My best teacher

15th September 2000 at 01:00
There were two teachers at Clifton College in Bristol who had an influence on me.

Terry Whatley was the tennis and racquets coach and he was more than a good teacher. He was a mentor. I was a big sports fan, played in the first team at most games and was captain of both the racquets and tennis teams. Terry tried to instil in us the right sort of values in various sporting arenas, and he and I had a good rapport.

He was fit, athletic, witty, charming, tall, dark and good-looking - almost like an older brother, though he could also crack the whip on occasions if you pushed things a little bit too far. I think we called him Mr Whatley for the first year, then, like most of the sports staff, he was addressed by his first name. All the other masters were called Sir.

Terry Whatley was also the first person to get me drunk. We had played an away match and stopped off at two or three pubs on the way home. I got to know him well, and to meet his wife and kids.

I was sports mad, but I also loved English. My English master at Clifton was Brian Worthington. He loathed sport and I think had sports people down as Ds and Es, not As and Bs, although I got an A at A-level.

He had been a pupil of F R Leavis, the doyen of English literary criticism. I think he thought sport was intellectually demeaning, though he seemed to have a secret grudging admiration for people who were good at it. He was very erudite and educated, a great scholar and intellect. If anybody ever got above their station, he had the most wonderful selection of put downs which left you in no doubt at all that he was your mental superior.

Brian Worthington wasn't cruel, but he could be acerbic, sarcastic or mocking. I'm sure some people didn't like his manner, but it always used to make me smile. I always felt that he was on my side.

Occasionally, I found the set books boring because we were always analysing things, and I just wanted to enjoy reading them. I remember how Portrait of a Lady seemed to drag on forever, and one day I was caught reading The Sporting Life in class. Brian Worthington came out with a wonderfully erudite put-down, whichmade me look like a complete buffoon, and everybody laughed at me. I folded up the paper neatly and went back to page 802, or whatever it was.

He had a very successful formula for getting good results. He encouraged free debate and free thinking in class. He was immensely proud of getting people to express themselves well. If you made a point in class which wasn't very coherent, as often it wasn't, he would say: "Now, hang on a minute, how much better would it be if you had said it like this?" People who were in his A-level English group got a lot of benefit from that sort of encouragement.

I went to his 60th birthday and retirement party last year and he looked exactly the same to me then as he had on the first day I walked into his class. He looked old before his time then and now looks much younger than he is, because he hasn't changed in 30 years. He organised careers talks and I've been back to speak to the school on several occasions. I'm sure he was pleased that someone who spent so much time on a muddy field also has the ability to string two words together. He must take a lot of the credit for that.

I also see Terry Whatley occasionally. He left Clifton to become the commercial director of Chepstow racecourse and is now the commercial director of Clifton rugby club.

Radio and TV presenter John Inverdale was talking to Pamela Coleman

Brian Worthington seemed to have a secret grudging admiration for people who were good at sport

The story so far

1971-75 Day boy at Clifton College, Bristol

1976-79 Reads history at Southampton University

1982 Joins BBC Radio Lincolnshire as a news reporter

1987 Reporter on Today programme, BBC Radio 4

1990 First TV appearance as reporter on BSkyB

1994 Joins Radio Five Live. Makes first national TV appearance, as presenter of Rugby Special on BBC TV

1997 onwards Presenter of On Side, BBC TV sports chat show

1998 Voted broadcaster of the year by Sony and Variety Club of Great Britain

2000 Covers Wimbledon tennis for BBC TVand radio

2000 September Presents Olympic highlights from Sydney on radio and TV


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