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This article is taken from PN Review 240, Volume 44 Number 4, March - April 2018.

Peter the Teacher Jane Griffiths
I first knew Peter as a teacher, though he would say that what he did wasn’t teaching, and in the strictest sense there may be some truth in that. What he did was talk, sitting at the head or on the edge of a long table in one of the even longer echoey upstairs classrooms, or almost invisible in a cocoon of silk scarves, green Barbour and pipe smoke in Margaret’s tiny room above the theatre. It would start with something particular – in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the paragraph where Tess kisses Angel’s shadow, or where she slips her letter under the door – and spin swiftly into a reading that took in the whole of the book, Hardy, fate and the life of the English countryside. It wasn’t a monologue; the questions were fast and frequent, and even hesitant or wildly off-the-mark responses were woven into the commentary, which became a fantastic kind of collaboration. Somewhere I still have a cassette of a class I got a friend to record for me when I was in bed with flu. It’s not easy to make out the words, except for one sudden exclamation, very much in the foreground, ‘Swapna, are you taping this?’, but what does carry clearly is the laughter. And also Peter’s speech cadences: the BBC-microphone-defying swoop and clip which don’t quite come across in formal recordings of his readings, which for all their skill are slightly flatter, and without the quick upward ‘Hah!’ of response to a remark that surprised or delighted him. It was wonderful teaching; it also very ...


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