Education: Passed/Failed - Nigel Planer

Nigel Planer, 45, played Neil in 'The Young Ones', Che in 'Evita', and Nicholas Craig in 'I, An Actor'. He has written and narrated 105 episodes of 'The Magic Roundabout'. He is a successful author - his latest is 'The Right Man'
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Lenny the Lion-heart: You know that wonderful advertisement, "No one forgets a good teacher"? The first thing I remember about King's House, Richmond, is "Lenny" - John Leonard, the English, Art and Latin teacher. He had elbow patches, a goatee beard, and wild hair combed back. He wrote little plays for us. He'd say: "Never mind the exams," and would read us some Dickens, dramatising all the voices in Pickwick Papers. Something like that sets you up for life. I don't think, "I'll never write a novel." I think, "I wonder how you start?"

Jolly un-boating weather: 'I've always had a paid education - at day schools which didn't cripple my father, but gave him something to think about. At the age of 13, I went to Westminster School, a most un-boatered place, quite unlike the image of a public school. You weren't all cloistered away: it's in central London. It is a school which is very challenging intellectually. My only criticism is that it's a bit up its own arse.

Driven up the wall: We did Waiting for Godot in French, and The Real Inspector Hound within weeks of it having opened in the West End. Stephen Poliakoff and I wrote a play together called The Pot-hole, which was meant to be a swingeing satire on the school, and they actually let us put it on in the lecture theatre. We also produced a satirical school magazine, which we put up on the wall, a bit like a samizdat.

Chemistry all wrong: My reports tended to say, "He could do the work - if only he sat down to do it." I would fail nowadays because of continuous assessment. Irritatingly, I could do six weeks revision and pass with flying colours - I learn the work like a performance. I got thrown out of Chemistry; I had a friend who was very dangerous in the classroom - it was all his fault!

Off stages: They rushed you through your exams and I got A and S-Levels in English, History and French when I was just 17. They had at that time just started drama courses at four universities, but I was turned down. This shocked me, and on the rebound I became the New Me, the person who wasn't doing drama. I went to read African and Asian Studies at Sussex University, and didn't even go the theatre. Dropping out was terribly fashionable at the time and I left the course after a year. I felt rather like a hero and went around travelling and doing jobs I hated. I became ill. Sitting in hospital, I thought, "I've been a completely stupid idiot. What do I enjoy? Drama. Swallow your pride!" Which I did and went to LAMDA.

Planer sailing: I was by then 21 or 22, with a very serious intent. I can be blown off course quite easily but you know when you're back on course. I felt alive again. It's a three-year course, but I didn't complete it because, by my third year, I'd met Peter Richardson, who became my partner in a double act and later founded the Comedy Store club. In your last year you just do productions to which they invite agents in a meat market, but I thought that if I was doing productions, I might as well get paid for it. We got an Arts Council grant for a show from which Neil [of The Young Ones] came.

Bitch, bitch, bitch! Nicholas Craig in I, an Actor is an affectionate piss take, and part of that comes out of my time at LAMDA. Last year I presented the Evening Standard drama awards, in which I had to stand up in front of the profession - and bitch. Do you know what the collective noun for the profession is? A whinge of actors.