Helen Lederer

9th December 2011 at 00:00
An English teacher who believed in her pupils, had inner confidence and drove a sports car was held in high esteem by this actress

My favourite teacher was Miss Kemp, and she taught at Blackheath High School for Girls. I went there when I was four or five and I was in her class when I was about eight or nine.

She was my form teacher for a year, but also took me in English, so I would have been with her throughout the junior school in some way or another. And I suppose that is the time when impressions like that are really memorable and it is a really important time to get who you are.

You would look forward to what she would do, because she was really interested in what she did. The whole thing was based on mutual respect, and you instinctively get that as a child. She was inspired and drew inspiration from others, recognised what was inside other people and relished it quite selflessly.

She was very, very creative and worked in an unusual way. We did a collage about a particular fishermen's village that we were creating and she read out bits of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood to the class - we were using it as template.

This was years ago, when people didn't do creative things like that. We all remember that iconic moment, don't we, where somebody singled us out, and that stays with us? And she singled me out after we had done an essay or a little story on this theme.

The cleverest girl in the class and I were singled out and we both read our stories. I have always tried to do that with other people. If someone believes in you and what you have done, you remember that. She had that ability to spur people on and identify their talent.

In the main, the school was not one that portrayed those qualities openly. I always loved writing stories. I went on to write little plays and sketches while I was in school and it was something I really loved to do before adolescence kicked in and killed all my confidence.

I had a lot to be grateful to her for. They were all old to us, but I suppose she must have been in her forties, or maybe thirties even. I know she had a sports car, which was very different, and she worked very closely with her housemate, Miss Lane, who taught at another school in Kidbrooke. They wrote a book together about creative writing, so in their time they pushed some boundaries that other teachers didn't. That was all quite glamorous. I remember someone coming to the school to take a photograph of us making a shape in the gym and that went into the book. She was different, somebody with an inner confidence and an individuality; nobody else had a sports car.

As an adult, I went to visit her not too long ago, and I also went to her memorial. She was young in her mind. She was very dedicated to teaching. She was tall and slim and remained like that. She was bright-eyed and kept busy, and was remarkably unchanged, actually. She was somebody who would engage with life, so life wouldn't have got the better of her, I don't think.

I didn't particularly like school that much. I had good friends - I liked that side of it. I don't think I was one of the "chosen ones". I think it was a very academic school and there may not have been a fit with the kind of character I was. I don't think people understood me. In those days, nobody went to drama school, nobody was dyslexic, and that is fine - it just wasn't common, but I think I probably had a few other qualities that may not have fitted that well into that environment.

Helen Lederer will return to one of her best-known roles this Christmas when she plays Catriona in new episodes of `Absolutely Fabulous' on BBC 1. She was talking to Julia Belgutay

Personal profile

Born: Llandovery, 1954

Education: Blackheath High School for Girls Junior and Senior School in London; Hatfield University; Middlesex University; Central School of Speech and Drama

Career: Actress, comedian, writer and presenter.

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