Reader's Digest Article

What’s worse than being a short, podgy, swotty, virginal schoolboy?
What if your dad is your headmaster too?
In the early 1980s, that was my nightmare reality. At the age of 13, I first trudged though the gates of the Kings of Wessex Upper School, Cheddar passing the sign proclaiming that the head teacher was one TK Herring BSc – my father. Within hours I had acquired my nickname – “TK Junior” – I suppose it could have been worse.
How on earth was I going to get through the next five years? I would have to live with the suspicion of all my peers, if not their outright hatred. What mental and physical scars would it leave? Can I blame my unusual upbringing for my many adult deficiencies and insecurities? Is my social awkwardness and reluctance to join in a consequence of my schoolmates not wanting to invite along the Head’s son for fear that I would tell tales out of school? Is my inability to commit to a relationship due to me trying to compensate for the fact that no girl at school would want to be seen hand in hand with TK Junior? Did I become a comedian in order to escape what must have been inevitable bullying?
Certainly my parents didn’t really help matters. They made me go to school in the exact correct school uniform – I couldn’t wear trainers like all the other kids, I had to wear sensible Clark’s shoes. I carried my books to school in a briefcase. I think I chose to do that, but they should have stopped me at the door and said, “Come on, there are enough reasons for everyone to hate you. Take this sports bag. Give yourself the chance of being liked!” I was also forced to join the brass band. So most days I was also lunking around a trumpet case. It was like I was some kind of Buckaroo of bullying – “How many things can we hang on this kid before someone beats the crap out of him?”
Interestingly though it was my choice to attend this school. My sister, cooler and more socially conscious than me had traveled ten miles to attend a different educational establishment. I hadn’t wanted to leave behind the friends I had acquired at Middle School, but mainly I think I accepted that it would be character building to have to cope with this situation. And perhaps a part of me actually liked the micro-celebrity…
There are certainly some unhappy memories. Like the day of the vote for the non-sporting House Captain… it wasn’t the most prestigious of posts, admittedly. I was up against my main academic rival, Steve Cheeke. I came second to him in pretty much everything… apart from Maths and History. It’s revealing that I not only remember that, but still feel the need to state it at every opportunity. He was already Head Boy, but because he was rebellious, he was massively popular. I was the Headmaster’s son who always wore his blazer – surely a foregone conclusion.
We were sent out of the hall as our contemporaries democratically voted on who they wished to lead them in all their non-sporting endeavours, but we could still hear everything that was going on through the door. The teacher asked, “Who wants to vote for Steve Cheeke?” I discovered that if 300 arms are raised simultaneously with enough vehemence, it actually makes a sound - “Wooomph!”
“Who wants to vote for Richard Herring?” I discovered that if three arms are raised, non-simultaneously, slightly reluctantly, it also makes a sound. It’s the sound of the 300 other school children openly laughing. I returned to the hall, prickling with mortification. I had come second, as usual, to Steve Cheeke.
Yet on most occasions I managed to avoid direct interaction with this aloof figure – luckily for me, the deputy heads were the authoritarian bulldogs, whilst dad a more benign and distant force, only seen at assemblies or if you were in real trouble. Except for one Ascension Day when the whole school was gathered in the local vicarage garden. TK was droning at the front and then said, “Before we enjoy some music from the string quartet, let us have a minute’s silent prayer.” Heads were bowed, silence descended and I was unable to resist the overwhelming urge to go for the laugh. After a perfectly timed pause I opened my mouth to release a belch. Perhaps I had intended it to be a staccato of a burp, but this was no mundane discharge. As my throat constricted I sensed that something stinking and ungodly was about to be unleashed, as if the gates of Hull had swung agape. The eructation that emerged was surely the loudest, longest bolk in human history.
After a moment of stunned disbelief came laughter. The Headmaster was about to explode in fury, when he saw me doubled up and pink faced and realised I might well have been the transgressor. How would he respond? Would he act as father or headmaster? Could he face humiliating his own child and himself? Should he let me off merely because I was his flesh and blood or punish me more than he would punish anyone else, to prove how fair he was, by treating me incredibly unfairly? He chose to stifle his anger and ignore the interruption. At the time I thought my dad had been a bit weak. But I am ashamed to say that it has taken me until now to think of any of this from his point of view. I’ve complained all my life about having been the son of the headmaster, but I had never once thought what it must be like being the headmaster at a school where your son was a pupil. What was he meant to do in those circumstances? If he’d hauled me out in front of everyone and spanked my arse, the psychological repercussions would have been a whole lot worse. I suppose we all put our parents in similarly impossible situations, where we would resent them whatever they did. And sometimes, pathetically, we carry those resentments into adult life.
I have wanted to blame my dad for the way I’ve turned out, but if I am honest I loved being at school. My dad being the head wasn’t an elephant in the room, my classmates soon forgot about it. I was just that annoying kid always trying to make people laugh. And I wasn’t ever bullied. I think that even though I was quite a cheeky and annoying child, bullies figured that if they hit the head’s son they would get in double trouble and left me alone. I wanted to be a comedian from about the age of 5 and ironically I think I might have had this beaten out of me if my dad hadn’t been the head.
Interestingly, if I meet anyone from my school, the first question they always ask is “How’s your dad?” They really loved him; he was the most popular head teacher ever. He was fair and community minded and wanted the best for all his pupils. So if I was unpopular at school… it wasn’t anything to do with him. Nor can any of my life choices be put at his door. It was nature not nurture that made me the man I am. I think I would have lost that vote in any case, even though it’s taken me a quarter of a century to realise that fact.
My dad is an amazing man, who influenced the lives of generations of schoolkids and I am proud to be the Headmaster’s Son.