My best teacher

16th February 2001 at 00:00
At primary school I was doing school plays and mum was sending me to tap-dancing classes at the weekend. At that time Grange Hill was on the television. I was really jealous because I wanted to be in it.

Mum must have realised there was a real passion there, because from about 1976 until I left primary school in 1978, she scraped together the money to send me to Italia Conti stage school, although she wouldn't entertain the idea full-time, so I went part-time on Saturdays.

I went to Lyndhurst primary school in Peckham, which is no longer there. But I can remember it and all the teachers. Then I went to Haberdashers' Aske's girls school in New Cross, which was just coming out of being a grammar school, so we were the first influx of mixed students.

At secondary school I was trying to find out why I felt so creatively responsive to things and why I always wanted to write or organise the play when people said there was no future in it. The cultivation of free spirits wasn't always encouraged because the school was very academic.

Last year I was doing a review of my life. I wanted to know where this thing started or if it was always there. So I read all my old school reports which said things like "can be disruptive" and "should pay attention" but the English reports all said things like "has a very advanced vocabulary" and "writes very interesting stories".

That my English teachers at six, seven and eight were commenting on my use of language was a real eye-opener to me. When I was looking back I thought about one of my primary teachers, Graham Knight. At Lyndhurst the teachers had their own classes but they also took specialist classes. Mr Knight was the drama teacher and he had a profound effect on me.

I decided to look him up and I found out he was a headmaster at another school in Peckham. He was always popular with the little girls becuse you all have a crush on a teacher. And he was the one everyone had a crush on.

Even when I went back to see him, I walked into the playground and it was like going back in time because he was there, surrounded by little girls just clinging on to him.

He was a very personable man, and a very hands-on teacher. We all knew his first name, although we would never have called him by it.

He watched all my programmes and I went to say thank you and hello and touch base with him, which was nice as he was very encouraging.

He got me into expressing myself in a positive way because I had a lot of energy - I was always performing, always making people laugh, even at seven or eight. He managed to channel that energy and make drama fun and gave me the bug. I always had the bug but it was good to have a teacher who supported that.

There was also Miss Shoebridge. She was very severe-looking and we'd never dare ask her what her first name was. She was quite strict but I liked her because she gave me discipline and made me want to strive to be better in my writing.

Miss Shoebridge pushed me to work harder and Graham Knight talked to me and encouraged me in the talent part and made me want to do better.

Actress Llewella Gideon was talking to Yolanda Brooks

* STORY SO FAR

1967: Born in Peckham, south London

1988: Goes into acting full-time, meets Colette Johnson and writes and performs a two-woman show at the Albany Empire in Deptford, south London

1989: Writes and performs along with Colette Johnson and Curtis and Ishmael for The Real McCoy, a BBC2 sketch show

1993: Writer and performer on Radio 4 sketch show Airport

1994: Appears in BBC1 sitcom Absolutely Fabulous

2001: Touring with Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys. Appearing in her own series on Radio 4 - The Little Big Woman - from February 21, 11pm


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