My best teacher

27th October 2000 at 01:00
We lived in Singapore until I was one - my father had a job in telecommunications - and then moved to Hong Kong, where we lived until I was 15. I went to a few schools there, including an English-speaking junior school with children from all over the world. My headmistress was called Miss Handiside, a plump, squat woman with a shrill voice.

My love of acting started in Hong Kong. My parents were involved in amateur dramatics and I got roped in to music hall shows. I used to sing "Hold your hand out you naughty boy". My father made the sets and my mother directed. She was an English teacher.

When I was eight or nine, I was in the school production of Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But I was so involved helping my dad make sets that one day I forgot to turn up for a rehearsal, so the next day I was demoted to a donkey or something. In Hong Kong I was always blessed with teachers who were either very interested in drama or wanted to be actors.

At about 11, I was sent to Llanarth Court in Abergavenny, which was run by Benedictines. I think my father had gone to school with the headmaster in Manchester. My two brothers and I used to fly around the world on our own. Dad would chuck us on a plane, smile and wave and we got on with it. My father told me that the way to get into the cricket team was to put your hand up when they asked if there were any wicket keepers because no one ever did. He was right. I was in the first XI from then on. I wasn't particularly happy: I knew what I wanted to do, and it wasn't physics or chemistry classes with Bunsen burners.

At 13 I went to Leighton Park in Reading, which was run by Quakers. They were arch-liberals - you could wear what you liked and the teaching was more forthcoming. There was very good drama there. Teaching is such an important thing to do; it's a gift to be able to shape kids' lives. There was a geography teacher at the school - I don't remember his name - who was brilliant. When we were doing erosion he took us outside and said, "I'e been coming and looking at that rock for 25 years, and every time water flows over it it is eroded that little bit more."

When I was 15, just before my O-levels, my father died and I didn't do particularly well. I went to Hammersmith and West London College to resit the O-levels and I started an A-level course, but five months into it I got into drama school.

I went to Lamda (the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) at 18. Two-and-a-half thousand people applied and only 20 got in - I was thrilled. I danced a merry jig, I can tell you. And this was where I met my best teacher: Colin Cook, the assistant principal. It was down to him that I stayed.

I was naive and impatient and didn't want to do certain things, like ballet, but he always supported me. Acting is such an unspecific science, and it's important to build a young actor's confidence. Often drama schools break you down to build you up, but he'd been there so long, there was an incredible sense of warmth. And he was an incredibly funny man too. He had a catchphrase: "You've got to live in the moment".

He would never impose his ideas; he would let you run with yours, although quite often they were really his. He used to say, "This is your arena to fail". And I certainly failed a lot at drama school, although after Lamda I've been in work most of the time.

Actor Jason Durr was talking to Heather Neill


1968 Born in Singapore

Educated in Hong Kong and England

1986-1988 Trains at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art

1990 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Thames TV)

1991 Wins Critics' Award at Cannes for Billibud

1991 RSC season playing Malcolm in Macbeth, Claudio in Measure for Measure

and Paul in The Blue Angel

1993 Jamie in the three-part special, Dark Adapted Eye (BBC TV)

1994 Guest lead Lord Kiely in Sharpe's Battle, with Sean Bean (Central TV)

1997 Joins Yorkshire Television's Heartbeat as PC Mike Bradley

2000 Tenth anniversary season of Heartbeat

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