The Return of Phil Harrass Private HMI

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
Donald the Lemonsucker had rung while I was under the hood of the Herald. I held the receiver in a dainty, pincer grip to avoid getting too much oil on it and listened to what he was offering. "I'd, uhh, like you to work with the English again," said the voice that had won a nation.

He couldn't see my eyes mist over as I remembered the last time I had headed south. For a moment I could hear the Righteous Brothers music and feel my hands being guided on a potter's wheel.

"Sorry," I said. The Lemonsucker was speaking again. "I didn't catch that. "

"I said I want you to meet with a team who are working on ways to recruit teachers. Numbers entering the profession are way down in that part of the country." He fed me the rest of the details. "They sound good," he added. "One of their ideas is an advert with Ewan MacGregor, using the Trainspotting 'Choose Life' theme."

"Who plays Spud - Brian Wilson?" I asked, but dropped the handset before I could hear his reply.

We met in a fashionable bar in the capital. There were two of them, both men, both wearing eighties-style glasses with coloured frames. I wondered where the BMW was parked. "So far we've got the script for the ad," said Red Frames. "It goes like this: Choose teaching. Choose a career where you can make a difference. Choose satisfaction . . ."

I broke in: "Choose smart-assed comments about long holidays and short hours from your better paid friends as they rake in overtime bonuses. Choose employers who spend fortunes on a corporate image but cut your staffing by 0.8FTE. Choose parents who say: 'Well he disnae effing get it from me'. Choose daily dents to your self-esteem. Choose a working life of lunch times surrounded by cynical old gits who pan every attempt to . . ."

"Yes, yes," said Blue Frames tersely. "We don't want your input into the ad. We're looking for some lateral thinking. There's a three-figure sum in it if you hit on something we can use."

The next day I visited Q. The crusty old technician worked for the Special Teaching Service, the elite, covert wing of the GTC. As ever, I found him deep in projects designed to make life easier for teachers.

"What's that?" I asked, pointing to a thing like a small satellite dish.

"It's a blanket cyberpet disabler. If one of the little buggers goes off in your class and no one owns up, you pull this trigger and an electromagnetic pulse is released that blows their integrated circuits. Still haven't found a way to stop it screwing their calculators and digital watches, though."

I asked him what a cyberpet was and he explained. Suddenly I had what I was looking for. I gave Q a design brief and a week later the first cyberclasses were ready. The idea was that they would be issued to potential teachers. The cyberclasses had to be praised, disciplined, assessed, entertained, stimulated and motivated or else the virtual pupils failed their exams and became anti-social neighbours when they grew up. I reckoned that anybody who had one would become so addicted that they would want to try the real thing.

I sold the idea to the admen and split the three-figure sum with Q. We spent most of it on Indian takeaways, consumed while he spoke of his desire to invent a machine to fix the Lottery so he could use his winnings to give every school access to a roller-coaster "for experimental purposes".

Gregor Steele

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today