Bruce Devlin

24th May 2013 at 01:00
The comedian was easily distracted at school, but fortunately his English teacher knew how to channel his interests

Mrs McMurray was tall and willowy with a kind face. I guess she was in her mid-forties. Between ourselves we called her Deirdre - I can't remember why we gave her that nickname. Her real first name was Alice.

She stands out for me because she treated students as young adults; she was never patronising or condescending. I think she saw us as trainee citizens and her job was to prepare us as best she could for the future.

She was my English teacher at the Harris Academy in Dundee for two years in the early 1990s and she was passionate about literature and the arts. I wasn't good at maths or science, but I loved English language and music. She could see that - and she encouraged me. My written English was appalling, I couldn't spell and I found reading difficult, but she helped me to improve.

I had a short concentration span and was easily bored. But if you didn't understand a text, Mrs McMurray didn't treat you as if you were stupid; instead she did everything to help you. She appreciated that people had different strengths and weaknesses and taught us as individuals.

My mother set a lot of store by education and thought I had to get my Highers. Mrs McMurray would say: "OK, maybe you are not going to get a string of qualifications." But then she would ask: "What do you have in you that you can develop?" And, for me, that was performance.

She talked to me about her love of theatre, the plays she went to see and the Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival. It wasn't that she was trying to prescribe that as a career, but she showed me that there was another option to the textbook way of getting on in life: that somebody could be educated through experience and observation and not just by memorising things for exams. She didn't pontificate and she was passionate about what she did. She wanted everyone in the class to learn to the best of their ability.

Her teaching was one of the few things I enjoyed at school. For much of my time at Harris Academy I was bullied mercilessly and at the age of 15 I was so fed up that I left. My family didn't want me to leave, but I think Mrs McMurray could see I'd had enough and I don't think my decision surprised her.

I moved to Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and back to Edinburgh, doing a succession of jobs, as a hairdresser, call centre worker, barman and nightclub host before finding my metier at a comedy club in Edinburgh.

Mrs McMurray's guidance was always in the back of my mind and has had a big influence on my life. She taught me that academic success and getting a degree wasn't the only way to make your way in the world, and that you can follow your passion. She always felt that I was best suited to a life as a performer and gave me the belief that I could do it. I will always be grateful for that.

When she knew that I was working as a stand-up comedian, she came to a few of my Fringe shows. That meant a lot to me. Although we only said a brief "hello", her presence was a nod to what I had achieved and to what we had talked about all those years ago. It was a classy thing for her to do. My career could have gone either way but, thanks in large part to Mrs McMurray, it's working out OK.

Bruce Devlin is a stand-up comic who is currently working on the STV Appeal 2013, which he will co-host with Lorraine Kelly in October. He was talking to David Harrison. Visit


Born: Dundee, 9 July 1976

Education: Park Place Primary and Harris Academy, both in Dundee

Career: Comedian and broadcaster.

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