My best teacher

12th January 2001 at 00:00
Mrs Briggs made us see Shakespeare clearly and encouraged us to use our imagination and creativity.

My secondary school was Casterton community college in my home village in Leicestershire. There were about 700 pupils and I had a good time there. Standards were high and they drilled in a lot of important values.

When I was 14, I reached that turning when you think "What am I going to do as a profession?" and it was then that Mrs Tina Briggs started teaching me English and drama.

She was quite firm, with a dry sense of humour. When I think of her mannerisms now I'm reminded of the actress Caroline Quentin: a "no nonsense" attitude, but slightly sexy with it.

Mrs Briggs made us see Shakespeare and other texts clearly, not as the complex, tedious things you expect them to be when you're 14. She encouraged us to use our imagination and creativity. I remember her taking us to see Twelfth Night, and how absolutely clueless I was about the play until her explanation before the trip.

I was a bit too chatty and jokey to be a model pupil. I had no inclination to work for teachers who were dismissive (I was hopeless at science and PE) but I was prepared to work hard for Mrs Briggs because she believed in me.

I'd done a bit of drama at junior school, but nothing major, and Mrs Briggs was the first person who inspired me to take acting seriously and also make me believe that I could make it a career rather than just a hobby.

The first role she gave me was in Bugsy Malone, as Fat Sam (that was a bit of typecasting), and we also did some Shakespeare.

She used to get quite fraught when things went wrong in rehearsals - the "splurge" guns not working properly in Bugsy Malone, for example - but she always handled it with a smile.

Another thing I liked about her was that as long as you respected her she treated you like an adult, whereas with other teachers there was that very distinct pupil-teacher boundary.

You couldn't do drama for A-level at sixth-form clleges in our area, so I did English, history and sociology. My time at Casterton had sparked my interest in acting, but when I applied to universities for drama courses which didn't teach it I thought: "This really isn't for me."

It was my mum who suggested I apply to drama school. My parents were aware of the risks of an acting career, but they were still keen for me to do what I wanted. I got into drama school in Birmingham, and since then things have gone really well.

Mrs Briggs is still teaching at Casterton and we write to each other quite a bit, although I haven't seen her for a while. She says she really enjoys The Grimleys and that it reminds her of her own schooldays. That's the nice thing about the series: it has got nostalgic elements because it's set in the 1970s, but it's true to what school's really like, and shows that those years can be really tough for kids emotionally.

My character, Gordon Grimley, is a trainee teacher in the new series, and Mrs Briggs is certainly not an inspiration for my performance, because Gordon's a poor teacher. He tries hard, and reads Caring Teacher magazine, but he fails miserably to understand his pupils. There are a few teachers I can look back on who were like that at my school, but I couldn't be naughty enough to name them.

Actor James Bradshaw was talking to Daniel Rosenthal


1976 Born in Stamford, Lincolnshire

1984 Makes debut as the King in Puss in Boots at Ryhall primary school

1994 Begins diploma course at Birmingham School of Speech and Drama;

appears in several student productions, including Charley's Aunt and The

Revenger's Tragedy

1996 While still a student, makes professional debut as Gordon Grimley in

ITV sitcom The Grimleys

2000 Appears in Alan Ayckbourn's House and Garden at the National Theatre

2001 Appears in BBC2 drama In A Land of Plenty (started January 10). Third

series of The Grimleys begins on ITV (January 22, 10pm)

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