My English teacher John Moore was young, tall, a bit fey and wore flared trousers. He introduced me to 'exciting writing' and taught me to trust my imagination and go with the flow

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
When I was 14 or 15 I quite enjoyed the celebrity status of being the school poof. It had a bit of glamour about it. My friend, Nick, and I wandered around with colour-rinsed hair, certain we were going to be famous, and the teachers turned a blind eye. We were quite subversive, though never did anything we could get into trouble for. We would wear odd socks and too much aftershave, which weren't beatable offences.

My early school days were happy. I wasn't very bright and couldn't read or write until long after I should have been able to. I used to do mirror writing but I had a number of teachers at Sacred Heart primary who helped me, Mrs Lang in particular.

She was petite and energetic and had red hair. She took a lot of time with me and was pleased when I got something right because it didn't happen very often. We're still in touch. She lives in Manchester now and comes to see me when I'm touring and brings her daughter.

When I was about 10 I suddenly caught up enough to get through the 11-plus and the entrance exam to St Benedict's junior, now Ealing Abbey. I was a well-mannered, charming little boy. I was very chatty and a good Catholic.

I was an altar boy and tended the priest's garden. I remember telling the monks how to tell the sex of a baby guinea pig, which no doubt swung things at the interview.

To me the monks seemed very glamorous in their flowing long black robes with hoods, swanning along the corridors, and I liked the chanting and the vestments and the incense.

The headmaster, Father G, and I took to each other immediately. He was gentle and kind, in his late 40s, tall with a ruddy complexion and big yellow teeth. His eyes twinkled with wit and warmth. Whenever he asked a question in class I always put up my hand just because I liked having a banter with him.

Then, one Wednesday, I forgot my swimming kit - an offence that led to Father G punishing me by beating me with a leather strap about a foot long and half an inch thick.

What shocked me most wasn't the humiliation of being flogged for the minor offence of forgetfulness, but the terrifying transformation of Father G from paternal holy priest to furious strap-wielding monster. I never willingly spoke to him again. My father was a policeman and my mother a probation officer, so I had a strong sense of right and wrong and justice and I was outraged.

Most of my teachers were monks, but some were real people. One of my favourites was John Moore, who taught English and drama.

He was young, tall and languid, a bit fey and wore flared trousers. He introduced me to something called "exciting writing". He staged a drama once where one of the naughty boys from another class burst in and started shouting and swearing and we were asked to write down what we felt during the experience. I was good at writing stories and Mr Moore taught me to trust my imagination and to go with the flow.

I remember Mr Klepacz, who was my form master in Upper 4, too. He looked like Marc Bolan with lots of curly hair and a moustache. He was a bit blokey and taught physics with chemistry, which was a mystery to me. My least favourite teacher was Father Kasimir. He was quite fearsome, smelly and grubby, and walked with a purposeful strut as if he knew he was just about to discover some wrongdoing round the next corner.

My best teacher of all, my own Jean Brodie, was Frances Hanley, who also taught English. She was glamorous, young and beautiful with flowing red hair. Her classes were a joy and she inspired us all. She was full of encouragement. On one end of term report she wrote of me: "The sky's his limit." When she left to have children I was devastated.

Portrait by Neil Turner

The story so far

1959 Born Surbiton, Surrey

1965-68 St Joseph's primary, Kingston

1968-70 Sacred Heart primary, Teddington

1970-77 St Benedict's, now Ealing Abbey

1977-79 Goldsmiths College, London

1981 Covent Garden Community Theatre

1987 Appears on C4 Saturday Night Live

1992 Appears in TV sitcom Terry and Julian and film Carry on Columbus

1993 Comperes British Comedy Awards and is panned for Norman Lamont joke

1996-98 All Rise for Julian Clary, BBC TV

2002 Stars in Boy George musical, Taboo

2004 Contestant in Strictly Come Dancing

2005 April 7 Autobiography published, A Young Man's Passage. April 24

Becomes host of BBC's Saturday national lottery show, Come and Have a Go

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now