My best teacher - Charlie Higson

27th February 2009 at 00:00
A charismatic art teacher fuelled this author and comedian's creativity

I spent most of my sixth form in the art department. The whole ethos of it and the type of people who hung out there was what attracted me. That was all down to my teacher, Bob White, and the department he had created.

He was an inspirational teacher. Lessons wouldn't just be about drawing pictures - it was as much philosophy as anything else, and it opened my mind to the fact that school isn't just about learning things - it's about preparing you for life. It was richer and more interesting than I'd believed.

I was doing English and classical civilisation as well, but art was my favourite. I learnt more in the art department than in any other lessons. There was also a TV studio there, where I did some of my first TV work.

He has had an impact on what I'm doing now in terms of creativity and he also taught me to look under the surface and realise that everything's not always as it seems.

Half of (rock band) Gang of Four and some of The Mekons came out of that art department under Bob White. I was there in the late Seventies and there was a lot of rock music going on. People used to take in their records to play in the art department, which really opened my mind. A lot of the pupils also went on to study at Leeds University, which had a good art department.

Bob was charismatic; the kind of guy who, when he talked, you'd listen. He'd come at things from a different angle and always asked quite probing questions. It was clear that everyone wanted to do well to impress him. He could be critical as well - if he thought what you were doing was shit, he'd tell you. He'd get you to do it better, and think a bit more. It was less about the finished product though than what you'd thought about and why.

All through my sixth form I assumed I'd go on to art school, but my father persuaded me that I could always do art alongside whatever else I did, so I went to university to do English. My dad was always appreciative of me being a good artist, but he was basically an accountant and wanted me to get qualifications. He actually advised me not to be a writer.

But I don't regret not studying art further. I think in the long run, while I enjoyed it and was good at it, I don't think I really had it in me to be an "artist" - I don't think I had anything to say. In writing, you can tell a story without having to make great statements. I probably would have ended up doing what I'm doing even if I had gone to art college.

My kids are at the local comprehensive. There's a good art department, but the resources in my old school were superior. They enjoy school as much as anyone does. I'm happy for them to go on to whatever they want to do. Just whatever makes them happy.

I went to Bob's leaving do at the school about 10 years ago. He was a well respected guy and a lot of people turned up. A lot of his pupils and ex-colleagues had gone on to do good things, and it was quite a moving event. I think art is as important, if not more important, than what are considered the core subjects - it's not all about sums and reading.

But it was quite clear that he had no memory of me at all. I'm quite philosophical about it. I mean, he must've taught hundreds of kids.

Charlie Higson went to Sevenoaks School in Kent. The next book in Charlie's Young Bond series is called 'By Royal Command'. He was talking to Meabh Ritchie.

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