We worked out a system so that I could do German instead of rugby or cricket, which was perfect for me

28th July 2006 at 01:00
I remember my primary school very well - St John's Catholic primary school, in Redruth. As a Catholic school it was full of Poles and Italians, and Irish of course. We had lots of days off for holy days, which was great. I was taught by nuns, and taught very well; they were fantastic teachers.

The two I remember best were Sister Gregory and Sister Columbanus. Imagine being five years old and having to learn to say "Sister Columbanus". That was a good education, you see, you had to cope with such concepts at a very early age, as well as being taught by someone dressed like something out of a Hammer Horror film.

They were very good teachers, though - very kind and supportive, and very democratic. They were not very strict, more hard but fair, you might say. I learned a lot from them very quickly. Apart from doing all the rosaries and Mass every day, it was great. Then I went to Redruth grammar school for boys, which was a good old-fashioned grammar. It was OK, but you know how some people say their school days were the happiest of their lives, I just can't understand that. I loathed going to school, not for any reason, really, except that I am very, very idle.

It was an ordinary school, not particularly high achieving or academic. If someone went to Cambridge, for example, it would be a big event in the school magazine. When I went to see the careers adviser and told him I was thinking of doing A-levels and going to university he said, "OK, good luck.

Bye." That summed it up, really.

My favourite subject was chemistry. I loved it, and should have done maths, physics and chemistry for A-level but the teachers were so off-putting. I ended up doing languages because I had really good language teachers. It just shows what a difference good teachers make.

One was Rex Rule - what a great name for a teacher - who taught Spanish.

And there was a French teacher called Marcus Woodward. However, my favourite was a teacher called John Hampton Darling, or JHD. John Darling was extremely well qualified and the headmaster was desperate to get him in, but he only agreed to come if he could teach German. We didn't do German so the head persuaded me to take it.

We worked out a system so that I could do German instead of rugby or cricket, which was perfect for me. I liked football but hated rugby and cricket. So I ended up in this unique situation of having one-to-one German tuition while the rest were out playing rugby in the rain. It was fantastic because JHD treated me like an adult. We just chatted about politics and so on, and then every now and then he'd just say, "Oh, in German you'd say this or that."

I learned so much in two years. It was like being at university or getting an elite education in this very provincial grammar school. He made German seem very, very lively - because, let's face it, it's a boring language. I was very lucky. It was a unique learning experience.

He was also great fun. He had a very good sense of humour and would even slag off the other teachers, unashamedly, which was wonderful. We had a rather nasty PE teacher, a typical muscular, stern guy called Fernley Furze. It was funny because John Darling also hated Mr Furze. JHD wore a bow tie and pink shirt - in a Cornish school! - and the PE teacher didn't like the message he was getting. But John Darling would say: "Oh, Mr Furze? That's funny because Furze is German for farts."

The bad thing was I had to do my homework because I couldn't exactly hide.

Later on he taught my brother history and became friends with my parents.

He even invited us round for dinner once, and still sends us Christmas cards.

I was spoilt in a way.

Writercomedianactor Rory McGrath was talking to Matthew Brown


1956 Born in Redruth, Cornwall

1960 St John's Catholic primary school, Redruth

1967 Redruth county grammar school for boys

1974 Studies modern languages at Emmanuel College, Cambridge; joins Footlights comedy troupe

1978 Joins BBC Radio light entertainment department

1979 Begins writing for the BBC's Not the Nine O'Clock News

1980-1984 Writer for comedians Frankie Howerd; Dave Allen; and BBC TV's Alas Smith and Jones

1983 Co-writes and stars in Channel 4 sketch show series Who Dares Wins

1988 Stars as Badvoc the Celt in Channel 4's Chelmsford 123

1989-90 Panellist on Channel 4's improvisational comedy show Whose Line is it Anyway?

From 1995 Co-host on BBC 1's comedy sports quiz They Think it's All Over (18 seasons)

2003 The first of regular appearances on BBC's Grumpy Old Men

2005 Retraces the journey of Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat for BBC TV

July 2006 Presents Industrial Revelations: Best of British Engineering for Discovery Channel

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