My lessons with Mr Hodgson merged with my interest in words, art and music. He was part of the jigsaw that has made me who I am

Marged Richards

Portrait by Neil Turner

Mr Hodgson was quite cool. He was my English teacher at Eastbourne secondary, County Durham, from when I was 12 to 14 years old. With his long black hair and black beard, he looked a bit like Robert Wyatt, the drummer and singer in (Sixties rock band) Soft Machine.

He wore grey trousers, a cardigan, a checked shirt and specs - solid horn-rimmed black specs that matched his beard and hair. It's difficult to judge age when you're young, but I would have said he was in his 30s. He had polio. His grey trousers hid his twisted legs, and the clumpy shoes, I presume, housed his misshapen feet. Not that he appeared odd. To us kids, he was an ordinary bloke in a wheelchair.

When I think of him I see him smiling, and manoeuvring his wheelchair round our desks. I used to help him in and out of it, and sometimes in and out of his blue invalid car. I think he smoked a pipe; I quite liked the smell of Old Bruno, or whatever it was called. I knew nothing about his family, or even whether he had one. He was just a great bloke that I kind of had an affinity with.

I was always well behaved in his class. I was on my best behaviour because I wanted to learn from him and do well. In maths and science, I couldn't care less. I'd spend most of my time entertaining my peers, pulling faces and drawing sketches of bottoms.

Mr Hodgson used to make us really enthusiastic about English. We would read books like Catcher in the Rye and Of Mice and Men. He'd choose a paragraph or phrase and then talk about it with us. He'd make us interested in what was going on in the books by getting us to read out our favourite passage.

He was good at making us appreciate words and how and where to use them.

Mr Hodgson suggested books for us to read that weren't on the curriculum.

He'd find out what our interests were and suggest something we might like.

I think he may have suggested I read White Fang by Jack London. I read it and loved it.

He had a good sense of humour, and was very kind and patient. He'd spend quarter of an hour with me at breaktime rather than go and have a coffee.

He'd sit and talk to me about New Musical Express. He became a friend.

It started when I saw a copy on his desk and thought: "That's cool. A teacher who's got the NME. I get that." We had a rapport and shared similar musical tastes. It was a mutual appreciation society. He seemed as pleased to talk to me as I was to him. We didn't talk after school, though. Once the bell rang, I was off.

Eastbourne secondary was incredibly austere with high Victorian walls and huge windows. Rumour had it that at one time it had been a hospital for the terminally ill. Or a mental asylum. No one really knows. But it was grim. I didn't enjoy being there. I learnt a lot more when I was out of school, from my family.

My dad, Neill, had a huge vocabulary so I used to just listen to him. He spoke in an almost Dickensian way. His father, Grampy, was a great educationalist. Whenever we visited, I was summoned to his study where he'd get out this huge leather dictionary. I'd close my eyes and pick a word before reading aloud its definition. Next time we visited I'd have to use it in some sort of context or conversation to prove I'd learnt its meaning.

I'd often find myself in Mr Hodgson's class thinking: "How can I show off this new word I've learnt?" I always got good marks in English and was good at storytelling. Sometimes I'd make up stories about bands I'd seen. My lessons with him merged with my interest in words, art and music.

He was part of the jigsaw that has made me who I am. I still read constantly.

None of us knew that he was dying. We were all called into assembly one day when the headmaster announced that he had died. I was 14 and it was such a shock. I cried. The whole school was upset. English wasn't the same after that.

Comedian Vic Reeves was talking to Marged Richards

The story so far

1959 Born James Roderick Moir in Leeds

1964 Eastbourne primary, Darlington, County Durham

1970 Eastbourne secondary

1990 First TV show, Vic Reeves Big Night Out, broadcast on Channel 4

1991 Has a number one chart hit, Dizzy, with the Wonder Stuff

1993 The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer (BBC2)

1995 Shooting Stars (BBC2)

1999 Publishes a book of his artwork, Sun Boiled Onions (Michael Joseph)

2000 Stars in remake of Randall Hopkirk (Deceased), ITV1

2002 Selling exhibition of artwork at Whitechapel gallery, London

June 2006 Autobiography Me: Moir, Volume One 0-20 (Virgin Books)

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Marged Richards

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