Celebrity specials from the classroom

29th July 2005 at 01:00
The quest for eternal youth is as old as mankind and our age of plastic surgery and easier living has given more of us a chance to join in. I won't pretend I'm not interested. I have no plans for facial tweaks but I would not be averse to recovering my boyish blond hair. Even a compliment helps.

My day was boosted, recently, when a shop assistant addressed me as "young man". Her tongue may have been firmly in her cheek, but that is not how I chose to see it.

New help arrives daily in bookshops and in lifestyle articles. Now a doctor publishes a book telling me how to knock years off my real age. Much of his advice is known - avoid smoking and drinking, take exercise, sleep well - but he adds some less well-known recommendations, such as getting a dog and that men need more sleep than women.

He might have added, "Relive your youth as often as possible", since there is a popular movement among the country's adults to recover their links with the classroom. The message is: "If you can do 'classroom', you're still youthful." Friends Reunited and School Disco are profitable.

Grown-ups read Harry Potter and important people choose Just William in newspaper surveys of favourite books. But nostalgia for the classroom is best on television.

The 1990s improvisation game Whose Line Is It Anyway? had its antecedents in my battered teacher's edition of 100+ Ideas for Drama. Ian Wright presented a programme where teams of young men and women competed for sunshine holidays. Teams cheered on their own players, while winding up their opponents. The games were copies of the girls versus boys relays from the school gym a few years before - the ones where the winner was the team first back, sitting up straight with legs crossed. All that was missing was the gym kits, yet no one brought a note from their mum.

Coming up to date, I have to admit watching The Ultimate Spelling Bee. In my defence, I was hooked because it was so awful and I couldn't believe that the teams of celebrities had willingly agreed to participate, charity cheque or not. Surprisingly, I recognised some of them. There was Edwina Currie, Roger Black and, of course, Christine Hamilton. My wife told me that the other man was Tony Slattery, but I'm not so sure.

The programme was straight out of the classroom and didn't even attempt to disguise the classroom etiquette. Stand up straight, listen, visualise and say. Psychiatrist. P-s-y-c-h-i-a-t-r-i-s-t. Psychiatrist. All heads turn to the teacher - Chris Tarrant in this case - for confirmation. Then applause or groans, as appropriate, from the rest of the class.

In the team round, participants stood in a row and each child - sorry, player - contributed a single letter in turn until the word was complete.

One team had a superior know-it-all "boy" who rattled off his answers and whose slouching told us that the game was beneath him. Another team had a "girl" who stumbled at each answer while her team-mates tried to hide their exasperation. At least we had the satisfaction of seeing Mr Know-it-all suffering defeat from a quiet "girl" who came through only at the last minute, although she spoiled her victory with tears. No one got a row for booing.

It's time teachers profited from the demand for reliving the classroom.

Money can be made from new television formats. What about a mental arithmetic panel game or a geography game show? I reckon there's mileage in "Heads down, thumbs up", the popular diversion for the spare minutes before home-time, when desks are cleared and bags packed.

Consider the entertainment value of celebrities having to hide their faces for most of the game, which is played in silence and on tiptoes. The laughter would take a few years off us all.

Brian Toner is headteacher of St John's primary, Perth.

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