A Huyton sense of awareness

9th May 1997 at 01:00
I was born in March 1946, nine months to the day after my Dad came back from the war. There was a huge boom in the birthrate then. So when it came to 1957 and we were all trying to pass our 11-plus, with no Catholic grammar schools where I lived in Huyton, we had to form a queue behind the kids from Liverpool and St Helens for grammar school places.

The two schools everyone wanted to go to were full. The two left were Jesuit grammar schools, one with a purple uniform and the other with a green uniform. My Dad had been beaten to a bloody pulp by Jesuits when he was a kid and refused to let me go there. I didn't fancy a green uniform or a purple uniform anyway. And they both played rugby. The prospect of going to a school that didn't play football was unbearable.

Wade Deacon Grammar School in Widnes was offering places to Huyton kids, so we were bussed in 10 miles every day. It was a very middle-class school. Most of the other kids' fathers had professions - we were lucky if our Dads had jobs.

The teaching was very dry and academic. I'd come from a big primary school where I was the cleverest boy, although there were always four or five girls who were cleverer than me. So I went there thinking I was pretty bloody smart. But geometry, algebra, Latin, French and German hit me all over the place. I went from being top boy to being bottom of the bottom stream, a place I shared with a lad called John Stephens, who went on to captain Wigan and England at rugby. He was built like Desperate Dan when he was 11 - a terrifying sight.

We didn't feel like we belonged, with our Liverpool accents and background. Then, at the start of my third year, this English teacher called Trevor Williams walked in. He was only 22, from the backstreets of Liverpool and he spoke like John Lennon.

For the first time in my life I realised that the language and literature of our country wasn't just for other people.

He was the proverbial breath of fresh air. If he had been my science teacher I would probably be making nuclear bombs now. I went from being 17th or 18th in English to first.

One of his other great assets was that he was a football fanatic. He gave up his time to take the school football team. He was a crazed Evertonian but we forgave him because he loved the game. He was a great goalkeeper and a bizarre, feverish centre-forward. His nose had been broken several times, but not through physical violence. I think it was his attempts to head the ball.

There was a lot of quiet physical violence in the school - some of the teachers used to beat you with Bunsen burner tubes - but Trevor wasn't interested in that; he could win you over with his wit. He had a great bawdy sense of humour - very Chaucerian.

I was always an avid reader - I spent my childhood either on football fields or in the public library - so I had already read a lot of stuff that other kids hadn't. But Trevor introduced me to writers such as Steinbeck, Hemingway, Orwell and Greene. They weren't on the syllabus so he'd say: "We've got to do The Winter's Tale and Auden's love poems, but why don't you read these when you go home?" One Christmas, the school football team collected 50s 3d and we bought him a pipe and an expensive lighter. That was unheard of - you never bought presents for teachers. When we gave it to him he was dumbstruck and very moved. He wrote to every single one of us to thank us.

He left the school and we lost touch. But by a great stroke of fortune, after I had been to college I came back to Huyton to teach. I was filling up my car with petrol, and there he was. That was nearly 30 years ago. Since then we have kept very much in touch.

I still send him my work to look at. There are only a few people I always want to see the work first. It's a strange mix - Elvis Costello, Julie Walters and Trevor Williams.

Like many other teachers in the mid-1980s he got sick and tired of being pulverised by the Conservative government and took early retirement. He was a deputy headteacher when he retired but he was still doing a lot of classroom teaching, which was his forte and joy. I often gave readings for him and you could tell the respect he had from the children. I don't want to be too sentimental about it, but all the way through his career, love has undoubtedly followed him around.

When I came out of teacher training college he was my idea of what a great teacher should be. He was a massive influence on me as a human being. As an only child I have spent an awful lot of my life looking for brothers and sisters I never had. With Trevor there was a sense of having the good fortune to find your big brother had come to teach you.

Alan Bleasdale came to prominence in 1981 as writer of the hard-hitting drama Boys from the Blackstuff. A former teacher, his television credits since then include Scully and GBH. Melissa, his adaptation of a thriller by Francis Durbridge, will be shown on Channel 4 in five parts on May 12, 13, 14, 19 and 20

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