Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Mr Harding by Steve Harley

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Mr Harding by Steve Harley

Article excerpt

The singer-songwriter praises the man who switched him on to literature, nourished his creativity and has become an unlikely family friend

I went to Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham Boys' Grammar School in South London from 1962 to 1968. Part of the English education was getting the apostrophes right when writing the school name.

In 1954 my right leg got hit with polio and I spent four years in hospital. Then between the ages of 12 and 13 I was in there for a full 10 months.

I couldn't walk when I went back to school. I was on crutches and it was a 10-minute, uphill journey from home. My dad was at work and my mum didn't drive, so for a whole term a young English master named Mr Ruston would pull up on the A2, come up to the front of my block of flats, carry me down the steps and drive me to school. Looking back now, I realise just how kind that was.

But he wasn't the teacher who influenced my life. Tony Harding, a close friend to this day, did that. Tony was an Askean who read English at the University of Oxford, came back to teach and became head of department. It sounds like a classic case of a man who never saw life - going to school, university and then back to school - but he's exceedingly worldly and philosophical. To say he is intelligent would be to do him an injustice.

When I was 15, he gave me a copy of The Old Man and the Sea and that was me hooked on Hemingway for life. I remember it vividly. It was completely outside the curriculum. He said, "You'll like this, bury your nose in it. It's right up your street." I read it in about 10 minutes and I loved that terse, descriptive prose. How did he know that I would?

Tony was also the editor of the school newspaper and I was determined to be a journalist. He gave me my first taste of journalism, asking me to review the school play. The paper hadn't had reviews up to that point, but he saw that it was something I could do, so he introduced them. …

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