What I learnt at school: Tim Vine

  • What I learnt at school: Tim Vine

Comedian Tim Vine’s penchant for one-liners hasn’t always won him awards…

My ‘secondary years’ were actually split across two places; until I was 13, I went to a prep school in Burgh Heath called Aberdour, and then I was at Epsom College. Aberdour was great – I was quite a happy go lucky boy and have always tended to make friends quickly, so it wasn’t hard for me to feel comfortable there. Although this was the 70s, when I talk about it now it sounds rather like something from a 1950s children’s story; several of the teachers still had their ranks from WWII, for example, and it wasn’t unusual for Colonel Scott, who taught geography, to be persuaded to show us his shrapnel wounds as a temporary distraction from contour lines and glaciers.

After Aberdour, I went to Epsom College as a day boarder. It really was an amazing place – the grounds were beautiful and I remember going into chapel as a new boy, dressed in a suit, and feeling a little in awe of the sixth formers, who seemed incredibly grown up. I mean, they could grow beards! Five years seems like no time at all now, but at the start of your school journey it can feel like a lifetime. It’s always a challenge when you’re thrown into a completely new situation as a kid, but once again, my ability to make and hold onto friends helped smooth the way for me – it’s something I’ve always been grateful for in my life. On my first day, another boy came up to me and said, slightly nervously, ‘Can I walk up to lessons with you?’ We’re still friends… and yes, I still take the mickey out of him about that moment.

I do remember a lot about my time at school, especially the teachers, some of whom now come to my gigs from time to time. I’m always pleased to see Mr Moss in the audience – he taught us English at Aberdour, and once let us spend a whole lesson rehearsing one of the endless plays I used to write for my classmates to perform. It was just a nice, encouraging thing to do, and I’ve never forgotten it. Then there was Mr Schwarz, whose subject was maths, and who would read us Les Miserables on the last day of term; we always knew it as ‘Jean Valjean’. It was quite a surprise to me when the musical came out.

We had plenty of great teachers at Epsom College, too – but one who stands out especially in my memory is Mr Squibbs, who taught French. We all absolutely loved him, yet he was terribly strict, and you knew not to cross him. He could be hilarious, but wasn’t keen when someone else was getting the laugh. Once, he was talking to us about word endings – he wanted to find an example of something that was feminine and plural, so he asked, ‘35 women; what would you put on the end of that?’

‘35 ‘e’s and one ‘s’’ I replied. I got lines for that one.

I used to mess about a lot, is the truth of it. I got into trouble, but I knew how far to push it, and when to stop; I had no interest in making my life a misery. My reports generally said that I should learn to concentrate – and in one particularly prophetic example a clearly frustrated house master wrote, ‘Tim spends too much time acting the fool; he should remember that sometimes, what you act, you end up becoming.’

The thing is, though, I wasn’t interested in excelling academically – I just wanted to have fun, play music and meet girls (not that my teenage self had much opportunity for the latter – of 600 pupils at Epsom, only 60 were female. I was scared to death of girls for years afterwards). I never felt under immense pressure to achieve, although I’d get the odd quiet but firm reminder from my dad that my education wasn’t coming cheap and I should probably make a bit of an effort. You hear now about teenagers getting tense about exams and thinking their whole lives are hanging on the results; I don’t think that’s an especially healthy development, and I hope my nieces and nephews, who are in school now, are happy – and stay that way.

It was privileged education, certainly – and I wasn’t unaware of that; but when you’re young it’s not something that’s at the front of your mind all the time. And it’s easy to forget that just having access to education at all is a privilege in itself. We can all end up living in our own bubbles; I visited Ethiopia a while back, and they were putting one tap in a village. It changed everything for the people living there, and a part of me was thinking, ‘But…I’ve got seven taps in my house!’ Part of the target for this year’s Red Nose Day is to get 300, 000 children in Africa into education. It’s a privilege to be involved.

About the author

Tim Vine is a comedian. He is once again supporting Red Nose Day on Friday 13th March 2015. If your school would like to get involved, please visit http://www.rednoseday.com/schools to order your FREE Schools Fundraising Resource Pack.