Mr Quarless would teach us songs and take us out

26th November 2004 at 00:00
Mr Quarless would teach us songs and take us out. Sometimes I wonder how we learnt so much in that time because all I remember was having fun

I grew up in south-east London, in Camberwell, where it borders Peckham.

Peckham was lively, with loads of high rises and noise; Camberwell was calmer. My block was just six flats. I knew my neighbours, and it was friendly. But I spent a lot of my time round the corner rather than in the quiet part. I wasn't a bad kid, I just liked adventure, I liked to explore.

When you live in those areas, it can be hard to express yourself; you always have to act a certain way. But in drama class you could be anything. That's what I liked about it. I started going to drama classes when I was four. My mum was young and I think she wanted some freedom back, so she sent me to drama class. When I started I don't think I was that keen, but I grew to love it. It got to a stage where I started to dream of acting for a living. Money was a big influence, because we didn't have a lot. I wanted to get out there and help my family. I wanted to be the one that could change things.

In my last year at St George's primary school, Southwark, I had a teacher called Mr Quarless. He was black and that was a big thing for me and my classmates because every other teacher in the school was white. He was from Trinidad and he would tell us stories about what he had done back home, stories with morals. He would teach us songs and take us out. Sometimes I wonder how we learnt so much in that time because all I remember was having fun.

MrQuarless was a good guy; we could relate to him and he talked to us on our level. He was a role model for me. I didn't have my dad around so I looked up to him. We spent a lot of time with him out of school too because he ran a youth club in the area and we would be there after school. He had a big influence on my life, and he's one person I don't think I'll ever forget.

Then I went to Pimlico school. Initially, I was very macho and had to prove myself all the time. I was fighting other people's battles and nearly every day I was having a fight. My school report was saying things like "he's a vigilante". It was really an act; show you are a bit hard in the beginning and nobody will bother you. Throughout that period I did a lot of things I felt guilty about.

Mr Bagan was my form tutor and my English teacher for a while and he helped me to admit what I had done wrong. He taught me to own up and be responsible for my actions. Mr Bagan was special. He was white, oldish, he didn't have a lot of hair, and he was very tall; he was a giant. It seemed like he was God; he knew everything you did or you were planning to do before you'd even done it. At one stage we were stealing sandwiches from the local bakery - please forgive me, we wouldn't do it now - but when we got back to school, he knew. We had to go back, apologise in the shop and pay them back. Shame ourselves, basically. With other teachers you would be suspended, but he wasn't like that.

Mr Bagan gave us a lot of time and a lot of chances. He was very strict but we respected it. He watched our backs, made sure we didn't slip. He respected us and he didn't write us off.

In English he was outstanding. I liked English, I was good at it and I think he saw I had something. Overall, I did averagely at school. There was a time when I dumbed down because I didn't want to stand out. I pretended I didn't do homework but I would be at home doing my coursework while everyone was out raving. But I wanted to achieve and I made sure I knew enough to get myself a few GCSEs.

After that I went to college to do performing arts and sociology. I was getting a lot of acting work and it was a tutor at college who told me I should leave. I had to go to South Africa for a month to do a drama for ITV and he said, "You can't keep coming and going, you might as well go". And that was the last day I went.

Actor Ashley Walters, aka Asher D from the garage collective So Solid Crew, was talking to Harvey McGavin


1982 Born in Camberwell, south London

1986 Sylvia Young Theatre School1987 St George's primary school, Southwark

1993 Attends Pimlico school1995 First TV role in Grange Hill

1999 City of Islington College

2001 Raps on So Solid Crew hit 21 Seconds

2002 Spends nine months in jail for possession of a gun

2004 Appears in Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads at the National Theatre; releases solo album, Street Sibling; presents Sticks and Stones, a documentary about racism (November 29, Channel 4, 11.10am). Stars in feature film Bullet Boy. Nominated as most promising newcomer in British Independent Film Awards (presented November 30)

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