Wednesday, 7 November 2007

An old English teacher and Rafta, Rafta

To the National for Rafta, Rafta and a rendezvous with my old English teacher from Stoke, Ken Lowe. Ken taught me for barely a year before my dad’s job took us on to another area and another school. But he led the school outings and directed the school plays, and he left me with a love of literature, performance and life that has never left me. I was kicked out of my next school at 15 and there were times in my life when I could easily have gone off the rails entirely. Ken gave me an interest and a sense of self-belief and purpose that stayed with me long after our paths parted.

He was one of that generation of young teachers that came into the education system full of the high ideals and enthusiasm of the 1960s. He took working class kids and showered our provincial imaginations with all that English literature and theatre has to offer. He got us writing poetry, read us Orwell’s Animal Farm aloud in class (and told us what it meant), took us to see films like Fred Zinneman’s A Man For All Seasons and plays like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. He still directs plays with local rep. It seemed entirely apt that I should take him to see Rafta, Rafta, a play set in a northern terraced town and adapted from an original play by Bolton playwright and author Bill Naughton.

Naughton, best known for writing Alfie, which turned Michael Caine into an international star in 1966, was a conscientious objector during the war and worked as a labourer, weaver, coal-bagger and lorry driver before making it as a writer. Ayub Khan-Din, the playwright behind East is East, transported his play All in Good Time into an updated setting with an Asian family to hilarious and moving effect.

The influx of Asians has transformed the terraced streets – and schools – where I grew up. And sadly, in Stoke as in other working class towns, the BNP and racism have sometimes thrived as old solidarities have declined. But watching the audience reaction to Rafta, Rafta, where around half of those present were from an Asian background, it was clear just how much our communities have in common – and uplifting to see it reflected in so much laughter.

5 comments:

Probablyblonde said...

A good teacher can make a world of difference and will always be remembered. My A-level English teacher also left me with a life-long love of literature, especially poetry. Though I'm puzzled to this day as to his insistence that I should have studied Japanese at university.

rightwinger said...

One good teacher in a lifetime may sometimes change a delinquent into a solid citizen.
Philip Wylie

Anonymous said...

However the teacher in question was an evil shit

Anonymous said...

Ken Lowe was a bitter, twisted old Queen. He was a real egotist who cared nothing for the children he taught. His influence was powerful but often destructive. thank God he is too old to go anywhere near my own children.

dave simpson said...

Sounds like you're the bitter and twisted one. And why anonymous? Scared that an old man might send you for detention?