do that for him. The letter said, “You were one of my favourite pupils, you were wonderful.” I replied: “I think we’ve got our wires crossed. You did not like me, you hated me and put me through hell. If you think I’m opening your gym for you YOU’VE GOT ANOTHER BLOODY THING COMING!”

Basically, I told him to eff off.

I never would have done anything like that to Mr Dickenson.

Noddy Holder's CV

Born: 15 June 1946

Education: T P Riley Community School, Bloxwich, West Midlands.

Career: Lead vocalist and guitarist with rock band Slade, who had several number one hits in the 1970s and 80s – including the 1973 festive classic Merry Xmas Everybody.

Noddy Holder was talking to Tom Cullen. The World According to Noddy: life lessons learned in & out of rock’n’roll is available at all good book shops and on Amazon. Slade’s vinyl boxset – When Slade Rocked the World, 1971-1975 – is available on Amazon

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