Adrian Edmondson

25th April 2008 at 01:00
What this actor's favourite teacher lacked in height he made up for in personality. School was a more bearable experience thanks to him
What this actor's favourite teacher lacked in height he made up for in personality. School was a more bearable experience thanks to him

Though I come from a family of teachers: my dad, my sister and many cousins are, or have been, in the profession; I didn't exactly enjoy my own education. I went to Pocklington Grammar, at that time a rather old-fashioned, all boys public school, halfway between York and Hull. Or York and Hell, as I thought of it at times.

What didn't I like? The usual stuff. There were the endless rules distributed in a booklet each year to every pupil - all of which my mates and I made it a personal challenge to break. Oh yes, and there were the beatings. Between the years 1969-75, I received a total of 66 strokes of the cane. And that's to say nothing of the regular slipperings.

Not that all my memories of Pocklington are bad. I made some great friends and by the sixth form I was having a ball, which involved lots of drinking and smoking and petty acts of vandalism. My parents were abroad: Dad taught geography to Army children in foreign bases so in the holidays I'd go to my mate's, Dave Ferris, and live it up with no parental controls. The Pocklington experience was swings and roundabouts.

Still, on the down side, I can still get quite emotional when I think of myself and other boys being left at Pocklington at the age of 11. Each new term I used to see masters hanging on to children as parents tried to escape their desperate clasp.

It's not an option I've ever considered for my three daughters. My wife Jennifer (Saunders) and I have kept them close and I've been a constant questioning presence at their schools. But in those days, parents didn't challenge or get involved. If you complained to your parents, they either ignored or disbelieved you. They allowed the school to take charge, and trusted respectable, middle-class professionals to run them.

In reality, too many of the teachers at Pocklington had little interest in their subject or were autocrats. Hopefully it's different now, but then there were few friendly adults in that place, which is one of the reasons I remember Michael Aubrey.

Aubrey, or "Bugs" as we called him, was different. He was a short bloke, barely 5ft tall. When he drove his Morris Minor you could just about see his glasses peering over the steering wheel. He was my form teacher for one year and my English teacher for three. For a while I was also his "fag". I was paid a tiny amount of money to perform menial tasks such as making his bed or cleaning his shoes. But it was always a pleasure because he'd chat to me and often invite my friends and I for afternoon tea. I have lovely memories of him.

There was a certain glamour about Michael Aubrey. He'd been a lawyer before and the rumour was he'd defended one of the Great Train Robbers. True or not, defending others seemed to be in his nature and you always felt that he was on your side.

Once, for example, we were at a rehearsal for one of the many school plays that he cast me in and another teacher - a notoriously vicious individual - came in demanding my presence at one of his tawdry sports events. Diminutive Bugs stood up to this teacher who was about 6ft 2in. He just kept shouting at him, defending my right to do drama, until the man went away. I loved him from that moment.

He was a great teacher, too. If you cared about his subject, he was totally involving. This kind, erudite, passionate man took you on an incredible journey through plays and literature. I'm not saying that I wouldn't have become an actor without him. There was never anything else. But Aubrey helped me on my way. No question.

Sadly, he was only my teacher for a few years. He left and went to Arundel School where one of my best friends now - Nick Vivian, the screenwriter - was also taught brilliantly by him. Both of us have this reverence for him.

I saw him again in 1993. I was on stage in Waiting for Godot and he came along. We went for a drink afterwards and it was a bit awkward suddenly being a grown-up yourself with someone who used to be your senior. But then a couple of years ago, he appeared again, bearing photos and mementoes when I was a guest on Schools Out, the TV game show. Afterwards, we went out and had a brilliant chat.

Nick and I hope to take him on a disreputable night out. Just the three of us. Perhaps I'll have the courage to say what I should always have said to him. A simple "thank you". If not, I hope he reads this.

Adrian Edmondson, 51, came to fame as Vyvyan, a head-butting punk rocker in The Young Ones. He has now written and stars in the new ITV sitcom, Teenage Kicks, and will soon be seen in the BBC drama, Miss Austen Regrets. He was talking to Daphne Lockyer.

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