My Best Teacher;Interview;Christopher Logue

15th October 1999 at 01:00
I was an eccentric child and a trouble to everyone. At St Swithin's Road school, Southsea, I discovered the distinction the world made between work and play and that what I enjoyed doing was playing - though this did not include sport, which I thought a horrible activity - dirty, dangerous and always out of doors.

Then there came the school play, Cinderella, in which I was cast as Prince Charming, and for the first time in my life I really enjoyed going to school. Not only did I know my own part, which I gradually enlarged, but I knew everyone else's. I felt completely at home on the stage. There is a photograph of me, aged about eight, bewigged, frock-coated, silk breeches tied just below the knee with ribbons, patent leather pumps and left hand on hip, all got up for the part.

When the play was over my mother despaired of what she was going to do with me - she'd given up on the priesthood - and because I had this funny deep voice she decided to send me to Miss Crowe for elocution lessons.

Miss Crowe was very good looking and I found her glamorous and attractive. She'd be in her late twenties or early thirties and was what my mother would call "smart". She had nice black hair and she wore lipstick and jewellery and she combined literary taste with physical attractiveness.

Her teaching method was to get all her pupils to memorise poems, and those she chose for us to learn struck me as very good - such as "The Lady of Shalott", a shortened version of "The Pied Piper of Hamlin", "Gunga Din", and "The Walrus and the Carpenter". I was in love with Miss Crowe and sat at her feet on the floor of her studio room, doing my best to look up her skirt.

She entered me for a competition - the Portsmouth and Southsea Elocution and Dancing Class Competition - but she wouldn't let me recite the poem I chose. Instead, she announced that I was to recite A A Milne's "Christopher Robin Is Saying His Prayers" and I was to do so with gestures. When Christopher Robin "drooped on his little hands, little gold head" I had to droop and kneel down on stage. And worse than that, when it came to "God bless Mummy, I know that's right, wasn't it fun in the bath tonight", I had to pretend to be in a bath. I had the little gold head - I had blondish curls - but I knew in my heart of hearts that the gestures were NO GOOD.

On the day of the competition Miss Crowe was wearing red high heels, a black two-piece suit and a black and red pill box hat. I didn't say anything, but when the time came for my turn, I went on to the stage at the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, and in front of an audience of a couple of hundred people, probably all parents, I recited the poem - without the gestures.

Afterwards Miss Crowe came up to my mother and me and said she didn't want to teach me any more, that I was self-indulgent and I had let her studio down, which in a way I suppose I had. My mother took Miss Crowe's part, quite rightly, and I burst into tears. I didn't win a prize.

In the end, Miss Crowe did take me back, but thereafter it wasn't the same. The love affair was over.

I went to Miss Crowe twice a week for quite a long time but I still have the same deep voice. What I learned from her was a very clear idea of diction and how words should be pronounced so that regardless of how fast you are talking you still have to get each word across, otherwise the sense will be lost in the flow. She taught me that the best way to understand a poem is to memorise it, so you can produce it in your head at any time.

Thanks to Miss Crowe I am a lover of poetry, a writer of poetry and a reader and learner of poetry. I owe her a lot. I should have done the gestures. "If you had, Miss Crowe would have kissed you," one of my fellow competitors told me. See what I missed?

Christopher Logue's varied literary career has ranged from producing several volumes of his own poetry to reworking passages from Homer's 'Iliad', writing pornography to contributing to 'Private Eye' for which he started 'True Stories' and edited 'Pseud's Corner'. His army career came to an abrupt end when he was court-martialled and his involvement with CND led to his being imprisoned with Bertrand Russell in the 1950s. Now aged 73, he is married to the writer Rosemary Hill and lives in London. His autobiography, 'Prince Charming', was published by Faber last month.He was talking to Pamela Coleman

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