Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Miss Parry and Mr Chivers by Steven Berkoff

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Miss Parry and Mr Chivers by Steven Berkoff

Article excerpt

The actor and 'bad boy' of British theatre got his first taste of the power of a beautiful speaking voice with these two eloquent and dignified teachers in East London

I passed the 11-plus and got an automatic scholarship to Raine's Foundation Grammar School in Bethnal Green, East London. Before that, I went to a primary school in nearby Stepney: Christian Street School. My first really good teacher was there. Her name was Miss Parry. She was gentle, smiling, inquisitive and utterly charming. I would do anything for a teacher who communicated with me with sensitivity and care, and Miss Parry did.

On Friday afternoons, she would read to the whole class a chapter from a particular book. She once read The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We were all captivated for the whole hour as she spoke carefully and expressively. It was totally mesmerising, better than any film or television programme.

At primary school, you more or less had the same teacher for every subject, but at Raine's Foundation you had a different teacher for each subject, which felt like a more professional way of learning.

I found Raine's enchanting and saw it as a rite of passage to being a grown-up. I adored English and French and, to a certain extent, art. I can't remember my French teacher very well but I enjoyed his lessons enormously. It seemed to me a form of magic - changing an English word into a French one. I was number one or two in the French class and in my school report the teacher wrote: "Top boy, very good boy indeed!"

Mr Chivers was the teacher who had the greatest impact on me at Raine's. His best qualities were his incredible patience, overriding elegance and beautiful way of speaking. When he spoke, it was so beautifully enunciated; it was like hearing music and so you paid attention to him. Mr Chivers also lifted his head when he spoke, as if he were honouring the English language and inciting the gods to give him inspiration. In lessons, he didn't just deal with nouns, adjectives and pronouns but encouraged creative writing.

Everything Mr Chivers said was enlightening. He would tell us: "Be patient with yourself, don't rush things, don't be afraid to ask." Mr Chivers reassured us that even if we didn't understand something initially, we would get it with repetition. …

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