My best teacher

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
She was a self-confessed chatterbox and looked on school as a glorified youth club, but one teacher inspired her to make acting her career

I grew up in Bolton and went to West-houghton High. It was a good school and I liked it a lot, although I was a bit lazy and not very academic.

School for me was like a youth club: it was great and you didn't dare have a day off because you might miss the gossip - like who was going with whom.

I had a great gang of mates and we had a good time. I'm not saying I didn't learn much and I mean no disrespect to the teachers, but for me school was more about friends and having a good social life.

I'm the only actor in our family. My dad left when I was nine and I grew up with my mum, although I still saw my dad a lot. As a child I was a bit of a show-off and liked making people laugh. Comedy was a big thing in our house and I was drawn to it.

I had a fantastic teacher at Westhoughton, Eve Mohacson, a lovely Welsh lady who ran the drama department with Karl Drillsma, another teacher. Mrs Mohacson was very involved with drama and music and had a great soprano voice. She also gave me a lot of encouragement. Not that our school was the most theatrical. One time it was going to put on Pirates of Penzance.

Everyone signed up, then when they realised rehearsals were after school they packed it in. There were only about three of us left.

But Mrs Mohacson never stopped trying. She understood that drama is a great way of giving kids confidence and channelling their energies. And mine definitely needed channelling. I wasn't very good at focusing in class - I was a complete chatterbox. In fact, I'm sure the teachers who remember me would say, "That's an understatement, Maxine!"

But Mrs Mohacson allowed me to let off steam with something that I enjoyed -drama. She introduced me to the idea that it's something you can make a living from. I used to look forward to her classes, which were the highlight of my week. She was a great teacher and a good listener. That was the start of it for me.

Later, I went to a performing arts school, Salford Tech - now part of Salford University. People such as Christopher Eccleston, the actor, had been there and Peter Kay, the comedian, came later. It was a good school, but I didn't have a fantastic time. I was a rather chunky 16-year-old with a basin cut and Doc Martens who was being told to get into sweat pants and jazz shoes - I'd never even heard of sweat pants and jazz shoes.

After I left, I did some odd jobs for about three years before I got a place at Rada (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts). I worked as a lifeguard and was part of a theatre-in-education group. We'd go round to schools in a minibus, wearing silly wigs and dancing in front of kids. I loved it. If you can stand up in front of a bunch of 15-year-olds who are thinking, "Who the heck is this lot skipping around our assembly hall?", you can do almost anything.

Mrs Mohacson left Westhoughton High before me, and I don't know where she went. I would have liked to have seen her again to say thank you. She was a lovely woman and a great teacher, and she definitely put me on the road that led to where I am now Maxine Peake, 32, appeared in two series of Dinnerladies with Victoria Wood and three series of Shameless, playing Veronica. She also starred in the BBC2 sitcom Early Doors and recently played Myra Hindley in See No Evil: The Moors Murders. She next appears as Tracey Temple in Confessions of a Diary Secretary, a satire loosely based on John Prescott's affair with his secretary, which airs on ITV on February 28. She was talking to Daphne Lockyer.

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