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My best teacher - Max Beesley

Features | Published in TES Newspaper on 11 March, 2011

As a chorister and music school pupil, the actor wasn't always academically motivated

I went to Acacias Community Primary School in south Manchester, where I had a warm-hearted, supportive teacher called Mrs Allis, who taught recorder and ran the school choir. Thanks to Mrs Allis, all my early memories of music-making are good ones.

My mum was determined not to send me to the local secondary school because it didn't have a good reputation, so at the age of 10 I auditioned for a scholarship to be a chorister at Manchester Cathedral, a position that came with a full-time place at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester.

It was a tough schedule being a chorister, and quite pressurised. I sang five days a week, every week of the year. I knew that when my voice broke I would have to re-audition, and if it wasn't good enough I would have to leave. I had to work really hard on keeping my piano and percussion-playing up to a very high standard, just in case.

I was a good boy and probably the most rebellious thing I did was smoke roll-ups on the back of the coach on the way to concerts. The only time I came close to getting into trouble at school was when I threw a snowball and it accidentally hit the headmaster, John Vallins, on the head. I was mortified. He called me into his office and I was just saying, "I didn't do it, Sir, I didn't do it."

The thing about Chetham's was that the academic excellence almost matched the musical excellence. By the sixth form, half the students were thinking of Oxbridge. I did try hard, but I wasn't that academic, so at times it was hard to keep up. So much so that I started to lose my way a couple of times.

Fortunately Trevor Donald, my English teacher and the head of day pupils, always looked out for me. He was a lovely man, with rosy cheeks and curly brown hair that came out at the side, like a mad professor. I remember he always used to wear brown and beige; brogues, tweed jumpers and shirts.

He pulled me into his office a couple of times and said: "You're flying with your percussion but I need you to work really hard on your school work because I want you to stay here." That was what most of the teachers were like at Chets: they would see you were struggling, scoop you up, give you a bit of support and try to push you a bit further.

With Trevor, I genuinely felt that he liked me. I think he liked the fact that I was from a working-class background and had got there on my own merits as a musician. I have just written a screenplay for a movie I'm going to shoot next year, and one of the characters is really influenced by Trevor Donald.

Being at Chets, I think we all matured more quickly than we might have done in another school. The atmosphere could be quite intense at times. I was quite a romantic and used to get my heart broken all the time. At primary school I was in love with Carly Martin and Zoe Harris, who were both gymnasts in the England squad. At Chets it was a violinist called Anna Biggin. I thought she was beautiful.

Another memorable teacher was Delwyn Jones who taught drama and English. Delwyn and his wife Caroline used to put on dance shows at the school, which was a great release for a bunch of kids used to studying Paganini. In drama lessons, he used to tell me to stop fidgeting all the time. It's funny because whenever I'm doing a film now, I hardly ever move. That habit is inbuilt in me now. I do wonder if he sees me on telly and thinks, "Thank God he doesn't fidget any more".

Max Beesley has just starred in 'Mad Dogs' on Sky 1. He is supporting the Chetham's Raise the Roof appeal to raise money for a new state-of-the art building. Visit www.chethams.com/support-us/raise-the-roof. He was talking to Janet Murray.


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