WITH my laddie starting school last week, I was more than usually interested in a drama and two comedies about teachers. In the drama, Sean Bean was English teacher Simon by day and transvestite Tracie by night.
BBC1, Tuesday, 9pm
BBC3, Tuesday, 10pm
Sky Living, Tuesday, 8.30pm
Now you’re probably thinking: how very Waterloo Road. “Don’t tell me,” you say, “Simon is frustrated in the classroom, where he cannot be, as it were, herself, but then his two worlds miraculously conjoin when he’s appointed artistic director of the end-of-year musical and, thrillingly, George Michael agrees to be the mystery star-turn on condition he gets to wear those leather breeks with that big skull belt from the Olympics closing ceremony – and perform his new single.”
Not quite. This was the first of a new series of Accused from the brilliant Jimmy McGovern, where we always begin with the central character awaiting a jury’s verdict, so we know the tale will end badly. Accused is almost as good as McGovern’s The Street, the best British drama of the last 16 years (since Our Friends In The North, basically). Single-handedly, he’s trying to revive the great Play For Today tradition, and even though The Street is sadly no more and this run of Accused has been reduced to four, the cream still queue up to work for him, doing anything his searing scripts demand. Here, Bean had to totter in 7.5cm heels (“Italian court, saddle-stitch,” he told the jury as Tracie) and another celebrated TV tough guy, Stephen Graham, had to snog him.
Only when Simon became Tracie did he feel alive. Only when he read poetry to his bored class the way she might, did the kids appear remotely interested. And only when he got permission from the judge to don the blonde wig and fake embonpoint, did he start to convince the jury he played no part in the murder of Tony’s wife. Stephen Graham was excellent as the trapped, tragic Tony who botched everything, but this was always going to be Bean’s show, or shows. Of the two roles, Tracie may have been the more difficult on paper, and you wonder whether the actor, when he had an arm tattooed with “The Blades” (Sheffield Utd’s nickname) as a younger man, could have envisaged he’d one day be dragging a Ladyshave across the inky legend on primetime. But Tracie was a much stronger character than Simon. The greater challenge was to convey the latter’s complete anonymity.
After the first five minutes of Bad Education, right after the Abbey Grove School sexpot started flirting with useless teacher Alfie Wickers, I stopped this Jack Whitehall comedy to dig out my DVD of Please Sir!, the 1960s classic where such a scene was played out weekly involving John Alderton and Penny Spencer. Sharon Eversleigh! You were ever-present in my double-physics daydreams with your Cremola Foam pout and your wet-look boots. So the rest of Bad Education was going to have to be good, and mostly it was.
Mr Wickers is the kind of teacher who gets his trainers nicked by the school bully, forcing him to continue lessons in purple Crocs retrieved from Lost & Found. He’ll say things like “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – that’s Shakespeare, Chantelle” and the super-intelligent Chinese girl will have to correct him: “It’s actually from the Bible, you idiot.”
Mathew Horne’s headmaster will chime with anyone who ever had to endure a teacher trying to be “down with the kids”; Michelle Gomez is the soor-ploom-faced deputy who’s got it in for Mr Wickers. Their scenes together are the best thing about Bad Education. When she burst in on his classroom, everyone asleep including our hero, he desperately tried to rescue the situation thus: “…and that is how quiet Anne Frank and her family had to be to evade capture by the Nazis.” Whitehall plays a posh balloon – the kids nickname him “Downton Abbey” – not unlike his character in Fresh Meat. He may only have one trick but it’s a good one.
Horne’s Gavin And Stacey sidekick Joanna Page turned up in Gates, which is more concerned with the mums and dads, the helicopter parents who clutter up playgrounds with their overprotective faffing, interrupting games and setting back the development of the sportsmen and women of tomorrow.
It’s got fewer out-and-out funny lines than Bad Education but there are some nice visual gags and it will probably end up being more truthful. Catherine Shepherd steals the show as the arty, flirty, barking yummy-mummy.
And my boy’s first day? Oh, he loved it, as did I, cluttering up the playground, barging his classmates out of the way to get at the football, boring everyone with the story of how he’s a fourth-generation at the school and how his great-great-grandfather put the weathervane on the roof.