My best teacher

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
John Siddle opened a door for me. He started me off on my journey, he put me on a stage for the first time and he encouraged me. He still does even now.

Mr Siddle was a young English teacher at my school, Greatfield High in Hull, back in the 1960s. He wanted me for the school play. He was a big man with big hands and a big, embracing personality.

I had turned him down the previous year because I was too busy with soccer or cricket or whatever. I came from a bad home, so I joined everything at school, every society there was, in order not to go home at the normal time. There was no pleasure whatsoever in my home life.

"Come on, Rutter," he said. "You've got a big gob in class. Why don't you put it to use in the school play?" Yes, he was right, I did have a big gob, I was a handful - troublesome, cocky, a right clown, a loudmouth. I still am!

I said yes to him, thought I would give it a go, and when I got on that tiny school stage something wonderful happened. I found that it was a happy place to be. I'm not talking about talent or any of that sort of thing, I just felt at home on that stage. I felt at home with the audience,with the props, with the half-dozen lights you have at a school production. I knew where everyone was. I knew that this was a comfortable place for me to be. I was on stage and Mr Siddle had put me there.

I formed Northern Broadsides, my own theatre company, in 1992, to perform classic texts with strong northern voices. I was always determined to act with the voice I was born with, rather than be forced to speak any other way.

Mr Siddle came to see us that year when we opened with Richard III in Hull, down at the Boathouse. He sought me out afterwards, but there wasn't the time to have a long chat. I suppose we deserve a long chat. He comes to every production now and he's full of praise, which pleases me no end.

At school the first play I did with him was The Government Inspector. I had a smallish part to begin with, but once we started rehearsals he saw I could do it a bit and I got the part of the Mayor, the equal lead. He had clearly seen something in me. Up to that point I had no clear idea of what I was going to do with my life.

After the play, he wasn't gushing with praise. That was because I wasn't doing my homework, which must have put him in a right quandary. Anyway, he dealt with it without making it public; he talked to the other teachers about the homework I should have been doing for them, which I also hadn't done. I scraped by with five O-levels - I still don't know how - scraped a geography A-level and failed English. But I wasn't much bothered. Homework didn't matter - I was going to drama school and I was going to be an actor,nothing would stop me.

Mr Siddle's encouragement was massive but it was never pushy. He took me into his confidence about making decisions about the play - that's how he embraced me. He didn't actually seek out my opinion, but I would offer it and he would listen.

Most of my conversations with John Siddle were about the stage, possibilities in the profession and choosing a drama school. He was my mentor, and whatever he said I would go along with. "We think you should be an actor," he told me. Right, I said, I'll be an actor.

You always look up to your teacher, and I still have that feeling of looking up to him. Of course, it's not quite as it was, because I'm fat and 51 and he's well into his sixties and a long time retired. Without it seeming too cosy, it's that thing of teachers taking you into their confidence about the subject you're both dealing with - which was drama in my case. You feel you have a more grown-up relationship with a teacher, they're beginning to treat you as a young adult.

Barrie Rutter directs and acts with his company, Northern Broadsides, which has toured India, Europe and South America. Northern Broadsides are touring a new production of 'Richard III' in the UK with Rutter playing the lead. His actors often work in what Rutter calls 'non-velvet' spaces - they have appeared at a riding stables, a cattle market and a former West Riding woollen mill as well as in many prominent theatres and the Tower of London. Barrie Rutter was talking to Kevin Berry

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