My Best Teacher;Interview;Noddy Holder

26th March 1999 at 00:00
I enjoyed school a lot, although school didn't always agree with me. I went to T P Riley Comprehensive, in Bloxwich, a suburb of Walsall in the West Midlands where I was born, in the heart of the Black Country.

For the first year of O-level work we had an absolutely useless history teacher who covered hardly any of the course. So at the start of the next year the headmaster drafted in Mr Dickinson, who normally taught the A-level classes, to get us through the exam in 12 months rather than two years.

I don't know how he would fare today. He was a disciplinarian and everybody used to hate him - if certain kids saw him coming down the corridor they would run away.

I didn't really like him, but we got on alright because I used to give him a bit of cheek. He'd take that if he knew you were getting on with the work. If you misbehaved Mr Dickinson would send you to the headmaster for the strap or cane, but he could do as much damage with his tongue as any amount of whacking with a cane. He was brutal with his choice of words and could put you in your place if you were out of order - and woe betide you if you hadn't done your homework.

He could make you look like you didn't have a brain, and he didn't differentiate between the boys and girls. Being belittled in front of your peers like that when you're a teenager is the worst thing in the world. Mr Dickinson was the one teacher that really kept control of us.

He was a little, rotund bloke, quite chubby. He was ex-Army and looked like an officer: his bearing was upright, his shoes were always brightly polished and his tie was immaculate. He was pristine all the time - very dapper. There was no way of getting round him if your uniform wasn't looking smart.

Dickinson was second-in-command of our Cadet Corps (unless you were a Scout or Sea Scout outside of school, corps training was compulsory). I think he must have served in the war, because he was about the same age as my dad, Jack, who had been in the army, too.

Dickinson honed our history lessons down to the basic facts and worked us like crazy. None of us would've passed without him, but he got more or less the whole class through the O-level exam. I didn't think I had a hope in hell but I passed, and looking back I can see that he was a great teacher.

All we ever did in school music lessons was sing hymns - you learned absolutely nothing. But I'd been singing since I was seven, and I started my first group at 12 or 13. We were called The Phantoms and then, when we became more of an R amp; B band, we became the Memphis Cut-Outs.

Mr Dickinson wasn't happy about me being in a band because he thought I had a brain and that I could go to college or university. I got six O-levels and stayed on to start A-levels, but I was playing in pubs and clubs in the evenings and as the group took up more and more time, something had to give. So I left school.

My dad, who had his own window cleaning business and cleaned the school's windows, got a lot of stick from all the teachers when I left, but particularly from Dickinson, who he got on well with because they were the same sort of characters.

Dickinson said: "You're crazy letting your boy go into music - that's not a proper business and he'll never earn any money." But some years later, when I'd had a few hits and was travelling around the world on tour, my dad was able to sort of put two fingers up at the teachers by telling them which part of the world I was in that week. I don't know if he said anything to my dad then, but Dickinson was the kind of bloke who would have admitted he had been wrong about me.

He was a stickler for timekeeping and I came to appreciate that part of discipline in later life, too. The rock business is notorious for people turning up when they feel like it, but Slade was never like that. We knew that you had to knuckle down to get to gigs on time; Dickinson certainly played a part in that attitude.

That's why Slade was invited onto Top of the Pops so often. The producers loved us because they knew that if they wanted us to be in the studio for first rehearsal at 9.30am we'd be there, whereas most bands would never make it. There'd be a lot of partying afterwards, mind, but we always did the job first.

It's strange playing a teacher on TV at the moment, because if I hadn't gone into music I probably would've been a history or geography teacher. I wouldn't have been tough like Mr Dickinson; I'd have had discipline but the kids would've liked me.

Noddy Holder, 52, was guitarist and lead singer with the rock group Slade. In the early 1970s, he co-wrote their six UK number one hit singles, including 'Cum on Feel the Noize' and 'Merry Xmas Everybody'. He presents 'Noddy's Electric Ladyland' on Granada's Men and Motors Channel and plays music teacher Neville Holder in 'The Grimleys', a six-part comedy drama series on ITV on Mondays at 10.30pm until April 12. He was talking to Daniel Rosenthal

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