Iain Stewart

10th February 2012 at 00:00
The geologist and broadcaster was inspired by a cool English teacher and a corduroy-clad geographer

Mrs Miller was one of those teachers who just had a connection with her pupils and you felt as if she was part of your cool gang or, more likely, you were part of her cool gang.

The books she read, the music she liked, it was all cool, like Bob Dylan. I remember really making a connection with Kubla Khan when a few of us who liked the band Rush realised it was the inspiration for their song, "Xanadu". She told us to bring the record in, so the next day we did and we played it in class and everyone loved it, well, probably not everyone.

Mrs Miller taught English, which was my best subject at Claremount High. She had a very relaxed style, she used to always wear corduroy trousers and prop herself on the edge of the desk and just chat.

Lorraine Kelly went to Claremount too, a few years ahead of me, and I read somewhere that she said her favourite teacher was another English teacher, Miss McPhendran. It's funny, because I remember Miss McPhendran terrified me. She used to go around in a black gown and was very strict.

I bet Lorraine didn't like Mrs Miller because she was mischievous and would kind of flirt with us boys, which we all loved. I'm sure it was just a mechanism to get us to read things like Coleridge.

I kind of wanted to get into journalism, but it was my geography teacher who influenced me more in the direction I ended up taking.

Mr Elder was also a fantastic teacher. He wasn't very exuberant but he obviously loved geography and he had a quiet commitment to it. I think that's why, although English probably inspired me more, there was a solidness about geography which was the thing which got me in the end. I enjoyed geography more, too, although I was better at English.

Mr Elder wore "geography teacher" clothes - cardigans and corduroys. It was a very corduroy school. I suppose it was the late 1970searly 1980s. He was quite traditional, not showy, and I remember him towering above me - I was very small at school.

Mr Elder did a six-week geology taster and I remember we went to a road cutting just outside East Kilbride and he told us there were volcanic rocks there. I remember thinking that was really odd, the idea that there were volcanic rocks in my backyard.

We didn't go on the kinds of geography trips which schools do now, like to Mount Etna. Geography and geology had not got that much of a grip then.

It was the novelty that also drew me across from English. I remember the tightness of the geography group too. We were only a small group and it was like a family atmosphere.

The geography room felt like a haven. It was full of maps and at the back there were piles of copies of National Geographic. It was almost like a portal you could go to. From the window you could look out onto the glen and see fields and hills, it all seemed right.

The school has been knocked down now, but I visited the new one last year when I was launching the visitor centre at Whitelee Windfarm outside East Kilbride. It didn't have the same emotional pull because it wasn't the same building, and I don't think the kids had any idea who I was.

A few of my old teachers were there, but not Mrs Miller or Mr Elder. I don't know what happened to either of them.

It's not often that I have time to write books for the TV series I present, but I still love writing and when I do I try to be imaginative, the way I tried in Mrs Miller's class.

I'm sure Mr Elder would be very pleased that I am doing what I'm doing. It's both their faults.

Iain Stewart is presenting a new TV series, `How to Grow a Planet', screening on BBC2 on Tuesdays at 9pm. He was talking to Julia Horton.

Personal profile

Born: East Kilbride, 1964

Education: Mount Cameron Primary and Claremount High, East Kilbride; Strathclyde University, BSc Hons in geography and geology; Bristol University, PhD geology

Career: Lecturer at various institutions, currently professor of communication at Plymouth University; radio and TV presenter.

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