Istarted my secondary education as a grammar school boy, but at the beginning of my fourth year Dorking Grammar combined with two other schools to become the Ashcombe School. It was the great comprehensive sweep of the mid 1970s and it was a messy period when pupil intake doubled.
Gill Goswell and Ian Mellor were English teachers who came from one of the new schools. Mrs Goswell taught me for my English O-level but I have barely any memory of the time I spent with her in the classroom. What I do recall is the extracurricular drama organised by Gill and Ian (Mrs Goswell and Mr Mellor to me back then). That was incredibly important in my development.
As soon as they arrived, they put on a play to get pupils in this big, new, combined school doing things together. It was called Zigger Zagger and was about football hooliganism. It was an inspired choice as it had a big cast. I was one of the chanting crowd and, if memory serves, I also played a vicar.
I wasn’t very good at acting but I was enthusiastic and keen to be involved. It was enormous fun. I also played Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, and it pains me to recall that I had the starring role in a rock opera about the evolution of education. I think Gill and Ian cast me before they knew how bad I was at singing. They certainly coached me hard. Looking back it was just dressing up, but at the time it felt so very important.
We were all working out of school hours – in a way that you wouldn’t get away with now. We’d be painting sets, rehearsing or putting music together, and we’d come in on Saturdays. I remember being at school until midnight and Gill driving us home. We took it incredibly seriously.
I wasn’t the brightest kid in the class but I worked reasonably hard. I didn’t cause much trouble and I ended up being head boy in the upper-sixth year. I was, however, very argumentative about politics, and I often used to say things like “I’m going to be prime minister”. When I started studying economics in the sixth form, I knew I was pretty good at it. As a result, I became more academically solid. I realised my passion lay there more than in drama.
But most of the happy memories I have of school involve drama. It gave me a desire to be involved and not just spectate. It also helped me to cement friendships. My performances were not particularly high-quality but I developed a taste for appearing on stage. There’s a bit less acting and a bit more thinking in the job I do now, but there’s still the essence of putting yourself out there.
I reunited with Gill when I was invited back to the school. I talked to the sixth form on several occasions and she would always introduce me. She taught at the school until she retired, and I went to see Oliver!, her final show. Sadly, she died in 2013; I met Ian again at her funeral.
Extracurricular activities are important and perhaps under-rated. I think a school should expose every child to a hundred different things so they can find a passion of some sort. Good teachers nurture something that makes you enthusiastic about life, and that’s what Gill and Ian did. They made me feel I was quite good at something, when looking back I was probably rubbish. It built my confidence and paved the way for my future career.
Evan Davis was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz
Born 8 April 1962, Malvern, Worcestershire
Education West Ashtead County Primary School and Dorking Grammar School (later the Ashcombe School) in Surrey; St John’s College, Oxford; Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Career Journalist and presenter of Newsnight and Dragons’ Den