I veered towards the women teachers probably because I was looking for a mother figure

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
I enjoyed my time at school much more than the time I spent in the Dr Barnardo's home where I lived. The food and the whole environment were better and I had some good teachers. Looking back I realise that I veered towards the women teachers, probably because I was looking for a mother figure.

Edith Allison was the most inspirational teacher I ever had. She taught English literature and had a profound effect on me because of her passion for the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. We all thought she was 60, but she was probably only in her early forties, a spinster with a rather cruel mouth and black hair flecked with grey. As teenagers we could see smut in anything, but when she explained the quotation "Yields tender as a pushed peach" from "The Bugler's First Communion", we showed her respect. She knew what she was talking about and took no nonsense from anyone. She had a presence. When she walked into the room, everyone was quiet.

Because of Miss Allison, the work of Hopkins made such an impression on me that I asked to be given an anthology of his poems instead of the traditional Bible when I left Barnardo's. I still dip into it. A few years ago, after she'd died, someone looking in a junk shop found her own copy with all her annotations and sent it to me. It's a treasured possession.

Another favourite teacher was Constance Gilbey, with whom I am still in touch. She was headmistress at Ripon grammar school and also ran the girls'

boarding house (the school was part day and part boarding). She taught Latin and French. Petite, with spectacles and a billowing black gown, there was a motherly side to her, though she could be formidable when checking the girls' skirt length. I found her very understanding when I joined the school late without having done any Latin and had to start from scratch in the third year.

I was bewitched by Miss Houston, who looked like a movie star. I always sat in the front row in her classes. She taught French, which I was good at, and was elegant rather than sexy - more Deborah Kerr than Gina Lollobrigida - dressed in beautiful suits and co-ordinated from head to toe. I remember her handbags and shoes being always perfectly matched and she had lots of attachments to her spectacles to tone in with her outfits.

I had a crush on Miss Hurd, who taught art and craft. She was young and slightly hippie. She had very long straight hair with a fringe and looked a bit like Sandie Shaw with shoes. To me she seemed the embodiment of chic. I remember making two three-sided pots in her class which were turned into lamp bases.

I got on very well with Tony Smith, too, who taught art. He never once commented on the fact that every picture I drew was of women in dresses with high heels, usually bar scenes or in discotheques. I failed O-level art the first time round and took it again.

I doodled in most lessons, which got me into trouble sometimes. I was good at subjects I was interested in and very poor at the rest. I didn't get on with the woodwork teacher or the gym master but enjoyed biology because it was well taught by a man whose name I cannot now remember. We had a good English master - Paul Binding - who was only about two years older than us sixth-formers. He used to come into class with only half of his face shaved and odd socks, or one sock on and one off.

The headmaster, Mr Atkinson, known by his initials RA, was an intimidating figure in his academic gown, but he was kind to me and I made great friends with his daughter, Susan, who was gorgeous and very bright. His parting shot on my final report was: "He expects a lot from life. We shall miss him."

Constance Gilbey moved to Sheffield City college of education and I followed her and took a teacher training course. I never taught because I knew I'd make a lousy teacher, so I went to art college and set about realising my ambition of becoming a fashion designer.

Fashion designer Bruce Oldfield was talking to Pamela Coleman

The story so far

1950 Born in London, put into Dr Barnardo's home aged six months 1955-68 Dean Bank school, Hett, County Durham, Spennymoor technical grammar school, and Ripon grammar school

1968-71 Sheffield City college of education

1971-72 Ravensbourne college of art

1973 First job, designing collection for Henri Bendel store, New York

1975 Sets up own business

1981 Begins making couture clothes for individual clients including Princess Diana, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross

2005 Honorary doctorate from University of Central England

August 1 Autobiography, Rootless, published in paperback (Arrow, pound;7.99) September 22 Hosts party in aid of Crimestoppers in London Fashion Week

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