At university I started doing terrible stand-up routines...

14th March 2003 at 00:00
..., and Howard was the only one who came along

Howard Dunton, who taught marketing when I was at Hertfordshire University doing a business studies degree, was the wittiest teacher I ever had.

Looking back, his lectures were the perfect training ground for someone who wanted to be creative and funny. Howard was a natural comedian - sharp, quick-witted - and his lectures were peppered with humorous jibes. We had an instant rapport; sometimes the rest of the class would look on in amazement wondering what was going on as we exchanged banter.

The group I was in had to do a marketing presentation about computers. At that time IBM used Charlie Chaplin's tramp character as its emblem. I dressed up in the outfit with the cane and the bowler hat and a marker pen moustache. I did my part of the presentation, showing off, using mime, and the audience was silent. I thought people would be falling over themselves laughing, but there was no reaction. Later, Howard stopped me in the corridor and said: "Well, that was an interesting performance." In terms of presentation, it was the one he remembered best, and against the odds we got good grades and came out top.

Howard's were the only lectures I enjoyed. I was choosy about which others I attended, but I tried to get to every one of his because he always held my attention. He was a distinguished-looking man who dressed in tweedy, rather than pinstriped, suits, and wore glasses. He was difficult to read; he had a poker face. I called him "Sir" for the first 10 minutes, but we were soon on first name terms.

While I was at university I started writing and performing terrible stand-up routines, which I tried out in the college bar, and Howard was the only person who came along. I lost touch with him after I left but we met up last year and I invited him to watch a recording of The Kumars at No.

42. To my amazement, he said he'd seen all the things I'd done over the past seven years. He told me that he saw the performer in me when I was at college and thought I had the ability to turn professional. At the time I hadn't told anybody of my ambitions. Thanks to Howard, I got a degree, and I took a job with IBM.

It was seven years before I started working full time as a performer. I'd wanted to be an actor since I was two, but my dad, who was a machine supervisor in a factory, said: "No, we pronounce it doctor." I didn't go to drama school and I've had no training. Most of the ideas I have had and the comedy I have written have come through conversation and banter. The Kumars is based on my family. Everything is potential material. I've yet to do the witty college lecturer, but the material is there.

I was shy as a kid and the first teacher to give me confidence to speak out was Mrs Glen at Springwell junior in Heston. I remember arguing with her about the name of a capital city, which I insisted she'd got wrong. She told my mum that I argued so convincingly that she had to go and check she was right (she was).

Another influential teacher was Miss Williams, my English teacher at Cranford secondary. I was good at English and did my O-level a year early.

When I asked her recommendation for books to read in the summer holidays she suggested The Godfather, The Catcher in the Rye, The Lord of the Rings and Cider with Rosie - books I wouldn't have gravitated towards and which gave me a broad spectrum of styles and ideas. She challenged me to take on heavier books than kids in my group would normally read, and through my career I have taken on things that were difficult. All three teachers allowed me to say to them "Give me a challenge" and understood that I needed that spur.

Writer and actor Sanjeev Bhaskar was talking to Pamela Coleman

The story so far

1964 Born in Ealing, west London

1969-82 Springwell junior school then Cranford secondary, Hounslow

1984-88 Business studies degree, University of Hertfordshire

1995 Becomes professional performer

1996 Appears in Goodness Gracious Me Radio 4 series

1998 Series transfers to BBC2 TV

2001 onwards Co-writes and appears in The Kumars at No. 42

2002 Appears in first play Art; film roles in The Guru, Anita and Me

2003 The Kumars sold to NBC in the US March 10 Launches record 'Spirit in the Sky' with Gareth Gates for Comic Relief March 14 Stars in BBC1's Red Nose Day

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