Mackenzie Crook

28th September 2012 at 01:00
The author and Pirates of the Caribbean star only enjoyed school because of his candid and creative biology teacher

Simon Woolcott stood out as the only decent bloke in a sea of nasty pieces of work when I was at school. I'm probably exaggerating but I did not enjoy my schooldays.

He was a biology teacher and was also my form tutor for a year or two. I do love science and I do love biology - my big passion is the natural world - but, to be honest, I don't think it was about the subject he taught, it was more who he was.

He was just a decent guy who would speak to you as if you were an adult. He did not patronise you and speak down to you. He also had a healthy dose of cynicism.

He was quite candid - another thing I liked about him. He used to complain about the school regime. I like to think that he maybe recognised in me a kindred spirit. I did not enjoy the school; I wasn't getting much out of it and I don't think he was either.

Wilmington Grammar was a very uncreative school at that time. There was no art department and no drama department. It was very academic and was just not for me. I longed to do drama but there was no chance of that and you had to go to a different school to do art, which I excelled at.

I was good at the sciences but lost interest by the time the A levels came round. I did my GCSEs and got relatively good marks, then I just lost interest. I could not wait to get out. I knew I didn't want to go to university and if anything I wanted to go to art college, but the exams I was taking weren't going to help me in any career I was planning.

Mr Woolcott was probably in his late twenties when he taught me, and a lot of other teachers in the school were very old and came from a different era. You got the feeling these were failed academics who had grudgingly become teachers, whereas he was a teacher through and through. That was his passion and he wanted to inspire kids and get them learning. He was a brilliant teacher because of that.

I loved primary school; I had a great time there. We did shows and plays and I used to launch myself into them. We did a particular event, an end- of-year show, which a friend and I had dreamed up loads of sketches for. That was the last day of primary and I never did any drama again until I joined a youth theatre in Dartford when I was 15.

Suddenly I found myself at an all-boys school. It's just such an archaic idea to separate the sexes. I was lucky in that I had two sisters, so I did come into contact with girls but my schoolmates who did not have sisters did not get to speak to a girl until they left school at 18.

It's just a strange environment. It probably does have advantages but I didn't like it. It was quite an aggressive atmosphere. It was quite a sporting school and I was not into sport. I was small as a child and when my peers were trying to blag their way into pubs or trying to go out with girls, I still looked 12. There was no way I could have joined in with that. I had lots of friends, though, and was never bullied or anything, but I felt I couldn't join in the more laddish stuff my friends were getting into. The youth theatre in Dartford saved me.

After school I tried half-heartedly to get into art school but without the proper grounding. I had a pitifully thin portfolio and nothing that really demonstrated what I could do, so I was rejected. If I'd had better training I might have made it to art college, but then I'm entirely happy with the way my life has worked out. Who knows - if I hadn't found school wholly uninspiring, I might not have been inspired to go out and do exciting stuff.

Mackenzie Crook's debut children's novel The Windvale Sprites is now out in paperback. He was talking to Emma Seith

Personal profile

Born: 1971, Maidstone, Kent

Education Sutton-at-Hone Primary, Dartford; Wilmington Grammar School, Dartford

Career: Comedian, actor and author.

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