I want to be a class act

2nd March 2007 at 00:00
The oddball school secretary in Channel 4's 'Teachers' wants to become a Miss herself. Actress Ursula Holden-Gill tells Irena Barker why education has such a strong pull for her

as squiff-eyed secretary Carol Schickelgruber in the television series Teachers, she worked at the chaotic Summerdown comprehensive in Bristol.

The teachers were drunken, sex-obsessed nicotine addicts who behaved worse than the pupils. At one time, half the staff went off with stress.

But actress Ursula Holden-Gill, who played the school's eccentric secretary, has clearly not been put off by her experiences. She is now hoping to enter the teaching profession for real.

The actress, who also starred as Alice Dingle in Emmerdale, says teaching has always been her calling, despite a decade in showbusiness.

And it is not the career move of an impoverished actor whose work is on the wane. Last year she won best actress in a soap opera at the TV Choice awards and was shortlisted for the most popular British actress category at the National Television Awards.

The 32-year-old, who lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, has long enjoyed tutoring young people. When she was in Teachers, filming took place in a school that had just been closed down.

"I nicked half of the plays in the English department to use with the children I tutor in drama at weekends," she confesses. "I felt very privileged to be involved in the show. At the time, it was quite controversial and showed up the differences between the new graduates and old-school teachers.

"Simon Casey, played by Andrew Lincoln, was the worst. He had just drifted into the career and took no responsibility. I hope, as a teacher, I am the opposite of him."

Ursula's previous attempt to enter full-time teaching was thwarted by her acting success.

"I tried to get into teaching several years ago and got accepted on to a PGCE at Reading university. But then I was offered a few months' work as Alice on Emmerdale, which I thought would pay for the training.

"The part really took off and, instead of starting the course, I stayed on the soap for two years."

She says she is now satisfied with her acting achievements and will be leaving the profession "on a high".

"I think the acting has prepared me," she says. "If I had gone into teaching at 22, I would have had very little experience and wouldn't have come into contact with all the different people that I have."

But won't she miss the glamour and riches of TV when she is up to her neck in Year 7 school reports?

"No," she says. "I'm a country person really and not materially aspirational. I'm happier down the pub with my dog these days."

Her only fear now is how her background will affect how she is accepted into the profession.

"They might ask, 'What the hell is she doing here?' People could think I'm assuming I can just breeze in. But people who know me know how committed I am."

Ursula would like to hear from secondary schools in the West Yorkshire, Lancashire or Greater Manchester regions that would host her for school-based initial teacher training.

* Email Ursula Holden-Gill on rosie@suschool.org.uk

URSULA'S ACTING CAREER

1996 BA in drama and music from St Martin's teacher training college in Lancaster.

1997 MA in contemporary theatre practice at Lancaster university.

1998 First television role, as a heroin addict in The Bill.

1998 Played Judith Potts, the painfully shy chemist's assistant in comedy Mrs Merton and Malcolm.

1999 Played Gill in the comedy Dr Willoughby, also starring Joanna Lumley.

1999 Played Lily Dogger, the maid in The Wyvern Mystery, starring Derek Jacobi and Naomi Watts.

2000-2004 Played psychotic secretary Carol Schickelgruber in Teachers.

2000-2006 Played Emmerdale chicken farmer Alice Dingle, who dies of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

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