My best teacher - Andrew Marr

30th April 2010 at 01:00
The political commentator says there were two pivotal influences in his Scottish school career

I went to a number of Scottish boarding schools, but the one where I probably had the best teachers was Loreto near Edinburgh. (Former and current chancellors) Norman Lamont and Alistair Darling are among its alumni, although they were there quite a bit before my time. There were a number of excellent teachers, but the one that sticks out was David Stock, a particularly charismatic young English teacher.

He had taken photos in Afghanistan, had a Turkish wife and was relatively radical and exotic. He was well travelled and had great enthusiasm for a number of things, from photography to literature.

He fuelled my enthusiasm for reading. He made it absolutely clear that reading was not just alright, it was absolutely essential. Everyone should have views and prejudices about what they read. I went on to have a bit of a T.S. Eliot "problem", as well as a fascination with Webster, Marlowe, Shakespeare and Conrad. Mr Stock pushed me and provoked me.

Good teachers can flick a light switch on in your brain. If you are lucky, you can come across one teacher like that. I was very lucky because I had two. David Stock was one and Peter Lapping, my history teacher and housemaster, was another.

Mr Lapping again believed in stretching pupils and treated us boys like adults. I remember him leaping into the classroom with enthusiasm with The Crossman Diaries under his arm saying: "You'll never guess what!" (In 1975, the government had tried to ban publication of the books by former minister Richard Crossman.)

I was going through my hardline left-wing phase at the time and he was a Conservative so we had a great many arguments about politics. He always allowed me to have my say; he never sat on me or my views.

I was an abnormally bookish child and had been since the age of about eight or nine. I loved literature, historiography and later threw myself into philosophy, naively thinking that all truth lay within.

I enjoyed academic work, but I wouldn't say I was comfortable in my own skin as a child. I didn't easily fit into social settings and I was absolutely useless at sport. I was a natural rebel, though. I devoured books and I liked to argue, discuss and talk a lot.

I went on to read English at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, but I kept in touch with Peter and David. They were fantastic teachers, but they weren't the only ones.

I also had some marvellous teachers at Dundee High School. An English teacher was sacked there for not being rigorous enough, which I thought was terribly unfair. She would spend the whole lesson reading C.S Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to us. It was fantastic.

I write to both Peter and David quite regularly and I saw Peter relatively recently. I was terribly lucky to be taught by them.

I hope they liked me, although they would never say that, let alone that they are proud. I think it must be terribly hard to teach someone well if you dislike them.

  • Andrew Marr's new book, `Who's In Charge', aims to encourage children to get involved in political debate. He was talking to Hannah Frankel.

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