My Best Teacher;Interview;Andy McNab

19th February 1999 at 00:00
I was a rebellious child, continuously bunking off school. I remember one of my teachers particularly because he was so laid back about me playing truant. His name was Mr Bowden and he was my housemaster at Kingsdale School in Dulwich, south London, an enormous comprehensive with about 2,000 pupils.

I don't remember the name of the house I was in but I remember we wore a tie with a green stripe. Any child who was caught playing truant would be sent to the housemaster. Mr Bowden was great. He was in his late thirties, tall with glasses and wiry dark ginger hair. He taught history up to the third year. I wasn't any good at history because I took no notice in class, but I liked Mr Bowden because he'd say: "lf you don't want to learn I don't care. I'm not going to teach you. I'm going to teach people who want to learn." And that was that.

When I got sent to him for playing truant he'd tell me: "It's up to you in the end. No matter what I say, if you want to play truant, you'll play truant, but at the end of the day it is you who will suffer, not me." I didn't know what I wanted to do when I left school but I thought that if I worked for London Transport, driving a bus or being a bus conductor or working on the tube, I didn't need to pass exams and I would have a job for life.

For a while I just didn't bother to go to school. I left when I was in the fourth year. I didn't get any CSEs or O-levels. By the time I was 15 I was working in a haulage yard.

I'd thought Mr Bowden's attitude was great at the time, but now I wish he'd been a bit more persuasive. Strangely enough I developed a passion for medieval history in my early twenties.

The one teacher who did get through to me at school was Mrs Attenborough, who taught English and PE. She was young, probably in her mid-twenties, and pretty. She was tall and I remember she used to wear those Scholl exercise sandals all the time. She had a reputation for being very strict. You didn't mess about in her lessons.

Mrs Attenborough was very encouraging. I remember having to do an end-of-term project and I decided to do one on Captain Scott. I went into the library and copied word for word from a book. Mrs Attenborough persuaded me to put it all into my own words - and there were 10 or 11 pages. She gave me so much encouragement I actually went into school during the lunch break to work on my project. It was the first constructive thing I ever did at school. And the last. I never went back to see what mark I'd got for the project because the job with the haulage company came up.

For me school was just a waiting room until I could get out into the world. I enjoyed my school days. I behaved badly because it was a way of getting noticed. Even at primary school I showed off. I once overheard a teacher saying: "l don't know why he does it. He's one of the smartest kids in the class."

I was very good at mental arithmetic because I had plenty of practice - I worked on a fruit and vegetable stall in East Dulwich market. I came top of the class in maths once. It was all I was ever top at. I was no good at sport either; I was rather fat until I was about 14. My school reports always said: "Could do better". After the third year, when the reports were given to the pupils to take home, I kept them from my parents. Even so, my dad used to get sent for by Mr Bowden because of the truancy.

I spent a lot of my school life standing on street corners and hanging around shopping centres. I got arrested once - that gave me credibility with the others. Once a group of us broke into a gas meter and used the money to go to France by hovercraft. We broke into a caravan, spent the night there and came home next day. Nobody ever found out.

Now I regret that I didn't pay more attention at school. It wasn't until I joined the Army that my education began. I had to take a test to get in and was sent away on a selection course and they said I was clever enough to join the infantry. I became a boy soldier and eventually joined the SAS. Now, at the age of 38, I've embarked on a three-year university course. I'm doing an MA in propaganda at Canterbury University and really enjoying it. I don't need it. I'm just doing it because now I want to learn.

Andy McNab, now a best-selling author, is the pseudonym of the SAS sergeant who commanded Bravo Two Zero patrol in the Gulf War. His latest novel, 'Remote Control', was recently published in paperback and the film of his autobiographical 'Bravo Two Zero', starring Sean Bean, came out on video last December and was shown on BBC TV last month.He was talking to Pamela Coleman

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