Mrs Thorogood by Alan Davies

4th April 2014 at 01:00
The comedian and actor remembers the support of a warm, energetic primary school teacher - and the painful years that followed their goodbye

I had a teacher at Staples Road Primary School, in Loughton in south-east England, who was hugely influential on me: Elizabeth Thorogood. It's peculiar that this interview should come up now because I'm doing a warm-up show for my tour tonight and she's coming along. It will be the first time I've seen her since 1976.

I was taught by Mrs Thorogood in what was supposed to be my penultimate year at primary school, and I thrived under her tutelage. Unfortunately, my father managed to persuade his old school to allow me to sit its entrance exam and I was admitted to Bancroft's School early. Consequently, I missed my last year of primary.

I remember the headmaster of Staples Road telling my class that instead of having a different teacher in the final year, Mrs Thorogood would move up too, and keep teaching us. I was incredibly upset because I knew that I was going to my father's old private school. He thought it was the greatest institution in the country, but it turned out to be catastrophic for me.

It was an awful place. Bullying was the norm in those days, I think. Being physically afraid was an absolute standard for a boy in England. That was a factor, but that wasn't what killed me. It was that I had been doing so well; I was thriving and confident and happy. As happy as I could be, bearing in mind that my mother had died of leukaemia three years earlier.

There was an absence in my life and Mrs Thorogood filled it. She was only 23 years old; I think it was her first job out of training. She was profoundly important to me and to have her taken away just reinforced the sense of loss that I was already carrying. She was the sort of teacher who, when we did physical education, would go off and get changed and come back in a tracksuit. If it were swimming, she would be in the water. She was young and fun when most of the teachers were close to retirement.

And there was this great responsibility on me to love Bancroft's, just as my father had. I hated it. I did not do well there: I was physically weaker than my peers and my older brother, who was also at the school, didn't stand beside me - he denied I was a relation.

The lessons were fantastically boring and difficult. They didn't even play football, they played hockey. I mean, I don't mind playing hockey, but instead of football? That's not right. We once played basketball in PE. I had an aptitude for it - I was really good, actually. And that was the only day we ever played. "We're not doing that again, lads." Damn.

But at Staples Road, Mrs Thorogood was, as they say in football, a breath of fresh air in the dressing room. I initially tried to get her attention by being disruptive: I went through a period of repeating everything she said. Can you imagine that? I was struggling, desperate for attention. I was a bereaved, lost, middle child with an older sibling who hated my guts and a father who followed the advice "least said, soonest mended" when it came to getting over losing a parent.

Mrs Thorogood took me to one side when all the other kids had gone to assembly. I burst into tears. She was shocked at first, but quickly realised that I was a bit of a basket case and needed support. Which she provided in spades.

I did very well from then on. In fact, everyone in the class did well thanks to this bright, energetic teacher with lots of different ideas. It was a good year.

I hope to God she laughs at my show.

Alan Davies was speaking to Tom Cullen. The UK tour of Davies' new show, Little Victories, runs until December. For more information, visit

Comic timing

Alan Davies

Born 6 March 1966, Essex, England

Education Staples Road Primary School; Bancroft's School; Loughton College of Further Education

Career Award-winning stand-up comedian, star of Jonathan Creek and regular panellist on BBC Two quiz show QI


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