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‘"That’s me sacked!" I thought to myself as I tried to stop the video playing'

In the latest instalment in a fortnightly series, one 'travelling teacher' recalls when Film Talk Time went wrong...

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In the latest instalment in a fortnightly series, one 'travelling teacher' recalls when Film Talk Time went wrong...

The fog clears and here we are.

It’s Year 10 English and if I were to look in the mirror, I would see a young man, non-balding, with spiked fringe wearing a wry smile at the knowledge of his recent CD single purchase. Buddy Holly by Weezer is singing in my head as I execute one of the speaking and listening elements of the current English GCSE course. The suggestion has been to invite students to share their favourite film with the rest of the class and then finish the presentation with their most memorable bit from a VHS copy of their choice. We are pre-DVD/download/stream. We are analogue and we mean business.

VHS is brilliant. It’s grainy, has low sound quality and is susceptible to being chewed up by an intemperate playback machine. But the big boxes the tapes come in are ace. I have "modelled" the presentation requirements by talking about STAR WARS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and THE WIZARD OF OZ. I finish the model presentation by showing the class the Ben Gardner’s head-falling-out-of-the-gap clip from JAWS, my favourite film. I thought the clip might make the class jump, but with it being played out of context, they just stared and said it didn’t look real. They all said they’d seen JAWS and the shark was plastic. They all said it was ancient.

I reached for my detention pad.

We all agreed that JAWS was a great film and the batting list of presentations was established.

Over the next few weeks, in the final 15 minutes or so of the lesson, the presentations would roll out. We got a little of everything, to be fair. There was a clear certificate ceiling – "12" being the maximum and no swearing in the clips. It was really nice actually, as there was such variety. Most of the students’ favourite films were what was current, of course. I had tried to get them to look to the past a little more but I also knew they were essentially grabbing what was available off the shelf at home.

So we had:

  • MRS DOUBTFIRE (PG)
  • JURASSIC PARK (PG)
  • FREE WILLY (PG)
  • WAYNE’S WORLD 2 (PG)
  • HOME ALONE 1 and 2 (PG)
  • ALADDIN (U)

…..and many more.

This was going much better than when we did "Bring In Your Favourite Song, Talk About It and then Play It", when we had been subjected to Meat Loaf’s I’d Do Anything For Love to the point that even Troy was weeping. Anything for love? Really? Why don’t you just shut yer trap!

A nasty surprise

The film clips were going down a treat. We plough through the "work" and then it’s Film Talk Time. Everyone happy.

And then Kelly steps up. Lovely Kelly. A real sweetie. Funny and down to earth.

‘What have you brought for us then, Kelly?’ I ask.

She reveals a caseless VHS tape from her bag and holds it up.

"It’s one of mi Dad’s," she declares, "he loves it."

As I write this, it should’ve been obvious. But in the moment, it really isn’t.

In the tape goes, and the machine noisily churns the playback. The screen flickers and we can just make out a man in a chair. It’s an electric chair. He looks frightened. There is a voice-over, but it’s unintelligible. The quality of the tape isn’t good.

And then I realise what’s happening. I leap up and my fingers and thumbs attack the video player. The screen goes blank and the tape spits from the machine!

‘What are you doing, Sir???’ berates Kelly.

‘What’s the film, Kelly?’ I ask, genuinely breathless.

‘It’s my Dad’s favourite, Sir. FACES OF DEATH 2.’

There’s a silence.

Yep, it’s a video nasty.

"Am I showing my clip or what, Sir?" Kelly suddenly says brightly. "Do you want to borrow it?"

"That’s me sacked!" I think to myself. I nod, planning to hand the tape to Kelly’s head of year.

There is a pause as I gaze into middle distance. I’m snapped back to reality:

"Me next!" shouts Jonathan Tinkler, holding up his tape. "I’ve got COOL RUNNINGS!"

There’s a cheer! Everyone has moved on, except me.

And the fog descends.

Browsing Amazon the other day, my recommendations piled in. My love of movies of the cult, unusual and strange variety has led to one film, now deemed inoffensive, suddenly finding its way on my feed. I think of Kelly and smile.

Hywel Roberts is a travelling teacher and curriculum imaginer. He tweets as @hywel_roberts. Read his back catalogue

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