Peter Bullock showed me that what matters is how you convey your own enthusiasm so you excite other people

26th August 2005 at 01:00
Peter Bullock proved that science wasn't for boring geeks and made physics enormous fun. For each lesson he would produce one of those classwork sheets printed in purple ink that smelled fresh from the machine. We relished them because each sheet contained a poem, a classical reference or a joke. I've kept them all to show to my own children. There was one poem in particular that's stayed in my memory, which went:

"In early days Man measured Time By sunrise and sunset sublime; Then came the French, who gave us next Metres, kilograms and secs. But then the stream of Time we saw Discharge through a capacitor: 1 second now's the 'Farad-Ohm' Which floats upon the stream as 'fohm' In which, like seed within the bud, We find the 'microfohm' or 'Sud'; So that in lower sixth it's known A million Suds make up 1 Fohm".

As well as being able to turn physics into poetry, Peter Bullock had energy and enthusiasm and conveyed the sense that science was part of the world around you and not a dull, boring, academic discipline. He was also the man who founded the debate club at Cheadle Hulme school in Cheshire and encouraged me to take part and sound off in a way that I've been doing ever since - and getting paid for it. As a schoolboy I was naturally gobby. I remember being involved in balloon debates in which each individual takes on a character and you are stuck in a balloon that contains only enough air to keep one afloat. You have to argue the case as to why you should be the one to survive.

What made Peter an exciting teacher was that you could never predict how he would present the lesson. I'm sure he was sticking pretty much to the standard topics - waves and electricity and so on - but he managed to convert everything into a joke or a story and did so with wit. You got the sense that every lesson was a challenge for him as to how he could make it exciting.

Peter Bullock taught me throughout my secondary schooling and I took physics, chemistry and maths at A-level. He was young in spirit, probably in his mid to late 30s, neatly dressed in a jacket and tie. He was a quiet man, almost shy, the sort of person who, if it hadn't been for the personality he put into teaching, would have been the sort of teacher kids would have taken the mickey out of. But, because of the huge verve he brought to his teaching, they didn't. Everyone in his class was an enthusiast. He was inspiring. He turned me on to the idea that the things you enthuse about that might on the surface seem dull, you can enthuse others about. For instance, when I tell people I'm interested in politics they may think: "How boring." I suspect being a physics teacher is much the same. Peter showed me that what matters is how you convey your own enthusiasm so you excite other people.

Every year there was a science exhibition at which boys had to show parents what they had learnt; he got me to demonstrate something called interference effects with a tank of water.

As well as science, my passion at school was for drama and the other teacher who had a big influence was Paul Allan, who taught English. He involved me in the school drama society from a young age and I remember doing a project as a 12-year-old on the play Whose Life is it Anyway?. I still have the school report that says: "Nicholas gave a commanding and most convincing portrayal of Commissar Amos in The Queen and the Rebels."

Part of the reason I ended up in journalism was that the school put on a careers fair at which parents came in and chatted with you about their jobs. One parent was well known in the radio business and I told him I was interested in going to the BBC. "That's easy," he said. "You just need to get to Oxford, get a first and a blue and you'll have no problem." I didn't get a blue or a first but I did get to Oxford.

BBC News political editor Nick Robinson was talking to Pamela Coleman

The story so far

1963 Born Macclesfield, Cheshire

1968-71 Prestbury Church of England primary school

1971-82 Cheadle Hulme school

1983-86 Studies politics, philosophy and economics at University College Oxford

1986-88 Production trainee at the BBC

1988-92 Assistant producer on BBC's flagship political programme On the Record

1992-95 Deputy editor, Panorama

1995-97 Political correspondent, BBC

1997-2000 Presenter, Radio 5 Live's Late Night Live programme

2000-2002 Chief political correspondent, BBC News 24

2002-2005 Political editor, ITV News

September 1, 2005 Succeeds Andrew Marr as political editor, BBC News

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