John Inverdale

19th October 2007 at 01:00
A master of the crushing putdown and witty one-liner made this sports broadcaster a fan of the English language.From the age of 10 I had a strong desire to write, and it was Brian Worthington, my English teacher at Clifton College in Bristol, who reinforced that passion. Brian was a real character and expected everybody in his class to share his incredible enthusiasm for his subject, whether it was Shakespeare or DH Lawrence. He thought language and literature were the two most important things on Earth and if you were prepared to buy into that, you would get along fine.

Sport, though, was treated with a measure of disdain. I remember once having three teeth knocked out during a rugby match, which meant I had to attend his class with the bottom half of my mouth wired up. "Inverdale," remarked Brian quite bewilderingly, "if only you read more and did less stupid things on that bloody pitch then you wouldn't get injuries like that."

Brian's gift was to make the teaching of English a theatrical experience. To tell a child to read A Tale of Two Cities or Twelfth Night on their own can be a soulless, demoralising experience. Brian, however, brought these stories to life and managed to captivate everybody and sustain their interest. Achieving the marks in an exam was important but so too was broadening the minds of his pupils and expanding their knowledge. Indeed, the acid test as far I was concerned was that if any subject could prevent me from opening my copy of Sporting Life and studying the runners and riders at Cheltenham - as I regularly did in Latin and science - then the teacher was doing a good job.

Discipline in his lessons was never a problem. It might not be the vogue these days, but Brian was the master of the crushing putdown, the witty one-liner that made you feel as big as an ant and acted as a deterrent to anybody wanting to have the last word. If you wrote or said something that was rubbish, he had no qualms letting you know. He instilled a sense of self-regulation.

In fact, the most important aspect of Brian's teaching was his insightfulness into grammar. Without wanting to sound like an old fart, I am a self-confessed member of the punctuation police. Language, and the ability to express yourself, is what separates human beings from leopards and gerbils; the failure of the majority of the public to spell properly is genuinely horrifying. For example, I will not even write GR8 instead of great on a text message. This is the legacy that Brian left behind.

Even now, I receive regular correspondences from Brian criticising my construction of sentences or inappropriate use of punctuation in my weekly newspaper column (in The Daily Telegraph). "Dear John," the letters begin, "How are you? I noticed a misplaced comma in last week's paper ..." He writes more in jest - I suppose as a teacher one of his rewards in life is that someone from his classes listened enough to share his enthusiasm - but it has the desired effect. All too often I will stop writing in mid-flow, if I believe I am sounding convoluted, and think: "Should I re-write this? What would Brian Worthington say?"

John Inverdale, 50, is one of Britain's leading sports broadcasters. He will be presenting coverage of tonight's Rugby World Cup 3rd4th place play-off and the final tomorrow at the Stade de France on BBC Radio 5 Live. He was talking to Rob Maul.

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