My best teacher;Parting Shots;Interview;Barry Hines

19th June 1998 at 01:00
My first school was Hoyland Common primary, near Barnsley, and the only thing I can remember about the teachers was we were scared of them. They stood at the front, used the blackboard and the cane and you learned by rote.

Most of my friends then went to Kirk Balk secondary, just up the road. But I passed the 11-plus. For a lot of children, that was the parting of the ways. But I wasn't an academic boy and I was very good at sport, so that kept me in touch with my friends. I'd be up the rec with them at half past four playing football. So I was one of them. They'd call grammar school lads snobs. It was the hurt. That terrible sense of failure at not passing the 11 plus.

So I went to Ecclesfield grammar school. I didn't like it at all. The teaching was very formal - this was the early 50s. They just stood there and you took notes. I struggled all the time. I sat next to a lad I'd sat next to in primary school and we just messed about. At the end of the year, Mr Harrison, the headteacher, told us which class we were going into next year. I knew I wasn't up to the A stream but I thought I'd get into the B stream. But I was in C. It was like football - 1st, 2nd or 3rd divisions. And I didn't want to be in the 3rd division.

So after the summer holidays I decided I was going to try my best. There was a nice quiet lad there and I decided I was going to sit next to him so I wouldn't mess about. So I did, and at the end of the year I came second which meant I should have gone up into 3B, because the first two did. But the lad who came third was to go up instead. I was heartbroken.

When I told my mother, she went to the school to see the headteacher and he put the three of us up. It was only when I was in the sixth form that Billy - his real name was Brian - Buck, the PE teacher, told me there'd been a staff meeting to decide who was going up and they decided it was a waste of a place putting me up because I'd probably leave at 15.

After that, I tried hard and got six O-levels, but I wasn't examined in the things I was really good at, such as sport or woodwork. Because I was good at PE, the most sympathetic teacher was Billy Buck. He was genial. I was captain of all the football teams and he'd discuss teams and things with me. I couldn't talk to other teachers like that.

When I'd got my O-levels, I went to Pockingham colliery for six months as an apprentice surveyor. That's where my Dad worked. I hated it. So then I thought about becoming a PE teacher, and I went back to school. I took economics and history A-levels.

I went to Loughborough University. One of the lecturers was Allen Wade (former national director of education and coaching for the Football Association). I'm still in touch with him. At Lough-borough, I started reading for the first time - Animal Farm and Hemingway - and I discovered the bug to write.

My first job was in London, at Rutherford School off the Edgeware Road. Tom Hughes was the head of department. He taught me a lot about organisation in the gymnasium and group work.

After two years, I went back to Loughborough to do a diploma. That's when I started writing. You had to do a thesis, and I wrote a novel. They were so astounded, they didn't dare fail me. That was the dry run for my first book, The Blinder.

My last school was Kirk Balk, where my brother and friends went. The head- teacher there in my school days was Ben Robey, the model for Mr Grice in Kes. There were legendary stories about Ben and they all seemed wild and exciting. There's an episode in Kes where a lad gets caned for taking a message to the headteacher. That's what happened with Ben. A teacher sent a lad along who'd done some good work. But Ben was so used to seeing boys who needed caning, he just said, "Come in," and caned him. Another time, a lad stole a javelin and terrorised Hoyland with it.

But when I joined Kirk Balk, it was a comprehensive and the whole ethos had changed. There were young teachers, it was informal, loads better. My three years there were one of my most rewarding times. I'd published two novels by then, including Kes. I was in my early 30s, teaching PE and a bit of English.

I took the non-academic stream. Literature wasn't part of their life. Then Longman's Imprint Books came out, with short stories from Stan Barstow and Alan Sillitoe and Bill Naughton and a book by the Liverpool Poets.

It was the first time kids from a working-class background could read about themselves. About people going to the pub and getting drunk and having fights. For the first time, they became interested in literature. I felt I was putting something back into that community and I was doing with them what I wish someone had done with me.

Barry Hines's latest novel, 'Elvis over England', is published by Michael Joseph. 'A Kestrel for a Knave' (later republished as 'Kes') is to be reprinted as a Penguin 20th Century Classic. He lives in Sheffield. Barry Hines was talking to Clare Jenkins.

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