My Best Teacher - Stephen Tompkinson

15th January 2010 at 00:00
An English teacher who took on the roles of director and talent spotter saw something in the TV star and cast him as soon as he could

There is no history of acting in my family, so I wasn't really thinking about it as a career when I started at St Bede's Roman Catholic High School in Lytham St Anne's, Lancashire.

My brother, John, was already in the fifth year when I started. He excelled at English and when I arrived, his English teacher, Jeff Lynam, clocked me as John's brother, so we already had a connection.

Jeff's wife, Nora, used to write plays and every year she did a "take" on the nativity story. In my first year she wrote a play about an innkeeper who was halfway on the journey to Bethlehem. Jeff saw something in me and asked me to audition, and then cast me as the innkeeper. It was a funny part and my brother was one of the kings, so I was in my first year doing this play with the fifth years and they all seemed like giants.

Jeff directed the play as well, and encouraged me to come out of myself and try new things with my performance. After that, Jeff went to the headmaster and said: `I think we've got a young lad here who excels at drama, so what are the chances we could fund a proper summer production?'

We did The Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner by David Wood, a play about a war between the ugly and pretty insects in the garden. I was Red Admiral, the leader of the pretty insects who want to save the garden. It went so well that we did it for a week at school and then at a social club and theatre in Lytham.

The next year we did another Christmas show and then Jeff cast me as the Count in the Dracula spectacular and by that time I had been bitten by the bug. When he directed me in plays I understood him completely. Jeff was also a brilliant English teacher, the one you wanted to do well for, so I did English language and literature at O-level and got As in both.

My parents, Josephine, a junior school teacher, and Brian, a bank manager, were quite rightly of the attitude that I should do my A-levels and go to university and think about acting after that. At St Mary's Sixth Form in Blackpool, another teacher, Stephen Brennan, taught me theatre studies and took up the mantle from Jeff. He cast me as John Proctor in The Crucible. I hadn't done a big dramatic part before. Mum and Dad came to see me and were so moved by it they said I could rip up their plans for university and go to drama school after A-levels if I still wanted to. So I owe a lot to Stephen Brennan as well.

I auditioned for the Central School of Speech and Drama, the place that Judi Dench and Laurence Olivier had been to. Seeing their names on the board was petrifying, but I got in. Jeff Lynam was so thrilled for me, and I know he inspired several other boys to become actors, not just me.

I'm still in touch with Jeff. If I'm doing a tour with a play I always try to visit the school. Jeff came to see the last play I did when we were in Blackpool, and we invited all the staff from St Bede's around to Dad's afterwards. They all came to the do when I was given an honorary fellowship from the University of Central Lancashire. I'm as proud of Jeff as he is of me. He is a very inspirational man.

Stephen Tompkinson has appeared in series including `Ballykissangel' and `Drop the Dead Donkey'. He stars as Danny Trevanion in `Wild at Heart', which airs on Sundays on ITV1. He was talking to Vicki Power.

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