Sorry, I thought you were teaching

31st July 1998 at 01:00
There are classic moments from the world of films so familiar as almost to be part of our own life's history: Celia Johnston, Trevor Howard and their stiff upper lips on Carnforth Station in Brief Encounter; or the sudden appearance in the graveyard of Finlay Currie, as Magwitch, in David Lean's Great Expectations.

It all depends on age and inclination, of course. For some it will be Paul Newman on a bicycle in Butch Cassidy, or the rear view of Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross, as the bus travels away from the camera in the final shot of The Graduate.

John Voight as Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy as his Greyhound bus enters New York is never far away from me. Hayley Mills seeing Alan Bates, as Jesus, being taken away by the police at the end of Whistle Down the Wind was my first big cinema moment, and it has endured.

It's not surprising, then, that the study of films has such a vital contribution to make in the English course at all levels. The combination of the visual experience and the written word can be potent, and most teachers make full use of each opportunity that arises. Sidney Lumet's classic Twelve Angry Men, for instance, teaches discursive skills far more effectively than chalk and talk ever could.

Our school was touched by the magic of film when Bill Forsyth shot some scenes for his new film Gregory's Two Girls on our campus. As the entire management team and most of the staff are big Forsyth fans, it would be fair to say the place was agog. Shaking hands with the great man was a career highlight for yours truly, and the heidie took to practising Chic Murray impressions and muttering "Go away you small boys!" in a dramatic manner.

The film crew's re-creation of our sixth-year common room into a computer executive's plush office was a boon to the myth machine, and neo-Communistic mumblings were heard from our seniors at the thought that the headteacher might be taking over their base as a new and sumptuous office for himself. It's fair to say that these rumours were hardly made less tenable when the whole management team sneaked in one morning before school and had their photo taken on the set.

Unable to resist the chance, I showed Gregory's Girl to my new S3 class, with the handy accompaniment of all the paraphernalia of filming in the car park outside, huge lights all over the atrium and Gregory himself rumoured to be munching bacon rolls in the chuck bus. A non-English teaching colleague came in, saw the video showing and said: "Oh, sorry, I thought you were teaching. "

Of all the lessons in all the classrooms in all the world . . .

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