I can still see Miss Kirk stopping a girl in the corridor who was slouching along, and saying 'Oh do stand up child, you'll never carry a baby!'

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
I was delighted with school, and when I look back at it that's my overwhelming sensation. I was thrilled to have passed the 11-plus. My parents, who were both teachers, had brought me up to believe that knowledge is riches, so I loved my lessons, loved my school and loved my teachers. It's hard to single out one as I was taught by so many wonderful women at Kirby secondary grammar school for girls in Middlesbrough in the late 1950s.

Such as Miss Jean Travis. To this day she is utterly vivid to me, standing there in the classroom saying "Bonjour" as we came in and "Asseyez vous"; her classes were conducted entirely in French. A Highland Scot, with rosy cheeks, grey eyes and black hair with grey in it, she had, like so many Scottish women, an excellent French accent. She had no idea how good looking she was. She dressed well down to the ankle, but after that it was a disaster. She always wore dreadful black lace-up old lady shoes; how I wish I could have taken her shoe shopping.

I remember her saying, "Girls, you are going to have to change the way you move your mouths because if you don't you are never going to speak French."

So there we were, pulling our faces around trying "a", "eu" and "ee". Then in my fifth year she was joined by an assistante, a mademoiselle from Caen in Normandy, who brought in an enormous pile of Paris Match and Elle. I'll never forget it; we were allowed to pick one item from each magazine, but we had to discuss it in French. It was a beanfeast. My friend, Joan White, who speaks French like a Frenchwoman, said to me recently that I spoke with a divine accent. I can thank "Travvy" for that.

The headmistress of the school was Miss Gertrude Emily Muddle. Much to everyone's surprise, she was made a head when she was only in her forties.

She had two degrees in maths and was a brilliant classroom teacher, but she was terribly shy. When she had to stand up in assembly she would go bright red, she found it such a trial.

I can still see Miss Kirk, who taught geography, stopping a girl in the corridor who was slouching along in her bottle green uniform trimmed with grey, and saying, "Oh do stand up child, you'll never carry a baby!" I thought, "how on earth could Miss Kirk know that?"

But I think the teachers who shaped my life most of all were the English mistresses. I love words. English is such a rich, beautiful, flexible language, and I think no matter what you do in life, stories are the thing that unites us. If you want to involve members of the public, as I do, then you ask them to tell their story.

I had three teachers who were immense enthusiasts for the richness of the English language. They sent me away feeling there was no book I didn't want to read. Mrs Jane Reid was my teacher at GCSE. She was a pretty woman with dark brown hair, who wore glasses and lipstick and had a slightly jolly hockey sticks kind of a voice. She would have us read Shakespeare around the class and, if you read well, she would come back to you. And as I loved performing plays and poems and reading out loud, I always wanted to be picked.

I wanted to be an actress, which is what I did after secretarial college.

My acting career didn't go very far, but when I was a secretary for Forum, the sex magazine, the chance came up to take over from Evelyn Home at Woman magazine, and my career in journalism and radio took off.

As a broadcaster I'm often asked to say a few words for a sound check. Most people say what they've had for breakfast, but in a noisy studio I think of Mrs Reid and boom out the prologue to Henry IV Part 1: "So shaken as we are, so wan with care, Find we a time for frighted peace to pant, And breathe short-winded accents of new broils, To be commenc'd in stronds afar remote." You get silence pretty quickly.

Journalist and broadcaster

Portrait by Richard Lea-Hair

The story so far

1944 Born Sally Ann Taylor

1956-61 Attends Kirby grammar school for girls, Middlesbrough

1961 Moves to London, works as secretary for Forum magazine

1974 Joins Woman magazine as problem page editor

1975-89 Presents Anna and the Capital Doc at Capital Radio

1979 Co-creates and writes Agony, BBC TV sitcom starring Maureen Lipman

1970s to present Works across radio, television and print as journalist and broadcaster

1993-2000 Presents Live and Direct on Talk Radio

1998 Wins Gold Sony Award

2006 Presents LBC radio phone-in, Real Life, Real London, weekdays 1pm-3pm

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today