Miss Parrott by Sandie Shaw

5th December 2014 at 00:00
A passionate teacher brought a touch of Hollywood glamour to Essex, but the students gave her a hard time. Her former pupil, the first Briton to win the Eurovision Song Contest, wishes she could say thank you

Unless she reads this, Miss Parrott will never know how much she inspired me. She taught me English literature at Robert Clack School in Dagenham when I was aged 11-16. I loved what she taught but I never let her know.

No one in my class was very interested in English and we gave her a really hard time. She made us read Shakespeare aloud and she was always asking me to play Portia (from The Merchant of Venice). I wanted to do it but I refused as I didn't want to make a fool of myself in front of the boys. In Dagenham in those days you just didn't read Portia. Everyone would laugh. It's ridiculous, I know, but we hadn't got over the class system.

Miss Parrott was like a creature from another planet. Although she seemed ancient at the time, she was probably only about 30. She was amazing looking with a very posh voice and she used to wear sexy dresses that clung to her body, emphasising the fact that she was wearing a pointy bra. It was the late 1950s and early 1960s, so she was emulating the style of Marilyn Monroe. We called her "Parrott Tits".

The commerce teacher used to come into the classroom during lessons because he fancied her. He would offer Miss Parrott cakes that the domestic science teacher had baked for him because she fancied him. At least, that was what we fantasised was happening.

It wasn't until much later that it dawned on me how influential Miss Parrott had been. I realised that I loved the poetry she made us read. The words helped me to conjure up images when I was writing my lyrics. I loved the sound and the look of words and how delicious they were when they formed in my mouth.

I started acting when I was about 30. I played the title role in Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw and Olivia in Twelfth Night - I did both with Miss Parrott metaphorically holding my hand. It was then that I realised I had loved Shakespeare from the moment she introduced me to it. I still do to this day.

I passed my O-levels but I didn't turn up for my A-level English exam. I wanted to be a singer and didn't see how qualifications would help me. My parents were devastated as I was the first member of my family to go to grammar school.

No one at school knew that I dreamed of being a singer; we were expected to go into clerical work or a job at the local council. I did work in the computer room of the Ford Dagenham plant for six weeks but I left to pursue a career in singing and modelling.

Five years ago, I was asked to return to the school for a documentary on former grammar-school pupils. I loved going back and when the headteacher asked me to be the school patron, I agreed. It's the most exciting thing I've ever done.

It would be wonderful to meet Miss Parrott now. I'd love to tell her that secretly I delighted in what she was trying to impart. It's sad to think that she never received any positive feedback from us and that we were so awful to her. She did a wonderful job.

Sandie Shaw was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz. She sings on the single Riot Pictures by Davidge, which is out now

Sound and music

Sandie Shaw

Born 26 February 1947, Dagenham, Essex

Education Robert Clack School, Dagenham

Career Chart-topping 1960s pop singer; the first British artist to win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1967 with Puppet on a String

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