My best teacher - Catherine Tate

24th December 2010 at 00:00
A terrific trio inspired, encouraged and helped to kick-start a career for the TV comedian

My biology teacher, Mrs Thompson, was also my form teacher at my convent school. She was a very open-hearted, exuberant, smiling, positive force of a wonderful woman. A sort of archetypal jolly lady.

I took biology purely because of her. I was absolutely no good at biology or any of the sciences: they were all Chinese to me. Chemistry was just symbols and in physics I was always dropping things on the floor. I have no hand-eye co-ordination - it's why I don't drive. But my memory was very good and I could trot stuff off.

Cooking was one of my favourite subjects at Notre Dame High in Southwark (south London). It was ironic, really, because I'm basically a non-cooking person. I'm a disaster in the kitchen. If I break an egg, it won't go in the bowl - it will go on the floor.

But I was very, very good at the theory of it. I could retain lots of facts about vitamins, implements and cooking styles. In theory, I'm a very knowledgeable cook. But in practice, I can't even grill toast.

Our teacher, Miss Little, was so dexterous and capable. She would show us how it was done, and suddenly there would be a Victoria sponge on the table, while I would still have flour in my hair.

But I was good at languages, purely because I can mimic accents. When you can mimic an accent, it gives you the confidence to say, "Well, I may as well pretend to be Spanish." Languages and drama were what I was good at.

My first play at Notre Dame was Our Town by Thornton Wilder. It was an all-girls' school, and I was playing a man, the drunk school teacher. My mum sat behind Mrs Thompson and she said that every time I came on stage, Mrs Thompson just roared out laughing. I felt she championed me.

By the sixth-form, my convent school had sort of called time on me and I went to a boys' school, Salesian College in Battersea. Mr Ayres, my English teacher, directed the plays we used to put on.

Even though he had no formal acting training, Mr Ayres introduced me to the discipline of putting on a play. Because I was always a little competitive, I liked the idea of auditioning. But there weren't that many girls, and the others didn't want to audition, so there wasn't actually that much competition.

We did Arsenic and Old Lace, where I played my first old lady, at the age of 16. That is where I got a taste for acting, really. It gave me the bug for doing that.

Mr Ayres suggested that I go to a summer drama school in the East End of London, and then he set up the audition for me. That is where it all started, really.

I used to stay in touch with all three of those teachers. After the first thing I did on TV, I remember going back to school and Miss Little said to me: "Do you know, I was watching some rubbish on television the other day, and I just thought of you." She meant it to be nice. She was a bit tongue- tied, and it didn't come out right.

Catherine Tate appears in `Gulliver's Travels', released on Boxing Day, and is an alumnus of the National Youth Theatre, which is now accepting applications for courses in acting, costume, lighting and sound, scenery making and stage management. The deadline is January 7. Visit www.ideastap.comnytapply.

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