MRS Stead had decreed I was the most likely to remember all the words, so I was awarded the main role in a school assembly production.
She was a tough woman, from farming stock, but she was fair — that’s why I was the first to be put on to free choice reading in her class after impressing with my ability to spell Czechoslovakia, though I have little memory as to why I would have felt the need to do that other than to show off.
Anyway, it was class five’s turn to put on a performance in assembly, a morning event I always approached with trepidation.
First up there were a number of prayers to get through, which I never really appreciated, then the head, Mr Barsby, would tell a story which would always conclude with a moral, most of which I have since realised were nonsense as they never included phrases such as “the meek have no chance whatsoever of inheriting the earth”.
Hymn numbers were put up on a board and Miss Richmond would accompany on piano, while I would attempt to get away with miming along to the words, then someone would give a reading or act out a passage from the Bible and you would try not to laugh at them.
For a couple of years at primary school I would suffer a nosebleed on a regular basis and these always seemed to happen during assembly, which meant all and sundry would be alerted to my problem and I would be led out of the hall to have some tissue stuffed up my nostrils. This was admittedly preferable to being the kid removed because he had weed himself, which at least provided a laugh for the rest who could take comfort in the fact there was someone — at least temporarily — less well-off than themselves. That moral was never contained in any of Mr Barsby’s stories either.
Then Mrs Stead announced to the class that I would play the part of the tiger. It’s a role most serious actors have coveted but had to make do with Romeo, Juliet or a cat laughably smaller and softer than a tiger.
I have a vague recollection that the play was about the environment, which seems a tad unlikely back then unless you went to a particularly forward-thinking school, which we weren’t.
The script was handed over and, along with plenty of crawling around on all fours, there were a lot of words to remember. This was, indeed, one clever tiger.
I dutifully went home, rehearsed and, come the big day, delivered each line, be it “what do you fancy for lunch?” or “I think we’re all about to be killed by this rather large approaching forest fire”, in the same emotion-free tone that, in a performance still remembered (by me, anyway) today, marked me out as one to watch for the future.
Sadly, as often happens, those who deserve to make it big often don’t, and my only other big role was at secondary school when I played a mugger in The Good Samaritan, which was satisfying in that I could legitimately wrestle someone bigger than me to the ground for the only time in my life.
If anyone has the script for that play performed in Mrs Stead’s class, claim it as one you wrote as a kids’ book about a tiger and the environment will undoubtedly go down a storm this days.