Mr Fitch by David Baddiel

6th June 2014 at 01:00
The comedian credits his joy in language and comic timing to an English teacher whose poetry-loving, besuited exterior hid a scurrilous wit

Even though I wasn't particularly good at sciences, I was preparing to study them at A-level. My dad was a scientist and he had drilled into me that studying anything else was a waste of a brain.

Then, when I was 15, a teacher took me aside and explained that I got far better grades in English and history and perhaps I should reconsider my choices. The scales fell from my eyes and I changed subjects. I'd like to thank that man for setting me off on my career path but unfortunately I can't remember his name.

The teacher who would go on to teach me A-level English at the Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School in Elstree, Hertfordshire, was Mr Fitch and it was he who nurtured my love of language.

He was an old-style schoolteacher in the mould of Goodbye, Mr Chips. He was quite proper, with a suit and cravat, and he seemed ancient but he was probably about the same age that I am now. He was very committed to literature and thought it was the best way of improving young minds.

He was quite theatrical. I remember he read the whole of The Wasteland by T S Eliot to us - that is a very long poem. When he came to the line, "O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag", he sang it. It was quite amazing and comic and he really brought the poem to life.

He was very alive to poetry and that resonated with me. I went on to study English at the University of Cambridge and then spent three years on a PhD in English. I didn't finish it, however, as the comedy career took off. It's something I regret - the PhD, not the comedy career.

I've always been interested in the poetry of language. Words and language are important in comedy: how you write and structure a joke is key to getting a laugh. Certain words work well and others don't.

Despite his formal attire, Mr Fitch was quite scurrilous. I remember when the school first got a canteen. Weirdly, until then we used to eat in the classroom, but in my last year of school we got a dining room that was opened by Princess Margaret. It was very exciting and we were all waving flags.

Mr Fitch got drunk that day. I know because I had his class in the afternoon and he just looked at me and said: "I'm pissed." I remember thinking that was great.

Shortly before I left, I co-wrote the sixth form's revue and we did sketches about teachers we didn't like. Until then the revue had been gentle, unfunny rubbish but ours was scandalous. We had teachers having sex with each other and using bad language. We impersonated staff members in the most piss-taking way we could think of and it stormed the school. It was meant to be on every lunchtime for a week but it was taken off immediately.

I was hauled in front of the headmaster but I didn't get expelled. I think it's because I was clever and the school was very keen on results; they weren't going to expel someone who was likely to go to Cambridge. It made me cool for about a week, which I hadn't been before. It also gave me a real taste for comedy.

I like to think Mr Fitch would have had a giggle about the revue. I never heard from him again and I know he's dead now. But I do like to think he would have enjoyed it.

David Baddiel was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz. He is appearing at the Sunday Times Festival of Education, which takes place at Wellington College, Berkshire, on 20-21 June. For more information visit or follow @EducationFest on Twitter

Class clown

David Baddiel

Born 28 May 1964, New York City (relocated to the UK at the age of four months)

Education North West London Jewish Day School, Brent; Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, Elstree, Hertfordshire; King's College, Cambridge

Career Comedian, novelist and broadcaster

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