Let me be your fly on the wall;Opinion

12th June 1998 at 01:00
Can anybody think of a decent teaching sitcom? Don't say Chalk, please. Even if you did enjoy this am-dram Fawlty Towers rip-off, its humour had little to do with situations encountered in teaching. It could just as easily have been set in a police station, leisure centre - or indeed a Torquay hotel.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed it if I had known nothing about the background Chalk was set against, and the elements of the job that could be really funny. As it was, the show was as unsatisfying to me as a documentary on Mozart with a soundtrack by the Spice Girls might be to a classical musician.

Though it is some years since I saw an episode, I remember Grange Hill as being both more realistic and funnier. It could also be painful. I recall cringing as a shy science teacher stood helpless as he failed to control his class. I wanted to be Scruffy McGuffie, laid-back, popular and effective, or Hoppy Hopwood, the techie guidance teacher with the Triumph Spitfire.

Like most soaps, Grange Hill was improbable in that too many things happened to the same people. Beyond that, it never got any dafter than the finale of Jimmy McGovern's acclaimed Hearts and Minds.

Moving to the big screen, my favourite depiction of school life has to be Gregory's Girl. I am sure that the baw-heid drillie portrayed in this masterpiece was based on a PE teacher who once taught me, or to be more accurate, who regularly sent two class-loads of boys off to a muddy field to play 20-a-side football. There is talk of a sequel, in which Gregory returns to his old school as a teacher. What are you waiting for, Bill Forsyth? This is what the public wants.

Whether on the small or large screen, depictions of school life from across the Atlantic tend to leave me cold. The overriding impression is that the leaving age there is about 45 (look at Olivia Newton-John in Grease). Either that or we get the "initially out of hisher depth teacher wins over the no-hopers" scenario. Pass me my boak poke.

I make an exception for Dead Poets' Society. The star, Robin Williams, is larger than life, but a lot of teaching is larger than life. For that reason, teaching sitcoms and soaps are a probably a waste of time. All we really need is an example of that popular-to-the-point-of-saturation current television favourite, the fly-on-the-wall documentary.

Coming soon: Gregor Steele has to hide a corpse behind his blackboard when a glamorous young Swedish girl escorts some German businessmen on a fact-finding tour of his school - with hilarious results.

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