Ican’t say I enjoyed my time at Charterhouse School in Surrey but I have fond memories of Paddy Gardiner’s class in English Literature. He was a wonderful teacher as he had that unique quality of making you love what you were being taught. He was enthusiastic, eloquent and he appreciated the beauty of words.
He taught me between the ages of 15 and 17. For A level we studied Thomas Hardy and Robert Browning and both writers have stuck with me. Hardy is my favourite English author. His poems are not the easiest but Mr Gardiner had this ability to bring alive what could otherwise seem quite difficult poems for young people to appreciate.
He used to ask us to read aloud and those of us with thespian delusions, like me, enjoyed it. He was also involved in the Shakespeare Society and we would go and read Shakespeare with him. Of course some boys went along just for the glass of sherry and because they fancied the housemaster’s wife.
Mr Gardiner was tall, elegant, rather good looking and probably in his early 30s. He was a tweedy dresser, although all the teachers wore black gowns then. Unlike some others at school, he was kind, thoughtful and he never put people down. He always encouraged you, whether you were good at the subject or not.
I was diligent in his class, although I behaved quite badly in others. I was always being reprimanded by Mr Paton, the very boring Maths teacher. I remember he fined me as punishment – I think it was a two shilling piece – and when I brought it in I put it into his hand in the most patronising horrible way, folding my hand over his, and I said: “Buy yourself a drink.” Unsurprisingly, I got fined for that, too.
Another teacher, Mr Char, taught German and in my O-level year he wrote on my school report: “Dimbleby is like one seeking to ascend an escalator which is on its way down.”
I didn’t want to be a journalist. My father [Richard Dimbleby] was a famous broadcaster and it was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to creep away into the countryside. You may think you’re speaking to an old hack who masquerades as a writer but you’re actually speaking to the 1965 South of England showjumping champion. I was passionate about horses.
I rarely allowed my father to come to the school as I felt it drew too much attention to me. I made him drive up in the battered old Ford Consul instead of the Rolls Royce. Were the teachers in awe of me because of him? Quite the opposite. One said to me: “Just because you’re Richard Dimbleby’s son…”
About 20 years ago, I was at a function when a man came up to me and said: “You won’t remember me, but I’m Paddy Gardiner.” I said: “I do and it’s wonderful to have the chance to say thank you for encouraging my love of words, language and literature.” He blushed with pleasure. It was a mutual love in as we said many complimentary things to each other. I told him I was very grateful to him and that I didn’t feel that way about any other teacher at Charterhouse.
He encouraged me to realise that words and ideas were wonderful and important. Books, literature and poetry are not add ons – they’re essential. They’re part of who we are, how we express ourselves and how our imagination finds a way of speaking to others. After all, where would we be without them? We’d be imprisoned in a dead land.
Jonathan Dimbleby was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Dimbleby Cancer Care. The charity provides practical and psychological support to people living with cancer and to their families and carers. For more information and to support their work, visit dimblebycancercare.org
Born 31 July, 1944, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
Education St Edmund’s, Hindhead, Surrey; Charterhouse School, Godalming, Surrey; Royal Agricultural College (now University), Cirencester, Gloucestershire; University College London
Career Television and radio presenter, (best known for ITV’s This Week and Any Questions on Radio 4); writer of biographies and history books