The macho culture of comedian Julian Clary’s secondary school didn’t suit him at all – but the encouragement of two English teachers saw him through…
I didn’t enjoy school. I went to St Benedict’s in Ealing, London, and between the ages of 11-13 I was in the middle school, which was quite a nice, friendly environment. But then you had to go to ‘big school’ and that was all a bit brutal – it was very macho and all about rugby and cricket. I shouldn’t have been in that school. I was a sensitive, effeminate boy and I suffered.
I was quite a conscientious student and I was well behaved; it didn’t occur to me to play truant. I never thought of not turning up or not attending classes, I just endured it every day.
I’m sure the education system is much better today. There was still corporal punishment when I was at St Benedict’s, for example, and that’s obviously stopped these days. I hear from people who have known the school more recently that it’s a lovely, wonderful place now – but in the 70s when I was there, it felt like you were in the 1930s; it was very archaic.
Luckily, I had two excellent English teachers, Miss Hanley and Miss More, and they were what kept me going actually. They used to like my imaginative stories and I think they probably sensed that I was having a difficult time of it, so they were kinder to me than any of the other teachers. School is a very formative time of your life and things do stay with you – you remember the good things and the bad things equally.
It was an absolute revelation when I left school and went to Goldsmiths, University of London, where it was all about being creative and being an individual – which you weren’t encouraged to be when I was in school. That was a turning point.
I always wanted to be an author when I was a child, though I don’t think writing for children occurred to me until my agent suggested it. It turned out to be a rather inspired notion, because it’s very much more fun than writing for adults. With my new book, The Bolds, the idea for the story came from my own childhood. I grew up in Teddington, Middlesex, where the book is set, and there was a family in our road who were all quite hairy. As a child I made up stories for myself that they were hyenas – I used to watch them for signs of it. They laughed quite a lot, which confirmed my theory. Definitely hyenas.
To write for children you just contact your inner child, which we all have – and as a comedian, mine is quite present all the time. If you start thinking like a child, your imagination takes over and you can go with the flow. With an adult book you might sometimes think, ‘oh, well that’s a little unbelievable,’ but it doesn’t apply with children’s literature. Anything goes.
I’m doing panto in Birmingham for seven weeks this year, which will take me up to February before my tour in April. What I love about it is being part of this big company with chorus girls and boys, lavish costumes and proper production values. It’s a different aspect of showbiz from what I’m used to. Normally as a stand-up you’re sitting on your own in a dressing room, whereas with panto there’s this whole theatrical life around you. And I find I don’t mind entertaining children; they’re very sweet, so that’s what I enjoy about it.
When it comes to comedy material, I tend to talk on stage about things that have really happened to me. It sounds like I’m name dropping here but I was on holiday with Joan Collins in the south of France the other week and she was in the swimming pool sitting on one of those floating chairs; it turned over on top of her and she got stuck underneath so I had to dive in and save her life! I think when I tour next year that’ll be a whole 20-minute anecdote…
About the author
Julian Clary is a comedian and author. His new children’s book, The Bolds, is published by Andersen Press. Find out more about his 2016 tour at http://www.julianclary.co.uk
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