My best teacher;Parting Shots;Interview;Bill Oddie

5th June 1998 at 01:00
I have two fear and embarrassment memories from my primary school in Rochdale, which I remember as a dark, slightly forbidding building down industrial, cobbled streets.

The first is having to stand on a bench and sing "Christopher Robin" with a girl. The second was being sent with the dinner money to the post office - this strange bloke was always lurking around - I'm sure he was harmless but a little bit mental - and he used to chase the kids. I remember getting to the post office, then going back. He was always waiting, and I have a vivid memory of being terrified.

Then I went to Lapl primary school in Birmingham, where they were testing to see if the 11-plus was tough enough.It obviously wasn't because I got through at nine-and-a-half, and so did others. As a result I went to Halesowen Grammar School, where I was a year-and-a-half younger than everyone else in my class. At that age 18 months is a huge amount. I was sports mad, and hated having to compete with kids more than a year older than me. I just wasn't big enough, and it was a constant frustration.

Academically, I did fine. But I remember one vicious teacher whose sadistic fetish was to hurl blackboard rubbers - which were backed with wood - at people, and hit them over the head with the back of his hand. I remember being affronted by this and not being scared. One day I remember him hitting someone in the class - you know: "CONCENTRATE BOY! WHACK". Then he did it to me, so I jabbed a ruler as hard as I could into his other hand, which was resting on the desk. I can't remember if I got any sort of punishment, but a teacher who is bullying probably doesn't dare risk reporting it.

After that I did an exam and got into King Edward VI school at Edgbaston, where I discovered, as I'd suspected, I was good at sport. I played fly half in the rugby team, and my heroes were small Welsh fly-halves like Cliff Morgan.

Academically, I shot down to nearer bottom of the class because the standard was extremely high. But I also kept being put in the wrong classes. They put me in CLUM (Classical Upper Middle) because the chief master, as they called him, a man called Rev Lunt, was a classicist, and if boys or their parents didn't express a preference they were bunged into the classics forms. So at 13 I was put into a form specialising in Greek and Latin - neither of which I had done before and both of which I was absolutely hopeless at.

Then my father decided scientists were going to inherit the earth, so I was out of CLUM and into science, which was even worse. But after O-levels, an English teacher called Pat Hutton, a really nice bloke who I give eternal credit to, wrote forcibly on my report that such talents as I had were in English and history, and I was finally allowed to move into what was called history division.

Another English teacher at KES, Tony Trott, was my house master, and naturally known as "piggy". He was brilliant at interesting people in the subject, and humorously critical, I can remember him tearing some of my essays apart, but I could accept it because it was done so wittily. But he was also broad-minded enough to be interested in non-academic stuff, so we were just as likely to spend part of an English open discussion class talking about Tony Hancock or The Goon Show as we were to be discussing Milton.

Tony Trott was a human being as well as a teacher. He was able to show his human side while retaining all his qualities as a good teacher. That's terrific.

* Bill Oddie is a comedian and birdwatcher.'Birding with Bill Oddie' can be seen on BBC2, Mondays, 8pm.He was talking to Bernard Adams

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