My best teacher

31st August 2001 at 01:00
I was at a boarding school called Kelly College in Tavistock in Devon where we dealt in initials. My best teacher there was a man known as R B H Edwards who taught me English from the age of 13 to 18.

The first time I met him I was suddenly aware of being in a presence. He was a tall, blond, athletic man and he took what little we knew of Shakespeare and poetry and made something living and virile of it.

He was a reserved, aloof and distant figure - certainly not a teacher you were cheeky to. He had been a naval officer and an Oxbridge athletics blue and on the edge of the British Olympic team in 1948, which impressed us 13-year-olds.

I was the product of older parents. My father, a retired bank manager, was chairman of the Poetry Society and my mother was a novelist. I had a natural inclination towards Mr Edwards's subject and a rather inflated opinion of my ability.

From about the age of 15 I was allowed to write a short story when a class essay was set. When I got a good mark Mr Edwards would hand my work back with a little nod of the head, which was enough to tell me he was pleased. He was never fulsome in his praise, he never gushed. He kept his emotions in check - unless we mucked about, in which case they would know about it two classrooms away.

He ran the school drama society, and when I reached the lower sixth he cast me in the leading role in Journey's End. He was very proud and said it was the best school performance of the play he had ever seen. I seriously angered him, though, the following year when he gave me the part of Prospero in The Tempest. I was in the rugby first XV and went to the rugby master and complained that I couldn't train properly because I had to learn my part for the play. This created friction in the staffroom and Mr Edwards was angry, telling me to pedal harder and learn my lines and stay fit enough to play in the first XV.

I was not short of self-confidence and I think Mr Edwards kicked my arrogance a bit. I remember when the headmaster asked me to do a digest of the week's affairs for the school's current affairs debating society, I talked about Princess Margaret's romance with Group Captain Townsend and the MP Barbara Castle's denunciation of British military brutality in Cyprus. Both were considered to be quite the wrong sort of subject.

When I was at school, in the 1950s, we set off by train at the beginning of term and didn't see our parents again until three months later. Looking back, I think I saw Mr Edwards as a surrogate parent.

Soon after I left to read history at University College London Mr Edwards suddenly packed up the minor public school and went into town to run the English department at the local grammar school. But his legacy remained. Within three days of arriving at university I'd joined the drama society and three months later was in the Sunday Times student drama festival finals. After three years at UCL I marched into ITN and my first and only job. That was on August 1. On August 8 the Great Train Robbery happened and because I was tall and had a good speaking voice, at the age of 21 I was made a reporter.

Novelist Gerald Seymour was talking to Pamela Coleman


1941 Born Guildford, Surrey

1963 Becomes reporter at ITN, covering the Great Train Robbery

1972 World exclusive interview with the three survivors of the Munich Olympics attack when 11 Israeli athletes were killed

1975 First novel, 'Harry's Game', published

1978 Leaves ITN to become a full-time novelist

1982 'Harry's Game' adapted for television

August 6 2001 20th novel, 'Untouchable', published. New York Times ranks him as one of the top four 'British masters of suspense', with Graham Greene, Eric Ambler and John le Carre.

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