My best teacher

13th December 2002 at 00:00
It was thanks to Dave Ackers that I became a musician, and it was rather good to be inspired by a history teacher. The music teacher was no inspiration at all

At first, Mr Ackers seemed a perfectly conventional history teacher, just going through the motions. Then one day he turned up with a guitar and handed out photocopied lyrics of songs he'd written about the period we were studying. The tunes were catchy and the lyrics included all the dates and facts we needed to know. Suddenly, we started to look forward to history lessons. I can remember some of the songs to this day. When we did our history O-level we sat in the exam room, with eyes closed, singing to ourselves. It was an original and effective teaching technique. We all got pretty good results.

Mr Ackers was one of the youngest teachers at Brighton, Hove and Sussex grammar school, now a sixth form college. He'd been an Oxford blue at football and was quite a charismatic figure. He was a bit of a showman and appeared in school concerts. I remember him doing a funny version of the Rolling Stones' "Get Off Of My Cloud" in a very prim and proper Shakespearean way. From him I learned not only about history, but also about song-writing, not in any academic sense, but subconsciously, how you could take material and make a song out of it.

I already played piano and, inspired by him, I took up guitar when I was 15 or 16. It was thanks to Dave Ackers that I became a musician - which is the job I did first - and I think it was rather good to be inspired by a history teacher. The music teacher was no inspiration at all.

On Friday afternoons we had to take part in army cadet training with the CCF (Combined Cadet Force) at school . I didn't really want to get involved in the shooting and fighting, but I didn't want to be a conscientious objector and have to do charity work with old people, which was the alternative. I joined the drum corps, part of the marching band, and learned to play the side drums. The sergeant major of this platoon was Mr Ackers. Being able to play drums was useful later when I was in a show called Lennon, in which I played the part of Ringo.

Mr Ackers managed to lose us once. He took the whole band marching round the streets of Brighton, met somebody he knew, and got talking, while we carried on marching. It was some time before we realised we had broken free. He was furious.

The other teacher I remember from those days is Mr Reeve, who was known as Killer Reeve. When I arrived at grammar school at 11 I was rather scared and Mr Reeve deliberately set out to frighten first year boys. His subject was art, which you might expect to be taught in a free and easy atmosphere. I don't remember much painting going on. We did a bit of drawing, but my memories are mostly of being disciplined. He would insist that all the desks were precisely lined up on the nails in the floor. If yours wasn't, he would bellow at you and try to humiliate you. I think he was role-playing, pretending to be unpleasant, because one day when he bellowed at me and I was feeling particularly confident, I said something cheeky back which he kind of liked me for.

When I arrived at the school I was diligent. I had it in my head that I had to work hard to keep up. Then I realised that I'd come top or second, so I worked less hard, and consequently dropped further down with each passing term. I became the class comedian, especially in lessons where the teacher wasn't good at discipline.

I remember Miss Naish, who taught English, struggling to keep control. One day, I was sitting in the front of her class balancing books on my head when the deputy headmaster walked by, hauled me out of the lesson and gave me detention.

I was made a prefect, but by then most of the lower forms had been phased out and there was only one year below me so I didn't have many people to boss around. I had a year off and went to Manchester University to study drama. I only managed a term and a half before deciding student life wasn't for me.


1960 Born in Brighton

1971-78 Brighton, Hove and Sussex grammar

1981 Pub pianist

1982 Cliffhanger Theatre Company, Brighton

1986 Appears with Paul Merton at the Edinburgh Festival fringe in 'Have you Been on Telly yet?'

1988 Top of the Pops in Morris Minor and the Majors with 'Stutter Rap'

1990 Debut on Radio 4's Just a Minute

1992 TV series The Brain Drain with Jo Brand

1995 Debut on Have I Got News for You

1998 Publication of first book, Round Ireland with a Fridge

August 2002 Publication of One Hit Wonderland

October 2002 Tours Britain in one-man show

December 31, 2002 Radio 4, 4pm, 12 Days of Christmas

Comedian and author Tony Hawks was talking to Pamela Coleman

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