Matthew Beard

25th July 2008 at 01:00

I was clearing out my old exercise books recently. Out of more than 100, I've now kept just three, two of which contain the work I did for Mr Smiles. He taught me the parts of history that are full of great stories about people.

We'd have class debates about the rights and wrongs of what they did and we would do practical things such as make models or make up letters they had written. He was never high tech, using PowerPoint and interactive whiteboards like teachers do now. Yet I can still recall the things he taught me more than I can remember what I learnt while doing my A-levels.

I spent ages on a project on the Romans for him, carefully staining every page with coffee to make the paper look old. I wanted it to be neat, so I typed it, even though I was a slow typist then. I wanted to get a good grade. Mr Smiles was someone whose respect I really wanted.

I spent hours on the project. It's got to be top marks, I thought. But he gave me 22 out of 24. I remember hating him, but at the same time thinking I'm going to make it better next time. So I got into a cycle of trying to make things better. I've always wanted to do my best. The more there is to learn, and the more I've got to work on, the better. It's the same in acting.

Mr Smiles would dish out lots of punishment exercises, but at the same time he could be funny. He was never so strict that you thought you could never satisfy him. He didn't seem bothered about going for the top jobs - although he did become head of lower school. No, he was his own man - a rebel, but with rules. That's what made him so interesting.

In my senior years I had teachers who were organised, which I appreciated. My psychology teacher, Mrs Hilary Macavoy, for example, was able to give me notes that I could study when I was away. She had a schedule worked out so when I came back we could see what I needed to catch up on.

I also had two brilliant biology teachers, Dr Tim Eldridge and Miss Louise Kilcommons. In class they always seemed so pressed for time - like they had so much work to get through. But if I'd missed an important lesson or a practical they would stay behind after school and help me catch up.

I had a lot of confidence in these teachers. They were the pros. I felt that they knew how to get good grades for their pupils - and that if I didn't do well then it was my own fault. But the one that stands out most in terms of what a teacher can do to inspire you was Mr Smiles.

Matthew Beard began working as a television actor at the age of four. Along with Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth, Juliet Stevenson and Sarah Lancaster, he appeared in the film And When Did You Last See Your Father? He was talking to Kay Smith.

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