Comfortable and Furious

Hey, PE Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alone!

I’ve never quite gotten over my first PE lesson aged eleven at a big school.

After surviving a bruising game of rugger in which I was sometimes mistaken for the ball, I tried my best to change back into my uniform and sneak home as the prospect of a group shower at that somewhat self-conscious time in life was only ever going to add insult to injury.

However, Mr MacKenzie, our six-foot-four, vaguely Neanderthal gym teacher, ordered me to strip and join the other boys. I don’t remember if he actually shoved my milk-white, scrawny body into their steaming midst, but I do recall in great detail the sudden and very confusing sight of the black mass of crinkly pubes surrounding Iain Norgate’s alarmingly large genitals.

To this day I still suffer occasional nightmares of being attacked by a bratwurst in a dark frizzy wig.

OK, so not quite on the same level of adolescent trauma as Carrie, but it certainly helped foster a lifelong suspicion that the nation’s acute teacher shortage routinely results in the lazier, thicker and vaguely more sadistic trainees (who are destined to fail) instead being given the chance to teach gym as long, of course, as they can demonstrate a complete mastery of wearing a tracksuit.

That sniggering dipshit Mr MacKenzie ended up ‘teaching’ me for an excruciating five years, although I never really worked out what his job entailed. It seemed to have something to do with making us run round the rugger pitch on wet Tuesday afternoons while he mouthed obscenities from inside the Old Gym. At other times he’d demonstrate his tremendous insight and compassion by telling a blubbing child clutching a rapidly swelling ankle there was no such thing as pain. During summer the job’s loose requirements shrank even further, appearing to be nothing more than stopping the school bully Alan Heath from spearing someone with a javelin.

In a cruel twist of fate, no doubt prompted by the aforementioned teacher shortage, he taught me ‘O’ Level Physics, a fruitless two-year period which simply demonstrated a mutual, monumental ignorance of the subject.

Anyhow, I suspect I’m not alone in having very little regard for gym teachers. Here are two terrific portrayals that starkly capture their myriad inadequacies both as educators and indeed human beings.

Porky’s Beulah Balbricker

Much derided by critics, Porky’s is a lowbrow piece of smut, all right, in which there’s never a chance of anyone pontificating about something being rotten in the state of 1950s Florida. Saying that, it’s also consistently funny with a plethora of memorable pranks, including the Mike Hunt phone gag I’ve always wanted to try out. In my eyes its main sin was inspiring a terrible slew of sex comedies in much the same way Basic Instinct led to a similar boom in face-clawingly bad erotic thrillers.

One of Porky’s main charms is Beulah Balbricker, a joyless, potbellied female PE teacher who’s unpopular with colleagues and students alike. Sex is the root of her misery in that she never gets any. This is why she can’t bear her fellow teachers flirting with one another. If she gets the slightest whiff of a lovey-dovey moment, she’ll cry ‘moral turpitude’ and threaten to get the offending colleagues fired, even if that does only result in her being derided as a frigid hippo.

Jealous, unstable and badly dressed, poor old Beulah’s makeup-free face never once cracks a smile. It’s not hard to see why she’s unaffectionately known as Miss Ballbreaker. Her defining moment of bug-eyed insanity comes when she spots a penis poking through a makeshift glory hole in the girls’ showers. Her mouth falls open, there’s some sort of heavy exhalation and then a growing roar as she powers forward to grab the offending organ with both hands.

“I’m taking you to the principal!” she cries, although it’s unclear if she’s addressing the yelling boy or his squirming penis. At one point she even anchors the sole of her foot against the tiled wall in an apparent bid to pull the randy teenager through the two-inch wide hole, demonstrating the kind of elemental grasp of physics you’d expect from a PE teacher.

Later, at a sit-down meeting with the incredulous principal, she demands a lineup of nude boys to try to find the culprit, sensitively suggesting they be hooded to avoid any embarrassment.

“I know this is completely unorthodox, but this is the only way to find that boy,” she softly reasons. “I’d recognize that penis anywhere. That seducer and despoiler must be stopped.”

This is a memorable performance by Nancy Parsons, pretty much devoid of any trace of femininity or even dignity. Fair play to the way she keeps such an admirably straight face throughout.

Determined to get her man, and by now faintly deranged, she even pops up during the closing credits to yank down a pair of trousers in her ongoing hunt for the perpetrator. “I know that penis anywhere!” she bellows while being dragged off by the cops.

Fine last words for any PE teacher.

Mr Sugden from Kes

Kes is a downbeat but ultimately moving picture of British working class life in a late sixties northern town. Poor Billy Casper’s miserable home life consists of a worn-down mum and a hateful older brother with whom he shares a single bed. Whatever potential he has is clearly going to waste so you’d think a simple game of soccer at school would provide some much-needed fun.

Not when you’ve got a coach like Mr Sugden.

Brian Glover, perhaps best known for being one of the Slaughtered Lamb’s half-terrified regulars, does some glorious work here in his fifteen-minute cameo. He’s a pig-ignorant boor, the sort of man who’d fart in a lift and loudly blame someone else. In a classic introduction, we see him jogging alone across the pitch in a horrendous maroon tracksuit. He’s doing imaginary headers and occasionally stopping to run on the spot, the brass band on the soundtrack sarcastically feting him as if he’s a sporting hero.

In the changing room he’s obviously king, never missing a chance to bark orders or jab a complaining child in the chest. When Billy turns up yet again without kit, his teacher becomes incensed. “You make me sick,” he rails, banging the ball against his head. “Every lesson it’s the same old story.” He produces an inspired solution though for the imminent match, forcing the skinny kid to wear a giant pair of shorts that come up to his neck.

Once they trot out onto the sloping, muddy pitch, Mr Sugden appoints himself ref and captain of one of the teams. Not that he’s bothered by such a conflict of interest, especially as it provides the ideal platform to demonstrate his athletic prowess to a bunch of undersized, malnourished children.

Before long he’s almost completely lost in fantasy, imagining he’s the legendary Manchester United striker Bobby Charlton playing in a crucial FA Cup tie. He takes everything deadly seriously, never missing an opportunity to berate an underperforming team mate.

Billy, however, is bored and freezing cold, preferring to hang from the bent crossbar than take any active part in the game. After he lets in a soft goal, Mr Sugden goes ballistic. “I’ve never seen such slack work in my life,” he rages, throwing the heavy ball so hard at his head it knocks him into a pool of mud.

Then at the other end of the pitch (and despite a massed protest at its patent unfairness) he awards himself a penalty. Of course, his piss-weak spot kick is saved, which only results in him ordering a retake on a technical point. Once he finally scores he wheels away in celebration. “And that, boys,” he crows, “is how to take a penalty.”

Paunchy, belligerent and in possession of very little, if any, footballing talent, it’s not long before he sends off the opposing captain for calling him a ‘big, fat git.’

“I won’t tolerate that on a football pitch,” he shouts at the departing player. “We play this game like gentlemen.”

Billy, meanwhile, gets another clip round the ear for letting in a last-minute goal, leaving a sulking Mr Sugden on the losing side. A few minutes later he punishes the lad with a lengthy cold shower.

As a teacher, Mr Sugden fails on every conceivable level. In the four years he’s been teaching Billy, not one ounce of warmth or respect has emerged on either side. He cajoles, insults and bullies. He’s hypocritical, physically abusive and never offers the slightest bit of encouragement. He cheats and is a bad loser.

In other words, a pitch-perfect representation of a PE teacher.

Dave Franklin wrote a novel about incompetent teachers called English Toss on Planet Andong. Although tempted, he didn’t quite manage to dedicate it to Mr MacKenzie.



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