Television - 'People bought me beer. It was good'

15th November 2013 at 00:00
Mr Mitchell on the unexpected rewards of Educating Yorkshire

He had expected a bigger public profile, even a few hurtful comments, but what Jonny Mitchell did not expect was what happened on a Friday night out in Leeds.

The headteacher from the North of England, who found fame in Channel 4's hit fly-on-the-wall television series Educating Yorkshire, has described how a trip to the pub after episode three led to him being "ridiculously mobbed" by drunken fans.

And he has even confessed to enjoying the experience.

"We were just mobbed, I mean ridiculously mobbed. It was outrageous," Mr Mitchell said in an interview with TES. "That was the first time the impact of the programme really hit home.

"We went out at about 7 o'clock, and people weren't that drunk, obviously, and very respectful, asking for photographs," he said. "But then, by 10pm, people are rugby tackling you to the floor, pouring things in your face and buying you beer and what have you. I have to admit, it was quite good - but I haven't done it since."

Earlier this year, the headteacher of Thornhill Community Academy, a small state secondary school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, agreed to allow a TV crew into his school to capture every pulled face, every teenage meltdown and every success story for the rest of the country to see.

The eight-part series, which finished at the end of last month, was one of the most successful shows of the year in Britain. The rights to the programme have now been bought by a Dutch production house, which plans to make Educating Amsterdam in the near future.

Programme maker Twofour is also producing a Christmas special, following up the "storylines" of key characters such as chronic stammerer Mushy and the eyebrow-shaving Bailey. Whereas many fans will be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of more Educating Yorkshire, Mr Mitchell said he would not want to go through the "roller coaster" again.

The headteacher had to think "long and hard" about agreeing to take part in the programme, particularly as he was only in the second year of his headship at Thornhill. But he felt it was too big an opportunity to pass up. "It was once in a lifetime," he said. "And once the governors went for it and so did the staff, the students and the parents, I thought: what have we got to lose, apart from my job and reputation?

"Of course it's daunting, but I would be lying if I said we didn't enjoy the limelight. The school really has, and that is not to make me out as a megalomaniac. Although many people think I am a media whore, I beg to differ."

Described in the UK press as an "unlikely pin-up", it is easy to see why the 41-year-old has enjoyed such success. His easy, jocular charm is mixed with a stern, disciplinarian approach to his headship.

He found that one of the most rewarding things about Educating Yorkshire was the appreciation shown by his fellow professionals for revealing to the public the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. "The unexpected impact has been the outpouring of emotion from people inside education who have said what a good job it has done in showing the state school system in all its glory," Mr Mitchell said.

And did he have any regrets?

"Yeah, not wearing my jacket during filming. And putting my shoes on the desk," he said.

In what was perhaps a veiled reference to his assistant headteacher, the popular Mr (Matthew) Burton, he added: "I think some of my other colleagues wished that they had bigger shirts, had done their ties up, had a shave.

"It's been weird. It's been surreal. It's been a roller coaster. But I don't regret it."

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