Le style francais c'est tres chic

31st January 1997 at 00:00
Clare Gorham talks to Harvey McGavin. My best teacher was my A-level French teacher, Mrs Lang. French was my favourite subject and she made French literature incredibly exciting. She was one of the most animated teachers I have ever had.

I came from doing O-levels where people were talking about the humour of Shakespeare and you're thinking "no, this really isn't amusing". But with her, everything had a reason behind it and you could see what it meant. We did l'Etranger by Camus which is an excellent story anyway but she really went into the characters of it. It sounds crap to say she brought it to life but that's really what she did.

She always reminded me of Margot in The Good Life. She used to wear A-line beige tweed skirts and a sort of cashmere jumper that was also beige - she was really into beige. And she'd wear long socks and high-heeled Gucci type shoes and a little cravat. She would play with her cravat all the time when she was talking to you. She had nice manicured hands. She even had a pencil case covered in Liberty fabric. It sounds awful but she looked really stylish.

She was also very frightening - nobody messed with Mrs Lang. When teachers like that give you praise you're on a high for the rest of the day. She would make a throwaway comment like "that was good" and it made you feel really intelligent.

There was a bright side to the class and a struggling side. I was in between but she would give us all a good chance without patronising us. I got a C for my A-level but that was all because of a boyfriend. If I hadn't fallen in love I might have done better.

I went to the Ursuline convent in Wimbledon. It was a comprehensive school and there was quite a high academic standard and we were all streamed. I was in the top stream. It was quite divisive - you tended to make friends with people in your own stream.

You would get the odd girl in the bottom stream that would start fights and make their skirts into pencil ones but apart from that it was quite orderly.

Mrs Lang once made somebody cry. She was quite callous in that sense but it was only because she wanted people to do well and if you couldn't she probably felt that she had failed.

I had a really good time at school because I had such a good group of friends and we went through all our adolescent trials and tribulations together. We were all quite academically competitive.

Me and my friend Katy used to get in trouble for laughing and talking in class and we were quite good at doing impersonations of teachers. We had to be separated - there were about three classes where we couldn't sit next to each other. But you didn't mess around in Mrs Lang's class - it wouldn't cross your mind.

It was partly because you respected her too much. I think that's where a lot of teachers fall down. They try too hard to be trendy and hip and I think in a way you have got to be a little bit scary.

If people misbehaved she made them look really stupid. She had a very clipped posh way of speaking and one of those really impenetrable stares.

When she was cross she would just look at you and say "do you want to be in this class or not because if not you are just wasting my time" and then carried on. It made you shiver.

My mum started teaching French at the school and Mrs Lang helped her out and looked after her. Mum would say "Jackie's so lovely" and she would go round to her house. So I knew her first name and I would sit there in class thinking "you know my Mum."

With anybody that you quite admire you build a fantasy about the reality of their lives. Mrs Lang and her husband met at Oxford or Cambridge - when you're that age you are so impressed by things like that. I imagined they led this really cultured, romantic life.

I'd love to meet her. We had one reunion after we left school and she was there but even then I felt a bit nervous. When I was doing the Girlie Show I used to wonder what she'd think. She probably thought it was absolute inane rubbish.

She was the complete antithesis to me in every way - really organised, scholarly and studious. And I think that was why I was quite fascinated by her.

There was another teacher I liked, Miss McGough, who taught history. She was in her late 20s and quite groovy, with hippy bracelets and kohl eyeliner - she looked like someone out of Fleetwood Mac. Her classes were good fun.

But Mrs Lang was in a different league to the other teachers because she was so inaccessible. I had good relationships with some of the others and could talk about my problems with them. But not with Mrs Lang and she was probably a better teacher as a result.

Clare Gorham co-presented the first series of the Girlie Show. She writes a column for the black newspaper New Nation and presents Channel 4's Travelogue on February 12

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