My best teacher

21st July 2000 at 01:00
Like Baroness Jay, I went to Blackheath high school for girls, in south-east London. It was even posher then than it is now. My form teacher in the junior school was Miss Kemp, a tall, slim, grey-haired woman who taught English. She was special because she was the first teacher to make me feel I could be good at something.

It was my proudest moment when Miss Kemp asked me and Kate Carey, the brainiest girl in the class, to read out the stories we had written. The whole class had made a fantastic mural of a Welsh fishing village based on Dylan Thomas's play Under Milk Wood, and we had to write a little story based on the people who lived there.

I had described a man reading from a Bible in which he had put a letter as a bookmark and she isolated this as fantastic detail. I remember we had learned about similes and I wrote about people coming out of the village "like tea leaves". I was 10, the same age my daughter, Hannah, is now.

Miss Kemp actually wrote a book about creative writing and there was great excitement when a photographer came to the school and photographed some of us. We all bought copies of the book. It cost 17s 6d (87.5p). I still have mine. It's called Approach to Creative Writing in the Primary School" by S M Lane and M Kemp.

Miss Kemp took us round art galleries and got us to write stories inspired by the paintings. I remember sitting cross-legged, staring at pictures and seeing them actually come to life. She inspired us and released our creativity. One of the pictures was "The Boyhood of Raleigh" at the Tate. I remember wondering what the old man was saying to the boy. Miss Kemp taught me to be observant - which has been very useful in my career.

I was a daydreamer as a child and lived in my head, but Miss Kemp got through to me and set me on the creative path. Being told I was good at something was important because I was an insecure child and I didn't achieve. Even now I'm not a very secure person.

At school I was in trouble a lot. I told fibs. I didn't quite know the difference between fact and fiction and I lked messing about. I'm not proud of it and I try to keep it quiet from my daughter, but I have sympathy for children who just want to have a good time. Unfortunately, childhood nowadays is about passing exams and a lot of teachers are not creative because they are concerned with knocking the three Rs into you.

Miss Kemp's friend, Miss Thomas, another English teacher, put on a kind of revue at the school based on the television programme, That Was the Week That Was. I was asked to improvise an interview and I remember Miss Thomas commenting on it.

I went on to the senior school and then to do a sociology degree at Hatfield poly. I started an MA in criminology at Middlesex poly but didn't finish it. I never quite learned how to revise. I felt a bit like a fish out of water in the senior school. I became very anxious and I didn't play the game and I don't think they liked me much.

I don't know what became of Miss Kemp. I think all the teachers probably lived together in nearby houses and spent a happy retirement pottering about the garden. My sister, Janet, did the right thing and went back for reunions. I never returned. I have always kept a respectful distance from figures of authority.

Comedienne Helen Lederer was talking to Pamela Coleman


1964 Attends Blackheath high school 1974 Studies sociology at Hatfield college 1980 Post-graduate course at Central School of Speech and Drama 1982 First performance as a stand-up comedienne, at the Comedy Store 1985 Writes and performs BBC TV series Naked Video 1986 Appears in BBC TV series The Young Ones 1987 Appears in Channel 4 film, Solitaire for Two 1991 On stage in Alan Bleasdale's Having a Ball 1993 Appears in Harry Enfield TV show 1994 Performs one woman show, Still Crazy After All These Years, at Edinburgh Festival 1994-96 appears in Absolutely Fabulous TV show (returning in 2001) 2000 Contributes to book, Girls' Night In in aid of War Child (published July 3) Tours in One Night Stand, stand-up comedy show with Tim McArthur (opened Richmond Theatre, July 11)

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