Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Robson Green, actor

'School was like being in Kes'

Jonathan Sale
Thursday 04 September 2008 00:00
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Robson Green, 43, has appeared in Casualty, Rocket Man and Wire in the Blood, which returns to ITV1 on Friday 12 September. "Unchained Melody", performed in the series Soldier, Soldier, was the first of three No.1 singles for Robson & Jerome.

Dudley was a small pit village in North Tyneside; my father was a miner and the pits dominated the landscape. Mrs Anderson was a lovely teacher at Dudley Primary who encouraged creativity in young people. She encouraged me to sing, act and read.

Mrs Wheeler at Dudley Middle School, where I went from 10 to 13, also saw I had the ability to perform and entertain people. But let me say Dudley Middle wasn't my favourite school. Discipline was by fear. Punishments were public humiliation – that is, standing outside the headmaster's office, being hit on the bottom and the strap.

"Chop" was one teacher's nickname because he used to do a karate chop on your back. One of my best mates told his dad, who came in and chinned him. It was very Kes.

I was in a class of 43 and we were put in rows according to our ability. Some teachers called them league tables. Many a time I was, as it were, in the Vauxhall League.

I loved science. Bunsen burners – I couldn't wait for an explosion! I have a Category 4 Pyrotechnics licence and I do firework displays. I have an eight-year-old son and for birthdays we get other kids round and build rockets with parachutes and a "pencil" videocamera. I'm always fascinated by something that leaves the surface of the earth. My series, Rocket Man, was based on a true story of a man who put his wife's ashes into space.

At Seaton Burn High School [now Community College] I got into engineering. We used to make go-carts with engines that would do 35mph. I made a trowel for my mum and ornaments to bring a smile to her face; she was bringing up four of us after my father left.

I had a band, Solid State, and Steven Williamson, who is now a headmaster, played bass guitar. We called him "The Professor" because of an answer he gave in biology. We were looking at a little sliver of onion under a microscope. When the teacher asked what the cell structure was called, he put up his hand and said: "Tessellated elongated hexagons." It was a real showstopper. That's some answer when you're 14. He was bullied because of his intelligence and I was quite protective of him. The teachers were over the moon at someone who had an IQ above that of a gnat.

I was in the school drama group and Max Roberts [director of The Pitmen Painters at the National Theatre], who was at Backworth Drama Centre, saw me in a production of Dracula Spectacular, in which I played Hans the Transylvanian innkeeper. He was looking for local kids to be involved with local playwrights.

I got six O-levels and was offered a job at the Swan Hunter shipyard as a draughtsman but Harry Robson, a lovely man and the first teacher whose first name I knew, said: "Be a designer – the aspirations are higher." I stayed on to do two A-levels – design technology and technical drawing – in a year. I got two Bs.

When I was working in the shipyard, I realised that if shipbuilding were to survive, it and I would have to part. Towards the end of my fourth year at Swan Hunter, Max, who was now at Newcastle Live Theatre, called me and said:"I've got a play by Tom Hadaway – The Long Line – and a play by Alan Plater – Where is my Old Friend Bing Crosby Tonight? – that I think you will be terrific in." It was a seven-week run with no sign of another job afterwards. I took it.

By a great irony, in a series called Take Me I played a venture capitalist and in the opening scene I stood on the roof of the draughtsman's office of Swan Hunter where I had actually worked – and I closed down the shipyard.

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