My best teacher

17th December 2004 at 00:00
Where I grew up, in Walsall, West Midlands, it was very industrial. If you looked out of our front window you could see the steel foundry where my father worked as a floor moulder.

I went to Leamore primary school, and me and a lad called Max Jones were the first in 10 or 11 years to go from that school to grammar school. I was in the top set at Queen Mary's but I was never top of the class. My reports used to say things like: "Lloyd could do better if he concentrated more in class." I think I frustrated a lot of teachers.

When I was in the lower sixth, my biology teacher, Mr Wiggin, pulled me out of class one day. We had been doing annotated drawings of skeletons of cats, horses, cattle and humans. At first I thought he was going to give me a bollocking, but he said: "Do you realise this work is good enough to get you into any British university?" I said: "What, like Oxford or Cambridge?"

He said: "Yes." He was deadly serious. That was my first inkling that I could go to a good university.

None of my family had been to university and until the sixth form I hadn't really thought of going. I thought of jobs like working in a bank or being a middle manager in a company somewhere. My mum wanted me to be academic so I wouldn't end up working in the pit. She used to say: "If you end up working down a pit I'll cut your hands off."

My father was one of 11 kids, and they all worked in the pits or the foundry. He'd left school at 14 and he didn't understand academic work. He saw education as a way of getting out of manual labour; for him, success was measured in terms of money. When I was doing my PhD and earning pound;4,000 a year, while friends I'd been to school with were earning four or five times as much, he thought I was insane. He would ask me why I wasn't doing a proper job.

When I was a small child, we almost always went on holiday to Wales, where I would spend hours looking in rock pools, pulling animals out from crevices and digging up worms. I was gripped by what was living there.

At secondary school I used to go on field trips to north Wales; that's where I learned about intertidal biology from Mr Wiggin. He encouraged my interest.

Mr Wiggin was quite a big guy, well built and stocky. When he taught me he must have been in his late 40s. We nicknamed him Drac, and he was exceptionally good at dissections. But he had a twinkle about him and would often send students up - he had a wicked sense of humour.

I remember one time he had me stand on one leg with my eyes closed and my arms outstretched, and then turned me round until I fell over to demonstrate the balance organs. He regularly did things like that; he wasn't a write-it-on-the-board kind of teacher. I liked the fact that there were a lot of practicals in his lessons; I liked getting to know about the world through practical experience.

I was always fiercely competitive. I was the county cross-country, 800m and 1,500m champion as a kid and captain of athletics and victor ludorum just about every year at sports day. I played basketball, cricket and rugby for the school. As I came from a working-class background, sport was a way of showing other kids I was as good as they were.

Mr Cruddace, the PE teacher, was the other teacher who had a big effect on me. I had huge respect for him. Once, after I had been caned for some minor misdemeanour, Mr Cruddace came up to me in the playground and started walking alongside me saying: "I'm disappointed in you and you should be disappointed in yourself. You could make something of your life but if you decide not to, it will be your own fault." He spoke quietly and calmly, then walked off. It made me think about the way I had acted. It affected me much more than the caning.

When I went to an old boys' do last year at the school, Mr Wiggin and Mr Cruddace were the two teachers everyone talked about, especially Mr Cruddace. He was a bit of a legend.

Life is composed of a few key moments and a few influential people; for me Mr Wiggin and Mr Cruddace were those people.

Scientist Lloyd Peck was talking to Harvey McGavin

The story so far

1957 Born Walsall

1962 Attends Leamore primary then Queen Mary's grammar school, Walsall

1975 Reads natural sciences at Jesus college, Cambridge

1978 Works for a year in a steel foundry

1979 Goes to Portsmouth university to do a PhD in growth and reproduction

in edible marine snails

1984 Joins British Antarctic Survey as research biologist

1989 Makes first of nine trips to Antarctica

1995 Made a visiting professor of polar ecology at Sunderland university

2004 Now principal investigator of the BAS. Gives Royal Institution Christmas lectures, Ice People, Ice Life and Ice World, to be broadcast on Channel 4, December 27, 28 and 29 at noon

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