My best teacher - Emilia Fox

5th September 2008 at 01:00
A fresh-faced teacher always found the time to sort out problems for this actress

Duncan Fowler Watt taught me classical civilisation at Bryanston School in Dorset. I had a number of great teachers at Bryanston, but he stands out as an important figure in my life during those years.

He was the first teacher to treat us as young adults, and that earned him so much respect from all of us. He arrived at Bryanston after I did and I only had him during my sixth form, but we were given a taster of classical civilisation before we chose our A-level subjects and I chose it mainly on the basis of what he was like. A lot of other pupils did the same and so he had a big class - 16, which was a lot for a private school. If he'd taught economics we probably would all have chosen that.

Duncan was a young teacher, quite fresh from university, so we felt closer to him in age. I know it doesn't always work when you have young and inexperienced teachers, but he had the ability to command respect as well. He treated us equally and allowed us to call him by his first name, which was unheard of among all the other teachers. It made us feel special.

He was medium build with dark hair and always looked healthy with rosy cheeks. He seemed a bit like a student in that he could often seem dishevelled. He had an incredible voice, which made us want to listen. Hearing him read aloud was a pleasure.

Duncan didn't have favourites, although he loved to banter with the characters in the class. And he wasn't interested in the pettiness of punishments so it was rare that we did anything wrong in his company. When there is a mutual respect between pupils and the teacher you rarely hear about any trouble because the pupils are not trying to rebel.

He made classics a fun subject, whether we were learning the history of civilisations or reading The Odyssey and The Iliad. His weekly tests were more like pub quizzes, so that made the atmosphere better for learning. You remember a lot more when the learning seems like fun.

When I left school I did English at Oxford, and Duncan's lessons were a good grounding because even though they were classical they still involved learning to appreciate great literature.

I found the pressure of doing my Oxford entrance exams almost unbearable and Duncan was the one who rescheduled my life so that I could do them and still be able to catch up on A-levels. He cancelled lots of other things in my school life so that I had time to study and concentrate. When I was in a spin because I had to catch up with work he made life simpler for me.

There were many lunchtimes when I could be found standing outside the staffroom in tears over some problem and it would always be Duncan who would find the time to come and sort out whatever panic I had got myself in.

My younger brother Freddie went to the same school and whenever I visited him I would see Duncan. He is now a housemaster and seems a lot more grown-up, although he still has the same effect on the pupils, who all like him and choose his subjects. My brother adored him, but he left a year ago and that's the last time I saw Duncan.

Emilia Fox, 33, is best known as Dr Nikki Alexander in Silent Witness, the forensic BBC crime drama. She is patron of the pound;28m nature reserve and was talking to Mark Anstead.


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