I wanted to be an actor.
I didn’t know this until I was eleven and stepped onto the stage during a Drama class at school. But it wasn’t until we were asked to pick a song and act it out that I realised acting was for me. I had no idea what to do with Metal Guru by T Rex, and realised I needed a song with a story. My mother liked Tony Christie, who was riding high with a song called, I Did What I Did for Maria, about a guy killing the man who attacked his wife.
It was melodramatic stuff and under my enthusiastic direction, we brought the song to life. I lost myself in the part, becoming the wronged man out to deliver his own form of justice in a world that didn’t care.
I’d always had a terrific imagination and drama allowed me to channel it. I wrote short stories and plays, eager to perform them. But alas, the kids in my class were neither keen nor as driven as me. To them, our one drama lesson a week was a chance to escape from behind the desk and lark about with a soft teacher. My ambitions and self-confidence took a hit, more so when I discovered that there would be no more drama classes the following year.
The following year, one of my teachers destroyed what was left of my self-confidence.
We had to choose the subjects we intended to take for ‘O’ level in two years’ time. Looking back, I should have realised it was an hour dedicated to ensuring every pupil took as many science subjects as possible.
You might be surprised to learn, I had no sciences on my list. The teacher homed in on this like a missile, cross examining me like a barrister, refusing to accept that any boy in the North of England could be interested in the arts.
“And how do you think you’re going to earn a living from arts?” he asked, focusing the class’s attention on me. “Employers want people with qualifications in science, not someone who can paint the view from the canteen window.”
The sniggers from my classmates told me I was on my own. “You don’t need sciences to be an actor,” I said defiantly, oblivious to the reaction this would cause.
“An actor?” The teacher said it several times, making me sound like I’d lost all reason. He studied me with disdain, his voice a mixture of disbelief and mockery. “You want to be an actor?”
He laughed along with the rest of the class, certain I needed to be totally humiliated to cleanse me of this disease that had infected my mind.
I could live with the laughter. It was the destruction of my dreams I couldn’t recover from.
Two years later, I did some scene shifting at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, meeting some well-known actors. I loved the atmosphere and mixing with these creative and artistic people, but I couldn’t muster the courage to take up acting.
After I’d left school, I trod the boards playing one of the orchestra in the finale of a musical in a local amateur production. I remember the makeup, dressing up in a red jacket with gold buttons, and choosing the French horn to march around the stage with. But it wasn’t acting.
I could have written a review for the local newspaper had my dreams of going into journalism not taken a similar battering at school. It wasn’t a teacher who rode roughshod over my dreams of becoming an investigative reporter, delving into scandals and cover ups, exposing wrong doing and all manner of evils.
It was a careers advisor, brought in by the school. We each had a 15 minute session with him in a portakabin in the school yard.
“Have you any idea how difficult it is to become a journalist?” he asked. “Out of the thousands who try, only a select few ever make it. You’ll waste years at university and end up working in a chip shop.
The irony of wrapping greasy food in newspaper crushed another dream. I tried to reason and argue, to fight for my chosen career, but he had all the answers, and a manner intended to make me feel indebted to him for the way he destroyed my aims.
“You need a qualification that offers you the greatest range of opportunities,” he said, producing a brochure from beneath the table. “Business Studies is the degree to take at Manchester University. It will open doors into worlds of opportunity in almost any discipline you could imagine.”
He shook his head. “I think we can both agree that writing’s hardly a business, is it?”
The following day, back among my classmates, I was surprised and then angry to discover that we were all applying to Manchester University to take Business Studies.
I continued to write and dream, but soon I would have to leave school and join the world outside. My desire to protect the world we lived in and banish the pollution that was causing so much harm drew me to environmental health. Even better, I could go to college or university, get a qualification and have a job at the end.
I didn’t realise at the time, but my career choice would not only allow me to indulge in some acting, it encouraged me to be creative and I got to meet some terrific and inspiring characters. I’m writing about many of them in A Health Inspector Calls, a collection of humorous incidents from my work. It’s free to anyone who subscribes to my Reader Group.
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Throughout my career, I remained an artistic square peg in a scientific round hole, but I’ve no regrets. It took a long time, but my work allowed me to create Kent Fisher, described by reviewer Susan Corcoran as ‘a wonderful creation, unique in crime literature.’