Mrs Heritage and Mr Bleasdale by Mark Gatiss

6th November 2015 at 00:00
The writer and actor so admired his English teachers that he named characters after them in his books – and even in Doctor Who

Woodham Comprehensive was a decent but tough school. It was a hateful building, to be honest. You know when people talk about sick building syndrome? Our building was on the critical list; it was in the last bed in the ward.

It was so hideous: every room was painted a different colour and the walls were like cardboard. But it had a very good reputation. It was known to be a good school and there were some great staff. Two teachers in particular stand out, both English teachers.

Mrs Heritage (as I still and always will know her) and John Bleasdale were incredibly encouraging with my writing and vocabulary from the outset. They were everything you want from a great teacher: immensely encouraging, sympathetic and fun. I had no history of acting in my family and they gave me the room to imagine and to breathe.

You wouldn’t mess with either of them, but that’s the measure of a good teacher, isn’t it? They just had this natural authority, because you respected them. They played a huge part in what I do today. Absolutely. Their encouragement to be imaginative and not to just go down the expected route was utterly inspirational.

You know how overanalysing a novel can often kill it? I don’t know how they managed it, but these two kept a freshness in class that meant the fiction we were working on remained fun throughout. At times they would have us work around the text, not directly on it. We looked at authors who perhaps inspired the author we were studying, that sort of thing.

I remember being introduced to Tennessee Williams – not personally, but the notion of him. And I remember my first brush with Shakespeare so fondly. I fear that, with education, what you end up doing is spending lots of your youth bored out of your mind with stuff you know you’ll never touch in a million years. It was maths for me. But in English, that wasn’t the case.

I remember, vividly, being in a double English lesson one wintry afternoon. Everyone was scratching away on some sort of composition, and I remember a thrill going through me and I wondered what it was. Then I realised I was profoundly happy. It was the perfect little moment.

I got an email from John the other day, actually, and he signed off “your very proud teacher”. How wonderful is that? I also got an email out of the blue, from a teacher I won’t name whom I absolutely loathed. This email said: “Next time you’re home, it’d be nice to have a beer and a catch-up.” I thought: “Are you completely mad? Do you not remember how it was between us at all?” So I guess not all teachers are brilliant.

But these two were. They were absolutely brilliant. I’ve namechecked them, actually, in books and TV shows. I’ve named several characters after both. There’s a Bleasdale in my book The Vesuvius Club, for example. And there’s a Heritage somewhere in Doctor Who, I believe. A tiny nod of thanks for the huge things they did for me.

Mark Gatiss was talking to Tom Cullen. The Doctor Who Festival will take place at the Excel centre in London on 13-15 November. Doctor Who Series 9: Part One is out on DVD now

Mind palace

Mark Gatiss

Born 17 October 1966, Sedgefield, County Durham

Education Woodham Comprehensive School, Newton Aycliffe. Went on to study theatre arts

Career Co-creator of black comedy The League of Gentlemen. Has been a writer for Doctor Who since its revival in 2005, as well as acting in the third series. Co-created and stars in BBC One’s Sherlock

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