Jonathan Meres

19th April 2013 at 01:00
A headteacher who got involved in every aspect of school life had a profound effect on the children's author

Harby Primary was a tiny village school. There really were only two rooms: one for the little ones and one for the big ones. I went to Harby Primary from about the age of 7 to 11, when I went to secondary school, so I only ever went to the big room.

Mr Thorpe was the headteacher. He was my only teacher and he was absolutely brilliant. Sadly, he left after a couple of years.

He would read to us at the end of every day. I remember him reading Emil and the Detectives, and he would play classical music to us on a little record player. He would play us things such as Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Holst's Planets Suite.

He seemed impossibly ancient to me then. That's not just a perspective age thing, but people in the 1960s just seemed older. He had glasses, greased-back black hair and tweed jackets with the stereotypical leather patches on the elbows.

He was absolutely lovely. He would hum to himself, almost like a nervous tick. He would say something, and then he would go "hummm".

I remember him as quite gentle and humorous without being wacky, but he wasn't too matey. He did absolutely everything, and I think he would have served us the dinners as well, if he could, but we did actually have dinner ladies for that.

He would play cricket with us in the school playground. There was a big tree in the middle of the playground that would act as a set of stumps at one end.

We had a lovely student teacher as well, called Miss McShane. I had a little schoolboy crush on her. I guess she was only with us for a term or something, and I was maybe about 9.

There was this Northern Irish singer called Dana. She won the Eurovision Song Contest with All Kinds of Everything, and I think in my head Miss McShane and Dana were sort of one and the same person, because she was from Northern Ireland, too. They were sort of interchangeable in my nine-year-old head.

When she left, she gave us all her address - I think all of us, not just me - but I remember I used to write to her. I wonder what became of Miss McShane.

I did particularly like reading and writing in school and I was quite advanced at them. I found primary school quite easy, but when I went to secondary school I wasn't a particularly gifted student.

People assume, because I have ended up doing what I am doing, that I am incredibly well read and literate, and I am really not. I was a typical boy: from about the age of 12 I didn't really read that much. I got interested in other things, such as football and girls and conkers. It was only when I went to sea and had a lot of time on my hands that I rediscovered the joys of reading.

After going through all the usual things such as footballer, spaceman and train driver, from about the age of 10 the only thing I ever seriously wanted to do was join the Merchant Navy, so I left school at 16. I was the only one of my peers who didn't go to university, but I was completely driven.

I would like Mr Thorpe to know that I remember him very fondly. I suppose my love of reading, words and stories I would have to attribute first of all to my mum, who used to read comics to me even before I went to school, and second to Mr Thorpe.

Jonathan Mere's latest books, The World of Norm - May Require Batteries and Koala Calamity - Surf's Up! (Awesome Animals) will be published in June. He was talking to Julia Belgutay.

Personal profile

Born: Nottingham, 1958

Education: Harby Church of England Primary, Melton Mowbray; Belvoir High, Bottesford; King Edward VII Upper School, Melton Mowbray; Riversdale College of Technology, Liverpool

Career: Navigating cadet for PO, actor, stand-up comedian, author, winner of the Scottish Children's Book Award younger readers category 2012 for The World of Norm - May Contain Nuts.

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