Ben Miller

14th September 2012 at 01:00
The comedian and actor recalls a teacher who was great with numbers but even greater at skinning animals

Mr Bailey was my primary school teacher towards the middle and slightly more senior years. He actually kickstarted two of my main interests, one in drama and one in maths and science.

He was just an absolutely brilliant teacher of both. He was tall, had a little moustache and twinkly eyes. He was always telling jokes and telling stories. Mr Bailey was our first teacher you could sidetrack into telling a story.

His whole line about maths was that mathematicians are lazy and maths is just a way of getting out of any hard work when it comes to numbers, which is a brilliant way to sell it to children.

He was very good at teaching numbers, particularly. He had a very different approach to them, as something that was a game and that was fun.

You had to get a tables licence. You weren't allowed to do your tables unless you had that, and once you say you are not allowed to do your times tables until you've got a licence, it becomes something everyone wants to get. You start saying "Well, how do I get this licence? What do I have to do?" And it has served me well. I am now even allowed to use my 11 times table. Isn't that great?

The acid test for me was when we went to Malbank, which was a streamed comprehensive, and the top set in maths was just everybody fromour school.

Mr Bailey was brilliant at teaching drama, as well. We used to do a lot of plays, but we didn't have any scripts. It was a brilliant system. You would just know what you have to do in the play, but you don't have any lines.

Say if you were a king in the nativity, you would know that you had to give these gifts, but you would have no lines. You would go -

"Hello, we are the kings."

"Hi, we are Mary and Joseph."

"We have these presents for you."

"Oh great, what have you got?"

It was a great lesson in drama, actually, that it is more important to know what you are doing than to know what the lines are.

The other thing I really loved was that he was very keen on wild animals, particularly preserving wild animals. He took us badger watching, which was brilliant fun. We used to go to a copper mine in the hills, where you had to get down on your belly to get into this tiny little entrance. It was a bit of a stretch for an eight-year-old, so I don't know how Mr Bailey got in.

If you found a dead squirrel or something and it was reasonably fresh, he would help you skin it and tan the skin to keep it. I skinned loads of different animals, moles, squirrels, all sorts of stuff. I don't know that we ever skinned a badger, but I think we skinned a fox once.

That's brilliant fun when you are eight and it made me look at things differently. You don't have to skin many animals to realise we've all got the same body plan, essentially.

What I took away from his lessons more than anything was the fun. Enjoyment is the first step in becoming skilled at something. It was all fun and jokes, which is a great way to approach anything - skinning animals, drama and maths.

As you get older, you feel a sense of gratitude, because you think that is not something everyone gets. He was a great teacher, and I would like him to know that he has had a very lasting effect not just on me, but everybody who was taught by him. Certainly, there are more possibilities open to me as a result. I think I speak for everyone who was taught by him when I say that we are all very grateful.

Ben Miller's book It's not Rocket Science is in bookshops now. He was talking to Julia Belgutay


Born: London, 1966

Education: Willaston County Primary, Malbank School, Nantwich; St Catharine's College, Cambridge

Career: Comedian, actor.

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