Peter Lovatt

23rd March 2012 at 00:00
A drama teacher provided TV psychologist `Dr Dance' with a chance to shine during some otherwise dark school years

I hated school. Not just with a little bit of passion like most kids. I HATED, hated school. It was the most vile, sterile, horrible place in the world. So there was nobody I was very close to. But there was a drama teacher at Beaumont School called Felicity Breet, Miss Breet.

I don't know whether it was her, or whether it was the fact that drama was suddenly taught in this wide open space of the school hall and it was really a place where I could breathe, just be expressive, play with ideas and be incredibly creative. It was a contrast from being in a regimented, sterile classroom, where everyone sat behind desks and you had to form letters in certain shapes, which I could never do.

Miss Breet was a young teacher; we must have been her first or second teaching job. She just allowed us to be free, which was wonderful. She wasn't in front of the class, we were a swarm of people and she was in the middle of us as we were allowed to express ourselves. She represented a type of teaching that was very accessible. I would have been 12 or 13 when she taught me, and I took to her. I don't think I knew her personally, I didn't know anything about her.

There was another teacher who really inspired me when I was at the University of Stirling, a reader in psychology called Bill Phillips. He was alive and had this energy about him. With him I used to play tennis, and when we were getting changed, we would talk constantly about the subject area. He was a fascinating man and incredibly engaging. So I can claim to have got to know him and developed a passion for his subject through his passion for life, but I never had that with Miss Breet, because I was just too young.

But what she gave me was this amazing opportunity. At secondary school, I didn't engage at all. I had really bad reading problems, I was a bit naughty, and I was the only boy in the school dance group. So within that context, drama gave me a release, it allowed me to be something.

I remember once telling Miss Breet that I had been told off in class. Someone asked, "when people discovered horses, how do you think it affected their ability to travel round the countryside?"

I said, "well, it wouldn't affect it at all, because they wouldn't know how to ride a horse". I was told off because this wasn't the right answer. And I remember telling Miss Breet about this and telling her I thought it was really unfair. So in one class, we did an improvisation based on what it would be like to discover a new creature. Then we had the possibility of saying "What do we do with this thing?", "What would happen if someone got on it?"

Having a space where I wasn't told that I was wrong, where I could explore ideas, gave me a real sense of freedom. It was also the only qualification I got - a CSE grade 1 in drama.

Later on, the headmaster suggested I should audition for drama college, and I got a place, which was great. So drama and dance just gave me a way out, because I wasn't very good with the written word. It was by using dance and drama that I was able then to become proficient enough at reading and do a PhD.

I would like Miss Breet to know that she showed us a different way of learning, and that was important, because one way did not work for everyone. If she hadn't given me that freedom in drama and dance and mime, I wouldn't have got into drama school, and if I hadn't got into drama school, I would have just been on the heap.

Peter Lovatt will appear at the Edinburgh International Science Festival on 31 March, 1 and 2 April, He was talking to Julia Belgutay


Born: Chatham, 1964

Education: Windermere Primary and Beaumont School, St Albans; East Hertfordshire College; Guildford School of Acting; St Albans College; psychology and English, University of Roehampton, London; University of Stirling; PhD, University of Essex; post-doctoral, University of Cambridge

Career: Dancer, actor in musical theatre, psychologist specialising in the psychology of dance, known for TV appearances as Dr Dance.

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