Interview

21st September 2007 at 01:00
A drama teacher helped rescue this actor, who honed his early comedy skills impersonating the staff at his comprehensive near Swansea

I have rosy memories of my early schooldays. I was at Dumbarton House School, a now-defunct primary in Swansea with a strict but kindly headmaster, Elmer Thomas. His sister, Miss Thomas, was also a teacher there, as was his son, who we called Mr Aled. I suppose more than one Mr Thomas would have been too confusing for us.

They had a collection of old desks in the playground, piled up like some kind of sculpture, and you could crawl through a labyrinth tunnel of this furniture. The braver boys would climb to the top, almost a challenge to authority. I was not like that, though, I was very well behaved.

When I arrived at Porthcawl Comprehensive in the fourth form, Year 10 you'd call it now, I was extremely nervous. I thought it would be like Grange Hill, which I took to be a hard-hitting documentary about inner-city violence and decay. But it was actually quite a gentle school. Porthcawl is a fairly affluent place by the sea.

I wasn't very academic, but what rescued me was drama. I had always known I wanted to act and had impersonated teachers a lot, which they approved of. Other actors I meet now had the same experience in their schools but always seemed to get into trouble or get discouraged. Perhaps I was lucky, or maybe my impressions were just better.

The school would have one big production per year and I played the lead in Sweet Charity, Guys and Dolls and Carousel. Roger Burnell was the drama teacher and he had an enormous influence on my life. Weirdly, quite a few well-known Welsh actors were at the school and were taught by Roger Ruth Jones (Myfanwy in Little Britain) and Jason Hughes (Midsomer Murders).

Teachers generally are in a privileged position. They are in contact with the young, who are like sponges and constantly developing. And drama teachers, in particular, are dealing with emotions, and they stand apart from the other teachers who might seem stuffy by comparison. So it's very easy for a drama teacher to be a hero to pupils, or to feel like one. Some I have come across not in any of my schools, I should stress abuse that position slightly, I think.

But Roger was never like that. He was very focused, very professional. I think he was a good preparation for the business I'm in. He didn't glamorise it, nor did he glamorise himself.

He's now director of theatre, arts and culture services for Bridgend County Borough Council. We have kept in touch over the years. He was at both my weddings. I've not based any of my characters on him he wasn't dysfunctional. I did get him to appear in one episode of my show, Annually Retentive, playing the headteacher of my old school. In the show I go back there expecting to receive an award but am in fact merely presenting one to another former pupil who is running a successful business. It seems as if it's never been harder to be a teacher. Discipline must be a nightmare, and teachers deserve great credit and support

Rob Brydon, 42, is an award-winning comedian and actor. His TV credits include Human Remains, Marion Geoff, The Keith Barrett Show and Annually Retentive. He was talking to Stephen Manning

Rob is one of the famous names pictured by Rankin, the celebrity photographer, in support of the 2008 Teaching Awards. You too can say "thank you" to an outstanding teacher, headteacher, teaching assistant, governor or school by making a nomination at www.teachingawards.com

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