Headteacher in the red dress tells his side of the story

31st July 2015 at 01:00
Victim of Daily Mail sting will go on stage at Edinburgh Fringe

Tim Dingle was the headteacher of one of the highest-performing state schools in the UK when the Daily Mail published a photo of him in a red dress.

Thirteen years on, the former head of the Royal Grammar School in Buckinghamshire is donning the red dress again, in order to tell his side of the story for the first time. His stand-up show, Giving Head, is one of a number of education-related performances being staged at this year's Edinburgh Fringe.

"My mother was furious," Mr Dingle says now of the scandal. "She said, `You, in a red dress, darling? Blue is your colour.' "

The Daily Mail suggested that Mr Dingle wore the dress on a regular basis; in fact, he was at a fancy dress party.

"It was an awful thing to open the paper and see," he says. "But it's a great way to open a show. It is 100 per cent my story, but also 100 per cent stand-up comedy. It's all authentic and truthful. It must be true: I read it in the Daily Mail."

Mr Dingle's new career, he believes, is not so far removed from his previous one. "Comedy is like doing a really good lesson," he says. "And the whole class applauds.

"The Daily Mail article was made up in so many ways. The bottom paragraph said I was a wonderful lover. But I'm not angry. I'm just disappointed."

When art imitates life

Mr Dingle's show is not the only one to tip its hat to true-life events in education. Pupils from Guildford High School, an independent girls' school in Surrey, are performing Numbers, a play about pupils at an independent girls' school.

To promote the show, pupils have taken to posting on Twitter in character. "The idea of female friendships that can become so intense - that was something they recognised," says English teacher Helen Stevens, who will be accompanying her pupil-performers to the festival. "And how friends can turn on each other very quickly. We're having fun with it."

Drama teacher Holly McKinlay is also using the festival as an opportunity to highlight the realities of school and teenage life. Her play, S.E.N, is based on her experiences as a learningsupport assistant at a school in East London.

Some of the incidents in the play are based on real events. There is, for example, the pupil who urinates in the corner of the classroom. And there are the girls who accuse a male teacher of inappropriate behaviour, so as to get their own way.

"I just wanted to show what's really going on in schools - the frictions," Ms McKinlay says. "People who don't work in education don't get a full glimpse into the classroom. I hope it sheds light on what some secondary classrooms can be like."

Staff from several other schools are using their experiences to bring the classroom to the stage. Jess Green, a performance poet and school librarian, is staging a show called Burning Books.

Set in a secondary school, the show has a strong political element: one poem features a 60-year-old teacher on a picket line. "It's very much fictional," Ms Green says. "But it was inspired by conversations with teachers.

"I hope people will celebrate our state system a little bit more after seeing it. And maybe think twice before blaming teachers for not working hard enough and having too much holiday."

Similar sentiments are expressed by Terry Burns, a former East London drama teacher. His play, Plain English, tells the story of an idealistic new teacher coming to terms with the realities of the classroom.

"Being a teacher is a vocation and you have to want desperately to do it," he says. "You have to have that drive to help young people and make a difference.

"I left, because that wasn't really where I was at. I'd been an actor and I still wanted to be an actor. But hopefully I can give something this way."

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe takes place from 7-31 August. For more information, visit www.edfringe.com

Oh, the drama! More school-related shows

Breaking Voices: a detention room is shaken by the arrival of a new boy.

Brute: 14-year-old Poppy joins an all-girls' state school.

Burning Books: a spoken-word and music show, charting austerity education in an inner-city comprehensive.

Free for All: an ageing activist attends an open evening at a new free school.

Giving Head: stand-up involving sex, drugs and a headmaster in a red dress.

Heads: two teenagers uncover a scandal at their sheltered private school. Performed by City of London pupils.

Numbers: pupils at a girls' boarding school compete to become head girl.

Othello: Shakespeare's tale of jealousy, set in a prestigious boarding school.

Our Teacher's a Troll: what to do when your headteacher has fangs and green, scaly skin?

Plain English: an idealistic new teacher starts work in an inner-city comprehensive.

Punk Rock: a glimpse inside an expensive private school in northern England.

Roaring Boys: a public school, on the night of the 1979 general election. Staged by pupils from Sandbach School in Cheshire.

S.E.N: teachers and students push each other to their limits.

Stain: a confrontation takes place between a former star pupil and her teacher.

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