My best teacher

23rd March 2001 at 00:00
I started school at two and a half and remember my first teacher, Miss Bates, because we did this "King's Breakfast" routine. I had to slide down a table saying: "I do like a little bit of butter on my bread." It was my first performance.

I was with Miss Bates at Waldron Road school in Earlsfield, south-west London, until I was seven when we were evacuated to Chard in Somerset.

I remember Chard for being whacked by the headmaster Mr Rose for being cheeky to my "lady", the foster parent I was staying with. I'd get a clip round the ear at home for crimes I never quite understood and then I'd get punished at school as well.

Mr Rose was my Unfavourite Teacher. Once, halfway through a beating I asked him to stop. Then, when I went back into class he told everyone I had begged for mercy. I hated him.

There were two nice teachers at Chard - Miss Guppy and Miss Wyler - young women acting as relief teachers while the men were away fighting. Miss Guppy had lovely legs. Many years later, when I was working at Alexandra Palace as a newsreader, I had a letter from her asking if I was the same Michael Aspel she had taught in Somerset and she came to see me. What I remember most about Miss Wyler is that she had a splendid bosom.

I returned to London and got a scholarship to Emanuel school in Wandsworth. I remember all the teachers at Emanuel. There was Taffy Neath who taught Latin and every day, holding a cricket bat, would chant: "Weary day after weary day, weary week after weary week, monotonous month after monotonous month - and you still don't know anything." Every now and again we got a tap on the head with the cricket bat. I wasn't any good at Latin.

We had a number of student teachers and I feel guilty at the way we treated them. We must have destroyed at least one fledgling career. I remember particularly an Indian with exquisite manners who tried to teach us maths. When he turned to the board we would hurl bits of chalk at his back and he would plea: "Gentlemen, marvel at the board."

The headmaster, Mr Broome, was a wonderful Alistair Sim type. He asked me once what I wanted to do and I said: "Something to do with cameras, perhaps." He said: "You could learn Russian as well and become a spy. It would be a brief but colourful career." He caught me in the high street without my cap and greeted me with: "Fair cop, I think we'll call that."

There was a geography master, Major someone, who used to wrench people to the floor by their hair. He was in charge of the Combined Cadet Force of which I was a member. My father, who was a soldier, encouraged me in anything to do with uniform. He wanted me to become a fireman.

I liked school because I was gregarious. I was described as an "all-rounder", which meant I was a dilettante. English was my best subject and I was good at art and pretty good at languages - apart from Latin. I failed at maths completely. I was in the school drama group and in one end of term play played a BBC announcer in a dinner jacket. Everyone said I did it unnaturally well.

My father didn't believe in further education so I left at 16 and became a teaboy at a publishing company before doing my national service. I was 21 or 22 when I went for an audition at the BBC and the next week I was on the radio in Children's Hour.

Michael Aspel was talking to Pamela Coleman


1933 Born London

1955 First professional performance, in BBC radio Children's Hour

1957 Continuity announcer (in dinner jacket) for BBC television

1957 First television newsreader in Wales

1960-1968 Announcer on BBC national television

1962-1976 Presenter of Miss World

1968-1972 Crackerjack on television and Family Favourites on radio

1970-1980 Ask Aspel, children's television show

1984-1992 Aspel and Co, television chat show

1980s-90s Hosts Bafta awards

1989-present Presenter of This is Your Life

2000-present Antiques Road Show

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