My Best Teacher;Interview;James Boyle

9th July 1999 at 01:00
Doctor Andrew Noble was an absolutely outstanding teacher, I really owe this guy. He set me aflame. He was, and still is, a senior lecturer in English at Strathclyde University, and he drew me into his subject at a moment when I thought I had perhaps made a ghastly mistake.

I had intended to read medicine and had been accepted at Aberdeen University, but in the few weeks left to make a final decision I changed my line and decided to go to Strathclyde to this new faculty, to read English and American literature, which I wanted to follow academically.

For a year I thought I had made the most appalling blunder - as did my parents - and then one day I walked into a lecture theatre and Andrew Noble was standing there. He turned my attitude and my understanding around in one hour. It was to do with the way he approached the subject - I think it was a lecture on Dostoyevsky. He didn't say "this is part of the curriculum and you must absorb it". He simply implied that what was in front of us was terribly important, and that it was connected to everything else that was important. He forced you to broaden your outlook, to realise that culture reverberates, to look at a book in a literary way but also at its economic contents, its historical tradition, the politics of the period when it was written and the politics of now and how all these things work together. I learned to understand through questioning.

After a year treading water I suddenly found I had the appetite of an explorer to go out and find out about things. He taught me to broaden myself. I'm a bespectacled very Scot's Scot, and he simply didn't allow me to be narrow-minded. The scope of his knowledge was fantastic. In discussing a book he would take you into Beethoven or on to the front page of the papers. He was always testing you gently, never trying to be superior.

He is one of the most intense people I have ever met. Everything matters, everything is important. He has the kind of intellect one can only aspire to. He is an Islander from Mull who went to an ordinary secondary school and various universities including Cambridge. He is a big man in all ways. The first thing that strikes you about him is his size - he has a huge head and eyebrows that stretch from one side of his head to the other, the most intense stare and a very big voice. He is a man with the authority of his own intellect, his own achievement and ambition, and he was utterly selfless about communicating to students their own potential.

We wanted to impress him. He never had to ask for work, you felt it was your duty to do it for him. He was only a few years older than me but was an inspiring presence. From the moment I had that first lecture I walked confidently through university and went on to do an MA in the novel at East Anglia where Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson were teaching at that time.

When I became a lecturer myself, I modelled my style on Andrew Noble. I walked into rooms determined not to talk down to people and to fire them to be ambitious and to communicate the notion that the subject I was teaching was important.

We keep in touch. I can pick up the phone and can talk to him still at any time. He has also been a tremendous personal support. My wife, Marie, and I married pretty young, when we were still at university and had no money, and Andrew and his wife lent us their flat for our honeymoon when they went on holiday. We began our married life in "romantic" Hindland in Glasgow.

James Boyle, 53, controller of BBCRadio 4, has been the subject of much criticism for his controversial re-scheduling of somelisteners' favourites since his appointment in September 1996.He is married with three sons now in their 20s. He joined theBBC in 1975 as further education officer of Scotland andNorthern Ireland.He was talking to Pamela Coleman

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