Mr Lejeune by Tim Healy

3rd July 2015 at 01:00
A junior school teacher gave the young class clown the confidence to fulfil his dream of acting and put him on stage for the first time - in his underpants

I fell in love with acting at the age of 5, watching my father: he was a keen amateur actor. However, it was Mr Lejeune, my teacher at Pelton Junior School in Chester-le-Street, who cast me in my first role and for that I'm enormously grateful. He made me passionate about acting. If it wasn't for him, I don't know what I'd be doing now.

The play was The Emperor's New Clothes and, as the role involved taking your clothes off, none of the kids wanted to do it. I stuck my hand up because I was the class clown and I loved making people laugh, so it didn't bother me. Anyway, I kept my underpants on. I absolutely loved it. Everyone was laughing at me, but for all the right reasons.

Mr Lejeune believed in me and that gave me fantastic confidence. All actors need to hear praise. I still need it now: it doesn't go away as you get older.

He told me I was funny and that I had a good sense of humour. Later on, another teacher said to me: "Malcolm Healy", because I was known by my first name then, "you will never be funny. You have to be clever to be funny." That stuck with me. When I was 25 and starring at the Newcastle Playhouse, I sent a car for that teacher, brought her to the show and reminded her of what she said.

I had a very happy childhood. My family didn't have a lot of money but I had two parents who loved me and so I was a very lucky boy. I didn't do well at school, though. I was interested in drama but I couldn't get my head around maths. And I was a bit naughty. Cheeky - not nasty. I used to do impressions of the teachers I didn't like.

I did my 11-plus at the time when it was in two parts. I passed the first part but failed the second so I went to a secondary modern. I missed Mr Lejeune so much when I arrived: there was such a lot of discipline. I got caned for elbowing a teacher in the stomach (I thought it was a kid who'd been tripping me up). I also got caned for mispronouncing the number eight.

I never saw Mr Lejeune again but he came to see me in Billy Elliot when I played the father in the West End production in 2004. I only know this because a few years ago I mentioned him in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and his daughter wrote me a letter to say they'd been to see it. That touched me but I really wished he'd come backstage. I've lost her number, so I hope she reads this. I'd love her to get in touch.

Mr Lejeune has died now, sadly, and I'm sorry that I never got to tell him how much he meant to me. My dad was a very big influence on me and made me want to act, but Mr Lejeune gave me the confidence to think I could do it. He was a wonderful man and for that I'm thankful.

Tim Healy was speaking to Kate Bohdanowicz. He is a patron of Children North East, a regional charity that promotes the rights of children and young people, and counters the effects of inequality on communities. For more information or to donate, visit www.children-ne.org.uk

Playing for laughs

Tim Healy

Born 29 January 1952, Newcastle

Education Canning Street County Primary School, Benwell, Newcastle; Pelton Junior School, Chester-le-Street; Pelton Secondary Modern, Chester-le-Street

Career Actor, best known for his roles in Benidorm and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet

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