Mr Moles always stood to read, and he would slowly slide down the side of his big table and end up on the floor in laughter

24th September 2004 at 01:00
Portrait by Chris Thomond

Mr Moles was a tiny man with Brylcreemed hair, and I think I fell in love with him. I was 10 when I went into his class at Glen Hills junior school in Leicester. We spent all day in his class, so it was undiluted Mr Moles.

He was an excellent teacher because he loved books, especially English comic writing. Every afternoon, before we went home, he read to us: Dickens, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, the William Brown books.

The thing about Mr Moles was that he used to make himself laugh. He always stood to read, and he would slowly slide down the side of his big table and sometimes end up on the floor in laughter. I was often unable to stand up at the end because my legs were so weak from laughing. That's been my benchmark for laughter ever since.

I know it probably sounds a bit mad, but when I created Adrian Mole, I didn't consciously connect the name. I always called him Mr Mole - I don't know his first name - and it wasn't until I went back to the school years later that somebody told me his name wasn't Mole, it was Moles.

Did he inspire a love of comic writing? Without doubt. But he was also incredibly sensitive. I was a free-dinners child and hated handing in my blue plastic token. So Mr Moles insisted that everyone bring their dinner money in an envelope. He would have loved the fact that I became a writer, especially if he'd known that half my stuff was comic. Whenever I meet anyone who was in the class with me they always talk about him with such love and gratitude.

After Glen Hills, I went to South Wigston secondary modern for girls, where I came under another spell. Miss Morris - her first name was Mary - was nun-like and pale, a bit like Iris Murdoch. In fact, the first time I met Iris Murdoch I had the sort of lurch you have when you see somebody with whom you have to be on your best behaviour. And I think I instinctively looked at my nails, because Miss Morris had a thing about nails. She inspected them for cleanliness and she wanted them manicured. It was almost a requisite of being in Miss Morris's class that you had to keep a manicure set.

She taught us English literature and the fundamentals of grammar and punctuation, using literature all the while. She loved Milton, Wilde, Shakespeare and Blake, and we had to learn a poem a week by heart. It was only the best for Miss Morris.

I joined her drama group, The Orpheans, and she chose me to be Jesus in the Passion Play. We toured Holland - it was the first time I had been abroad - and I had to lug this big cross around. She wanted me to act, and I would go to her house for coaching. She lived with her mother, an invalid, and never married. But I think she had a volatile private life. There would often be raised voices in the kitchen, or dramatic phone calls. I think I was her favourite, and she wanted me to go on to higher education. But I left school at 14 and I think she was really disappointed.

I saw Miss Morris again when I was 19. I had been married a year, and I was walking along the street with my first baby on my hip. My heart almost stopped with fear. She didn't look at my baby once. She said to me, "How are you?" and I said, "Fine, how are you?" She said "Very well - quite busy." Then she just walked on. I was very upset by it. I felt ashamed. I think she found it impossible to see anybody else's point of view. But she did make a profound impression on me. I'm sure she wanted to see what she could do with us, and what she did with us was astounding.

Miss Morris gave me what I needed, which was an appreciation of quality in writing. So thank you, Miss Morris.

Writer Sue Townsend was talking to David Newnham

The story so far

1946 Born in Leicester

1950s-1960 Glen Hills junior and South Wigston secondary modern, Leicester

1978 Joins the writers' group at the Phoenix Arts Centre, Leicester. Wins a Thames TV bursary for first play, Womberang, and becomes writer in residence at the Phoenix

1982 Publishes The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, Aged 133Z4. Numerous sequels follow

1992 Publishes The Queen And I, one of several acclaimed novels and plays outside the Adrian Mole series

1999 Diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy and begins losing her sight

2004 Total sales from Adrian Mole books reach 8 million. Adrian Mole And The Weapons Of Mass Destruction published by Michael Joseph on October 7, Pounds 16.99

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