My best teacher

6th August 2004 at 01:00
I was sent away to school when I was seven, which was much too young. I had no idea what I was in for and was terrified, so I took my teddy bear, Patrick. I soon discovered that the other boys hadn't brought bears so I wrapped Patrick up after two days and sent him home.

I quickly settled into school life. I was pretty resilient and learned to throw myself into study and games and all that boyish stuff that is no doubt character-building and made me hugely independent and fairly tough.

I had two key teachers, one at Wellington and one at Oxford. George MacMillan, who taught Latin and Greek at Wellington, was the head of the MacMillan clan. What was so amazing about George was that he was virtually blind and yet wholly able. He had a curious magnifying glass and, at huge personal effort, could just manage to read a short piece of prose, but he couldn't read my essays or my Latin and Greek translations, so I had to read my work to him and we would discuss it. That is common at university, but something you don't often experience at school.

He was a brilliant man and he obviously did a lot of preparation for his classes. He was interesting, human and fascinating to listen to. No one ever took advantage of his disability because he was such a sweetheart. He would have been about 30 then and is still alive. He's the nicest man I know. We are in touch occasionally. I don't think I ever called him George at school. It would be "Sir" in those days, but he didn't call me Snow, always Peter. He was absolutely devoid of any pomposity with students.

To me, Latin and Greek are the most wonderful languages and when I went to Balliol College, Oxford, I read Greats. My tutor in ancient history was Russell Meiggs, who was also prefectus of Hollywell Manor, where I lived in my first year. Being at Hollywell was wonderful because Russell loved drama and so did I, and we used to produce these extraordinary plays in the magnificent gardens, and Russell was in the audience laughing.

The most notable thing about him was his long grey hair, which reached his shoulders. He was a wonderful character with piercing eyes and bushy eyebrows. At first he appeared frightening, but when he started talking, you realised what a gentle, kind and understanding man he was. He was a good listener, too. His lectures were wonderful because they were so amusing. He talked with enormous enthusiasm and at a rate of knots so you had to listen hard to follow him.

I have always had boundless enthusiasm and have never been shy. As well as being involved with theatrical productions at Wellington, I enjoyed taking part in Latin and Greek reading competitions. I did a lot of acting and directing at Oxford and went to ITN intending to be a director, but within a week I ended up a journalist and have never thought of doing anything else since.

After National Service, I taught at a prep school called Arnold House in St John's Wood in north London for three months. I found it satisfying to teach those who wanted to be taught, but frustrating with those who didn't.

I suppose there's an element of teaching in what I do, though in history television, it's more a question of getting people interested and imparting knowledge, passing on your enthusiasm for something you enjoyed learning and making it come alive to others.

TV presenter and author Peter Snow was talking to Pamela Coleman


1938 Born in Dublin

1946-52 St Andrew's school, Eastbourne

1952-56 Wellington college

1956-58 2nd Lieutenant Somerset Light Infantry

1962 Graduates from Balliol college, Oxford, with degree in Greats

1962-66 Newscaster and reporter with ITN

1966-69 ITN's diplomatic and defence correspondent

1974 Co-presents BBC television coverage of general election for first time; co-presents further general elections in 1983, 1987, 1992, 1997 and 2001

1979-97 Presenter, Newsnight, BBC

1997-2001 Presenter, Tomorrow's World

2001 Vice-patron Jubilee Sailing Trust

2002 Makes BBC film of Battle of El Alamein with son Dan

July 29, 2004 Publication of Battlefield Britain by Peter and Dan Snow

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