My best teacher - Loyd Grossman

6th May 2011 at 01:00
The New England- educated TV presenter was a high-achiever - but he longed to be a Sixties rebel

I grew up in Massachusetts, New England, in a place called Marblehead, an idyllic fishing port just north of Boston. It was nice growing up in a town where you could ride your bike down to the harbour in the morning and see fishermen bringing in pots of lobsters. Seeing all that and going to school with kids whose fathers were fishermen and farmers definitely inspired my interest in food.

New Englanders are particularly proud of their education system and I had a fantastic experience - at least during the early part of my schooling. My first school was the General John Glover School, named after the military leader from Marblehead who famously rode into Washington across Delaware during the American Revolution. As a result, there was a great focus on history at the school, which sparked an interest that has stayed with me throughout my life.

One of my most memorable teachers was Maxine Waite, who taught history at General John Glover. The fact that she was from Maine, which to me was like the Texas of New England, made her immediately attractive and slightly exotic. She was also a great teacher - one of the best I ever came across in school and in university.

I loved her enthusiasm and the fact she made history vivid, tangible and exciting. We brought in sheets from home to make togas and she encouraged us to steal our fathers' nicest felt hats, spray-paint them gold and cut them up to look like Roman helmets. I remember spending weeks making big plaster of Paris relief maps of the Roman empire.

By the time I got to high school, I wasn't quite so enthusiastic. The Sixties happened, and all I wanted to do was have long hair, wear tight jeans and be rebellious.

Me and my friends were the hippies of our class. We all had long hair, played guitar and listened to Jefferson Airplane.

We started publishing an underground newspaper, which got us into a lot of trouble at school and we were forever being hauled into the principal's office for having our hair too long.

We liked to think we were quite rebellious, but by today's standards we probably weren't at all. Having long hair in a conservative New England town was pretty shocking, but we weren't exactly making Molotov cocktails.

We liked to think school was very oppressive and conservative, and wanted to be rebels because that was the spirit of the time. But it was hardly Trotsky. We were incredibly spoiled, bourgeois rebels. I was fortunate in that I always did pretty well at school, but I tried to cultivate an air of being a bit unhelpful and obstructive.

I spent most of my high-school years wanting to leave, but Walter Drogue is one teacher that sticks in my mind. He was very old-school - almost like an actor playing an English teacher - and always wore a cardigan under his tweed jacket and a bow tie.

He was careful and caring and took us through the great works of English fiction, from Walter Scott to Thomas Hardy. His ability to convey his great love of the English language inspired in me a great love of fiction that has never left.

I went on to study history at Boston University, followed by masters degrees at the London School of Economics and Cambridge University.

I'm now back at Cambridge doing a PhD in the history of art. My love of education, inspired by those early experiences with Maxine Waite, has never really left me. I just want to keep on learning.

Loyd Grossman is a television presenter and chef. His TV credits include 'Through the Keyhole', 'MasterChef', 'Behind the Headlines', 'Loyd on Location' and 'Build Britain'. He was talking to Janet Murray.

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